nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
January 10, 2011
If you’re looking to witness one of the most interesting artists working in live performance today, a visit to La MaMa for Dutch A/V is in order. The performance piece, which is billed as a “live-edited environmental film,” features the tremendous talent of Reggie Watts, a performer who defies categorization. Watts can seemingly do it all, switching easily between stories told in a conversational yet entertaining manner to creating wildly inventive, and very danceable, music using only his voice and a few gadgets. Dutch A/V is a grand vehicle for Watts, making this well worth the price of admission.
Where Watts’s performance is able to carry us far into the possibilities of live art, the rest of Dutch A/V is never able to reach beyond being more than just an interesting idea. The seed for the show derives from hours of first-person footage taken by Watts, Tommy Smith, and Brendan Kiley, as they toured the city of Amsterdam. Throughout the show, this footage is projected and “live-edited” (though editors are not seen), with Watts creating a soundtrack for much of it. According to the smartly written essay by Kiley, the footage, which was captured using sophisticated spy-glasses, is supposed to work in cohesion with Watts’s music to explore ideas about voyeurism and what it means to be in a place where you don’t belong. When briskly edited footage of Amsterdam’s notorious red-light district is coupled with Watts’s evocative music, the idea works. We, the audience, are able to feel the raw energy of the place in a way that seems fresh and new. Outside of this, however, the footage of Amsterdam falls short in its goal of transporting us to a “foreign landscape thousands of miles away.” Some of it is curiously strange, other parts are funny, but added up, the footage doesn’t leave one reflecting on much of anything. Further muddling the work are the stories by Watts that open the night, which seem to lack a relationship to the stated ideas and goals of the play.
In spite of issues with clarity, there is much in Dutch A/V to praise. The design team of Joby Emmons, Luke Norby, and Seth Reiser work together to create some very interesting visuals. When Watts speaks about Robitussin-fueled camping trips in Montana, slow moving images of open country fall across the screen. Behind them, Watts’s brightly lit head seems to float. It’s an arresting image, and it works very well with Watts’s loud, encompassing sound. It was also funny to see a video clip of a great white shark as Watts spoke about an angry driver who had found himself the victim of a teenage prank.
There are some very creative minds working behind Dutch A/V, and many of the elements at play here deserve further exploration. As it is, however, something is missing. The work lacks a central idea; something the audience can grab hold of as we travel from Montana to Europe and back. Shortcomings aside, Dutch A/V is a great chance to see Reggie Watts in his element, blasting brilliant music against a backdrop of creative visuals.