Dance, Drama and Desire

by Rhoda Yun

photography courtesy of Rhoda Yun

A small silhouette emerged from the darkened stage and assumed its position with deceptive composure. Standing dead center, Mitski was dressed modestly in a white blouse and black knee-length skirt, like a substitute teacher about to introduce herself to the class.

Without uttering a word, she stood at an intimate distance from the microphone and took immediate command over the stage—the crowd was hushed by none other than her silent authority. Her hands were locked behind her back and her gaze looked above and beyond the abyss of people before her. A single light illuminated one side of her face as she coddled the mic to sing.

She gave the audience a little taste of the rest of her choreography-heavy set with “I Don’t Smoke” as she elevated one stoic, slow-moving arm like a statue coming to life, leaving her other arm taut behind her back.

A red haze filled the stage for “Me & My Husband,” and Mitski set the scene for a slow tease. She caressed her hip with the tips of her fingers as she made her way up from the back of the stage. She sensually beckoned the audience, sliding her hand down her thigh. The crowd couldn’t help but surrender their mouths open.

“Dan The Dancer” followed suit with a black folding chair as the main prop. She circled the black mass as if speaking to a phantom, grieving and reminiscing this imaginary Dan. Throwing her head back, she pedaled her dance slippers into the air as her skirt slipped away to reveal her black knee pads.

Mitski sat back lazily into the chair for “Once More to See You” with her legs spread shamelessly apart. Lips kissing the grooves of her mic, the singer yearned for her lover through soft verses and subtle percussion.

The knee pads, a questionable fashion choice at first glance, would prove themselves useful later for “I Will,” where Mitski crawled over to her bottled water and took a sip, as if it were part of the choreography.

“My God, I’m so lonely,” she sang out into the sea of people, introducing her most recent hit single “Nobody,” as she did some Macarena-esque choreography that somehow looked suave. For a brief moment, the audience broke out of their grief-ridden, star-stricken coma to dance along to this zingy pop tune about hopelessness and self-doubt.

A song that feels like watching the sun rise, “I Want You” humbled the audience back into stillness. She conducted the crowd with one slow moving arm. “You’re coming back, and it’s the end of the world,” she cried as the screens behind her showed a cinematic nebula explosion.

She divulged the frustration felt from suffering through her all-American romance in the insanely popular “Your Best American Girl.” Mitski kicked her skirt away to assume a defiant sumo-squat while bellowing, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me.” She air-punched her feelings in a brilliant, tenacious tantrum—which seemingly persisted into the next song.

“Drunk Walk Home” sounds precisely as one would imagine. The drum sounded like heavy, drunken footsteps as Mitski bicycle-pumped her arms to the beat. “You know I wore this dress for you, these killer heels for you,” she cried. By the end, the Japanese-born songstress was a voodoo doll, flinging her body around the stage, possessed and ravenous. The audience stood in awe as she unraveled before their very eyes. It was hard to fathom that it was all just part of the act.

The set list weaved in and out of recent and older albums, ending on the very appropriate “Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart” from her second studio album Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.

As the night progressed, it became more and more apparent that Mitski is a woman of many facades. Her lyrical nakedness reminds us that humans are multidimensional beings who should feel entirely normal feeling tenderness, anger, sorrow, lust—and this was all taught within one night. “Thank you for saving my life,” she concluded graciously and swiftly made her exit.