Fake It Till You Make It
Saturday, Oct. 15, 8 p.m.
Living Arts Collective at the Trotter Building, Durham

When the lights went down on Tommy Noonan’s new solo, John, which formed half of DIDA’s season opener, Fake It Till You Make It, the man sitting next to me shared that he never wanted to hear the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing” again. It’s a reasonable sentiment, whether it comes from a passenger resigned to a companion’s fondness for KIX 102.9 or from someone who had just watched Noonan perform John Travolta’s disco solo from Saturday Night Fever so many times I lost count.

This election season is dotted with declarations of “never.” I will never lie to you. He’s never apologized. He will never, ever let you down. This year’s presidential candidates are hyper-visible, and so are their words. They become visible by repetition. But the repetition also works to disembody and dissociate. Campaign statements, increasingly predictable, get lost in a lexical ether. (Who actually said, “He will never, ever let you down”? Melania Trump, Michelle Obama, or Rick Astley?)

John is an hour-long experiment in pinning a body to words, and vice versa. In one moment, Noonan, wearing a replica of Travolta’s red button-up, plays the hype man, telling the audience to laugh and clap as if he’s the “real John.” He says things like, “One thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.” But when external voices seep in, the “I” starts to get blurry.

“This is the perfect human,” asserts an anonymous voice-over. “Look: the perfect human moving in a room. The perfect human can move in a room. The room is boundless and radiant with light.” The audio, lifted from Jorgen Leth’s 1967 short film The Perfect Human, catalogs this body and its parts with ethnographic effect. Noonan slumps, falls, and peers out at us with bleary eyes. The body fails the audio, but the audio will not reverse its claim: this is the perfect human.

Is it the “fake John” or the “real John” who moves through the Travolta routine? No matter; there’s no space to think as Noonan repeats the hip thrusts and jazz hands and split-jumps. One second he’s grinning, the next he’s grimacing. Sweat changes his shirt color from ruby to blood red. There is only the phrase at hand as we watch Noonan move through the mechanics of repetition. There’s no disclosure of origin or intent, no sense of how or if the phrase will end. A boundless phrase in a boundless room. I cannot not watch.

On the other hand, Cie. Marie Lenfant’s solo (SUR)FACES—which was partly developed during the French company’s residency at Culture Mill, the Saxapahaw arts nonprofit Noonan codirects—is a study in preparation. Rity Mabon gradually covers his wrestling outfit with business attire. He rearranges office appliances on a small desk. As he goes about his busywork, he occasionally pitches backward, arms arcing in separate directions like a flamenco dancer. Each gesture casts a giant shadow on the building’s exposed walls.

Both pieces end up playing with the reveal. Mabon removes both masks he’s been wearing, checking his appearance each time in a hand mirror. John concludes with a video montage that demonstrates the sources of Noonan’s speech: clips from Saturday Night Fever, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and a Trump rally in Charlotte. (Noonan told the INDY that Trump was his “biggest muse” while making John.) This is both an aha and an oh-god moment: It’s alarming how deftly Noonan slips into these various personae. The exposé is almost too satisfying as the piece’s loose ends are tied. But Noonan plays with this effect. As the video rolls on, he walks across the stage with a mop, literally cleaning up the piece until it concludes.

Across both works, these transitory moments are the most compelling: the larger-than-life shadows, the shifts between grin and grimace. These points are disclosures of their own sort: they show what happens as a body moves from one proclamation to another.

A proclamation can exist in both a dance and in a political campaign. It’s that center-stage scene where promises are made and slogans are distilled: I will never lie to you. Body language supports the verbal shoulds and nevers of political platforms. But it can also work as its own discourse, spotlighting the tenuous line between fake and real. As witnesses, we help to draw that line.

I don’t say so to the man beside me, but I agree that I never want to hear the Bee Gees song again. I’m unlucky; it drifts out of a bar on Main Street as I drive by, post-show:

She’s juicy and she’s trouble/ She gets it to me good/ My woman gives me power/ Goes right down to my blood./ What you doin’ on your back?/ You should be dancing.

I never want to hear it again, in the same way that I never again want to see Donald Trump paw the empty air and tell us what women should or should not do with their bodies. But I cannot not watch. It goes right down to my blood. The visceral witnessing is part of my protest.