Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
According to Olimpia Dior, there is a renaissance of performance art occurring in New York right now, and looking at the images she filed and the shows she’s describing, we certainly believe her. On display today we have images and short clips from performance Dior attended at The Hole, at Wild Project as part of Current Sessions, as well as a more private affair she was invited to. The performance at The Hole was a fully theatrical affair by Jamie Warren. Samantha CC, who we interviewed for this piece, was part of the performance at Wild Project, along with two performers who Olimpia identifies by the handles: @okaynickay and @gonzalezgonzalezz. You’ll also see images from a private event she visited featuring Becca Breh Warzer.
Read on for our interview with Samantha CC.
For those who might have missed the performance at Wild Project, can you describe it for us?
Sanctuary is a multi-media performance piece that explores technology’s ability to be both a constraining and liberating force. On a larger scale, it is using this as a metaphor for one’s relationship with the self. A person can look inward in a very shallow way, and find this continuous loop of self-defeating thoughts, but if they look deeper and push past that, there’s a whole world of expansive exploration possible within your own mind. I think the way people generally consume “information” through social media, vs the possibilities that technology opens up in terms of community, aesthetics, and global communication is a mirror of what happens with the process of self-discovery.
In the performance, I play a “user” named Nona who has become consumed by a loop of harmful information disseminated through social media. As a result she is in a very painful state of existence that ends in a suicide, or a moment of self-obliteration. From there she is able to emerge into a new realm, which in the context of the piece is also mediated, but greatly expansive. She is able to imagine new realities within this space and immediately start to live them. It is sort of like a new birth emerging from a destructive incident. I’m not advocating suicide, but I do think something, usually, something within, needs to be destroyed to bring forth a new mode of discovery. Cracking the egg shell, ripping the membrane, tearing the hymen.
The performance itself is a combination of dance, experimental electronic music, and 3D animation.
What was the significance of the costume you wore?
In the first part, I’m draped in black trash bags. Beyond the obvious connection between trash and abjection, I also just thought the coldness of the black plastic bags set a really strong mood for the first half of the performance. By contrast, in the second part, I’m in a pink body stocking covered in white feathers. I rip through the trash bags to reveal this “skin” beneath. I think of the second costume as being like a newborn baby bird, whose skin is still quite raw, but their vulnerability makes them adorable and lovable, and you can tell that they will transform into a magnificent creature with time. The ripping of the trash bags is sort of like the cracking of an egg or the rupture of a membrane that happens when a new being is born.
I also feel like the two costumes represent the different layers of the mental state of a vulnerable person. At times in life when I’ve felt most vulnerable, I’ve often felt this need to mask it by carrying myself a certain way. Underneath I’d still be in pain, but I would perform toughness to repel additional pain. Over the years I’ve learned to live honestly and be more open about my vulnerability. It is a risk that is worth it. Performance plays a big role in allowing me to do that. From conversations I’ve had, I feel like a lot of people in my performance community feel that way.
Do you create the projections that accompany your performance
The projections for Sanctuary were actually created by my husband Robert Crabtree, who is a visual artist and architect. He has incredible 3D rendering skills and a really brilliant, subtly psychedelic aesthetic. I actually have a background in video and sometimes do my own projections, but for this project Robbie’s work was perfect.
Everything else, I did by myself, including the music and all of the lyrics. For most of my performances I do every single thing, so help and collaboration from Robbie was nice in this case.
I do think something, usually, something within needs to be destroyed to bring forth a new mode of discovery. Cracking the egg shell, ripping the membrane, tearing the hymen.
How does your singing integrate with your dance?
I have more of a background in singing than I do in dance, so there is usually a strong element of song in my performances, even when they are mostly dancing. Previous iterations of this piece have included more lyrics and more specific story. I cut down the lyrics this time and tried to communicate more through dance and my body. The irony is that I feel like my vocal performance was enhanced by this. Singing is physical too, so I think cutting some lyrics allowed me to channel more raw emotion through my body.
And can you tell us a little bit about your performance background in general and how you came to be involved with Wild Project and Current Sessions?
The Current Sessions is a three-day performance festival that happens once a year at Wild Project, which is a small theater in the east village. Every year they do an open call for performers, so I decided to apply this time. Alexis Convento, who is the curator of the show, selected my work and put it alongside the work of Jonathan Gonzalez and NIC Kay, whose performances I would also describe as being very transformational and futuristic. Not all of the performers in The Current Sessions are black, but NIC, Jonathan and myself, who performed on the 19th, are black. Being black performers in the white cube can feel like an awful lot of pressure, but I actually really loved the way all of our pieces created this conversation around the role of fantasy in black identity. I’ve performed Sanctuary in other contexts where it wouldn’t necessarily be read that way, so I liked the way the context added that element to it. Alexis did a great job curating.
In general, my performance practice has grown out of being involved with a space called Otion Front Studios. Otion Front is an artist run space that offers very affordable rehearsal space for performers. It feels a lot like a family. In the past, I worked a lot with Monica Mirabile, who is one of the founders of the space, and who is a very prolific and talented choreographer. I was in three ensemble pieces that she directed, including Authority Figure, which was an immersive performance that took place last year at Knockdown Center. Working with Monica helped me become comfortable as a performer, and now I’m at the point where I’m doing a lot of solo work. When I was in middle and high school I was a theatre kid, which I know is sort of a dirty word, but I’m learning to embrace it. I also have always been inspired by musical performance. Since I was about 12 I’ve worshipped David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, who are very performative musicians. For a few years, in my mid-twenties, I worked as a music journalist. The attitude and work style of musicians has always inspired me. I spent many years going to my friends’ shows and having these visions that made sense in the context of performance. It took me a long time to gain the confidence to execute any of these ideas, and I’m thankful that I’ve finally overcome that.