REVIEW: Goodnight War: The Naked Stark on the Stark RealityApr 22nd, 2012 | By Kat Richter | Category: What Kat Saw
Upon arriving at Broad Street Ministries for the Saturday matinee of The Naked Stark’s Goodnight War, I’m handed a red poppy and told I’ll have to check my bag. As I head upstairs into the nave, which is hung with miniature windmills and origami doves, I’m reminded of the dance composition courses I had to take in college—the weird ones, where we spent most of the semester with skinned knees under the aegis of “site specific work.”
Nonetheless, I’m intrigued; this is my fourth show in as many days and although I’m feeling a bit danced-out, the Quaker in me curious to see what Katherine Kiefer Stark and her motley crew of dancers have to say about war.
The performance begins with a processional in which a line of dancers walks slowly across the back of the church; they carry black rectangles—some small, some large—and they place them on the laps of the audience members, who are seated in two long rows facing one another. Stark reads a welcoming address, in which she describes Goodnight War as an imagined ritual, referencing the beloved children’s book Goodnight Moon that comprises an important part of her daughter’s daily routine.
Rituals, however, are nothing without participation and the audience is asked to stand, form a single line and walk to a circle of chairs in the center of the room. There, Stark dancers over and around a pair of chairs, one standing normally and the other laid upon the ground as if to suggest an alternate horizon, while musician Paul Stern plays an original composition Falling into Here on a miniature toy-sized piano and vocalist Chana Rothman reads Goodnight Moon.
The circle is filled with stuff: a bicycle, a stack of books and pyramids of brightly colored plastic cups, which the dancers send crashing against the floor again and again as they roll and writhe around the circle. “What are you doing?” one dancer asks another.
“Having a funeral,” she replies.
“I don’t know.”
No sooner have the towers of plastic cups been rebuilt than they’re sent crashing to the ground once again like pawns or rubble or fallen cities. The dancers partner off, sharing their weight as they continue spiraling around the audience but they begin to argue with one another, oblivious to the fact that they’re actually dependent upon each other to stand.
It is these subtle metaphors that keep Stark’s work from becoming cliché; there are no grieving widows, no army fatigues, and yet when the dancers strap on their simple, black back packs, only to take them off again and slam their bodies into the floor in response to a drill sergeants call of “Show them how war spent its time!” you know what she’s getting at. The dancers climb over one another and although there is nothing virtuosic in their movement, they litter the nave with empty plastic bags, children’s toys and discarded clothing. In Eulogy III: Territory, Fear, Hope, the company weaves through the debris and invite the audience to do the same. One by one, they lay their poppies upon the black rectangles and the ritual comes to a close, simply but poignantly.
It’s definitely not art for art’s sake: its art with a purpose and Stark makes no apology for this fact, nor should she. Deceptively simple, Goodnight War provided a complex meditation on the culture of war and our addiction to it and I, for one, hope that there’s much more to come.
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist. Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.