Culturebot’s January Festival Resources Page
Welcome to Culturebot‘s resource page for news, information, and responses on Under the Radar, COIL, American Realness, APAP, and showcases from your trusty CBOT correspondents Alyssa Alpine, Jeremy Barker, Maura Donahue, Andy Horwitz, Aaron Mattocks, and Julie Potter. This page will be updated throughout the festivals on a daily basis–reviews and other proper articles will be published as normal onsite. You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more information.
12:05 p.m., Sat., Jan. 14 – Daniel Kitson: It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later at St. Ann’s Warehouse
Slightly rumpled, sporting owlish glasses and a trace of a stutter, British comedian and storyteller Daniel Kitson seems an unlikely candidate for a one-man show. His unprepossessing presence, however, is part of his charm, and Kitson writes and performs his hilariously irreverent, yet poignant material with disarming panache. We New Yorkers only discovered Kitson—a repeat winner at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival over the years—last January, piling in droves to see The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church at St. Ann’s. Kitson’s latest show, It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later (playing thru January 29) is a series of detailed anecdotes about the everyday lives of William and Caroline, two people who never meet, but exist at the same time. The chronology skips forward and backwards in an unpredictable manner, but each story touches on snippets of daily life; even though it’s a simple show both structurally and production-wise (just Kitson talking about two different people, with a bunch of hanging lights onstage), the magic of the theater happens and the audience gave a collective, if surreptitious sniffle, near the end on the night I attended.
11:33 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 12 – The TEAM’s Mission Drift
Just got out of Mission Drift at the Connelly Theater, where it’s playing as part of PS 122’s COIL Festival. It’s been a year and a half since I saw it in workshop, and a lot has changed. But still, I think Charles Isherwood is dead wrong about it. Yes, there are some problems, I’ll grant you that, but the script remains a extremely smart piece of political theater, and the performances–led by but by no means exclusive to the lovely Heather Christian–are phenomenal. Perhaps the biggest problem this show faces is an aesthetic one. It’s very theater-y, more so than much of what you see in the contemporary performance festivals in January. I hope people don’t pre-judge it too much based on that. Go, sit down in the theater, dust off that “willing suspension of disbelief” thing all us post-dramatic theater people shut away in the closet, give it 20 minutes, and you’ll be hooked.
12:06 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 12 – Fun Times With the Times
Charles Isherwood on The TEAM’s Mission Drift:
There’s a lot about the company’s new project to take heedless, heady pleasure in, notably the bluesy music by Heather Christian, who plays the piano and portrays the evening’s unofficial M.C. and resident leggy showgirl, called Miss Atomic. Ms. Christian has a terrific soulful voice that can ache with yearning intensity at one moment and vibrate with the fervor of roof-raising R&B the next. (She also has a little of the impish pixie charm of Kristin Chenoweth.)
I have two responses: (1) The constant need to see theater through the lens of Hollywood and celebrity culture is one of the most risible parts of the Times contemporary critical practice (at least as evidenced by Isherwood and Brantley); and (2) a LITTLE? Heather’s got way more impish and pixie-ish charm than Kristin Chenoweth.
12:50 a.m., Thurs., Jan. 12 – Michael Klien’s (with Steve Valk) Dance About Architecture
Tonight over at the Invisible Dog Art Space, I caught the closing of Choreography for Blackboards at COIL. I’m glad I did and sad I didn’t do it sooner (and was so exhausted–I left before the talkback and went home and slept till midnight). This was easily the most radical experiment in performance I’ve seen thus far in January, and I sincerely hope that more people got to experience it than I think did.
This one’s hard to write about without being jargon-y and sounding unnecessarily abstract, so bear with me. I’m going to use an old adage–variously ascribed to about two-dozen different people–to try to get at what it’s doing: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
Obviously the original intent of the phrase was to point up the absurdity of trying to describe the sublingual effect of music, but I’ve always loved it because, of course, you can write about music and dance about architecture. But for a moment, let’s just think about architecture. Architecture is the art that most easily reveals its impact on us. Far more than mere utilitarianism (creating space) or ornamentation (looking pretty), at its most profound (or insidious, depending upon the goal), architecture radically affects how we interact with space. It’s an art, yes, but it has a very concrete impact on how we all live our daily lives.
