…Warhol did, however, catch [Herko] on camera before that, in the 1963 film Roller Skate, in which Herko attempted to dance all over New York on one roller skate. The film is now lost, but Atherton reimagines it in his own 35-minute solo, dressed in the same WMCA Good Guys sweatshirt that Herko wore in the film; executing his own one-skate “dance” while simultaneously reading aloud extracts from memoirs and biography that related to Herko’s life.
It’s a curious, chancy little solo. Perhaps in tribute to Warhol’s trademark style of blurring art and life, Atherton makes no effort towards a polished performance. Hunched, wobbling and tense, he scoots aimlessly around the studio, sometimes pausing to balance awkwardly on his one skate, at one point attempting a half-baked imitation of the classical attitude in which Herko glided through New York, his leg gracefully lifted behind him, according to Warhol, his “head lifted” his “throat free.”
Atherton’s vocal delivery is just as casual as his physical style. The material he’s assembled is riveting, portraying Herko’s New York as a place of skuzzy apartments and glamorous parties, of artistic ferment and promiscuous gay sex. Yet Atherton doesn’t attempt to make any kind of theatrical impact with the story – on the contrary, he stumbles and mumbles his words and occasionally drops the paper he’s reading from.
What might seem like wilfully irksome defects in another context, however, make a kind of sense here. Herko was attempting the impossible in Warhol’s film – towards the end of his marathon performance he was apparently hobbling and bleeding, and his pain was said to have been as interesting to Warhol as his most dancerly flights. Like Warhol too, Herko identified himself with a culture that rejected the polish of high art for the novelty of the pedestrian and raw. And most interestingly, to Atherton, Herko was also part of a gay community whose history remains largely untold, so what’s known about him now has been gleaned from fragments of gossip and anecdote. Atherton’s fragmented, half-achieved solo attempts to honour all these elements. And even though, as a standalone work, it’s too awkward and tenuous to succeed in a theatre, it takes on a convincing resonance in this festival context – lodged among works exploring parallel ideas, among artists making parallel journeys.