Andy’s Weekend Round-Up

So this weekend was pretty busy – maybe we passed each other like ships in the night.

It actually started on Thursday with a viewing of The Anthropologists‘ “Another Place” at HERE. The show was really more of a work-in-progress so it is not really appropriate to review. They’re a promising young company and the show had an interesting premise – a woman scientist discovers how to create new universes by collapsing black holes. It got kind of hard to follow at times but the energetic cast managed to keep things entertaining. I’m curious to see where this project goes.

Friday night I went to Dixon Place for “Balkan Express” an evening of three works from Balkan artists. The Bulgarian performance artist Ivo Dimchev (now living in Brussels) kicked things off with his work “Som Faves.” In this piece he uses the same kind of free-associative madness that was on display in “Lili Handel” to created a world that is all his own. Flowing from one idea to the next he explores the line between life and art, the difference between choreography and song, blurring the line between the personal and the public. The work is the kind of performance that tends to be categorized as “dance” these days, though there’s very little that resembles traditional dance. Dimchev’s work is reminiscent of Taylor Mac, Justin Bond and Miguel Gutierrez in its artful chaos, its gender-bending queer aesthetic and its joyful rejection of labels. He performed a beautifully deranged version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” which devolved into barking and grunting. He played a beautiful scene of want and need to a porcelain cat – “why won’t you eat my food!?” that felt urgent and absurd all at the same time. Dimchev is a powerful performer whose stream-of-consciousness style disarms as he lays into your preconceived notions of art and identity and rips them apart. All for ART. Good stuff. I’m not sure when he’ll be back again, but keep your eyes peeled.

Dimchev was followed by a solo from Ursula Eagly, choreographed by Iskra Sukarova and entitled “It”. Sukarova is from Macedonia and the two artists met while working for Yoshiko Chuma. The solo took advantage of Eagly’s uniquely elegant/grotesque movement vocabulary to explore a nameless creature coming to life and stalking the stage. I could watch Ursula do just about anything and this piece, while a little disorganized and unfocused, was fun to watch. Creepy and unnerving and sometimes beautiful, it was a good companion piece to Dimchev.

Next was “I Am Always Watching You” – created by Viktorija Ilioska from Prilep, Macedonia. In this piece five actors sat on the stage staring at the audience. That was basically it – they occasionally whispered to themselves and then started, kind of, once it got uncomfortable, interrogating the audience. At first I was kind of annoyed – it seemed like an old idea not particularly well executed. But as it went on I got kind of into it. This one woman in the audience was really confrontational and bullying and it made everyone uneasy. Gradually the whole endeavor became more uncomfortable and disturbing and it got interesting. It was very antagonistic and off-putting but also fascinating because, for once, you really didn’t know what was going to happen and the safety of the observer/observed contract was violated. I think it would have been cooler if everyone had stayed silent longer and let it get really, really uncomfortable. But overall I give Ilioska credit for exploring this idea and putting it onstage. Its been a while since I saw theater that really, actually messed with you in a confrontational way.

Balkan Express was part of the New Dance Alliance’s Performance Mix Festival.

Saturday afternoon I went to see Immediate Medium‘s “The Assassins Chase Pinocchio” at CSV. This show is a multimedia event for children of all ages reinterpreting Carlo Collodi’s classic tale Pinocchio. Max Dana’s adaptation strips the story of all its Disney-fication, bringing it back to starker folk-tale roots. In this adaptation people die, cats get their paws chewed off and Pinocchio is a lot more mischievous and troublesome.

Since I was at a matinee I saw the show with an audience full of kids and it was pretty crazy. Kids have such short attention spans and they notice things differently than grown-ups. They also have no compunction about talking in the theater, wandering onstage or just generally acting out. It made for a strangely edgy dynamic because I was constantly wondering if the kids were just going to lose it. Mostly, though, the kids seemed into it – though I had some trouble following the story myself. The amplification kind of garbled the dialogue at places and it was hard to understand what the actors were saying. Minor complaint.

The company – Liz Vacco, Siobhan Towey and Lisa Clair – developed the piece with Dana and they wisely found a balance between kid-friendly wackiness and adult-friendly aesthetic choices. Grown-ups can appreciate the shadow-play, the video work, the overall design and the silly/smart jokes. Kids can relate to the goofy over-the-top characterizations and the broad physical humor. There is even a sequence where kids are invited onstage to dance and play, which was really fun to watch. It is kind of like Radiohole for Kids but without the beer and with a more structured narrative.

I’m a sucker for fairy tales and folk tales and I really enjoyed the way Immediate Medium stayed true to the story while using contemporary techniques to tell it. And at the end, when Pinocchio turns into a grown man, it is very poignant and touching. I think we all can relate to how the pressures of adult life change us, no matter how much we want to hold onto our youth. Dana’s physicality changes in subtle but noticeable ways and our shoulders slump along with him as the boy becomes a man.

Since I don’t have kids I don’t know how appropriate everything is, but the audience I was with – adults and kids alike – seemed to enjoy it. Once they got over the initial confusion of trying to find the Disney character.
Cool stuff – go check it out.

Saturday night I went to the Chocolate Factory to see Suzanne Bocanegra’s “When A Priest Marries A Witch” performed by Paul Lazar. This was a really great show and it demonstrates what happens when someone who is primarily a visual artist decides to do performance – but chooses to work with accomplished theater artists. Rather than perform this lec/dem monologue herself, Bocanegra wisely enlisted the help of the incredibly talented and entertaining Paul Lazar. Because he was performing “as” Bocanegra, there was this wonderful layering effect on top of the story. What could have been an awkward and self-indulgent autoperformance because this fascinating art object/performance exploring identity, culture, religion, the role of the artist and much more.

Basically, Lazar tells Bocanegra’s story about an artist that was hired to redesign her childhood Catholic church in a small town in Texas in the late Sixties. The story gives an overview of all the sociopolitical changes that were going on at the time and how the evolution of the artist’s work kept up with those changes – thoroughly alienating the parishioners. At the same time, the church’s priest marries a woman who was reputed to be a witch!!! So it is simultaneously a tale of social upheaval, spiritual upheaval, politics and the dawning artistic consciousness of Bocanegra. Bocanegra’s eye for detail and ability to link together seemingly-disparate story elements is matched by Paul Lazar’s seemingly-rambling delivery to create the illusion of “aw shucks” when actually it is a tightly wound and cleverly articulated story. Really great stuff. If it comes back you should definitely go out of your way to see it.

Sunday night took us to the Incubator for Nerve Tank‘s Opal. The show is described as “an overlapping performance text for five voices that explores memory and role play in a fractured family dynamic.” I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The sound design was great and I liked the set/lighting design as well. The layering of the voices as they explored different scenarios worked well with the pre-recorded audio. I have to admit I had a hard time accessing the show – much of the meaning remained opaque to me. With oblique gestural vocabulary and a kind of “cut-and-paste” approach to the text it seemed appropriate that they were performing in Richard Foreman’s old stomping grounds. Opal definitely reminded me of Foreman’s brand of non-narrative, imagistic theater. The individual performers were all very strong, particularly Brain Barefoot as Mother and that helped a lot.

This was my first exposure to The Nerve Tank – they have another piece coming up at World Financial Center called The Attendants and I’m curious to see how their style translates to an “interactive performance exhibit”.

That was the weekend that was! Keep on rockin’ kids and we’ll see you around town!

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