In Choreography for Blackboards, Klien and Valk want to explore how we might imagine a different artistic practice–design or choreography–having a similar affect on our lives if we apply the practice to the quotidian. What if, in other words, we asked dance to affect our experience of daily life much as we allow architecture to? It is, in the best possible meaning of the word, a mundane experience.
If dance can be fundamentally understood as an act of “brute agency”–to borrow one a phrase hung on the wall of the space–by which the dancer takes a series of concrete actions through delineated space and time, then the half-dozen performers in this piece, who spend an hour making a series of drawings on blackboards according to a set of specifications provided in advance, can be seen as dancers performing a choreography. And yes of course you could probably see them as something else, too; that’s precisely the point.
Here, to paraphrase something Valk was telling me, high culture collapses back–through taking experimentation to its most radical conclusions–into low culture, allowing the two to mix. Anyone’s actions can be seen as dance through contextualization, but not in the banal sense of a choreographer placing a non-trained dancer in the piece, but rather through understanding dance and choreography as a practice which can be applied analytically to a non-traditional space. If experimentation has led dance to abandon the proscenium for the blackbox, and then to the gallery, and then to intervention acts within the street, well, why not imagine any part of daily life as, essentially, choreography?
That’s the natural conclusion of the processes you experience in Choreography for Blackboards. It nominally maintains the structure of a traditional performance–it has a starting time, a place, you buy a ticket, etc.–but within the space, you’re encouraged to walk around, talk, read, engage with others, relax and have tea. The audience, as I see it, is as much a part of the work as the half-dozen performers. And as a part of the work, the audience then naturally becomes engaged in the larger processes Klien is tackling. I left the show before it was done, in other words; the talkback was as much a part of the show as anything else.
I don’t want to go on too long in this space, though I’m not sure how to approach this work otherwise (I don’t think a review is exactly appropriate). All too easily this begins to sound very hippie-ish and countercultural, but that’s not what they’re getting at. Yes, they might like to radically alter the way we live through encouraging us to engage through artist practice with our daily lives, but this is not about living in communes. Just as the OWS protesters loved their iPhones even as they challenged the shape of contemporary capitalism, this is not about revolutionary rejection, necessarily, or radical breaks, but rather a different approach. I keep coming back to that word “practice,” the artist’s engagement with his or her form. This piece supposes that through allowing community to engage with one another through diverse practices, informed by artists’ long-term engagements with them, we can reinvent how we live. It’s quite simple, experimentation taken to its natural extreme, but offering the promise of allowing art to truly add richness to or otherwise inform daily life.
It was, in short, quite good, and I’ll return to it in some other format.
12:12 a.m., Thurs., Jan. 12 – Take 2 on Joh Jasperse @ American Realness
I was quite moved by the splendid work, Canyon, by John Jasperse. He is a thrilling dance maker, and even to say only that is somehow to sell him a bit short. He’s also fuctioning as an art curator, bringing together other complete installations of sound and sight, with completely mind-blowing music by Hahn Rowe, and a stunning gaff tape set by Tony Orrico. Both elements function constantly to contextualize and shape the art of Jasperse’s choreography. I was especially taken with Rowe’s score – the way it is so intensely atmospheric, in the way that it can both suggest environment and emotion so strongly, setting up and stirring feelings within that contribute to the reading of the work – I was anxious, exhilerated, upset, blissful. I don’t know if choreographers get enough credit for this kind of thing – it’s definitely a skill to repurpose any kind of pre-existing music and make dances to it – but to commission a completely new work of music, and a completely new work of visual art, and also create a third work of equal strength and quality and complexity, and then to be the one responsible for putting all of these elements together, and making them function, and having a kind of mastermind plan to create sense out of the ordered chaos when these things exist together. It’s not just a dance. I don’t know how else to say this – it’s a f$*%ing experience. And I’m constantly impressed by his choreography for groups – the way you watch and see it changing, morphing before your eyes, and you can catch trails of knowing how it’s changing, but more often than not he’s hidden it from plain view and it just keeps moving and changing and evolving. People always seem to be dancing in unison with one person, and then the other, and there are two duets and a solo, and suddenly you realize that one of the duets has become a quartet, and now three of these people have moved other there and are dancing together, while the other two are together in a new way, and then one of these dancers, and one from the other group, are in unison while the others…it’s so satisfying and one of my favorite things about Jasperse’s work. His complexity of architecture is some of the best around. He’s a smarty pants – and I bet it takes a real long time to build – but it’s so worth the figuring.
