Teen Age: Observed

Teen Age
Proximity Theatre

Proximity Theatre Website

Cast your mind back, or cast your mind ahead to the age of the teen.  Anticipation or memory are places of imagination, but the space known as now, is outside anticipation and in advance of memory. So rarely we feel the now, so strange it must be to feel awake in the present. Not in anticipation and not drifting through your memories but fully present. We experience the present so totally in our teen years that it is arguably the most real we will ever feel.

This thought of presentness is not trivial. It is dew which collects on the skin of the teen, giving them a sheen of competence and future potential. We can not help but look at the teenager in awe of what is about to happen to them, what they will see, what we remember from our time as a teen. And yet they are looking at right now, they are not anticipating being us, as we remember being them, they are busy with now. They have their fears and trepidations, but there will never be a time again when they are right in the middle of IT so completely as they are today. Seven of these living present creatures performed Teen Age the latest effort by Proximity Theatre, the Santa Barbara based performance group.

The space felt like being inside the lungs of a dancer. The room felt like a visceral metaphor for the feeling in the chests of the performers. Pressure heaving against us like the enveloping rush felt by the adrenaline pumping minds of the young dancers. Seven of them in total, supported by a creative team that allowed them to fully be themselves in a present place. Anticipation left at the door, awareness of self the only thing left. Director Kyra Lehman working with longtime collaborator Jake Himovits  tuned their performers to such a perfect pitch that they just move, they appear unafraid of forgetting a gesture or posture they move with the confidence of muscle memory. They are not remembering their choreography they are feeling it, they are swinging through space and time on prearranged lines and patterns that have no thought attached to them at present, just doing, and being. This perfect presentness is not to be confused with haphazard chaos, these performers are ritualistic in their motions and distinct in their behavior. They are rhythm. All seven performers seemed to move and dance with no anxiety, which would seem a drastic contrast to the theme of the show.

Lehman builds out her performers voices and stories through collaborative writing and talking. Giving them the bravery to expose deep scary wondrous parts of their individual personalities. Always drifting between mentor and student herself Kyra learns from them and then builds the show to allow for them. To give them the platform on which to present themselves. Which is the greatest struggle for any of us, the ongoing question of how do I say what I know I need to say. For some this arrives through an instrument or a canvas. In the case of Teen Age it arrives through the act of performance.

The shows performers are Shuba Brady, Eva Enriquez, Ruby Haber, Lily Linz , Stephanie McPhee, Sylar Rousseau, and Katya Tashma-Rapp. Each of them is currently young, and brave and impressive, but they should not be underestimated. The elaborate event they are able to perform in the show would be difficult for adult professional performers. No excuses are needed in the description of their show, it was brilliant and not because they are teenagers but because they are great performers.

In Teen Age, the performers give a bright clear insight into the cyclical struggles of coming into adulthood and out of childhood. This time in all of our lives is painful and fraught with internal turmoil and still one of the best times of life. The performers execute several patterns and movements that are unmistakable in their code. The grabbing at clothing and body, the struggle to feel completely wrong in the skin they currently posses. Their movements while synchronized still feel like their own, they are clearly working together and for each other. Each movement in support of the person next to them. This of course feels wonderful to watch, every dancer giving room and structure to the other dancers. Often the seven break off into duets or solo motions, but the group never fully excludes them. There is always the feeling during the performance that no-one is out on their own, they are always with-in arms reach. This is a feeling that could only be created by a cast and crew of committed friends.

The actual show existed in a small storefront converted for the purpose and held a small audience. The performance took place on the floor in front of the audience who quite literally had their backs pressed to the wall. This forced intimacy was riveting, giving the audience the feeling of inclusion in the piece. We were not neutral observers we were integral components pushing the performers forward, and forward they did go.

The lights snap on, shocking the audience with the awareness of the closeness of the moving bodies. Slow at first then unbelievable quick. The athleticism of a proximity show is always impressive, but this group was drawing on a fearlessness not always seen, a feeling of invincibility. They rapid fired through story telling with gesture and non-sequential thrusts which echo perfectly the feeling of the young in their quest to find their own path while not seeming to stand out too much. The solos and duets are heart breaking, the vulnerability and bravery going hand in hand, or foot in hand at times. Every part of these performers bodies are stretched and pulled.

At moments they are drawn together in a pile, and it is overwhelming how the knowledge of that safety is absent in most of the world. The youthfulness of their stature playing as benefit here, their energy seems total and complete. 

While the effort of their exertion is clear, they use their breathing as another dance gesture. Using the rhythm and pace, and volume of their breathing as an instrument. Several times during the show the audience is letting the performer breath for them as we sit holding our collective breath while at other times we the audience are willing the dancers to breath, willing them to stop the restrictive hold they have on themselves and just relax, but they do not. As in all of teen life we the old have a naive thought that we have all the answers when we clearly don’t. We should never look to the struggles of the teen and just try to relax them. They are tightly wound and that is their strength, they hold us accountable to our own ethics and morals. They challenge or grasp on authority just by being themselves, and they do it by being confusing and unreasonable, and we need them to keep it up.

They do not yield to the request to relax, they fight to the end, which is another great metaphor for the teen age, fighting to the end of everything, unwilling to yield even an inch to anything and especially not the bullshit of life which so often crushes down on the optimism and hope present in the young. Every moment of Teen Age holds you, from the stylish costumes, so appropriate for the show to the size of the space, the literal proximity of the performer to audience is unforgiving. And yet it is the greatest gift, nothing can be missed, no inhalation, no quiver of muscle, we are with them the entire time, and they are with us. This theatre company is capable of drawing out an emotional response unlike most other activities in life. The endorphins released while watching these performers break themselves open for their director and subsequently for us the audience is awe inspiring, which is not a big enough word. Watching this performance lets you live in that moment, the moment right after you realize for the first time that, you like yourself, and that it is all going to be all right. You are right there at that moment of awake and it is marvelous.

Kyra Lehman is very good at making a lot out of a little and it causes me more than a little sadness to watch this creative power-plant operate without every tool possible. However with that said, seeing a Proximity Theatre performance is a lot like seeing your favorite band play the best set of their careers in your favorite little bar. It feels gluttonous to enjoy being here now for them while they are still confined in the tiny venue. I revel in the chance to see this director have room to really work and I challenge anyone who cares about beauty and culture to come forward and place the right tools in this talented company’s capable hands.

Teen Age was directed by Kyra Lehman & Jake Himovitz, I can not credit them enough with making the wonderful real. As often is the case music was provided by the overtalented Ken Urbina. Chiara Perez del Campo provided the stage management, which is a form of permission for a performer to not worry about the how. Sophie Leddick designed the costumes, which freed the performers to be cloaked in a protective uniform.

Featured performers:
Shuba Brady
Eva Enriquez
Ruby Haber
Lily Linz
Stephanie McPhee
Sylar Rousseau
Katya Tashma-Rapp


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