It’s not that I haven’t posted – or haven’t wanted to post – in the past few weeks. No it is more that there are only so many hours in the day and more of those hours are being claimed by other responsibilities. Like, for instance, my job at LMCC where I curate and produce The River To River Festival, which starts June 17. I’m not really going to post about it here at great length, as the editorial line seems a bit too blurry, but it is going to be AWESOME! Check out the line-up and start making your schedule because every day for four weeks (except July 4 & 5) there will be at least one awesome cultural event, sometimes more, FOR FREE in Lower Manhattan.
So, it is now Sunday May 27 and I’m looking back at about three weeks of shows, events, etc. Here’s a rundown:
May 10 - Rashaun Mitchell and Anne Carson NOX at Danspace.
Really beautiful and moving. Carson’s voice as she reads from her book NOX is mellifluous, encompassing and nuanced, the visual/lighting design and sound composition integrate seamlessly to create a transcendent elegaic environment for Mitchell and frequent collaborator Silas Reiner to populate with movement. They bring the precision, inventiveness and expressiveness of their mentor Merce Cunningham to bear on distinctly original choreography. Carson’s poem is of a man, her brother, cut down too soon. Mitchell and Reiner inhabit the space with urgency and compassion, juxtaposing vitality and doom. A very haunting, profound evening, I left Danspace with a head full of memories, thoughts and visions.
May 11 – February House at The Public.
I first met February House‘s creator Gabe Kahane when I was in Les Freres Corbusier’s Hell House at St. Ann’s. He was leading the “Christian” rock band at the end of the tour, I was a Demon Tour Guide. I’ve followed his development from afar over the years and was particularly taken by his set at Liederabend 21c last year at The Kitchen. So when I heard about this show I was already predisposed to like it. Maria Goyanes invited me to come check it out and I’m so glad she did. (For some reason the press people at The Public don’t send us press releases or invite us to press nights. They never have and I’m not sure why.)
Now, I am not a big musical theater fan, as anyone who has followed Culturebot for any length of time knows. But February House is that rare show that is legitimately both music and theater, it almost single-handedly justifies the existence of the form. A plague on Rock of Ages and all that Broadway crap, let’s hope February House transfers and wins a billion Tonys. Beautiful crafted songs, a well-written book and seamless, energetic direction by Davis McCallum bring the show to life with depth, compassion, thought and just a hint of melancholy and wistfulness.
February House is the story of failed novelist and dynamic agent George Davis who dreams of bringing together the great minds of his generation in a utopian commune, fostering creativity and intellect in the shadow of WWII. W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee create, dream, love, fight, party and, eventually, fall apart. All the actors are wonderful – Erik Lochtefeld is great as the hopeless and hapless Auden, besotted by his youthful paramour, quick to dissect everyone else’s foibles and hopelessly unable to see his own failings. Stanley Bahorek & Ken Barnett & are very funny and clever as Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, respectively. Stephanie Hayes is stern and commanding as Erika Mann and Kacie Sheik is delightfully ditzy (in that “its all an act and I’m really a supergenius” kind of way) as Gypsy Rose Lee. Kristen Sieh, who us downtown folks know for her work with The TEAM and, more recently, ERS, is fantastic as Carson McCullers, bringing the same combination of quirk, pluck and nuance to this role as she has in the kookiest TEAM shows.
But for my money, and maybe I’m prejudiced, the emotional heart and soul of this production is Julian Fleisher. I’ve known Julian since I was in grade school. I was a few years younger (ahem) and remember watching him onstage in musicals and plays. Years went by, our paths crossed again in NYC and I’ve followed his work as a singer/songwriter sporadically. But I’ve gotta say, it is as if the role of George Davis was written for him. Julian, like many performers, is a larger-than-life personality and in the character of George Davis he has finally found the perfect vehicle to channel his talents and personality. He brings Davis to life with a sensitive compassionate portrait of a man who survives and thrives only when in thrall to a dream. He embodies everyone who ever dreamt of being a great writer and later realized that their creative practice, or gift, was the managing/nurturing of other artists, of creating space and time for other people to create, making space for unexpected juxtapositions and conversations. Fleisher gives Davis a joie de vivre coupled with a reckless disregard for convention and disdain for popular notions of morality. He is outwardly ever-positive, ever-supportive, ever-ebullient. But Fleisher manages to weave in a barely discernible undertone of agonizing loneliness, fear and disappointment. It is really very moving and affecting.
