Hope after Tragedy
Vanessa Anspaugh’s mourning after mornings offers a sprawl of unruly movement and intergenerational tenderness at New York Live Arts.
Vanessa Anspaugh: mourning after mornings
November 10–12, 2022
Before we get into the messy emotions of mourning after mornings, the performance begins with a stark opening: a wheeled office table rockets across the stage, filling the theater with a rumbling echo. Amelia Koper Heintzelman and Leah Fournier shunt the table back and forth, making riskier and riskier passes. More moments of old-fashioned stage magic follow: Anna Azrieli stands up to reveal the word “FUCK” written on a notebook draped over the back of her chair. Later, someone else props up the notebook, showing the addendum “THIS” written on the next page. In a Pulp Fiction-esque moment, a light shines out from between a performer’s legs. maura nguyễn donohue pulls the light bulb out, unspooling the cord. Simultaneously, a hanging light across the stage ascends, as if somehow attached to the light bulb in maura’s hands.
The show revolves around ever-changing relationships between Anna, maura, and Becky Serrell-Cyr. They play the roles of archetypal female outcasts. Characters begin to emerge and I develop shorthand for them—Anna as The Witch, maura as The Butch, and Becky as The Unmatured Woman. They are fickle, cycling through antagonism, tenderness, lust, and contempt. One through-line emerges: they need each other. Their bodies are ceaselessly intertwined, grabbing at thighs and hands, pulling hair and cradling limbs. Anspaugh’s aesthetic walks the line between precious and careless. Any moments of unison quickly become unruly, recognizable structures soon dissolve into more disagreements, more scenes of birth and pain and love.
The table returns with a covered figure lying down, a corpse on a slab draped in lace. The trio circles around the body, reaching their hands underneath the cloth and raising them to their mouths. Are they smelling something? No, they’re snacking, smirking, laughing off a small act of cannibalism as they move on to the next dance. Alternating between full out acting and light mime, they giggle, clean, fuck, masturbate, disrobe, and do some petit allegro.
More shrouded figures appear: C Anthony-Green, Jo Warren, and Laura Osterhaus Rosenstone, all dressed in purple. If the original three are The L Word, this trio is Generation Q. The main trio arrange themselves center stage, looking on with a mix of side eye and amusement. The stage brightens under stark lights as the youths repeat some of the early choreography with vigor and a bit of adolescent defiance. Like their predecessors, they are cheeky and sexual, but lack the zero-fucks stage presence that only comes with age.
The triumphant unison comes to an abrupt close when maura, kneeling on hands and knees, lets out a piercing howl. A simultaneous music cue brings delicate rising arpeggios, a backing track that contrasts with their raw, wailing voice. In over an hour of nonstop transitions, the howl marks a true turning point. The stranger next to me finally stops texting, another person wipes away tears. Listening to the desperate, animal sounds, I remember a novel my roommate read about an overwhelmed mother who loses her grip on reality and transforms into a dog. Sometimes, the only way to cope with the unbearable pressures of human society is to cease being human. Later, Generation Q stands on the side of the stage, holding coiled ropes that descend from the ceiling. For an instant, I’m afraid. Reminders of violence against gender outcasts swirl through my mind, the ever-present history of people publicly executed for not being woman enough. I’m scared they will hang.
Anspaugh takes the performance in the opposite direction, using the stage to imagine a better, more beautiful future. C, Jo, and Laura tangle themselves in the lines, whipping their strands back and forth to make whirring sounds. Later, the ropes become a makeshift net as the performers loop and knot them across the stage. They add accessories—sneakers hanging from their laces reminiscent of shoes on a telephone wire, swaths of lace. Three children join the fray; two of them perform a long elaborate handshake, complete with counts and mirrored choreography. It’s a little tired to use kids as symbols of hope, but I feel embarrassingly touched by the sight of them riding an office table like a gondola, peering out toward the imaginary horizon.
The atmosphere of hope stretches on, as the two trios perform duets pairing the older and younger dancers. Jo and Anna do some quiet mirroring, patiently discovering similarities and differences in their movement vocabularies. Becky and Laura land on the floor, trading scalp massages and playful teasing. C and maura one-up each other with mock seriousness until they end up in a piggy-back ride and dissolve into laughter.
Something queer floats around the whole production. The intergenerational relationships, the non-hierarchical polyamory of the trios, not to mention the extremely queer cast, all point to familiar forms of alternative world-building. mourning after mornings was most compelling when it showcased the range of its performers. Everyone brought their own energy, sometimes awkward, sometimes showy, sometimes strange or withdrawn. But the show fed on these differences, forming a cohesive aesthetic around inclusivity and variety.
The ending comes off as intentionally excessive—each time things settle to a close, the dancers continue into a new tableau. Among the many endings, one sticks sharply in my memory. The original three stand around three corners of a rectangular swath of lace and begin to cry. There is a sudden noticeable absence: one of the corners is empty. I’m left wondering if they have been missing someone else this whole time.