A certain amount of patience is required of audiences attending one of Nick Cave’s “Up Right” performances running this month at the Park Avenue Armory, but there is a payoff, and it might well be worth it. The performances are part of the artist’s installation “The Let Go,” and they unfold slowly and deliberately as attendants assemble Cave’s wearable “Soundsuits” on the bodies of dancers stationed throughout the Armory’s massive drill hall. The artist’s 40-foot by 100-foot mylar streamer sculpture, “Chase,” is suspended from the ceiling and loosely frames the performance space, ensconcing the audience and performers in a warm, glittery waterfall of color. A gospel choir enters the drill hall with their hands up and sings ebullient but repetitive arrangements of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Changed,” while the dancers are ritualistically and painstakingly buried beneath layers upon layers of feathers, hair, headpieces, fabric and various other objects over the course of some 40 minutes.
The spectacle is as compelling as it is boring, but Cave and his performers deftly cultivate the audience’s trust — the dancers are entirely transformed and if we stick with the process, we may experience some transformation, too. Finally, mercifully, the dancers are free to move throughout the drill hall and they perform an ecstatic, reverent, freeform piece choreographed by “movement director” Francesca Harper, a culmination that is thrilling and breathtaking.
Cave is not shy about making overt political statements in his work, and there’s a lot going on here. In creating “The Let Go,” he was inspired by the vitriolic town hall meetings that took place across the US in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and the full installation is comprised of several key components: the mylar curtain “Chase,” which represents the relationship between the police and the black community in the US and moves on a pulley-like contraption throughout the Armory’s drill hall; the “Up Right” performances and Cave’s “Soundsuits,” which were designed to conceal race, class, gender and identity (the first “Soundsuit,” created in 1992, was in response to the Los Angeles police brutality against Rodney King); and open installation hours, during which visitors and community groups are invited into the drill hall to dance to house music and interact with “Chase” (professional dancers and occasionally a “Soundsuit” wearer will be in the drill hall during open installation hours to “activate” the space).
“I was very interested in this whole notion of letting go,” Cave told ALL ARTS in a recent interview. “And where do we go with all that is going on politically. How do we find refuge to release this anguish and frustration, and what a better way than on a dance floor.”
Indeed. Following a recent “Up Right” performance, the sound system kicked on and a sweaty, groovy dance party broke out. Taken as a whole, “The Let Go” might not go down in art history as one of Cave’s most memorable creations, but it’s fun, and cool, and sometimes that’s enough.
Watch the video above for more from Nick Cave on the installation and scenes from “The Let Go.”