The KH Fresh Festival starts off with a bang with forever failing (work-in-progress #1) created and performed by Clarissa Rivera Dyas and ainsley elizabeth tharp (jose e. abad, Dramaturg), February 9 & 10 at the Dance Mission Theater. An unstoppable dynamic duo, wrestling with the expectations and responsibilities of woman-hood and self-hood. This clever and subversive feminist manifesto seems an ideal tribute to the spirit and memory of co-founder Kathleen Hermesdorf (1967-2020), whose initials have been added to its moniker.
Newly, and/or soon-to-be, 30, Dyas and tharp have become community leaders. Both are part of the artist collective that produced this 15th Annual Fresh Fest. Dyas in particular has been receiving a good deal of recognition from grant-makers, both locally, and nationally, of late. No doubt the pressure to produce polished performance art that both exposes and solves the world’s problems is mounting and suffocating, unless… you have got your best creative partner at your side as you accept and even celebrate that we are all forever failing. Victory lies in balancing perseverance and selfcare. One’s freedom manifests in the release of expectations.
Fearless and ferocious Dyas and tharp commit fully to every onstage decision they make. Moving from jean jackets and denim cut-offs to American flag bathing suits, over the course of their 40-minute show they offer conjure a range of female personae. Tongue in cheek, defiant but not despondent, they are showy, sassy, sloppy, and crude. Their opening solos offer a compendium of movement samples and moods. Cycling through short phrases of foot and floor work, their versatility and personal styles shine. Dyas is attracted to curving lines. tharp is sharper, and yet more vulnerable, regarding us with suspicion as her exposed wrists dangle submissively forward.
Operatic emotion intrudes, as the two, newly united, stutter through a series of tortured shapes. Each frozen moment is a response to some violence, a gut punch, a slap, a tying of wrists and ankles, which finds tharp squirming over firmly anchored feet.
Women are supposed to have each other’s backs, and so these two literally do. Beginning back-to-back, they walk their feet outward, creating a triangle of their two bodies. Not satisfied, they wrap their arms around the other’s shoulders as their feet creep continually farther out, until their bodies become a flat bridge supported by square-angled legs
In a bout of strength, they press their foreheads together, struggling like fighters in a ring. Are they competitors? Or conspiratorial colleagues satisfying the audience’s blood-lust?
Queering the narrative of female relations, they abandon the lady-wrestler myth for the Covergirl one, by robotically striking model postures. One elbow is high, pointing away from a coif-cupping hand, while the other is low, jutting out from a jauntily angled hip.
Model poses morph into erotic head rolls and crotch pulls, as a frenzy builds. Chants of “doom this house” increase in frequency and volume, as red lights pulse (lighting: gg torres). The humping and thumping get nasty. Vying for their own moment in which to shine, they take turns dragging each other, feet first, out of the limelight.
Playful, surly, sexy, or smart, Dyas and tharp know they don’t need to choose. A delightful interlude finds the gals, in spread-legged-stances, whipping plastic sound-tubes above their heads. The faster you whirl these ridged toys the louder the sound. Dyas is going for the speed and volume prize, while tharp acquires finesse and style points. Later, lying on their backs, the noodlely playthings become penises to stroke and then discard.
Stripped to skimpy patriotic swimwear, they each don a single platform heel. In large dark sunglasses, Dyas’s demeanor is too-cool-for-school. Lying below her, tharp assumes a series of partially reclining pin-up girl shapes. She shoots dollar bills into the air from a golden gun.
As the piece closes, the performers cover themselves in tents of angular clear plastic. With an off-kilter gait, alternating between bare-foot and high-heel, they saunter up the aisle, an ode to the discomfort and necessity of navigating two realities simultaneously. Covered in clear plastic, they carry on an amplified conversation about their aspirations for motherhood. Even with the world gone to shit, it would seem the most creative, optimistic thing a girl can do is respond to that biological ticking clock by making a new life.
ainsley elizabeth tharp (L) & Clarissa Rivera Dyas take their bow for forever failing (workinprogress#1) Photo: J Norris
Kudos to dramaturg jose e. abad, to whom the performers give a shout-out. One suspects abad was instrumental in shaping the abundance of ideas and many talents of this pair into a cohesive, doesn’t-look-like-a-work-in-progress, entertaining experience we enjoyed.
More KH Fest Festival events Feb 12 – 18 at www.FreshFestival.org
Review by Jen Norris, published February 12, 2024
KH Fresh ’24, Dance Mission Theater, Feb 9 & 10
forever failing (workinprogress#1)
Clarissa Rivera Dyas + ainsley elizabeth tharp
Dramaturg and sound design: jose e. abad
Lighting design: gg torres