Posted by: strugglesome | May 2, 2010

Noted: Subcircle’s Only Sleeping Is Worth Writing About

“Paying attention changes everything” intones the disembodied voice of Subcircle’s Niki Cousineau as the dancer herself moves disjointedly but gracefully (is such a thing possible? Apparently!) across the stage of the Performance Garage this past Saturday evening. Playing with and dancing around a a series of projected images of Geoff Sobelle, of Pig Iron and Rainpan 43 fame, Cousineau’s petite grace in real time is a gorgeous contrast with Sobelle’s Buster Keaton style antics captured on film, which are only highlighted by the bright sneakers paired with his suit and fedora, a flash of color as he dashes up walls and contort his body like a seasoned yogi in a windstorm. It’s a symphony in timing, a Where’s Waldo of “find the real dancer”, watching Cousineau bob and weave between reality and the projections so deftly created by her husband and partner, Jorge. Refracted images of Cousineau and Sobelle scatter the bare-bones landscape of the minimalist set, filling stage with ghost-images, shadowy other selves, doppleganger dance partners crawling around the space.

These are, of course, just the aesthetic aspects of Only Sleeping, Subcircle’s latest work. And if you stopped reading this here, you might be left with a series of nice images, interesting at best, but not nearly as engaging and extraordinary as the whole picture of Only Sleeping truly is. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the work of the Cousineau duo, nor is it the first time I’ve seen Niki Cousineau dance with herself in a room full of reflections. In 2006 I was able to get a seat (or rather a walk, it was an ambulatory piece) at Still Unknown, a piece associated with Subcircle which was performed in the Philadelpha Live Arts/Fringe Festival. But while in Still Unknown Niki was one part of a multi-room installation, Only Sleeping is an opportunty to watch Cousineau explore and embellish some of the themes she first started discussing in that piece four years ago.

Only Sleeping opens with Cousineau greeting the audience awkwardly. A lifelong dancer, Cousineau is timid and reluctant to be speaking in front of a group, and she shifts her feet from side to side as she thanks her donors and her spectators, dancing slowly away from the crowd until she hits the easy-chair situated stage right and folds, gratefully, into it’s comfortable depths. Subtly she shifts from standard pre-show information to a more intimate confessional form. “This isn’t finished,” she tells us, the way we talk to a good friend over coffee, “but that doesn’t scare me. Lots of things are unfinished”. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that Cousineau’s speech, declared softly into the microphone, turns into performance, but that’s sort of the point, now, isn’t it? As Cousineau draws the audience in with her distinct lack of poise, a shocking contrast to her skill and ease as a dancer, she tells us of her fears, her anxieties, the way she writes her speaking points on index cards and edits them over and over again, internalizing her critical voice, swallowing her negative thoughts like a gulp of water and playing them over and over again in her brain like a broken record. It’s worth paying attention to the index card motif, because it recurs over and over again in the next 50 minutes of the piece. Cards fall out of window blinds and are scooped in bulk out of suitcases, they emerge from the mouth of Sobelle after they’ve been placed, Houdini style, in his jaunty hat. They blow against Cousineau, in one of the most striking visual images of the evening, as she clings to a wall in a projection against a wooden door as the real physical Cousineau exits on the opposite side of the stage. Are these notes from Cousineau’s own hand? Self-recriminations, criticisms, derision? Motivational slogans, fortune cookies, grocery lists? A voice over during another point of the performance tells us “He felt like a book that hasn’t been read enough. He wanted to jump of out the page and ask you to re-write him”. In a piece that asks questions about other selves, other options, other ways we could have been living, and if realities exit which well may run parallel to the one we now are having, how can we not wonder if we ourselves want to be re-written? Or, as Cousineau’s voice, projected over a cacophony of moving images and limbs, is being re-written a mistake, once we recognize that the existence we are leading is worthwhile in and of itself? These may seem like heavy questions for a dance theater piece to ask. Well, if you think that, you clearly have yet to see a piece by Subcircle.

Paying attention does change everything. As Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle demonstrates, the act of observing changes the object being observed. Sure, fine, whatever. But I’m proof, it changes the observer as well. Take note, people. Subcircle certainly is.

Only Sleeping closed on May 1st, 2010. If you email or call the nice people at Subcircle, maybe we can convince them to try out a repeat performance. Otherwise, you will ahve to take my word for it, this show is worth seeing.



  1. […] to the 6th of March, including more music, more movement, and another showing of Subcircle’s Only Sleeping. Tickets are available here. Seeing is believing, so go, open up your visualĀ field, see what you […]

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