It’s funny – as Jeremy mentioned in his earlier review of the piece at BAM, and as Claudia La Rocco also talked about at the Times, there is a really wonderful and highly energetic opening dance for the company, but both critics found the piece ultimately lacking, and pondered what didn’t take shape for them. However, it was a bit further after this opening that the piece really took its terrible hold of me and refused to let go. In fact, well into the work, four of the dancers came to a complete stillness, staring out in this searching, vulnerable, and mostly neutral kind of way (dancer James McGinn looked scary), and the music was just pulsing and creating such incredible tension, and a heavy grid of lights slowly descended on the quartet. Yes, there was an intimation of close encounters of the third kind, but I don’t think this was an alien spaceship, and the dancers human. I went down another path, reading the dancers as these beautiful natural creatures, native animals, and the threat of crushing lights as the demise of nature by industry and machine. Standing watching their silence, their non-dancing bodies, and the powerful mechanics slowly move down on them, I wanted to sob. I distinctly felt the power and danger and inevitability of “progress”. There was also a wrenching moment when the cast broke out of dancing, looked down at the floor, and just systematically ripped up and apart the incredible visual installation that lay all over the floor. Again, like thoughtless machines leveling native forests. And out of this, surprisingly, while others around him continue to rip apart this visual world, Burr Johnson emerges into his kind of leitmotif shape, this strange dinosaur/bird stance of mysterious power and beauty and I felt such sorrow and longing and confusion expressed in this expansion. The striking of his pose seemed suddenly so out of place, the way seeing a wild ostrich would be in an abandoned corporate park. I felt like so much of the work could be seen in these terms – as explorations of the inherent beauty of nature and native things, the curious but not-yet-afraid regarding of foreign things introduced into the native environment, and then the shift, the strange coming together or forced coexistence of the more destructive forces, and how those forces might affect or destroy or change the original. I wonder, knowing well the other writers, and knowing too Jasperse’s work for many years, if this was by any way a case of scale? Perhaps the work, though I’m sure frustratingly adapted for such a smaller space as Abrons, gained from the intimacy, from the dancers become larger and the space more constrained. Whether or not this is the case, I’m happy to report that John Jasperse is as powerful a dance maker as ever. The rigorous, studied, detailed art experiences he builds for his audiences continue to take hold, delight and terrify; through intense abstraction he brings up the most provoking, uncomfortable, and important questions of our human experience and thrusts them out to us for our hopeful consideration.
11:07 a.m., Weds., Jan. 11 – Keith Hennessey at MR’s MELT Intensive and American Realness
I’m 2 days into Keith Hennessy’s “Improvisation as Potential Shamanism” workshop at Movement Research’s January Melt Intensive. After 45 minutes of shaking yesterday, it felt like we were just cracking open something potentially transformative. The 2-hour time blocks aren’t providing quite enough time to gather, focus, hear about what Keith calls his current distractions (sexism in dance) or longer standing considerations (capitalism and christianity, engagement of indigenous practices, anti-systematic processes), and then process our group explorations. So, yesterday’s walk from Eden’s Expressway to a meeting on 4th St. and 2nd Ave. right after a joyful, urgent, invigorating entrance into a physically instigated emotional state was perhaps where the shamanic potential occurred. I was either wrapped in a force of calm receptiveness or totally spaced out. I was late for my meeting because there was no more doing I could do with my 2 legs other than be on them as they executed their own progression up Broadway. For a “body in motion stays in motion” proponent, this was a powerful state. The ownership of slowing down will moving on.
Anyway, all of this is to say that in addition to the great things that Aaron and Andy have said about Keith’s last work and that we’ve posted from Keith saying elsewhere, my experiential relationship to his ideas is seating itself with a healthy sincerity and that makes me all the more interested in catching his work-in-progress showing of Turbulence (a dance about the economy) today at 5:30pm as part of the Show and Tell series and his 10pm performances tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday of Almost for the American Realness Festival at Abrons Art Center.
