In this work, inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films, Croatian performers address the fraught director-actress relationship at its core.
The dancer Mia Zalukar lay collapsed on the stage of NYU Skirball, seemingly exhausted after a long solo — but she wasn’t doing it quite right.
“When you fall, you should be more like a dead person,” her collaborator, Bruno Isakovic, interjected, instructing her to look like less like “a worm on the floor.” She adjusted an arm to make the pose more mangled, almost cartoonishly dramatic. Isakovic approved.
This is one of many such exchanges in “Kill B.,” a 2019 work by Isakovic and Zalukar that had its United States premiere on Friday evening as part of the Queer New York International Arts Festival. Organized by the Croatian curator Zvonimir Dobrovic, the festival features artists from Croatia, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Germany exploring “what it is to be outside of the norm,” Dobrovic said in a curtain speech. He stressed that this outsider status is contextual; it might mean one thing in post-socialist Zagreb, another in São Paulo.
For Isakovic and Zalukar, artistic partners from Croatia, the norm of most concern seems to be the traditional hierarchy between a male director and a female performer — and the abusive or ambiguous shapes it can take. Inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, the decidedly brief “Kill B.” doesn’t evoke the bloody violence of the films (though there are some choice references) so much as the fraught director-actress relationship at their core.
The work debuted the year after Uma Thurman, who created her bride-assassin character with Tarantino, came forth publicly about the trauma she endured on set, when the car she was driving at the director’s insistence — “a deathbox,” she called it — crashed into a tree. In the performance, we see a video of Zalukar driving, staring straight ahead, as she speaks in voice-over about a director who “didn’t like to hear no.”