What is this America that does not stay in its place- geographical, mental, emotional or political? Why this romance, this journeying, this innocent starvation? Why loneliness, violence, injustice, and eradication? This enormous, forgetful, clumsy lump of land...
Dinner with America is the second in a trilogy of performances addressing the complexities of cultural identity in the 21st century. Where the first piece in the trilogy, Mr Quiver, explored and problematised Indian and English stereotypes, this piece pushes our thinking about what ‘America’ means to us. As the performance space shifts and transforms, it gently uncovers sub-themes of consumerism, rights, ownership, voices, hopes, harvest and division in a visually compelling and unusual piece of work. Click here to purchase the accompanying booklet Dinner with America: essays, films, images and conversations.
I’m fascinated by the notion that in this day and age everyone carries a small piece of ‘America’ inside them, a tiny concept or visual reference, often involuntary. And I’m at once repulsed and delighted at just how easily I feel connected with those ideas, which are often linked to capitalist ideals, of freedom, saturation, desire, individuality. So this is a piece about the ideas and images that we call ‘American’ and, for me, about a complicated personal attachment to both the land and ideas of the United States.
– Rajni Shah
The piece was made and performed in collaboration with costume designer Lucille Acevedo-Jones and film and video artist Lucy Cash, with original lighting design by Cis O’Boyle and technical operation by Steve Wald.
Soundtrack features: interviews with Alice Lovelace, Bailey Barash, Ben Bryson, Bradley Kimball, Carrie Elzey, Chip Epsten, Deshantell Singleton, Eleanor Brownfield, Grady Harris, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Imani Davis, James Gough, Jan Smith, Jean-Marie Mauclet, Jeff Mather, Jerry Cullum, Katy Malone, Lily Trapkin, Linda Norton, Lucille Schmidt, Madison Trapkin, Nicholas B. Schmidt, Philip Trapkin, Priscilla Smith, Ruth Laxson, Samuel Thompson, Stevens and Ronnog Seaberg, Tia Davis, Tim Habeger, Toby Schmidt and Zion Davis. A specially commissioned work by The Mountain Goats.
A sense of ritual, redolent of a religious rite, permeated Dinner with America. It seemed a meditation not merely on American people or culture, but on America itself as an animate being: vast, perplexing and potentially intangible. Entering the performance space I was struck by the hushed concentration of the onlookers who picked their way through channels of powdery soil which criss-crossed the floor, or crouched in darkened corners to survey the scene. It appeared we were all implicated in this rite – a calling up of stories, ideals and images that we each could muse upon as we wished.
- extract from Summoned to Table: Rajni Shah’s Dinner with America by Mary Kate Connolly
The finished version of Dinner with America toured during 2008-2009 alongside give what you can, take what you need to the following venues:
Colchester Arts Centre (2009)
Wunderbar festival, Newcastle (2009) - watch video here
Laban Centre, London (2009)
Phoenix, Exeter (2009)
SPILL festival, London (2009)
Laboral Cultural Centre, Gijon, Spain - part of the S.P.A.C.E. British Council showcase (2009)
Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster (2008)
Previews and in-progress performances:
The Bluecoat, Liverpool (2008)
Pinter Studio, Queen Mary, University of London (2008)
The Basement, Brighton (2008)
The Showroom, University of Chichester (2007)
Pine Gallery, Coastal Currents, Hastings (2007)
Read more and purchase the booklet and DVD Dinner with America: essays, films, images and conversations here.
Artist Chris Goode's full interview with Rajni about the background and making of Dinner with America is available to read here.
Commissioned by Coastal Currents and Fresh, funded by Arts Council England
with support from The Basement, Goldsmiths College, Queen Mary, University of London, University of Chichester and the Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster.
Dinner with America is dedicated to the memory of fellow artist and friend Ronnog Seaberg