Everyone has a past life, but not everyone chooses to make it public. In Peggy Piacenza’s latest work Touch Me Here, which premiered at Washington Hall over the weekend, the choreographer explores the changing life of a woman; we’re just not sure if it’s her own. Through dance, music, singing and video Piacenza investigates the effects of past choices on a person’s current psychological state, taking us through fragmented time periods throughout the performer’s life.
Rather than a non-linear but poetically coherent work, Touch Me Here feels disjointed and packed full of too many disparate sections. Its redemption comes when Piacenza dips into the dark side of her character, bringing out her vulnerability and displaying the introspective nature of her artistic mind.
The show opens with Piacenza crawling out from behind a large gold-brown canvas panel feet first, wearing a trench coat and wig. She rolls along the floor in a ring of lit candles in red candleholders that cast fiery light on the canvas. Her movement is controlled and languid. After making her way back to the panel she stands up, lights a cigarette, and starts to peel a piece of paper. Stationed to the side, inside the ring of candles, cellist Scott Bell plays a melancholic score that charges Piacenza’s movements. She disappears behind the panel, only to return in black pants and a white tunic, her blonde hair in a ponytail. The noir vixen transforms into a normal, middle-aged woman. And that is much of what this show is about: transformation.
Whether she’s reminiscing about a past life as a stripper or showing a video of herself rolling—literally rolling along the ground—from her apartment to a coffee shop a few miles away, Piacenza is funny and self-deprecating. Throughout the show she repeats phrases like, “I’ve always been a performer and I’ve played a lot of different parts” and “She lives the lie.”
The title of the show appears in the monologue, but Piacenza performs solo—she never actually touches anyone or gets touched. She does touch her own face, her fingers caressing her own cheeks, covering her eyes, trailing along her jawline—a woman exploring her own identity. She tosses in various religious anecdotes and metaphors and falls into offensive, shock value territory when talking about Jesus’ experience in a strip club.
The thing about life is that it can be quite vulgar. And disjointed and confusing. Even if she didn’t produce the most audience-grabbing show, Piacenza successfully embodies the emotional and psychological consequences of life’s tribulations. She introduces a phrase of abstract movement early in the show that she has been doing “for 25 years,” repeating it at different times, in different outfits, or with different props (a bandana, a bell) bringing forth one of the most fundamental aspects of life: You can grow and evolve over the years, but no matter how much you change, some core part of you will always remain the same.