So, Andy got to his catch up sooner than I did – is there anyone out there who hasn’t felt a little in-over-their-head this spring? – but, my final grades are in, Hunter shows, my own part of La Mama Moves shows, other people’s shows and tours are over so, it’s time to 1 – get ready to enslave myself to the Manhattan School for Children’s County Fair and 2 – write down some thoughts about things I saw over the last 5(!) weeks.
And, while doing that, I’ve got Andy’s recent Trisha Brown/Burt Barr and vino inspired epiphany running through my head. I’d been trying to figure out how to group the various works I saw under a shared theme around perspective. There’s something about one’s willingness to shift perspectives or to reconfigure the lens through which we are viewing an artist’s work that feels sometimes imperative in our roles as a critical respondents to other people’s work. I realize that this is not necessarily a shared belief and a few years ago (in Claudia La Rocco’s Writing for Dance class at DTW) landed on this as partially influenced by the difference between traditional journalistic and (deconstructive) anthropological (or other cultural/performance studies) backgrounds. I was educated into a heavy system of subjectivity acknowledgement. You know what you know, writing on behalf of other people is suspect, all those old white dudes in the bush were whack, peoples should speak for themselves, question authority… the usual, private (women’s) college rhetoric, right. This is why I value what Culturebot does. We’re looking to add to the conversation, to understand that art happens on many parallel continuums and what we write is another part of the discourse. So, without undoing the profundity of Andy’s “It IS what it IS” (a favorite baseline reset for me too), I’m going to include that a consciousness of contextual understanding has much to do with how my IS’s went. Basically, the where and when “it IS’d” had a lot to do with my own experience of “what it IS’d.”
So, let’s start with rainpan43 in the suburbs of New York City at the end of April. I’ve know Trey Lyford for many years, in fact, he provided a fantastic voiceover for our “Faster Hello Kitty. Kill! Kill!” section of a work at PS 122 over a decade ago. His “All Wear Bowlers,” with the phenomenal Geoff Sobelle, has had over 300 performances since it’s original development as part of HERE Theater’s HARP residency program. I missed many opportunities to see this work in progress and during many of the said 300 performances, so when Andy asked if anyone could cover it in Mamaroneck, I said I’d make it work. It just happens to be a town over from my sister and her gaggle of children, so I was able to get a family visit, free babysitting, and culture vulture action with one fell swoop through suburban Westchester.
The experience of seeing this highly lauded work in a theater inhabited by little old ladies in need of shushing and pre-adolescents tittering at the colorful language was appropriately surreal, considering that the work’s narrative is built upon two silent film characters finding themselves stuck in an inescapable theater space. Somehow the suburban-ness of the whole set up made the existential pathos a bit more heightened. Granted, we were only 1/2 hr from Manhattan, but I still had to drive a car to the theater and find parking. As a long ago escapee from this kind of landscape, it was something of a revelation to see a work of this level of experimental absurdity play so well to the middle range. It’s not exactly Boise, but was far enough from 6th and Spring for me to feel a bit odd and out of place. However, the presenters at the Emelin Theater could clearly tell that a work this ripe with unrelenting skill and intelligence belonged in their season.
Sobelle and Lyford have crafted a work of impeccable value. Their combined mastery of physical humor and theatrical timing is equally matched by an exhaustive commitment to pushing the boundaries (literally) of traditional theater. Whether it is through an actual treatment of the theater space as a specific environment to attempt emancipation from or in various bold forays into different scenarios that reflect the absurdity of perceived realities, they push at the audience’s interaction with the work on multiple levels. We are in the room with them – some of us end up climbed over, a couple end up pulled out of their seats, or up on stage, and we’re all stared at in one very wry commentary on contemporary performance. The pacing pulls us through perfectly executed pratfalls and slights-of-hand in enough rapid-fire succession to draw rolls of eye-tearing laughter, but there are equally poignant moments of quiet poetic imagery and, more delightfully, a disturbingly humorous sequence based around death that extends beyond our expectation, and so, pushes us out of the realm of entertainment and into existential inquiry. “All Wear Bowlers” hides an impressive depth of painstaking work (I mean, let’s talk rigorous craft here) and critical thought inside a raucous, madcap romp. I’d bring anyone to this.
A week before, I’d brought my dad and kids to David Zambrano’s return to Danspace Project with his “Soul Project.” In fact, I’d had to leave early from Culturebot’s long table discussion for our Ephemeral Evidence project at Exit Artto meet them at St. Mark’s. He was in town for the day and had opted to come in for the show, I thought he’d be hanging at The Strand and didn’t
expect to see him sitting in the church. But, there he was and there were my kids running around the shamanic sideshow of Zambrano’s ecstatic work. I was excited by the individual explorations of the impressive company of artists, but was constantly aware of how the structure flirted with spiritual expressiveness and play in a way that made me self-conscious with me ol’ Da present. I imagined my Irish Catholic dad’s angel ‘tut-tutting’ on the sacrilege of it all on one shoulder with the elementary school devils jumping riotously around on the other shoulder. Turned out that I was over-thinking the whole thing and my dad dug it just fine. In fact, we spoke of how the way in which the audience and performers intermingle on the floor of the sanctuary (in between songs/solos) sets up a carnivalesque or SE Asian marketplace atmosphere that we both could have seen exploited further. The completion of the experience would have involved burning charcoals and roasting delicacies (along with consciousness-altering liquids) being hawked around the edges. Meanwhile my kids went to lie-down in the midst of the blasting soul music, wondering afterwards what the big-deal was anyway. “We dance like that all the time.” I was reminded of Picasso’s “art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Or, more specifically, we all started as artists, but Zambrano and his dancers, Edivaldo Ernesto, Nina Fajdiga, Milan Herich, Peter Jasko, Horacio Macuacua, and Young Cool Park are such skilled performers, because they are really dancing with some of the freedom of children, which is probably the highest compliment I can give. Seriously. Some of the best performance art I’ve seen in the past five years has been in the living rooms of my apartment and other family members.
