The Performance Cruz: David Antonio Cruz
By K.Anthony Lawler
Performance art, as a construct, contains the capacity to envelope space, shift the concept of time, alter our traditional understanding of artistic engagement and download foreign emotions into our bodies, forcing us to reconcile with an onslaught of new contexts. Of course, this is not always so. Many performance based practices do not live up to their potential; they are crude, raw, under-developed, too experimental and in the end, leave us wanting.
Unfulfilled, we journey onward in our travels through art, dull and lifeless as if a vampire has just siphoned energy from our art-eries. We exist in this state, free-floating, until that one rare event grabs us by the throat and force-feeds us the most captivating performance, that our veins swell and our eyes tear up. We can barely contain the emotion that pulses behind our eyelids and our vision blurs from the talent before us. Back arched, eyes peering, body forward, feet rooted to the floor…these are the moments in art we crave.
Take it from an artist-writer typically lost in his own head space and skeptical of performance based practices: true, honest, and genuine deep-emotions become difficult to manifest; it is hard to acknowledge experimental theater as something vitally significant to the world of art.
The performances of David Antonio Cruz however are, in the most simple human terms, valid. They embody everything we seek from performance art: romanticism, poetics, sophistication, intelligent symbolism and a competency for pure, undiluted, visceral emotion that is nearly unmatched by other performers.
The Jersey City Theater Center, located at 339 Newark Avenue Jersey City, NJ 07302 just hosted Cruz’s 3rd performance of “How to Order Chocolate Cake,” on September 30th with an encore on October 1st.
Evolving from its initial debut on the crowded tourist pathway of the Highline in NYC, Chocolate Cake has now developed into a fully formed visceral event. Infusing elements of a spontaneous Happening, a choreographed display of emotional, exposed bodies, an elegant cellist and the writings of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his sonnets of Dark Love, Cruz orchestrates a performance as delicate as it is dynamic.
Viewers enter and quietly take their seats. The room is dim. The concrete smell of the floor is cold and crisp, echoing the isolated feeling one has within the blackened space. The stage, ground level and simple, hosts a single chair and resting cello, lit from above by only the projection of black and white images with Lorca’s words infused over the top.
Silence keeps until a robed figure steps out, gracefully slides onto the chair and gently picks up the cello. Bold and dramatic tones begin immediately, long hums and smooth rhythms.
The figure, a man, sings a soft melody, adding contrast to the strong tonality and deep ambience permeating from the instrument. As he sings, three new characters, two women and one man (Cruz), enter the space in front of the cellist. Dressed in common clothes – jackets, t-shirts, sneakers – all three figures begin slowly taking off their articles, seemingly unaware that the audience is in sight of their disrobing actions.
They systematically place their clothes in neat piles to their left and slowly, albeit independently, start to harmonize with the cellist. Their voices interlock and become waves of motion in the room; it is deep and mournful, as if the figures must engage with the vibrations of sound at their back in order to embrace their own bodies. The sound, which began as a slow breeze, now blows with true poetic force.
Cruz is the first the act, but the others quickly follow. Pulling from behind, he delivers a large bucket of chocolate syrup and is quick to engage with it. Hands in, grabbing substance, pulling out, spreading over his body. The others mimic David’s actions and together they create a churning sea of moving limbs and chocolate splatter.
Their unison voices escalate in intensity as they alternate between song and narrative, all while pouring, spilling and tasting the chocolate smeared on their skin.
The force and verve in their spanish voices destroy any language barrier for the audience, and the emotion spills over onto the viewer just as the chocolate spills over onto their bodies. Part sensual, part tension, the three syrup covered figures strike bold poses and utilize dynamic gestures of sex and aggression, echoing the elements of the cello and facilitating their message.
The cellist plays louder and louder, the performers writhe and undulate on the concrete floor, spreading chocolate as far as their movements will allow. The energy and volume in the room increase exponentially, seeming to have no end. The constant upward momentum erupts in a violent climactic resolution of cello, chocolate and concrete-sprawled bodies.
Cruz and his party are on the floor. Their forms are briefly still, but then move toward and under their audience. Beneath the voyeurs’ chairs are jars of pure, clean water. Like mana, the performers seem to crave the water and use it to sustain and regain their energy. As if “a cleansing,” they bathe themselves, purifying their bodies of their chocolate indulgence.
The audience is brought into the fold for an intimacy with the performers that causes many to smile and laugh with delight. The performers move from audience member to audience member, presenting wet sponges and syrup covered legs, arms and torsos. The scene is personal, honest and necessarily human.
Together, the audience brings these three bodies back to how they began: clean and collected. After clothing themselves they exit the stage as naturally as they entered, yet with a smile and an aura of light which tells of their experience.
The cellist quiets his melody to a whisper and after the lights full dim, exits after a darkened moment of silence. The room is black and quiet.
The audience bursts into applause.
Cruz is the first to acknowledge how the poet, Lorca, has influenced his life and his subsequent practice as an artist. Yet, he humbly fails to accept the full grace of his own contribution to the words.
Cruz marries Lorca’s poetry with sensual bodily movements that allow the words to penetrate deeper into our hearts. Our minds are impregnated with the Spanish poet, ourselves made one with Cruz’s raw, emotive pushes towards bodily self love within a modern scheme of romance and gender inclusion.
Below is a video excerpt from, “How to Order a Chocolate Cake”, prior to the climactic resolution.
Cruz has had work featured in El Museo Del Barrio, the Bronx Museum, Jersey City Museum, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery as well as a formative residencies at Gateway Project Spaces in Newark.
For more information on David Antonio Cruz, please visit his website: www.http://davidantoniocruz.com and for further performance displayed at Jersey City Theater Center go to http://www.jctcenter.org
Photos and video courtesy of Not What It Is/K.Anthony Lawler