by Gregory King, Visiting assistant professor of dance at Swarthmore College for The Dance Journal
Slits provided openings into the performance space framed with muslin-like cloth.
Once inside, I felt quarantined.
In hues of greys and browns, the isolated space housed a makeshift tub, a stool, pieces of fabric, and a pile of clothes.
Developed in part with support from the Orchard Project, the Abbot Adam cycle is a series of performances loosely structured around the Liturgy of the Hours (the daily prayer of the church, marking the hours of each day, sanctifying the day with prayer). The Hours are a meditative dialogue on the mystery of Christ using scriptures and prayer. These dialogues are usually played out between individuals and God or among the members of church. On Thursday December 10th, it was played out between Jaime Maseda and Mark McCloughan – as they portrayed sisters in a monastery.
Maseda, dressed in a long brown skirt and a nun’s habit, entered the performing space and sat on the stool. He proceeded to fold from the pile of clothes before McCloughan joined him.
They folded leisurely.
They knelt quietly.
They washed prudently.
They wiped gently.
Mostly soundless, the physical dialogue showcased each nun’s spiritual temperament. Maseda, the pious versus McCloughan, the slightly more irreverent; one seemingly connected to the world while the other, more connected to the solace of her vows. The coming together of differences sharing a commonality that branded them similar. Maybe they spoke very little to avoid dispelling closeted skeletons, buried bones, or suppressed desires.
They moved about slowly, gazing downwards, knowing of each other’s presence without invading the other’s space. These gestures were intended to make them seem meditative but it also made them appear sad, tentative, even joyless. Additionally, they seem to long for something their life of silent solitude could never give them; deep companionship – even touch.
McCloughan undressed himself, before getting in the bathtub to wash himself.
Submerged in the liquid reminder of cleanliness and rebirth, he hummed what sounded like a secular tune. He emerged to sit between the legs of his sister/friend and they began a clever exchange of innuendos. They used language that sent redolent images running through my mind;
“Mound”, “Hairy”, “Flower”.
I couldn’t help the narrative or the pictures that accompanied those words especially after noticing the glances between players that bordered on flirty. Yes, their interactions suggested an interplay that was sexually charged.
More than mirroring any stereotypical representation of life in a nunnery, McCloughan and Maseda explored the influences of such a life. A declaration of
“I am happy here,” moved McCloughan and Maseda to an embrace that led to a ballet in slow motion.
They pressed into each other before slowly descending to the floor. Maseda hoisted his pelvis and rolled to his right shoulder, balancing in a pyramid shape. Each performer danced leisurely, often rising and sinking before McCloughan settled on the ground, leaving Maseda standing.
The duo used camp and humor to explicate life in the convent and along the way tackled friendship, loneliness, fear, commitment, and faith.
A skillfully crafted duet that grew out of late night rehearsals and improvisation, Abbot Adam: None was saturated in ambiguities, acuities, and mild sexual undertones all the while questioning perceptions and challenging status quo.
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