The performance featured five women, three girls, a stilt-walking magician, and music by William Basinski. In Dangerhouse, the audience is presented with a series of stories and images woven together to created a beautiful, yet disturbing world. My concerns in this piece were isolation, women’s relationship to physical and non-physical violence, and the dichotomy of social conformity and spiritual freedom. Danger House was performed in New York City at Performance Space 122 and in Atlanta at Nexus Contemporary Art Center Theatre.
The Atlanta Constitution
Friday, May 15, 1987
Alyson Pou Brings ‘Dangerhouse’ to Nexus Theatre Stage
By Barbara McKenzie
When Alyson Pou performs at Nexus Theatre, she will be sharing the stage with eight other performers including a stilt-walking magician.
“Dangerhouse,” a 50-minute piece, marks the first time Ms. Pou has worked with more than one other performer. “I was interested in expanding the scale of my work without losing the intimate quality of the earlier pieces,” she explains. “The challenge was to take on a theatrical space without taking on theatrical conventions.”
Ms. Pou performed “Dangerhouse” in New York at Performance Space (P.S.) 122 in 1986. Ian McColl, who heads More Productions (an Atlanta avant garde theater group), met the artist in New York, found her work compelling, and invited her to perform at the Nexus Theatre. Restaging “Dangerhouse” has given Ms. Pou a chance to do some “fine tuning” and to expand upon some of the concepts. She describes “Dangerhouse,” like earlier work, as “falling somewhere between dance and theater.” It consists of a series of stories similar in its episodic organization to “See: Stories About Buildings and Bombs,” a performance event staged in the Nexus Gallery almost three years ago.
The performance takes its title from a child’s drawing described to her by H.P. Wellborn, a friend who teaches young children. “She knows I’m always interested in house imagery. She also told me the story that the child told her. The piece opens with that story.
“My concerns in this work are about isolation, and about the dichotomy social conformity and spiritual freedom, and about sensuality and women’s access to that sensuality.”
“Dangerhouse,” like Ms. Pou’s previous performance pieces, is primarily visual. A major figure is the stilt-walking magician who serves as an alter ego to Ms. Pou who functions as narrator. “She’s silent,” Ms. Pou says. “She’s the mystery. She does all sorts of tricks with a crystal ball…flames appearing out of nowhere. She always enters accompanied by a certain piece of music.”
Other visual elements include a house on wheels and a forest of black skewers onto which the chorus of women place oranges. “There’s a section where all the women use head pieces with green, floor-length veils,” she says. “I designed all the costumes and props and made them myself. That’s very important to me – that’s my painting.”
The electronically produced music is composed and performed by William Basinski, a New York musician who plays the saxophone, piano, and other instruments. “I was interested in his work because of the layering of sounds – the layering of one tape over another so that the effect is cumulative,” Ms. Pou states. “The way you get the meaning of what I do is through the layering of images and words – not through the story or plot line. His music is exactly the same way.”
Ms. Pou, who moved from Atlanta to New York in 1981, has done performances in various venues in New York – including Franklin Furnace, Fashion Moda, and the previously mentioned P.S. 122. In Atlanta, where she studied fabric design at Georgia State University, she was a founding member of the Atlanta Women’s Art Collective. In New York, she earns her living doing performance programming for Creative Time, a non-profit arts organization. Currently, she is making arrangements for a summer dance series to be held in Central Park.
“’Dangerhouse’ will have some surprises,” Ms. Pou promises. “I don’t want to lessen their impact by giving them away.” If it’s anything like Ms. Pou’s other performances, “Dangerhouse” will bring the audience dangerously close to the fears, contradictions, and beauty that underlie contemporary existence.
By Neill Bogan
Nexus Contemporary Art Center
Watching Dangerhouse by Alyson Pou was like reading a magazine with striking graphics; with each turn of the page, one image was replaced by another, and disappeared behind an opaque slick paper. I was aware of a theme, and of reasons for the inclusion of each image, but not of a growth through them toward a compositional or thematic point. By the end of the piece I was struggling to remember the middle.
Dangerhouse seemed to be an autobiography focusing on some psychophysical threat – the inner dangers with which growth, through childhood and adolescence toward maturity, is fraught. Images of broken glass, bare feet, skewers, nerve ganglia, and snakes contrasted with the calm presences of three young girls, who opened the piece playing placidly on the floor in plaid dresses, and who returned to the stage toward the end of the piece.
After the girls’ first appearance, Pou entered in black, and soon began to speak. She wheeled out a rolling cart with a roof, undoing its clasp and opening the roof to reveal broken glass and mirrors. “This is my dangerhouse,” she said, then put on gloves with red and white painted twigs emerging from the fingers, and held them up behind the house so that they looked like trees.
The cart was wheeled off, and other women in black entered, moved about in a stylized way, spoke monologues. The piece proceeded with slowly-paced movement and visual sections alternating with monologues.
The procession of images included net headdresses filled with stones which dropped to the ground behind the women to form weighted trains, like wedding veils transformed into balls and chains. A wizard figure on stilts hung twisted black ropes stuck through with shiny skewers from hanging bars; oranges were stuck onto the skewers. The wizard moved downstage and began to juggle, then quit juggling and flicked fire from his fingertips. The piece ended with Pou sitting splay-legged in a chair, looking at the audience and talking, in a pool of light with one orange on the ground beside her.
At one point toward the middle of the piece, Pou sang in a childish voice and told a story about a girlhood in Kenya, where there were a lot of snakes. While she spoke, one of the other women broke bottles and spread glass in a circle around Pou’s bare feet. Pou stopped, looked at the glass, her feet, and her companion, and then asked, “What size shoe do you wear?” The moment was hilarious, and the subsequent sight of Pou tottering off on tiny high heels through the glass provided the thrill of actual danger. One welcomed it.
The hallmark of Dangerhouse was Pou’s graphic skill. Fear and joy were channeled into meticulous shape making.