Observing and Becoming the Bystander with Moshman and Collazo

Eden Landgrover
Staff Writer

PC: Keia Harris

Political art is no new concept in today’s politically charged artistic world. What was once a precarious risk is now on the brink of becoming normalized. The challenge now is to isolate each work into its own unique, revolutionary work of art in order for it to be an effective change agent. But how can artists advocate for their cause in a way that will make people listen? What is the most effective call to action? MFA candidates Nina Moshman and Isabelle Collazo try their hand at a collaborate performance that informs and challenges their audience in a way that places them into a position of power and forces them to make a choice. They can choose to take action, or they can choose to accept their circumstances and cling to the comfort that their privilege allows.

In Moshman and Collazo’s joint thesis concert, Moshman’s work “#StandingBy” opened the show. The cast of ten began the piece with an audible presentation of privilege- a demonstration in which all participants begin at the same level, but are eventually separated by circumstances that they have or have not experienced. Attending a private school allowed you a step forward, while having divorced parents forced you to take two steps back. The line that the cast had originally formed was eventually drastically broken up, and the audible prompts had compelled the audience to involuntarily keep track of their own advances and withdrawals. Would they have been able to venture far downstage by the conclusion of the walk, would the events of their life have forced them to retreat to the depths of the stage, or would they have been treading precariously on either side of the midline watching their neighbor depart in one direction or the other?

Early in the work, Moshman established a clear protagonist, portrayed by Magalli Morana. Morana resided on a chair in a living room for much of the piece, watching rampant oppression unfold before her on the screen of her TV. She was not directly oppressed, and she found herself in a place of persistent removal from the affliction of others. The people around her were the ones at the mercy of the persecution, and it was up to her whether to act on the injustice or to merely stand by.

Through this, the audience was able to watch Morana decide whether to fight or to watch, whether to ignore or to act. Though she was relatively untouched by the full extent of the repression, it was affecting the people that walked the same streets as her. Would she be a bystander and reside in the security of her privilege, or would she acknowledge her privilege and advocate for those who were not so fortunate?

Following the conclusion of Moshman’s piece, there was a brief intermission for the stage crew to set up the next work, “Finding Carmen, Dancing the In-Between,” by Isabelle Collazo. The audience was asked to leave the theater, and gather in the lobby to await further instruction. Each audience member had received a program at the beginning of the show that held a small piece of colorful paper with an image printed on it inside. The image in the back of your program determined which group you would be placed in once you exited the theater.

Once audience members formed their groups in the lobby, they were led through various displays performed by the dancers in Collazo’s thesis. As audience members walked from performance to performance, they were subtly challenged to choose their role as an observer. Would they take the art as it was and move mindlessly from dancer to dancer, would they seek deeper meaning and try to distinguish the dancer as a specific character or scenario, or would they place themselves into the plotline and essentially become part of the performance?

Six stations later, audience members were allowed back to their seats to observe the rest of the thesis, which was performed in the traditional manner- dancing on the stage while audience members watched from their seats. To open the piece, the characters that attendees had just seen dance were artfully deconstructed to challenge the stereotypes and connotations associated with each story. Collazo works her way through the work as an intermittent observer, and then eventually becomes Carmen Miranda herself, more commonly known for her role as Miss Chiquita.

Overall, this was a brilliantly ordered show that allowed the audience a fully immersive explanation of the bystander effect, first by observing a bystander and then by inadvertently becoming one themselves. Moshman allowed audience members to get comfortable in their seats and watch the events of the work- and the world- unfold at the same time as the protagonist. In this way, the audience was able to become acquainted with their varying degrees of privilege. But attendees could not become complacent because Collazo made them move, and they had no choice but to see the perspectives and scenarios that are being presented to them. The characters and their stories are in the audience member’s world now; do they act or do they ignore?

Finally acknowledging the hardships and oppression of others should either be a call to action or a wakeup call to your conscience, and the movement research that MFA candidates Nina Moshman and Isabelle Collazo have conducted will hopefully catalyze change to a new degree.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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