Los Angeles Theater Review: S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F. (Poor Dog Group at Son of Semele)

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by Mia Bonadonna on January 23, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Poor Dog Group’s S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F. (SaveMySoul In a WorldOfOddFoices) or 8 bottles of vodka is a dance-centric, multimedia performance based on text messages sent between the members of the ensemble. Given the abstract nature of this performance art, it is rarely possible for the viewer to know the creator’s explicit Chris-Gerard and Jessica Emmanuel in Poor Dog Group's “S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F." at Son of Semele.meaning. It is deduced that this entry in Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival is meant as a sweetly insightful statement piece, but it ends up as a mess of hipster pretentiousness.

For 45 minutes, two talented dancers lurk around a black box stage while a non-stop recording of spoken, minimally related text messages churns in the air. Occasionally, the dancers scribble incoherently on chalk boards or wrap themselves in plastic sheets dangling from clothes lines. Throughout, a video projection shows Poor Dog Group members playing fetch, wearing traffic vests, and bouncing on a trampoline. That’s it.

WOOF seemingly begs its audience to find meaning amid its chatter and abstractions. But significance is difficult to parse here, and not finding symbolic significance means that you just paid to watch a couple of folks roll in plastic. Jessica Emmanuel in Poor Dog Group's “S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F." at Son of Semele.Watching performance art such as this, the audience is left with little alternative: we are challenged either to elevate the mundane or play the fool.

That said, here’s a generous interpretation: It is an affirmation of significant human connection in a computing era dominated by electronic renderings of the looking-glass self. African-American dancers warmly move against a projection of white hipster clichés suggesting that Poor Dog Group honors the struggle of non-white artists as they push against the shallow recesses of a superficially straight, white male- and youth-dominated landscape.

Looking at it another way, this show (pretentious in title as well) could be interpreted as a cheap, self-worshipping glorification of the personal lives of Poor Dog Group. It is impossible not to wonder during the course of the performance Chris-Gerard and Jessica Emmanuel in Poor Dog Group's “S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F." at Son of Semele.how in the world they could justify putting time and effort into making their text messages into a production. Do they really think these missives — stinking of forced wit as they are — so entertaining and socially significant that they deserve to be called art? The communications flash through the viewer’s mind as mildly and briefly entertaining, but ultimately none of them are memorable or meaningful to anyone but, assumedly, the people that texted them. If this work is merely a failed attempt to filter out immature ego-centrism, this reviewer must ask what is the point of such utterly self-serving art?

Contextual meaning aside, S.M.S.I.W.O.O.F. has one saving grace that truly makes the production watchable; her name is Jessica Emmanuel, who also appeared in Poor Dog’s equally stultifying The Murder Ballad at REDCAT. Moving with both alpha strength and gazelle-like decadence, Emmanuel is a captivating, glowing beacon of artful intrigue as she dances to an unheard melody of her own making. Writer and dancer Chris-Gerard juxtaposes Emmanuel’s mindful style with discomforting solitary playfulness. When the two dancers finally come together, all philosophical gripes about the work fall to the wayside as the audience is swaddled in the sweetness of reassured love.


photos by Poor Dog Group

(SaveMySoul In a WorldOfOddFoices)
or 8 bottles of vodka
Poor Dog Group
part of Son of Semele Ensemble’s
Company Creation Festival
Son of Semele Theater
3301 Beverly Blvd. in Silverlake
scheduled to end February 21, 2014
for tickets, visit www.sonofsemele.org
for more info, visit www.poordoggroup.com

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