Snake Talk, premiered in 2016, is created and performed by Abby Crain, Layton Lachman and Mara Poliak, with lighting design by Elizabeth Ardent and sound design by Samuel Hertz. In Snake Talk, the female subject remains slippery and undefinable within an aesthetic terrain of discomfort, excess and distortion. We are are dense, opulent, dazzling, awkward, seductive, repulsive, terrifying. We ooze, leak, wander, tie ourselves in a knot, rip apart at the seams. We have forgotten the difference between kissing and eating. 


photos by Robbie Sweeney

photos by Robbie Sweeney

Artist Bios ::

Abby Crain is an Oakland based artist who makes dances, teaches, writes, curates and performs. Her work has been presented in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, NYC, and Berlin. She worked with Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People from 2001-2009, and has danced in various capacities with Sara Shelton Mann since 1999. She has also had the pleasure of performing in the work of David Dorfman, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Guillermo Gomez Peña, and Jess Curtis, to name a few. She has taught through Movement Research NYC, teaches annually in Dos Rios California with Sara Shelton Mann, at the FRESH Festival, and recently, at Ponderosa Tanzland in Stolzenhagen, Germany. She has studied Open Source Forms with Stephanie Skura since 2009, and was certified to teach the work in 2014. She is engaged in an ongoing research and teaching collaboration with Margit Galanter under the moniker Art Workouts, and an ongoing dialogue about language and movement with Oakland poet David Buuck.


Layton Lachman is a dance maker and curator based in Oakland, CA. She has been in ongoing collaboration with Mara Poliak and Abby Crain since 2013 and has been a visiting artist/teacher at Whitman College, Beloit College, Green Street Studios (Boston), and Dance New Amsterdam (NYC), and the FRESH Festival. Lachman works as a collaborative performer in works constructed by Minna Harri, Sara Shelton Mann, Kathleen Hermesdorf and Christine Bonansea. She attended ImPulsTanz as part of the danceWEB residency in 2012 and received a California NextGen artist grant the same year. Maryanna is one of the seven women of SALTA, a collective of dance curators in the East Bay. In 2014, SALTA presented their paper Pseudo-, Anti-, and Total Dance: on Curating an Experimental Dance Series, at “Envisioning the Practice: Montréal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts”. That paper was recently published in Critical Correspondence in NYC and will be published this spring by the Université de Montréal, as part of an anthology on curatorial practice. Lachman is invested in community organizing, in creating trans-disciplinary platforms for discussion surrounding practice and making cultural space for dance experiments to flourish.


Mara Poliak is a dancer, curator, artist, and writer based in Oakland.  She is currently working with Margit Galanter in her Cave Forms project, and has been a collaborative performer in works by Bay Area choreographers including Tessa Wills, Macklin Kowal, Jess Curtis, and Jesse Hewit.  Mara has recently shown her solo and collaborative work in SF, LA, NYC, Seattle, and Portland, was a guest artist at Whitman College in Washington, and an artist-in-residence at Pieter PASD (LA), CounterPulse, Starline Social Club, Subterranean Arthouse, and Culver Center for the Arts (Riverside). She is a member of SALTA, a 7-woman collective that curates a free monthly mobile performance series in the East Bay. Mara has been a teaching artist for the past seven years at Creativity Explored, a studio in San Francisco for adult artists with developmental disabilities. Her practice is invested in collaboration, feminisms and perspectives other than human.


Elizabeth Ardent (Lighting Design), is a freelance lighting designer based in Oakland, California. She has collaborated with theaters, dance companies, directors, choreographers, musicians and visual artists. Elizabeth has designed shows locally at CounterPULSE, ODC Theater, ZSpace, The Garage / Kunst Stoff Arts / SAFEhouse, Meridian Gallery, Subterranean Arthouse, Omni Oakland Commons and Mills College, to name a few. She is a member of SALTA, a feminist live-arts curatorial collective. With SALTA, Elizabeth has helped over 120 dance artists stage their works in unique and shifting venues throughout the Bay Area. Elizabeth has also traveled to light shows in Boise, Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles. Most recently, Elizabeth worked as a production consultant at American Realness Festival in New York City. She holds a BFA in Theater and a BA in Critical Pedagogy.