I can’t say enough about February House – top notch work all around, a delightful, moving and exquisite evening in the theater.
I guess there’s a kind of meta-narrative at work here too, in that I have been aware of the work of Julian, Gabe, Kristen and others involved for many years. There’s this sense of unity and community that comes from watching all kinds of talented people converge in a perfect project, at the perfect time, knowing that it is ephemeral as all utopias must be. So the content of the show resonates for me not only in and of itself but also as a fleeting reminder that the life of the artist in NYC is an ongoing peripatetic journey from one Utopia to another, always seeking a more perfect world, creating it briefly, and then having it slip from our grasp to dissolve into time. [heavy sigh].
That being said - Gabe Kahane will be appearing at The River To River Festival on June 26 with Suzanne Vega and poets Tina Chang and Paolo Javier at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City. I hope you will join us!
May 12 – Strange Cargo by Palissimo, produced by PS122 at Synod Hall
Culturebot’s Alyssa Alpine interviewed Pavel Zustiak about The Painted Bird trilogy here, so you can read that to learn more about the project. I saw Part I, Bastard, at LaMama but missed Part II. I enjoyed Part III, Strange Cargo, quite a bit. Similar ideas were explored – oppression, political intimidation, crowds vs. individuals, action vs. inaction in the face of injustice, etc. It was a while ago so I don’t trust myself to recall the performance exactly but I always enjoy Zustiak’s energetic, athletic, passionate choreography. And his frequent musical collaborator, Christian Frederickson, this time with Ryan Rumery, always creates compelling sound scores that integrate flawlessly with the movement. I’ve heard rumors that they’re going to try and produce all three parts in sequence, let’s hope so!
May 16 – Comme Toujours, Here I Stand by Big Dance Theater at NYLA.
Several years ago I curated a work-in-progress showing of this at PRELUDE and loved it. I was incredibly excited to see it at The Kitchen and somehow managed to miss it, so I was really glad that NYLA brought it back. Plus Culturebot’s own Aaron Mattocks was in it! Always fun to see our pals on stage. A cut-and-paste re-imaging of an Agnes Varda film, it is the story of Cleo, a marginally talented actress waiting to hear if she has cancer. Sly comedy, mixed media and dynamic movement sequences. What more can you ask for? Everybody’s great – Kourtney Rutherford and Chris Giarmo are hilarious as usual – but I really seemed to key in on Tymberly Canale this time, not sure why. She seems to be in direct counterpoint to Molly Hickok’s Cleo, doing everything a little more precisely, with a little more focus and a little more intensity. I think this is intentional to highlight Cleo’s lackadaisical attitude towards her own talent in relation to her fame, and the impact this has on the people around her. Cleo is feckless, Tymberly’s character resents it. Anyway – the show has already toured everywhere so if you missed it this time, you’re probably out of luck. Maybe they’ll release a video?
May 17 – luciana achugar’s FEELingpleasuresatisfactioncelebrationholyFORM (2012) at Abrons, co-commission with The Chocolate Factory
Wow. luciana is a trip. From the dark and creepy exorcisms of Puro Deseo to the psychedelic freakout that is FEEL…FORM, she knows how to make a scene. Four dancers in Cousin It wigs flop from the orchestra pit to the stage like the first fish finding land on the first day of evolution. The show unfolds in a kind of rolling, undulating, wave-like progression from calm to frenzy to liquid suspension. We are matter and form, we are formless and void, we are illogical, pre-rational sensate beings moving forward entirely through touch. People I talked to had very different reactions, but I liken it to watching a living lava lamp while listening to Spiritualized. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the morphing shapes, colors and sounds.
luciana will be mounting a site-based adaptation of FEEL…FORM as part of The River To River Festival.
