The Theater As A Confessional | By Marie Tollon

A Work of Art Is A Confession.

                                                   – Albert Camus

Pearl Marill Photo by James DePietro

Pearl Marill
Photo by James DePietro

San Francisco-based artist Pearl Marill does not shy away from exploring various -and sometimes unexpected- contexts to present her work, setting it on stage (Missed Connections, 2008), on the video screen (Crunch Pop, 2012), or in San Francisco’s Dolores Park (Her 2013 Critical Ass in Dolores Park is part boot-camp, part community-building, part performance art). So when ODC Deputy Director for Advancement Christy Bolingbroke suggested a cabaret-type evening to Marill, the choreographer appropriated the term and let it inform the direction of her work.

Set in an intimate setting, Some Bodies Confessional became a series of short musical acts revolving around confessions and combining improvisational structures with set choreographic composition. The artist cites her mother, who was a Broadway dancer and actress, as a crucial influence in developing a more theatrical style of moving. “I think musical theater has been a model and an influence on me from a very young age, whether [my mother] was trying to infuse that on me or not. She actually forced me to take my first dance class when I was 11. I was horribly shy and terrified of people looking at me. The dance class basically entailed a teacher putting on music and having us free dance and interpret the music with a scarf! So my training is less traditional and much more improv’-based. I have done training at the American Conservatory Theater and also at the American Dance Festival and I have been informed by acting and dancing for so long that I am constantly looking at the ways I can fuse the two in a way that is satisfying for me to do, and takes the people watching on some sort of journey with me as well,” Marill explained.

Pearl Marill Photo by Elazar Harel

Pearl Marill
Photo by Elazar Harel

Steeped in humor and influenced by pop culture, Marill’s work reveals the artist’s interest in characters with a “darker underbelly,” such as the woman down on her luck: Marill explored that character in a previous work, where she danced with a life-size doll to Enrique Iglesias’ song Hero. This character reappears in Some Bodies Confessional, which offers Marill the opportunity to recycle and elaborate some of the themes that she has visited before. “I expand[ed] that idea and created dolls for everyone in the ensemble. Those bodies are symbolic of the bodies of the performers, but also of everybody, other bodies, [as a way to] address both the personal and the collective.”

Marill subverts the standard notion and format of a confessional by interweaving avowals from audience members throughout the evening, thus juxtaposing the voice of the performer with that of the viewer and destabilizing the conventional speaker-listener configuration. “Before the show we are going to gather confessions that people just write anonymously on paper. We will collect them and put them in a jar that we are going to pull from periodically throughout the evening to interweave those confessions with our ideas in the show (…) What I am excited about is the element of anonymity of the confessions [and] the element of surprise for us, because we won’t have any idea of what they are when we read them,” Marill continued.

Pearl Marill/M.O.C. Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo

Pearl Marill/M.O.C.
Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo

Unlike the spoken confessions that inundate the contemporary public sphere –from reality-shows to live performances like Mortified– the revelations in Some Bodies Confessional are not restricted to the verbal. Indeed, as Marill states, they “also come in the form of movement itself. Our voices often say one thing, but our bodies convey another kind of confession or message.”

With Some Bodies Confessional, Marill revisits Camus’ words quite literally and includes the viewer in creating a universe that reflects both the darker and the more luminous areas of our lives.

Some Bodies Confessional will be presented at ODC Theater this coming Sunday, August 10 and Monday, August 11.

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