Dancing With Jarvis Cocker: A Member Of The "Who's Zoo" Troupe Tells All

Judy McGuire
Editor's note: This weekend, Jarvis Cocker performed at the Whitney Museum in his Relaxed Muscle guise as part of the choreographer Michael Clark's "Who's Zoo" residency. The performance brought together dancers both trained and amateur, and Seattle Weekly's Dategirl/The Official Book Of Sex, Drugs, And Rock And Roll Lists author Judy McGuire was one of the lucky people who got a crash course in dance. In honor of Cocker's band, Pulp, beginning its two-night run at Radio City Music Hall this evening, we got her perspective on being involved in the performance.

We were called "zombies" and "klutzes" by the Post and compared to an "encroaching plague" by Gia Kourlas at the Times, but the reality is, we were sculptors, writers, lawyers (okay, only one), painters, trendspotters (again, only one), entry-level assistants, actors, students, filmmakers, bookmakers, art dealers and historians, and the un/under-employed. We were the "non-dancer" element in choreographer Michael Clark's "Who's Zoo" residency at the Whitney Biennial.

Why would non-dancers be part of a dance performance? Well, I never really got a firm answer to that, but I've been a fan of Clark's since I saw a documentary about his company—including the late Leigh Bowery—dancing to the Fall back in the '80s. So when I heard they were looking for volunteers I signed on immediately. The only requirement was that one had to be able to sit down on the floor and get up quickly. I might not be able to entrachet, but I sure can stand up.

The time commitment was intense—volunteers were required to be at the Whitney for a few hours nearly every day for a month, and about ten people dropped out over the run. We spent the first two weeks learning our steps in full view of Biennial crowds. "Together, open, turn, step" became our mantra. The name of the performance started to make sense because we were like animals in the zoo, though the art fans who watched were generally better behaved than toddlers trying to force Cheetos through cage bars.

Unlike at the Tate, where Clark first attempted using large groups of the klutzy public in his performances, we weren't trained by members of his company. Instead, several extremely patient dance students from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts signed on to turn us into, if not full-fledged dancers, at least semi-competent prancers, while Clark and co dropped in occasionally to offer a hand.

Instead of the Bowie songs he'd used at the Tate, Clark went with Pulp and Jarvis Cocker's side project with Jason Buckle, Relaxed Muscle. We learned to together-open-turn-step in time with Pulp's "F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E.," while the real dancers glided between us, like gazelles amongst the water buffalo.

Predictably, the non-dancer skill levels were all over the place and whenever you get 45 people trying to work together—especially 45 people with enough spare time to devote a month to an unpaid art project—"personalities" emerge. Some were buttsore over the "non-dancer" label, while others got snippy with their less coordinated colleagues. But overall, this disparate group from all over the world got along shockingly well, and while there were several Showgirls moments, nobody went full-on Nomi.

Halfway through the first week of shows, we heard rumblings that Jarvis Cocker would be playing live with us for the second week. I asked Lucy, the stage manager, if this was true. She coyly refused to confirm or deny, until the following day when she allowed that yes, it was happening.

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