May 18 – Target Margin’s Uncle Vanya at HERE Arts Center
I had no idea what to expect – you never quite do with Target Margin. I feel like David Herskovitz is always exploring, changing, growing, playing with new ideas and experimenting. Some projects succeed better than others. You never know exactly what you’re going to get at a Target Margin sow but that’s part of the fun – what is David up to this time? With Vanya he hit it out of the freakin’ park. I’m so sorry I didn’t see this sooner so I could have spread the word – though the night I was there the house was full, so I don’t think publicity was a problem. Vanya is such a rich, complicated, powerful, nuanced and funny play and it keeps being destroyed by American-style “naturalism” – blech. Thank goodness for creative directors like Herskovitz who can strip away all the hoohah and get down to what is really going on – and how can bring in collaborators (designers, actors) who get the vision and each bring their own innovative and inventive take to the project. The whole cast is fantastic but I do wanna give particular shout outs to Edward O’Blenis (Dr. Astrov) and Rebecca Hart (Helena) who breathe new life into their respective characters.
May 19 – Digital Duets – produced by Culturehub at LaMama
I wrote a brief overview of this previously. Culturehub, which is an arts + technology project housed at LaMama, presented a project called Digital Duets - where Contact Theatre Manchester, UK and La MaMa E.T.C. joined forces to create a networked performance using telepresence technology to connect dancers, musicians, visualists and spoken word artists in real time. It was pretty cool. I’ve seen a lot of these type of things over the past 12 years or so and this was the first time it felt like a really viable proposition. The lag time in signal from UK to US was virtually nil, and the telepresence projections were so large scale that the live performers and the networked performers actually were the same size, so it looked eerily real. I don’t know exactly how it worked but it seemed like they could see each other and riff of of each other. The bandwidth issue, which is much better now than it has ever been, is still real, as is the lag time issue. I don’t think the technology is quite there for networked classical music, say. But it is getting much closer. Very, very cool stuff.
We’ve been talking to Culturehub about working together so hopefully we’ll be doing more with them and this technology soon.
May 21 – Robert Wilson in Times Square
A few years ago Culturebot interviewed Sherry Dobbin when she was at Watermill. We’ve stayed in touch now that she’s moved over to the Times Square Alliance. She sent me an invite to attend a cocktail reception and screening of the Robert Wilson Video Portraits that are on display in Times Square every night at 11:57PM until May 31, 2012. They’re pretty cool and I suggest you check them out if you find yourself in that neck of the woods ’round midnight any time until Thursday. You can stand in the middle of Times Square or for a more laid-back, elegant and slightly removed experience you can view the screens from the R Lounge at 2 Times Square in the Renaissance Hotel. That’s where the cocktail reception was and it is pretty swank-tastic. Only thing is that it closes at 12AM on weeknights, so you might have to impress upon them that you will be there right up until closing time! (The portraits are shown from 11:57PM-12AM, exactly). The portraits are on 12 screens out of something like 70 that light up the Crossroads of the World so you have to look closely, or check out the list of screens on the Times Square Alliance’s website.
It would be supercool if they could get David Michalek to do something. His Portraits in Dramatic Time were stunning at Lincoln Center. I must have sat there for hours on a few different occasions.
May 24 – Dinwiddie and Ellsworth at Danspace Project
Thursday we headed over to Danspace Project to check out an evening of two premieres, Farewell Tour by Andrew Dinwiddie and The Pythagodress by Michelle Ellsworth. Ellsworth went first, delivering a frantic monologue from her 150 lb Pythagodress, a somewhat portable wearable sculpture dress that brings End Times panic and survivalism together with couture and New Age nuttiness. I had heard about Ellsworth, who hails from Colorado, but never seen her work. She is really funny and engaging and her rapid-fire neurotic patter well-suits her fragmented, A.D.D.’ed narrative. And in case you were asking “how is this dance?” – she does offer up an altar to Martha Graham. So there.
