Performed Saturday, March 30, 2019
As part of the 2019 EstroGenius Festival at The Kraine Theatre
New York, NY
For many of us, amassing stuff is a side effect of living. The process begins in childhood and continues as we grow up, the items changing from stuffed animals and half-used school notebooks to old receipts and novelty mugs. But as Sarah Chien’s latest solo work shows, the concept of collection is not confined to material goods. We can hoard memories, emotions, and thoughts easier than any item, and as Chien guides us through her own psychological decluttering, she strikes at the all too familiar tension between who are and who we wish to be.
“Songs Stuck in My Body,” which premiered as part of the EstroGenius Festival at the Kraine Theater in the East Village, is neither a recreation of past events nor a theatrical therapy session. Instead, Chien mixes storytelling, self-parody, and personal history in ways that are both comedic and somber, reminding us that we are our own best critic.
The work begins with Chien singing the “Girl Scouts Smile” song—a song that was almost undoubtedly designed to get stuck in your head. Later, there are Beanie Babies, a clothesline of t-shirts from youth sports camps, and a red Ryder wagon. And just as a silly song from grade school can get stuck in your head at the most inopportune moments, Chien recounts how these markers from childhood resurface in the strangest of ways. In a particularly wonderful moment, Chien balances a set of silver salt and pepper shakers in her palms and proceeds to move her arms and upper body in slow, exploratory motions while telling a story about simultaneously cringing at her past and embracing it for who it makes her today, especially as it relates to her internalization of gender norms, family dynamics, and parental expectations. And as with old things, when Chien endeavors to let go of her less desirable emotional relics, there’s still a sense of loss that comes with moving on.
The common thread through all these stories is Chien’s journey as a dancer, and indeed, dance is the ideal vehicle for Chien’s expression. She is a compelling mover—gymnastic and fluid, she gives the impression that she is sensing the space and audience with her entire being. Improvisation is a cornerstone of Chien’s artistic practice, and thanks to this even the more choreographed moments of the piece feel reactive and unfiltered. Some people muse that the best way to get a song out of your head is to sing it; what better way to get a sensation out of your body than to dance it?
We can’t sell or donate or throw away our memories. We can’t purge our headspace like we do our closets. And while we can try to suppress the past, our bodies have a way of snapping into old habits before our mind is even aware of the trigger. Chien doesn’t answer the questions laid out in “Songs…,” but her study of these somatic connections to the past is an entertaining start.