“Snake Talk” is coming to the Ridges Rotunda this weekend. The dance performance piece explores modern day feminism, the aesthetics of a late capitalism society, interdependency between species, and much more. ( by Robbie Sweeney)

Provocative “Snake Talk” Coming to Athens This Weekend

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In 2009, artist, dance maker, and Athens native Maryanna Lachman graduated from the Ohio University Honors Tutorial College with a B.F.A. in dance.

Eight years later, Lachman is headed back to Athens to present Snake Talk, a provocative piece of dance that explores the slippery nature of the female experience. Lachman crafted the piece as a collaborative choreographic team alongside Mara Madrona, Abby Crain; sound designer Samuel Hertz, and lighting designer Elizabeth Ardent.

“We ooze, leak, wander, tie ourselves in a knot, rip apart at the seams. We have forgotten the difference between kissing and eating,” reads the description of the performance, which takes place in the void, the lecture hall and the dance club.

Developed in residency at Lake Studios Berlin and Starline Social Club in Oakland, CA, Snake Talk has been performed in Counterpulse Theater and the FRESH Festival in San Francisco, CA; as well as at the Quarter Block Party in Cork, Ireland; Performance Works Northwest in Portland, OR; ACUD Macht Neu in Berlin, Germany; Ponderosa Tanzland in Stolzenhagen, Germany, and at SIMU in Liverpool, England.

This weekend, it’s coming to Ohio University’s Ridges Rotunda, where Lachman saw her first piece of modern dance when she was 9 years old.

“Coming back to Athens is significant on numerous levels,” said Lachman, who said that Jennie Klein, who served as her thesis advisor during Lachman’s undergraduate experience, was ultimately the catalyst for Snake Talk coming to Ohio University. “It’s great to be working with (Klein) in a different capacity, and it means a lot to be from Athens and to be bringing something into the area that you wouldn’t readily find the area.”

( by Robbie Sweeney)
( by Robbie Sweeney)

Lachman said that the development of the piece came largely from the writings of American cultural theorist, literary critic, and feminist scholar Sianne Ngai; namely her book Our Aesthetic Categories. That particular volume addresses the increasing degree to which those living in the age of late capitalism must “put their affects, subjectivity, and sociability to work.” Ngai argues that various aesthetic qualities express the oft-at-odds feelings that people have in a post-modern world, as a sort of everyday performance.

The press release accompanying the announcement of Snake Talk explains that “live performers have long been in the business of manufacturing emotion and presence long before everyday workers were drawn into this high-stakes game.”

“We drew from a couple of different theoretical inspirations,” said Lachman. “One is a sort of interspecies intimacy in an age of environmental instability and collapse. We were also really looking at the interdependency between life forms.”

…live performers have long been in the business of manufacturing emotion and presence long before everyday workers were drawn into this high-stakes game. – “Snake Talk” press release

Out of the various aesthetic categories that Ngai details in Our Aesthetic Categories, the group that created Snake Talk worked first and foremost with “zany,” which is tightly connected to production; as well as playfulness and desperation.

“Lucy from I Love Lucy is a great example of ‘zany,’” said Lachman. “She’s this woman who is a little bit batty; and she thinks that she can do anything, and she tries to. In the performance we’re looking at feminism in the later stages of capitalism; as a woman, especially, you’re expected to be able to do it all: have children, a job, conform to various sexualized roles and business roles.”

Screenshot taken of a video of "Snake Talk."
Screenshot taken of a video of “Snake Talk.”

Samuel Hertz, the sound designer for the performance, crafted a particularly artful model of speakers to immerse the audience in the performance.

“When we started talking about this piece, we knew that we didn’t want it to be anything like the typical sound design for a theater or dance piece. This particular speaker installment allows us to create a particular environmental sensibility for the audience, in a way,” said Hertz of the 20-speaker installation. “I suppose it would be more accurate to say that the audience is sitting inside the speaker installation.”

In addition to the free performance of Snake Talk at the Ridges Rotunda on Saturday at 8 p.m., there will also be a movement class at the Factory Street Studio on 35 Ohio Ave. in Athens on Friday, Feb. 24, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Lachman said that the workshop is open to all, and intended to be an event even for those who “do not think of themselves as dancers.”

More than anything, Lachman encourages audiences to catch the performance of Snake Talk with an open mind.

“I would suggest that people come interested in having an experience, and be ok with not necessarily feeling like they completely ‘get it,’” she said. “Part of the way we work is to try to move between states of being — scenes, ideas, ways of dancing — so that the audience can find a more open and non-linear approach to this one hour of their life. Perhaps you will experience or perceive something a little differently. Also, we’ll have a post-show talk moderated by curator and performer, Amanda Kurtz, so hold onto the questions you have as they come up during the performance. ”