Samuel Hertz (Sound Design), composer and performer, received his MFA at Mills College, where he studied composition and electronic music with Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, and Zeena Parkins. He has worked with numerous dance companies throughout the United States, and his work has been seen/heard at ACUD MACHT NEU (Berlin, Germany), Nebulullaby (London, UK), ACRE Gallery/ACRE-TV (Chicago, IL), ARTX (Long Beach, CA), Jack Straw New Media Gallery (Seattle, WA), Harvestworks (New York, NY), The Uncreativity Festival (Minneapolis, MN), and WBEZ Radio (Chicago, IL) among others. Samuel has worked as lead technical assistant to, and performed with, Morton Subotnick, Alvin Curran, and John Driscoll. Currently, he composes music for a number of San Francisco Bay-area choreographers, in addition to working on an electro-acoustic composition commission by the OpusCentrum Ensemble (Bourges, France). Recently, he was an artist-in-residence at Bains::Connective in Brussels, Belgium.

“There is something strained, desperate, precarious about the zany that activates the spectators desire for distance. “

“The aesthetic of non-stop acting or doing that is zaniness is hot: hot under the collar, hot and bothered, hot to trot.”

 “seemingly lighthearted but strikingly vehement”  
---Sianne Ngai describing the aesthetic category of zany as outlined in her 2012 book “Our Aesthetic Categories” 

Snake Talk is a third-wave feminist proposal nestled within an extreme and often uncomfortable aesthetic framework. We are tired of men making dances about feminism, and we are tired of making dances that attempt to transcend or obscure the troubling effect of neoliberalism and late capitalism on contemporary life. Snake Talk harnesses the somewhat terrifying aesthetic of the “zany” (as delineated by feminist cultural theorist Sianne Ngai) to confront, consume and transmute patriarchal and neoliberalist frameworks. In Snake Talk, three women use their own bodies as discursive sites for a radical reformulation of the female figure as a performative entity.  Snake Talk constructs a decidedly un-cute femininity, that meets voracious consumerism and hyper commodification with its own uncomfortable hunger, unrelenting energetic arc, bottomless sexual fervor, and subversive refusal to swallow hegemonic structures of power and meaning.

Snake Talk presents a performing female subject who lives within an aesthetic terrain of discomfort, excess and distortion. She is slippery and undefinable. She indulges in the intoxicating delirium bred in the heat of a crazed neoliberal economy that predicates the success of its citizens on their ability to take on “virtually any job at any moment in an incessant flow of activity” (Ngai). Neither she nor her consumer differentiate between artifice and authenticity. She is as ready to howl, climax, or spin out of control as she is to present a lecture, draw a diagram, slump pants-less on the couch, scavenge for carrion, eat, or shed her skin.  She is a mother of three enjoying a “Little Debbie” snack cake after a thirteen hour shift at Walmart. She is a crazed whore ready to devour.  She is a know-it-all scientist and a self-assured liar, a hormonal teenage boy, a sexy terrifying giantess. She is a soldier, a pervert, a harpy, and a nurse.  She is useful to us because she does not stop, because she will do anything for survival, but we are not sure if we want to be close to her.

Snake Talk inhabits a voracious intellectual landscape driven by the pressures of production. Mirroring capitalist frenzy, Snake Talk chooses availability over discernment or logic as its primary aesthetic filter.  It seizes anything that seems relevant or willing, and puts it to work. A sprawling body of source material draws from influences as diverse as teenage pop culture, 80s minimalist opera,  90’s goth divas, 70’s feminist iconography, scientific texts on animal behavior, new age spirituality, sci-fi, queer ecology, and amateur porn. To quote Roland Barthes, “a host of perceptions suddenly come together to form a dazzling impression (to dazzle is ultimately to prevent sight, to prevent speech).” This disorienting patchwork of texture and information is served to a consuming subject that may never be satisfied. As the effect of the dizzying spectacle wears off, the spectator may soon be hungry and begin searching for more. Snake Talk thus draws the performer -- the cultural producer -- and the consuming subject into a web of complicity.

The structure of the work is predicated on survival and adaptation from underneath the dominant form. It is a diagram of the fissures, weaknesses, and gaps of the hegemonic framework. Snake Talk moves between streams of unmediated movement that ooze, leak, and wander. It abruptly halts and shifts direction, ties itself into a knot, and suddenly rips itself at its seams to make room for more performers.  It does not resolve nor does it arrive at its destination. However, Snake Talk dares to suggest that it is exactly in this refusal to take a recognizable form that we create our most viable structures, and this excessive, subversive accumulation of more and more textures may be our best chance of “seeing (if only for a flash) everything at once: seeing whole” (Ursula K. Le Guin). Crazed, spinning, gasping and powerful, the female subject survives and transforms herself.