Image: Kate Holly

A lanky, dark-haired woman dressed in black steps out from behind a green wall. Her movements smooth, her steps calculated, her face gaunt and serious. A series of undulations and dance phrases follow. Why? Like a lot of dance, it’s yet unclear. But don’t worry. She’s about to explain.

Ieva Miseviciute’s deep, accented voice captivates the room as she repeats her movements and explains them step-by-step, lunge-by-lunge. “What does low mean?” she asks, her body almost fully on the ground. “Hospitality!” she answers, as laughter shakes the audience. “And lower than that? Lower hospitality!”

She starts to switch up her attitude, wardrobe, and props, demonstrating, either through words or through her painstakingly earnest expressions, how ridiculous these elements often seem in performance art. “Let me introduce this box,” Miseviciute says after her helper places a box on stage. “This box will stand here aimlessly. But I love it. Because it reminds me of three boxes.”

Billing herself as a "former Lithuanian clown, academic, and practioner of unproductive gymnastics," she gleefully pokes fun at the heady conceptual nature of performance art, asking the questions we all wish we could ask but general don’t, because we fear they’ll make us look dumb. Really, why is there a box? What does that movement sequence mean? She’s joyfully satirical, she’s critical, she's a beautiful mover (her reed-thin body makes her seem almost a Pixar character), and at least in the first half of I Will Rip Your Arms Off, she’s taking some of the hot air out of the rest of the festival.

But slowly it shifts, and it’s almost like Miseviciute gets sucked into the artifice of the performance, losing her motive. According to the program, her performance is meant to illustrate a “joke that lost its punch line.” The punch line definitely gets lost, but by the end of the show I’d forgotten that this was the point, and I was left wondering the exact question she had been pretending to reveal: “Why?”

In a satirical performance about artistry, Miseviciute gets mired in her own satire, leaving viewers wondering if this was intentional, or if she simply forgot the direction she initially planned. Or possibly both.

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