Origins of P.S. 122

I recently got a great e-mail from Peter Rose, one of the co-founders of Performance Space 122. He is in Berlin, but he still follows what we’re doing here and he wanted to get a message out to people about the origins of the space. I couldn’t quite figure out how to get this document out to so many people, so I decided to post it here. Its a great recollection not only of one institution, but a very specific time and place in New York theater history.

Click through to read more…

(Also, for another great glimpse into the history of 122 and alternative dance/performance in NYC, be sure to check out Charles Dennis’ Film HOMECOMING starting Sunday, October 24th.)

The Origins of Performance Space 122
by Peter Rose

peter rose

Berlin, 2004


I’d like to take this opportunity to remember and celebrate the origins of 122. Thank-you Charlesm [Dennis], Charlie [Moulton] and Tim [Miller]. We helped to start a space where many lives had an opportunity to develop. My origins of 122 is less about the administrative and financial foundations but the sources of creative and social energy which contributed to 122’s birth.

I appreciate Charles Dennis for his engagement and sense of priorities during this time. As a na-tive New Yorker, Byrd Hoffman Bird and man with great social skills he was able to mitigate the hard core Lower East Side scene while inviting the dancers and artists who would explore and develop work through Open Movement and later Avant-Garde-Arama.

Charlie Moulton was already a nearly established dancer and choreographer. He would give classes and rehearse in the space. His way of getting “us in” and working as a diplo-mat/entrepreneur for the dance community was very effective. Nonetheless, the social function of Open Movement is what convinced the 122 Community Center skeptics that “artists” invading this former school building would be okay!

As one of the founders of 122, I take pride in the fact that we seized the moment and moved our activities from Warren St. to their future home on First Avenue. Nonetheless, it hurts 122 that Open Movement was uprooted and a part of its original history is gone. When will it return?

What follows is a remembrance of my early 122 days.

My Origins of 122

The late seventies were heady times for me. I graduated from Columbia University in 1977. I met Jacques Chwat at The Lindisfarne Association for Planetary Culture where I attended a talk by Jerzy Grotowski. Jacques was engaged as Grotowski’s simultaneous translator.

After attending numerous poetry readings at St. Mark’s Church run by Bob Holman, I had the chance to do a “performance” in the fall of 1978. I called it “the circular heavens” and went on to do it at The Open Space Theatre Experiment run by Jon Teta (Tim Miller ran the lights) and later at The Kitchen where Eric Bogosian was doing the programming.

Soon after I met Ludwik Flaszen and Ryszard Cieslak, artists who would influence the direction of my life and creative development. Ryszard Cieslak would become a teacher and friend. I worked with him in the Pennsylvania and Polish woods and the theatre in Wroclaw. I worked with Ludwik in 1978 at The Rocking Horse Theatre on East Fourth St. (and saw him in Wroclaw one month ago).

Stephanie Doba, Norman Frisch, Mark Russell, Jack Adams, Jacques Chwat, Ruth Hardinger and Joanne Tusia shared an association with Grotowski’s work. Some of us went to Poland in 1978/9 for Tree of People. Some of us went again in 1980 for Theatre of Sources. Stephanie Doba worked at The Kosciuscko Foundation and was a vital and tireless resource at that time. Many of our New York artist friends looked on with intense skepticism concerned about the cult of Grotowski and his place in the New York scene.

The Byrd Hoffman Foundation Birds had an even stronger presence in NYC after the impact of “Einstein on the Beach”. Charles Dennis, Frank Conversano, Christopher Knowles, David Woodruff, Stephanie Skura, Ishmael Houston-Jones and Yvonne Meier were connected if not directly to the storefront on Spring St. and 122 in 1979.

The authentic and dynamic alliance of Byrd Hoffman Foundation Birds and Grotowski’s Active Culture became Open Movement. This event was at the source of 122. It was 122’s original event. Through the work of many (including those with no link to Byrd Hoffman or Grotowski) but particularly Charles Dennis, Tim Miller and Joanne Tusia, Open Movement became the labo-ratory pool for the living bodies. It offered a meeting place for the social needs yet offered a set of conditions which made artistic challenges and demands. It was serious fun and also asked serious questions about life and art.

cleansing the senses

“Sitting in Veselka’s Polish Restaurant on 9th Street and 2nd Avenue after Open Movement in the summer of 1979 in New York City, it was always difficult talk-ing about Open Movement and its influence on the East Village Dance and Per-formance scene. Open Movement was an occasion for dancers, actors and ‘regu-lar’ people to meet and improvise. Later we shared ideas over bowls of soup and challah bread.

At Veselka’s the group was interested in discussing Open Movement and why we were moving in silence and not playing tapes of new wave music or experimental composers. When the food arrived I took a chance:
“Cleansing the senses,” I said, to live and create more fully. That’s one of the goals. My friends looked at me strangely, enjoying the soup.
“At Open Movement everyone prepares and participates. Like preparing a field for planting corn, sweeping the space, changing a light bulb, opening a window. Sensing the air. Arriving, Acknowledging one another, waiting.” I gained confi-dence as the main dishes arrived: kasha, pirogis, kielbasa and cabbage soup.
“The space is a landscape. Floor, earth, beach. Safe for the body: breathe, heart-beat, rhythm, sweat, play, sense and sensuality. Present, attentive, still. Seeing, waiting, standing. Holding and letting go. Falling in the river. The rush and mix of spontaneous memories. New experiences. Exhaustion. Fresh inspiration.”
“Cleansing the senses to live and create more fully. That’s it!”

(excerpt “test traveler/polar star” copyright, 1999, all rights reserved)

122 origins copyright, 2004, Peter Rose

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