The very first thing that the choreographer Faye Driscoll does in “Thank You for Coming: Space,” the final installment in a trilogy, is act out the series’s title. Standing in a slouch, barefoot in a T-shirt and jeans, she thanks her audience for showing up, acknowledging the quotidian difficulties of attending live performance. The speech is disarming, but also, as it extends in awkward silences and tangents, a little disturbing. Something is off.
The set has already raised questions. At New York Live Arts, where “Space” had its New York debut on Wednesday (it was first shown at Peak Performances in New Jersey in April), the audience sits on the stage on two levels of chairs surrounding an empty, white area. Hanging above, connected to ropes and pulleys, are various props: weights, microphones, sage leaves, a lemon. What, you might wonder, does Ms. Driscoll have planned, and will you be involved?
You wonder that especially if you have seen other parts of the trilogy, each of which includes audience participation. The relationship between performer and spectator is the series’s core concern. But where the previous parts were manic ensemble pieces, this time it’s personal: just Ms. Driscoll and us. What she asks for is assistance.
Would you hold her hand? Would you hang on to this rope and let the attached weight drop when she gives a sign? Ms. Driscoll conducts group stomping and some call-and-response singing, but no one even has to stand up. Nothing too scary here.
And yet there is an underlying sense of suspense and risk. You have to trust that the weights swinging on ropes won’t hit your head. When Ms. Driscoll has someone fill her mouth with water, you may fear getting wet. She is methodical yet gives the impression, in pauses and odd smiles, that not even she knows exactly what she might do next.
What she does, mostly, is layer sounds and gestures of anguish. Howling or wheezing into the microphones, she uses electronics to assemble a soundscape of echoes. Holding hands with two audience members, she arches as if stretched on a rack; then she repeats the pose alone, figuring the shape of absence, trying out the isolation that we all ultimately face. And the repeated gestures also start to add up, like pieces of a story.
Why the howling? Why the anguish? Those questions only grow louder as the work builds in intensity, Ms. Driscoll banging her head and fluttering her eyelids in some extreme state. It’s not giving away too much to say that “Space” ends with Ms. Driscoll narrating the process of death and decomposition, displaying props to represent the objects and internal organs we leave behind, as she bitterly mocks mortality in different voices.
“There is so much mad in me,” the title of Ms. Driscoll’s 2010 work, still applies to “Space,” her most sober and mature piece yet. In earlier works, the madness got expressed in released id and emotional regression, exciting to some, annoying to others; here the anger is a grief we all share, yet the theatrical skill and energy still exceed the depth of conception. If Ms. Driscoll’s work mounts to thoughts about death no more profound or surprising than ones you’ve probably had yourself, at least she has the grace to thank you for coming.
“Thank You for Coming: Space”
Through Saturday at New York Live Arts; newyorklivearts.org.