Speaking of living rooms, if I were a gazillionaire, I would buy Kota Yamazaki’s glowing and have it installed in one in my mansion. The cast, including Shiferaw Tariku, Ryoji Sasamoto, Mina Nishimura, Eva Schmidt was exemplary, with Maggie Bennett providing a particular level of detached refinement that complimented Senegalese dancer Marie Agnes Gomis’ more sparking dynamic. I saw it (in late April too) with danceviewtimes’ Martha Sherman (read her review here) and wasn’t burdened with watching it while thinking about what I’d have to write publicly or having to taking notes, so I was able to simply soak in it. And, that is exactly what this work asked for, a kind of quiet soaking, which I’d have to say theater’s aren’t always the best place for. I wanted to remove myself from the confines of the Japan Society’s auditorium and kick back on a comfy overplush and just hang with it… and with a nice glass of sparkling sake in my hand. The work was exquisite. Sublime, even. Truly. This was deeply IS-ness and one had to mostly just BE with it, which I was, but could have been so much more so if I could have experienced it outside of the traditional expected dynamic of static obedience on my part as an audience member. I had recently read Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows as part of a research/rehearsal process I’m in for Ping Chong’s next work and appreciated the dedication to subtlety and aesthetic egalitarianism. Everything mattered and it seemed, often enough, that anything could have followed anything else which is why it feels possible to install this time-based performance work into a home. Other than the reality of what that would mean for the human performers (and I did ponder whether programmed robots could handle it – this also, in part, due to an avenue of research for Ping, but also partially due to Bennett’s particular manner of inhuman otherness or separated self-ness or whatever one would call her virtuosic minimalism that reminded me of androids), it did seem like a work that could loop endlessly and be returned to again and again.
Now, here’s where I get grumpy, and context and perspective play a major, though hardly exclusive role, in that. I was performing a new work for the La Mama Moves Festival. Great experience. Shared program with Vicky Shick and Juliette Mapp. Yeah! Right? It went well, nice review from Claudia in the Times (yippee tenure file), great conversations with people, learned alot and changed the piece substantially as I went along (which was the idea) and Yvonne Meier didn’t yell at me on the last day for taking her Score process and turning it to shit. It was a 10pm show. That’s pretty late in the day to go on stage (and in this piece I don’t stop moving for about 1/2 – 15 minutes as the audience enters, 15 minutes much more vigorously ‘in performance’) these days. But, even that was interesting as an examination in fatigue – long days teaching and meeting and pretending to be smart in front of other people and whatnot. However, I made the mistake of agreeing to cover another La Mama Moves artist. Granted, I was in the happy endorphin post-perf high and was drinking a beer (yeah The Club at La Mama) when I agreed to this, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson about service to my field. It must be tempered with basic self-preservation. Basically, on Friday night (around 11:30pm) I agreed to review Yoshiko Chuma’s 7:30 performance of Love Story, Palestine in the Ellen Stewart Theater right before I opened the 10pm show in the Club on Saturday. Bad idea. For many reasons, but in relation to the thread of this article, bad because it was entirely the wrong context for viewing.
When I finally bolted from one theater to the other at 9:10pm, I was livid at how Chuma chosen to make us sit and watch videos from the ‘show that happened somewhere else and what people thought about that show, but that show isn’t happening here, now,’ for 90 minutes. Really, what I should have felt was thwarted. Live performance does expect liveness to matter to some extent. In my notes I wrote “getting weary of sitting in a theater to watch a selection of documentary footage on a flatscreen over the heads of the audience seated across from me. I appreciate the desire to share, but this format has become tedious.” That was about 45 minutes in because the compelling El-Funoun members Sari Husseini and Anas Abu Oun are no longer actively filling in moments between videos with rousing bursts of the same dance. I started to think about considering the work within an aesthetic framework of televisual performance but then decide that the precious and indulgent treatment of the video material (sometimes as trite as Chuma telling some young Palestinian dancer why they shouldn’t smoke when she can) didn’t mean that performance seemed to matter much at all. Obviously some other experiences, captured on a camera somewhere else, were being privileged over anything that Husseini, Oun, or the fantastic, but completely underutilized dancers Ryugi Yamaguchi and Mina Nishamura were delivering live.
Then, I went to Toronto and saw several works at the first PanAmerican Routes Festival, but that will need to wait til a certain County Fair gets put to rest for the year.