Review: ‘Mutant Gifts: I Am Just Here Becoming Some Strange Kind of Love’ by Alison Clancy

The last time I saw Alison Clancy, she was dancing on a fog-covered, rocky stage at the Metropolitan Opera in front of holographic light beams in a floor-length red dress. It was the final rehearsal and press preview of Richard Wagner’s, ‘Der Fliegende Holländer’ (The Flying Dutchman) where Clancy was making her debut as a Principal Dance Soloist with the Met.

If it sounds like the bar was set very high, it was.

Read the interview/preview here: Navigating the Artist Path with Alison Clancy

When the press release for Clancy’s newest project presented through SMUSH Gallery where she is serving as curitorial fellow, showed up in my inbox, I had two opposite reactions:

Alison Clancy- oh great. I admire her as an artist. Virtual performance- kill me now. But, I try to keep an open mind.

The show featured three songs written and performed by Clancy and contributing musicians. The first, ‘Mutant Gifts’ showed her in a sleek black dress, playing her electric guitar, shot in black and white, while seated in front of an almost-empty alter of St. John’s in the Village church. The only objects were two tall unlit candlesticks framing Clancy. I kept expectantly waiting for them to spark.

Camera work by Esteban Haga darted between beautifully detailed close-up shots of Clancy, occasionally playing the guitar with the microphone she used for vocals, and of cellist Brent Arnold. We never see Arnold’s full face, just the parts connected to the instruments- his hands, shoulder, jawline, and neck. My favorite line of the song is shared by the title, ‘I”m just here, becoming some strange kind of love’. There is a connection between the action of creation and the action of becoming.

The close ups are contrasted by wider shots in soft focus where the figures are a bit blurry while the windows of the church are clear, the focus goes towards the light streaming in. The atmosphere feels almost claustrophobic, dark within and bright from the outside, similar to a coccooned butterfly or animal in hibernanation. The song itself, with the tension of the guitar and cello strings and the rather small range of notes, feels like a sonic telescope on a single, strange but active expereince.

There is juxtaposition in this piece, from the presentation of a light-filled traditional church setting to a cool electric-guitar playing woman in black. I kept wondering what was the story, how did she get in there, if she was imprisoned. The contrast of the images works well, but feels uncomfortable, as evolution usually is across species in the natural kingdom. It is simultaneously refined and spiritual while also physical and gritty. It’s a piece pulled between the opposites of dark and light, and seems like it could at any moment, go in either direction.

If anyone ever had hermit crabs for pets, you know that moment when a crab has outgrown its shell and has to ditch it for a roomier home? That’s what I think the experience of this piece was like- a naked crab seeking a bigger shell, which is truly the grossest comparison for a piece so striking and beautiful, but what can you do.

The second song, ‘Blue’ featured dancer Albert Esquilin Jr. aka Ghost improvising in Bruk Up style of dance in the Ideal Glass Studios. Ghost was in the corner of a square room with moving projections by Test Collective around and on him and his shadows on the walls behind him. The projections were in constant motion, sometimes like ripples of blue water, somtimes fallling raindrops, splatters, or a wave. They gave the imagery of different apparitions of water while still abstract, and never the same long enough to seem fixed as an image. The same is true of the Ghost’s movement, gliding smoothly with intricate footwork and seamless weight shift, to pulsing movements mirroring instrumentation from the guitar and bass by musicians Clancy and Allison Jones. The song was melodic, with light, high-pitched vocals by Clancy and Jones but always with the steady current of the bass underneath. I didn’t catch a lot of the lyrics because I was paying more attention to the visuals and movement of the projections and dancer. There was a moment when his movement seemed to align perfectly with lyrics from the song, but knowing the dance was improvised, I’m not sure if this was happy coincidence or synced after wards by the editing team. Directed by Max Louis Miller and mastered by Adam Haggar, the work is reminiscent of the water cycle, the predictability of the tides and the mutability of the clouds.

The final piece, ‘Morning Time’ again featured Ghost dancing at Ideal Glass Studio. However, in this piece, the wall behind him with lighting design by Clancy seemed like a concrete or gray brick wall with a soft pink and orange hue on his front. We could see his eyes and hands clearly, a distinct difference between the dark costume and flesh. In this lighting, the intricacy of his hand movements stood out; it would be hard to learn or replicate. What I liked most about this work was the visuals of the shared color palette, the dark of his shadow and costume and the matching flesh tones of his body and the burst of light behind him. The overall effect was a dispersed focus, a panoramic view where the subject and the environment are made up of the same material.

In a Q&A following the showing, Clancy described the work as ‘creating homeostasis’ between the outward expression of art and the the inner world. The three pieces were a progression of active metamorphosis of these conceptual worlds, from claustrophobia to total peace. Personally, I liked ‘Blue’ the most. I wonder if there is a connection between which piece resonates the most with people and how they feel situated in their current live and environment.

Whether on the Met stage or from a virtual screen, Clancy has the ability to combine elements of art- music, lighting, various forms of dance- that alchemize into experiences that are cohesive but also magical. Production assistant, Jonathan Matthews said during the discussion that working on the project was like using an Ouija board, with everyone lending their talents and ideas. It was not overstimulating, rather so well synthesized that it was unclear who exactly was steering the project, each aspect of the collaboration perfectly lending itself and blending with it’s various parts.

For more on SMUSH Gallery

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