“Psychic Effects” is the conceptual framework of a five-act performance opera by artist Dana Bell. The total work re-configures renowned color theorist Josef Albers’ concept of relational aesthetics of colors as a contemporary psychosocial phenomenon: society’s stereotypes of women captured and dramatized in classic Hollywood films as they relate to real life, particularly within the artist's own matriarchal family structure.
This video is in part documentation of the opening segment of a live performance, which introduces the larger project, titled “A Delicate Balance.” This first act examines the syndrome of hysterical collapse, as dramatized by a who’s who of great actresses. Interpreted and excerpted performances of the descent into madness include Gena Rowlands in husband John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under The Influence (1974), Faye Dunway, as Joan Crawford, in Mommie Dearest (1981), Katharine Hepburn in Sidney Lumet’s version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night (1962), and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). "A Delicate Balance" focuses on repeated hysterical movements culled from these classic films, expressed simultaneously in choreography, video, costume and accompanying music.
For this video documentation, the dancers shown reenact these actresses gestures against the backdrop of the artist's personal history. The performance takes place on a beach in Long Island, New York where the artist's family has retreated every summer since the 1950s. The beach, along with the colors represented in the fabric prop have great personal significance for the artist. In the primary colors lay the contrasts between the women in her family. Red symbolizes strength, Blue represents emotion and Green envy. The performers represent the language of the hysterical woman through formal color - they step out of their live performance (which accompanies the film clips of the gestures they re-work) and they step into the fabric trying on each set of characteristics, tying themselves together, creating a united existence, one that is not trounced by the exterior world. On the beach, amidst this personal history, the performers play a game, a tug of war. But with no end to the "rope", a game no can possibly win.
Meg Clixby, Kerry Davis and Leah Retherford perform.