Dinwiddie’s show kind of snuck up on me and once I realized what was going on I really enjoyed it. Basically he comes out looking like a cross between an Australian Aboriginal and Paul Stanley from Kiss and starts lipsyncing to a soundtrack of a rock band’s stage banter. Then you slowly realize that the sound designer has taken out all the music and made a composition entirely of the kind of inane bullshit rock stars shout from the stage. He groups them thematically – the shout out to the city, the shout out to the girls, the shout out to partying, etc. etc. – and it becomes both hilarious and a little disturbing. Dinwiddie lipsyncs dances and gestures, transposing a kind of ritualistic meta-narrative on top of the inanity. I’m pretty sure the band in question is Kiss and the voice is that of Paul Stanley. The first half of the show culminates in what I think is a stuttering excerpted repetition of the opening chords of “Rock And Roll All Night” where Dinwiddie goes upstage to strip out of his Rock Star gear into a less flashy version of the same outfit. He returns downstage and does a more familiar kind of “downtown”-style dance piece. According to the project description I think he was referencing Merce, and I appreciated the contrast/parallels but it felt a little tangential or like an afterthought. I’d be interested to talk to him about what he was intending to do, because the idea seems pretty solid, I’m just not sure I really “got it”.
May 25 – Express Yourself presented by Events In Real Time at Incubator Arts Project
Friday I headed back to St. Mark’s and went upstairs to the Incubator Arts Project to see Events In Real Time‘s Express Yourself. Events in Real Time is a partnership between Toronto-based theatre artists Sean O’Neill and Liz Peterson, Express Yourself is their first collaboration. Please remember that here at Culturebot we don’t do reviews per se, we’re all about response, subjectivity, dialogue, conversation, etc. because here’s the thing: if I was 24-28 I would have loved this show. Being close to a million years old, I was kind of meh but also kind of yay! I mean this sincerely – they’re great kids who obviously have a lot of talent and good ideas and I have no doubt they will go on to do really innovative work. But this is kind of like that show you have to do to learn how to do shows. Given that this was their first show together and, I’m sure, the limited resources they had to develop and produce it, they did a fantastic job. I’m not exactly sure who did what or how the collaboration is structured but Liz Peterson is a real powerhouse performer – great voice, very graceful and athletic mover, incredible focus and discipline and a wide dramatic range. And Sean, I’m assuming, was working as director – he structured the piece very well, visually dynamic, it had well-planned and executed transitions, some really fun and clever video work and the show came together as a mostly taut, coherent, entertaining and well-crafted performance.
That being said, Express Yourself was a little too self-referential without opening up into a wider frame, without really pointing to anything outside of the artists themselves. I felt strangely touched and protective while watching it because I’ve made this show, I’ve seen this show, we’ve all made this show when we were new and every experience was new and the world was going to bend to our will. It’s always a different show, but it is always the same show – the one where we try and figure out just what the hell is going on, who we are, how we fit in and how the things that have shaped us thus far still live with us in our creative imaginations. I look back at my own moment of inhabiting that space and I’m both nostalgic for that vision, energy and passion and relieved that I don’t have to live through that again. If I were the same age as these artists I would probably be raving about Express Yourself. As it is, not so much. But these are definitely two talented young people to keep an eye on and kudos to Samara and The Incubator for providing a place for them to explore and grow. We look forward to seeing what they cook up next.
May 26 – Adrienne Westwood’s Record at One Arm Red
Saturday night I headed out to DUMBO to see Adrienne Westwood’s Record at One Arm Red. I had never seen Adrienne’s work before, though we know each other from around town, so I was looking forward to it. Also, I hadn’t been to One Arm Red since 2003 when I saw the hilarious and subversive, “I’m Going To Kill The President, A Federal Offense” and, to be honest, had no idea it was still in existence. While it is no longer in the same building, One Arm Red is still very much in existence with I think 3 performance spaces, offices and all kinds of stuff. How they’ve managed to keep such a low profile in a city with such a dearth of cool spaces is beyond me.