Almost is spontaneous performance action. Keith Hennessy comes to American Realness to improvise; to invent a performance from almost nothing, accessing almost everything. Curious about histories of moving bodies and social movement, Hennessy’s improvisations are a dynamic mash-up of Judson, body art, stand-up, Ridiculous, site-specific, lecture, and ritual (where Ridiculous means, among other things, queer subversive camp, and ritual is about how a group of people experience magic and/or death together). He might go off on a political rant, he might take questions from the audience; he’ll probably change costumes and struggle to be still.
A body accumulates information and makes choices. Tactics and images from the historical body of Hennessy’s work appear like habits, crutches, old friends. Almost is simultaneously research and the distillation of research into composition. Improvisation is sometimes like fishing, a practical effort that might become thriling or it might be boring and then it’s ok to space out and dream of other worlds… Remix, spectacle, ritual, action, dancing, not-dancing, speaking, playing, ridiculous, activist, visceral, performance.
466 Grand Street / FREE / Reservations Required / RVSP: firstname.lastname@example.org / AbronsArtsCenter.org
Turbulence (a dance about the economy) is a bodily response to economic crisis, an experimental hybrid of contemporary dance, performance, agitprop, and circus. A collaborative creation choreographed by Keith Hennessy, Turbulence features a core company from San Francisco, musician Jassem Hindi from Paris, and 10 local performers. Modeling efficient solutions to economic and ecological crises, Turbulence uses resources sparingly and is adaptable to various venues. The intent of Turbulence is to inspire engagement and discourse in response to current economic crises and their historical antecedents visible is a performance work that explores epic journeys, myths, dreams, and memories of the known world and an imagined future in an unknown land.
1:57 p.m., Jan. 10 – Additions to the Buzz List below, Dance Style
Shouldn’t have forgotten this one: Heather Kravas’s The Green Surround at COIL. It’s one of the few dance pieces that was presented outside AR and other showcases, and I think it probably struggled to get as much attention as the theater that clogs up UTR and COIL. Plus it was a remount. That said, it was a great show the first time around (as I mentioned below) and I hope that their consistently sold out performances helped get this fine piece some attention from non-NYC presenters. At American Realness, which I haven’t even made it to yet, Daniel Linehan and Miguel Guttierez were the names I kept hearing about.
12:27 p.m., Jan. 10 – The Word of Mouth Best at UTR/COIL
It’s Tuesday lunch time and my exhaustion and hang-over have largely lapsed, allowing me to fruitfully return to work. More extensive proper reviews of a number of shows are coming, but in the interests of keeping readers up-to-date, I thought I’d take a minute to call out the most buzzed about shows at the festivals this year so far, based on my own experience with them as well as what I’ve been hearing from others.
- Mariano Pensotti’s The Past is a Grotesque Animal at UTR/COIL: This is easily the one I’ve heard the most about. A two-hour drama tracking the lives of four young Argentineans from 2000 to 2010, it’s a mesmerizing, beautiful, and stunning portrait of a generation. The performances are extremely strong and confident, the script is tight, and the presentation–on a constantly rotating stage–is fantastic. It’s going through the 15th before it heads out on tour across the country, so get your tickets and check out our interview with Pensotti.
- Toshiki Okada/chelftisch, Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, and the Farewell Speech at UTR. This one’s likely a no-brainer for anyone who’s seen Five Days in March, which was admittedly stronger and more timely. But this trio of plays helps cement Okada’s reputation as one of the strongest younger voices in world theater. It’s an extremely funny show that explores the very small experiences of a series of temp office workers in Japan, a very humanizing portrait using the vocabulary of the mundane (Nicolson Baker’s obsessive little novel The Mezzanine kept coming to mind). But there’s a real dark streak that underlies the show, a listlessness or sense of instability in these characters lives owing to their precarious employment. For such a talented and subtle writer like a Okada, what’s not said is still as important is what is. Highly recommended (through Sat. 14)
- Gob Squad. Everyone loves it. Super Night Shot is a much airier piece than Kitchen, which opens this week and was the hands down hit of last year’s UTR.
