Provocative Ann Liv Young
The opening scene of Snow White, Ann Liv Young’s latest offering to NYC audiences, was performed at The Kitchen in mid-March. The opening features Young screaming the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” as though she’s in a karaoke bar, circa 1990. Her white long-sleeved leotard, adorned with giant silver sequins, shows off her second-trimester pregnant belly, and her bare legs are accentuated by the kind of black high-tops soccer moms wear to aerobics class. Scene two quashes any doubt that she’s self-conscious in this getup when she changes costumes, panties and all, while standing center stage.
All three cast members get naked quite often throughout the show. Young (who plays the title character and Liz Santoro (the Prince) have sex “no, really, there’s a strap-on and K-Y Jelly involved” and Michael Guerrero, who does everything from helping run the sound from a laptop on a cluttered table onstage to fetching water bottles for the women when they’re thirsty, eats a sandwich between cues. (Guerrero is also Young’s boyfriend and the father of her unborn child.) At one point Young asks him, out of context, where her vitamins are. He doesn’t know.
Young, 26, likes to subject her audiences to such spontaneity to make them uncomfortable and get them to think. “The work can be challenging,” she admits. “It pisses audiences off all the time. I ask why, and they tell me things like it’s because they don’t want to see naked women onstage who aren’t really skinny. I say, ‘you clearly have a problem.’ It’s almost like the work is holding a mirror up and they’re being forced to look at themselves.”
Conformity has never come easy to Young. During her childhood, which she spent as a studio dancer, she says, “I liked going to class, but there were times when I would run offstage. I didn’t understand the concept of ‘do this dance, stay on stage, and you have to all be together’.” She went on to attend the North Carolina School of Performing Arts (she hails from the Outer Banks of NC), and after fighting off the instinct that attending an all-women’s college would have her branded a cult member for life, eventually enrolled at Hollins University, where she studied choreography and textile design. The cattiness there was fierce; at times she contemplated leaving the school altogether. But the American College Dance Festival repeatedly featured her work, and Donna Faye Burchfield, the dean of ADF and the dance department chair at Hollins Univeristy, was incredibly supportive. Young threw herself into her projects. It didn’t help her make friends, but it did help her find her artistic voice. “The work I made didn’t always please people,” she says, “but it really got a lot of attention.”
It was there that her style got an edge. “I was making a lot of stuff where I would be onstage yelling ‘go’ and it was this kind of militant, aggressive female telling these other females what to do,” she explains. This created as many critics as followers. “People thought it was just wrong,” she says. “They said, ‘you’re too militant. You work people too hard.’” But Young makes no apologies for knowing exactly what she wants and doing what it takes to get it. I’m really serious about what I do, which I think can be intimidating and also confusing, because it’s not a joke. It isn’t a vacation to me.”
She demands a lot of her performers; nothing she wouldn’t do herself, though, and the work can get pretty taboo. In Michael, for instance, a topless woman is seen thrashing around to Eminem’s”Crazy in Love” (sung by Young) while riding a tire swing. A man in a suit stands at a nearby window on an elaborate set made to look like the interior of a trailer and masturbates to ejaculation.
The conceptual, visual, and auditory barrage that is Young’s work seems a perfect fit for her next project: a version of Alice in Wonderland produced in collaboration with a performance artist and videographer from Paris whom she recently met on a train while traveling to Montpelier, France. Snow White will tour Europe through the end of this year.
First published in movmnt magazine “Hotel Culture” Summer 2007 issue 4