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“Hi, I’m Faye Driscoll.” As she points out exits and reminds us to turn off our phones, the dancer-choreographer’s opening welcome to “Thank You for Coming: Space” at the ICA Thursday night seems simple enough. But she forges on. She gratefully acknowledges what it might have taken for all of us to get to her performance, from morning shower to traffic woes, with maybe a little anxiety woven in. “I’m glad you are all here. …You look good,” she says appreciatively, a little nugget of validation. As she draws us in, we are transformed from audience to participants, a community embarking on a journey together.

“Space” is the final installment of a trilogy of works Driscoll has been developing over the past five years to create communal forums for questioning: How do we perceive ourselves as participants in the co-creation of our reality, and through performance can we collectively create a new vision of society? “Space” is by far the most intimate and personal, designed to invite contemplation of “life’s final flourishing … our shared conclusion.” Yes, this one’s about death.

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Roughly 80 of us are seated on the stage itself, reconfigured with full-around two-tiered seating to form an open square-like shape. Weights and objects (microphones, fruit) dangle from ropes crisscrossing the scaffolding above. (The visual design is by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin.) As Driscoll sets the central weight in motion, focusing our attention as it circles around and around, she begins an elaborate ritual that reels from the poetic to the grotesque, the subtle to the bombastic. And along the way, it gets messy. Primal moans, stomps, squawks, and heavily miked boots create thundering looped rumbles, some so loud and assaultive for those near the speakers that we have to cover our ears. (Andrew Gilbert did the sound design.) Fruit juice and water splatter. Cinder blocks crush. The unduly gross description of the decay process after death is amplified by goopy visual aids that splat to the floor.

But the poetic moments profoundly resonate. As she roves the audience, we are at her command – to anchor a rope, cradle her head, provide support as she stretches backward. She is totally in control yet breathtakingly vulnerable. “Hold my hand, squeeze it hard,” she asks individuals. When they let go, her hand remains curved from the encounter, illuminating the shape of absence. She passes around a bag of clay, which takes the imprint of many hands until she unwraps it, breaking it into clumps that she vigorously throws onto the floor. The red amorphous lumps take the shape of violence.

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Toward the end, Driscoll ascends a platform and seems to address a loved one in the throes of dying. “Your eyes are getting cloudy, as if you’re looking at something far away only you can see.” She catalogs a list of possessions, enjoins the audience in call and response. But it morphs from moving and provocative to over the top, self-indulgent. A short 75 minutes, the show still feels in need of some editing, especially here.

Yet the ending is perfect. After describing the body’s absorption back into the world, she brings it home with a simple sung refrain. “You are so many.” Her solo gradually broadens into a resonant electronic chorus, then just as gradually winnows down to her single voice. Then we are left in darkness.

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FAYE DRISCOLL: Thank You For Coming: Space

At Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Nov. 21-24

Tickets $20-$30, www.icaboston.org

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.


Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.