“What are you doing when you put yourself in front of an audience and you’re frustrated?” asked artist Laurel Snyder when I spoke with her before seeing her show solosarehardtomake. “Is that interesting? Can people relate to that? How many ways can I present myself?”
Snyder’s first evening-length solo dance bears multiple viewings, but after seeing it just once, it’s clear that the answers are: “Yes, yes, and very many.”
The high-density show begins right out of the gate, when ushers (who later turn out to be Snyder’s backing band) offer to check audience members’ coats—on a rack in the middle of the stage. Lamps sit on either side of it. “I tried to create this intimate environment that feels like a living room rather than a theater—just because I want to feel more comfortable!” Snyder explained.
The lights go down and the sound of crackling, fizzling fireworks fills the room, punctuated by indiscernible conversations. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling begins to glow in time.
Once the audience has been transfixed, Snyder walks on stage from the center aisle, her back to the crowd calmly until her body starts popping, getting pulled in different directions.
She begins frolicking and undulating by turns, using the entire stage to pace, leap, and stretch. She vacillates between recognizable modern dance moves and controlled physical chaos, smacking her ankle with her hand before stiffening her arm and looking down its length like she’s never seen it before.
Her voice begins to emerge as spontaneous exhalations, exclamations, keens, songs, and scoldings that layer over and sometimes harmonize with a recording of her singing. She skips roughly around the room, sweating, speaking an invented tongue, but still telling a story.
After one person laughs, it’s hard to tell if Snyder is reacting or not when she stomps and then smiles. In either case, the taboo is broken and others start to titter as her expressions change wildly.
Following an outfit change and the installation of an area rug, Snyder headbangs convincingly to an aggressive acoustic guitar track, her blonde wavy hair a perfect picture of the roaring lions she mentions hosting in her head. You can imagine yourself in your living room on any given night doing exactly the same thing (maybe minus the dance training).
Snyder sings to us about how she is not sad. She just opened her fingers and cried into her palms, but she is not sad. The poignant repetition of her tall tale, layered over her movements as she tiptoes precariously across the carpet, generates a feeling of “fake it till you make it” familiar to anyone.
Then a guy in stage blacks posts up on a corner of the rug and starts testing a mic, interrupting her performance. First Snyder is understandably annoyed, but then joins him in an increasingly funny duet of mic-testing noises which begin to morph into pretty strands of vocal melody.
The guy is musician John Mosloskie, and it’s fun and suspenseful watching Snyder and him circle each other like playful (or prowling?) cats, eyes locked, as they search together to find a common note.
Cue the second outfit change, more musicians walk on stage, and before we know it Snyder is the frontwoman in a swingin’ jazz band: according to her, a scenario that’s “both a personal fantasy and a nightmare; triumphant yet terrifying. It is my intention for the audience to witness the duality of this experience.”
Again Snyder keeps us sharp by see-sawing consciously between ecstasy and ruin: first showing the swagger of confidence her clear voice naturally produces, then enduring a recording of a crowd booing and jeering, “You suck!” “Thank you, thank you so much,” Snyder says smarmily to the recorded crowd as her real audience laughs.
The foregoing account, detailed as it may appear, doesn’t tell half the story of solosarehardtomake. It is a rich, intimate, and genuine show with a soul vastly more colorful and expansive than its minimal set and solo nature might predict. The order of some of the action has probably been reported wrong here, too, and some good stuff was almost certainly (though unintentionally) left out.
But that feels okay, since this work is about the net impact of the process, about facing up to the honest feeling, about committing to living in our experiences—not about achieving picture-perfect technique or coming in precisely on beat one. It reflects each and every one of our lives, if we’re paying attention: filled to bursting with sensation, impossible to comprehend entirely.
“Can I be both self-centric and universal?” Snyder wonders. “I’m interested in observing myself going through a process: a journey, a song, a movement. Are you with me? Can I hold on to you even maybe when I’m not finishing things? When it’s difficult? When I’m frustrated?”
Judging by the fact that the crowd stayed in their seats for several minutes after the lights came up, the answer is yes.
Laurel Snyder’s solosarehardtomake, presented by Chez Bushwick, plays again tonight, Friday, November 4, at the Center for Performance Research, 361 Manhattan Avenue. Tickets are $12 in advance; $15 at the door (cash only). Running time is approximately one hour with no intermission.