If they keep presenting work like Adrienne’s show they might well raise their visibility and be considered next to other emerging(ish) spaces like Bushwick Starr, The Brick, etc.
Record is like a kind of doll house. We entered into a small, confined space where we could see a small room above us where two spectral young women in elaborate gowns did a slow, seated duet where they turned the cranks on music boxes sewn into their sleeves and bodices. Then another little box of a room opened with a girl, seated, playing a music box with cut-out sculptures hanging from wire hooks in the ceiling, casting shadows. We entered into the little box and our attention was drawn upward, where a shadow puppet play occurred in a small, backlit square in the ceiling. Emerging from the small room we saw that one of the young ladies above had vanished and as the curtains closed on her and the room we had just left, a couple entered our room doing a deliberate duet, singing an eery refrain and holding a very tiny doll house swing set. The couple then led us into the theater were we took seats and the rest of the show unfolded from there.
In the more conventional stage set-up, a pair of women are on their side in a small square box on the ground, pretending to walk, in profile. Later this perspective is used in a clever video trick where one dancer in the box is projected on to the wall as another dancer makes shadow puppets on top of her projected image: here she is sitting on a shadow chair, here she is holding some kind of shadow tray, etc. Very cool.
The overall effect reminded me a bit of Karinne Keithley’s Montgomery Park with its precision, attention to detail and unspecific but tangible sense of the barely remembered. Westwood has a very delicate touch. The juxtaposition of the tiny doll house furniture and the outsized projections, the unfolding of the experience from box to box to stage (big box), the subtle sound score and the movement of the dancers coheres into a very neat, defined world unto itself. The choreography pulls on familiar vocabularies, but the positioning of the dancers seems to allow the audience to see their bodies and gestures from different perspectives. Gestures appear, transform, return. Their are a series of ephemeral duets. Dancers emerge and subside like memories, like wraiths.
It is only as the show winds down that we realize that the projection on the wall and the sound we hear are from the same source – doll house furniture on a rotating turntable; a poignant memory for those of us who remember vinyl and late nights talking long past the end of our favorite album, the disc endlessly turning, the repeated shushing of the needle as it nudges gently but insistently against the label at the center of the record.
COMING UP FOR CULTUREBOT
Okay so I can only speak for myself (Andy) though I’m sure all the other Culturebots are busy too. In general we’re working on a bunch of cool projects throughout the summer and into the fall, all the way to March 2013. We’ll keep you apprised as things develop. In the immediate near future, here’s the lowdown:
Tuesday of this week I’m going to see a special screening of Aeros, a film by Burt Barr that is an impressionistic behind-the-scenes look at the Trisha Brown Dance Company as they rehearse, stage, and perform her choreographed work in a variety of settings, including Moscow, New York, France, and Florida. This is related to the TBDC Open Studios events on Governors Island as part of the River To River Festival. They’re in residence at LMCC’s Building 110 on Governors Island, rehearsing Astral Converted, which will premiere July 10 at the Armory On Park. For the first time in the company’s history they are opening up their process to the public with a concurrent archival exhibit.
Thursday is Empire which marks the return of the Spiegel Tent to NYC, this time in Times Square. Sometime this week I will write up a retrospective of my adventures in Spiegel Tents ranging from Edinburgh 2005 to Pier 17 to Vegas to Times Square. I feel hungover already. Friday is Destructo Snack at Incubator, Saturday is NTUSA at The Kitchen and … well I don’t know what happens after that. From June 7-15 Culturebot will be doing a variety of programs as part of Queer New York International Arts Festival, Jeremy is mostly helming that effort as I am really going to be pretty focused on River To River. Did I mention River To River?
OH and also I posted on FB but will re-post here – Culturebot is looking for a Managing Director. It is UNPAID at the moment but we are looking for someone who wants to help us grow this thing. We’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of moment and a lot of interest and, um, Jeremy and I need a smart, capable, inspired co-conspirator to help us develop and implement our plan for completely redefining arts writing and criticism in the 21st Century. Interested? Please download the Culturebot Managing Director Job Description and if it sounds groovy to you, drop us a cover letter and resume.