First RAD Fest late night is ‘like a prayer’

Author’s note: To read additional coverage of the 2018 Midwest RAD Fest, click here.

KALAMAZOO, MI — Gina Kohler walks onstage, naked, and sits on top of a mirror, that’s on top of a muslin drop cloth, that’s on top of a larger plastic drop cloth. She pours a red liquid slowly down her back, across her forehead and across her chest and thighs. The inference could be about menstruation — I had memories of an untoward “bleeding from wherever” comment from then-candidate for President Donald Trump. But no, that’s not right; Kohler began work on this piece in 2008. Whatever is happening here, the beginning of Kohler’s dream [factories], which sits second to last on RAD Fest’s Friday late night program, is clearly about shock value. Her entire body turns pink as she rolls around on the slippery mirror, making a disingenuously sexy face at the audience as she tumbles and falls and glides side to side like she’s roller skating on her knees while Madonna’s Like a Prayer plays.

And so it goes. There comes a duet with a glass dildo to Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, and a pom-pom cheer routine set to AC/DC, and as Kohler shakes and contorts her body her pinkish died flesh normalizes. Shock and awe fade away. Maybe that’s the point, but the only part that doesn’t quite work comes at the end. Kohler dons an apron, and listens to a recorded message from her son, sending too clear a message from this previously bizarre, cringeworthy space. Rather, just let it be weird and then send us home.

But that wasn’t the end of this second of four live performances on the opening night of RAD Fest. The audience was then escorted across the hallway to the Epic Center’s beautiful Judy Jolliffe Theater for Chirp: A gravitational movement experiment, by Bird Clarkson and Jessica Lynn Fox. Clarkson is the central figure in the piece, the Detroit-based hip-hop and sound artist who stands back to back with Fox, a petite contemporary dancer from Huntington, WV. What brought these two artists together remains a mystery; as Fox flutters around Clarkson, who wears a top hat and bowtie over casual apparel, gravity does, appear to be the thing in question. I found Clarkson’s dancing exceptional; unlike many hip-hop artists, it’s more etherial than exhibitionist. Rather than performing tricks, the pulse rolling through his body as he pops and locks is more internalized, mellifluous.

To find a thread that connects the works on this program might be futile, but I can’t help but think back to Kohler’s naked slip ‘n’ slide to Like a Prayer. The essence of each dance seems to be about the internal, made external — a voicing of inner dreams and demons. You know, like a prayer.

Cesar Brodermann | image courtesy of RAD Fest

Utah’s Sara Yanney danced through the catharsis of a tough break up. New York-based César Brodermann, who danced in his work are you holding me, or am I holding myself (the onscreen version of which is also presented in RAD Fest’s Saturday screendance series), appears to do the same as he clings to a naked man (Isaac Lerner) who faces upstage the whole time. Brodermann flails in discontent, pausing at regular intervals in impressive yoga poses. Chicagoans strike at hard and soft tones with Margi Cole’s feminist gaze at punk-rock called Blossom on Bone, and a perfectly trimmed version of Michael Estanich’s dreamy romp through a forest glade in A Place at the Edge of the World to Call our Own.

Coming after all that, just before Kohler’s dream [factories], is a short and sweet solo by Dmitri Peskov, a once-Chicagoan now working at Snow College in Utah. I figured that Peskov was reliably obscure, but the images put forward in To Hear What Never Has Fallen Silent are clear, and chilling. Peskov stands at a microphone, speaking about how his father wrote poems, the first of which was published shortly before the father’s sudden death. It comes across like the best of the Moth Radio Hour; he recites the poem in English and Russian, and needn’t dance at all to engage us. He does, but only for a moment, seeming to imply a man hanging from a neck tie fashioned as a noose in Peskov’s right hand. I can only hope that is not what actually happened to his father.

Live performances and workshops of the Midwest RAD Fest continue through Sunday at the Epic Center, 359 S Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo, MI. Tickets are $15 for individual events, $25 per night, or $45 for a festival pass. For more information and a full festival line-up, visit

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.