A Weekend at St. Mark’s

Food and puppet performance at Incubator Arts followed by Arturo Vidich helping to close out “Body Madness: Absurdity & Wit” at Danspace.

Thursday and Friday last, I caught the shows playing at both the Incubator Arts Project and Danspace Project, giving me an upstairs-downstairs view of the weekend at St. Mark’s.

Thursday it was Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew‘s Are They Edible? Part One: Sugar, Spice & Snice at the Incubator, where it played a limited, one-week engagement. A fanciful and, indeed, partly edible rendition of the Odyssey, the show used a variety of media to tell the well-known story.

As the audience enters, they’re encouraged to take a glass of wine and wander the theater, where a series of square, elbow-height tables were arranged like a comfortable bar. On some of them food was already arranged. One table had a large Plexiglass aquarium on top of it, half-filled with water, in which a little model sail boat floated. We had five minutes or so to chat before the show kicked off as three women on stilts–the Fates–entered holding aloft a bird.

Some of the images (the show is mainly a puppet show, sort of) were arresting, and personally I loved the opening sequance. Odysseus’s storm-tossed odyssey commences as a shadow-puppet routine performed on a horizontal screen about five feet above the aquarium, where the Fates on their still cycle through a series of images of a bird in flight as two “puppeteers” in a slightly less graceful fashion send the boat inside the aquarium through stormy waters by shaking it.

The story of the Trojan War is recounted over an actual dinner banquet, with a foot-tall Giacometti-esque puppet Odysseus at the head of the table listening to one of the puppeteers telling the story which is acted with food-props constructed in situ. The Greeks invade the city with a mostly pineapple Trojan horse and gleefully slaughter little Trojan strawberries, which explode in bursts of oozy red gore. As the tale continues we’re led through a wine-drenched Cyclops shadow puppet play and an aural version of the Circe tale complete with blue CuraƧao shots.

Ultimately, it’s hard to sum up the effect of the evening. Yew’s show definitely didn’t add much to or find a new way of looking at the Odyssey, which is extremely well-worn territory. Instead, the show seems intended primarily as a charming and imaginative experience, which it only middlingly succeeded at. But that’s criticky nitpicking. In truth, for all of $18, and including wine, food, and at least one shot, there’s frankly a hell out of a lot of worse things you could do with an evening at the theater; tourists are paying many times that for a more boring evening on Broadway. In short, while it would be easy to find fault conceptually or in performance, the truth is, it was actually fun. And for the price, it’s a great way to spend an evening. We can’t always be so arty and serious.

Friday night, I was back at St. Mark’s for the concluding episode of “Body Madness: Absurdity & Wit,” the first half–curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor–of this season’s Platform series. Overall, as previously noted, it’s been a fantastic and surprising series. The last edition, a split evening of new works by Arturo Vidich and Mariangela Lopez, however, was only half good.

Vidich’s enigmatically titled Shitopia, by leaps and bounds the high point of the evening (and just a fascinating performance in its own right) featured a thong-clad Vidich, covered in a latex body paint, performing to a live electronic score by Igal Nassima. I had many responses to the work while watching it, but honestly, the main one was just plain a nagging curiosity at how predictable latex body paint is in performance.

See, Vidich uses it to create a series of provocative images by touching parts of his body together, so that the latex sticks to itself forming webbing-like sheets of tattered skin, stretched between his thighs or running from his face to his shoulder. This in turn causes the paint to stretch and tear off his body.

But for all the sci-fi/horror movie imagery and angsty facial expressions, Vidich’s Shitopia actually plays as witty and funny, with Vidich ranting in a (possibly made-up) foreign language, as though irritated by the audience. And as a movement artist, he’s remarkable, moving fluidly through physically exerting poses, some slow tumbling, and even a sort of yogic breathing pose, pulling up his diaphragm and emptying the abdomen so that the skin almost seems to be peeling off an emaciated frame, a stunning image of existential peril I’ve seen used a couple times but have always found affecting.

In fact, Shitopia is, he told me, a companion piece to Body Island, the installation he is directing at Abrons on March 24. Similar to Shitopia, Body Island explores ideas of threat and survival, the latter being an installation in which ten rats will be left in a cage with one man that slowly fills with water, the man organically engaging with his rodent brethren by offering them his own body as a means of survival. (Again, I’m told the rats will all be fine.) Tickets to Body Island, which will be filmed before an audience who are free to move around and interact through glass with the performance, are free but must be reserved online.

As for Lopez’s Accidental #5, well, the less said, the better. Featuring some 13 dancers, the piece opens in slow, dramatic form, each performer (costumed in bright colors) taking positions around the space, on both the lower level and up in the galleries. Lopez achieves a tense amount of anticipation with the opening, but what follows is a rather silly half-hour long piece in which the dancers all basically just noodle through what I took to be some party (suggested by the flamboyant lighting). Try as I might, I really couldn’t find a way into the piece and honestly, aside from the fact the performers were all clearly having a good time, I suspect that’s because it was skin deep. A lovely party, but not one I felt particularly invited to.

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