Sleeping through a performance, as we all have been taught, is frowned upon. No matter how tedious, annoying or just plain awful a show is, we, the audience, are expected to gather some nugget of knowledge, joy or understanding from it.
This was not so with “Exit,” a one-night only event at EMPAC this past weekend. A collaboration between artist Kris Verdonck and dancer/choreographer Alix Eynaudi, the evening, in short, was supposed to soothe the audience to sleep. But in reality, it stumped senses — shutting down our most important: sight.
Upon entering, ticket holders were greeted by Eynaudi (the sole performer). She directed patrons to seats stacked with two pillows and a foam pad. We settled in, every other seat, so that each would have enough room to spread out.
Once the doors closed, she demonstrated how best to get comfortable with the blue and white pillows and pad. Then, she showed us a short film — featuring a professor speaking on the importance of sleep. As the screen was raised, she then explained that the dance, or more exactly the experiment, had one movement phrase that she would repeat over and over and over again.
She showed it to us once, like a run-through, explaining every movement: walk downstage on the diagonal, stop, look out, look at feet, raise toes, point fingers down, etc. At this point, one had to wonder when “Exit” was actually going to begin.
Finally, with the lights still up, she started the phrase, which she repeated a dozen or more times. But at each renewal of the phrase, the lights grew dimmer. At the end, the room was completely dark. All that could be discerned was the blurred ghostly figure of Eynaudi.
Some did slumber as the sounds of deep, heavy breathing could be heard. But most were lulled into an altered state, trying to stay awake, just in case she did something more, or slumping into apathy because they knew she wouldn’t.
It was obviously intentional that her dance, and the accompanying sedate music by Rutger Zuydervelt/Machinefabriek, was meant to be mesmerizing. It swung steadily like a hypnotist’s watch.
The only change in this monotonous pendulum was Eynaudi swapping her oatmeal-colored dress to a black one, then a red one and when the lights were completely out, a white one.
Of course, Eynaudi did not want to jolt her audience awake at the end. Rather, the lights rose slowly and she returned in a sequined dress on which she twirled, like a little child, gleefully about the stage. After being confronted with so much predictability, this ending felt over-the-top, even garish.
But like all fine hostesses, the dancer did not push the pillowed and perplexed patrons from their seats. She told everyone to take their time. Most didn’t need much, they rushed off to shake off a weary stupor.