The walk down from the CenterStage lounge in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance to Dressing Room E was long and mysterious. I followed the usher down the steps of a building that I thought I knew well. As we reached the door, she rapped on it twice and invited me to enter. Before I knew it, I was alone in a room sitting in a chair opposite a woman clad in a golden, knee-length blazer, two rubber gloves and a mask that covered the top half of her face. Suddenly, a soft voice with a thick European accent came from a speaker on the floor. Thus, Swiss choreographer Marie-Caroline Hominal begins the one-on-one show The Triumph of Fame.
I purposefully entered the play with no background on the performance and no idea of what to expect. Thus, the one-on-one performance was a particularly jarring experience. Sitting across from Hominal, I watched her as she watched back at me. Then the voice came over the speakers again and she removed one glove. Then she stared at me once more. Or at least I thought she was staring at me – the piercing eyes of her mask made it difficult to see the actor behind it. The whole production proceeded in this way as the disembodied voice would read an adapted line from Petrarch’s poem “I Trionfi” and Hominal would make a move to remove yet another article of clothing.
The show made a deeply uncomfortable analysis of how fame comes from the costume that the individual wears and the character that he or she embodies. The costuming choice here – a flashy gold blazer, sleek black gloves and super-high heels with literal stars as the sole – made that abundantly clear. Eventually it became apparent, if it wasn’t already, that these colorful tokens of fame were in fact the only thing she was wearing and that this show was leading to the eventual nudity of the only actor in it.
Suddenly the performance no longer had only one player in it. I began to feel immediately watched and felt that now the woman in front of me was scrutinizing my every move as opposed to the other way around. The socialized discomfort with nudity kept my eyes glued to her mask’s eyes as she slowly disrobed over a meaningfully slow 15 minutes. This culminated with her naked on the floor of the dressing room sitting back on her knees with her costume laid out between us as we matched eyes for an unknowable amount of time.
Then slowly she untied the mask and removed it. Suddenly she seemed to be a normal human. Every barrier of access to her work and the show I had just seen evaporated – removing the mysticism in a powerful way as her life-filled eyes stared back at me. After a few more beats she asked my name, recorded it in her notebook, and signaled for me to leave. Just as strangely as it began, it was over.
The show followed the narrative trajectory of “I Trionfi,” in which Fame triumphs over Love, Chastity and Death only to lose out to Time and Eternity. In this way Hominal’s performance showed a dominant control and manipulation of Love, Chastity and Death, only to be ended by a 15-minute time limit and an eternity of being emblazoned in the viewer’s mind.