- Honorable Mentions: Rabih Mroue won over a lot of people with Looking For a Missing Employee (COIL). I sadly missed it, catching the Pixelated Revolution instead. It’s bit more of a sleeper hit, if you will–I think the darkness and density of the material make it harder to really get excited about, but that says nothing about quality. Claudia La Rocco has a really insightful review in the Times you should check out. It’s unfortunately closed (but headed out on tour to Seattle, Minneapolis, Pittsburg and Vancouver this month), but In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields is still running through this weekend. This Polish production is kind of devisive: plenty of audience members are just plain irritated by the volume, and there is this entire video sequence at the end that virtually everyone feels is unnecessary. But otherwise, plenty of people I spoke to had the same response as me: it’s conceptually provocative (staging a dialogue play as a rock concert) and, after you get past the initial bombast of the production, you realize that the director has made some extremely subtle and intelligent choices in terms of where he has the actors take their performances. I also heard–as I had feared–that the mixed response to Rychcik’s Versus at UTR 2010 had discouraged some people from checking it out. I think that’s a mistake–if you have a chance, see In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields, and if it’s really that bad in your mind, I’ll buy you a drink.
11:12 a.m., Jan. 10 – Two More to Keep on the Radar
Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War at the New Ohio Theatre
I saw this quirky show by theater collective The Mad Ones when it premiered in 2010 at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, and it’s only gotten better over time. An engrossing mix of radio drama, low-budget sci-fi, and nostalgia for 1950s Americana, it’s a sharply calibrated production that makes me curious to see what the collective will do next. Samuel & Alasdair is playing Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8pm thru January 21, with a special APAP Happy Hour performance tomorrow: Monday, January 9 at 5pm.
TAKES by Nichole Canuso Dance Company
Apparently well-established in its home base of Philadelphia, Nichole Canuso Dance Company brought an intimate duet, TAKES, to 3LD Art and Technology Center this weekend (January 5-8). The structure and choreography weren’t always riveting, but the duet negated its problematic moments via a fascinating set, courtesy of multimedia magician Lars Jan: a cube made of white gauze walls framed the performers and provided the surface for live projections that were evocative and never less than mesmerizing.
6:30 p.m., jan.8 – Mariano Pensotti Is Amazing
Want to know this year’s stand-out so far? Mariano Pensotti. Go see this show.
11:35 a.m., Jan. 8 – Sunday Morning Report
Who’s hungover? Not me! Had a great night, spent some time at the Scandinavian dance presenters’ cocktail party in Chelsea last night, before retreating to the EV for drinks with friends. A few notes:
- The Curators Project is happening, per Vallejo, in COIL 2013. He also says it’s a strong piece. So I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.
- Choreography for Blackboards @ PS122: Another cool note, Michael “the best mind in Irish dance” Klien’s “Choreography for Blackboards” features an amazing line-up of performers, ranging from Fitzgerald and Stapleton to the noted Irish poet Paul Muldoon! (He may be only performing today). PS also mentioned that tickets are still available for this show, which seems to be flying under people’s radar. Check it out!
8:58 p.m., Jan. 7 – Gossipiness We Know You Love
Okay, since I got so much #humblebrag for this already, here’s the lovely European ladies I wound up taking out last night. And since someone at UTR was already saying her interns were asking about me…if I didn’t already know the intern, I would be totally in love with myself.
But in all seriousness–we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this particular section, talking about what everyone’s talking about. Honestly, I’m not in-the-know enough myself to really do it justice, but it’s a fascinating and salient feature of January that really, everyone knows–and knows things about–everyone else. I don’t know how Andy does it–if I can’t walk down St. Mark’s without running into people I know, what’s he supposed to do? I mean, comparatively, I don’t know anyone.
So here’s some things I’ve come across I guess I’ll share:
- The Irish. They’re back! Ireland’s been super hard hit by the economic crisis roiling Europe, but even so, they’ve sort of stuck to their guns arts-wise and have sent some 70 artists to NYC to represent at APAP, even though Experience Ireland (the program to re-brand the country through exporting artists, if my memory of the name serves) is wrapping up. Met with Jess and Megan from junk ensemble, whose show was a hit at the Dublin Fringe this last year, as well as the current director of the Dublin Fringe, plus other artists (Fitzgerald & Stapleton are around somewhere, too), so in short, it’s good to see the Irish in town. I think they face a chicken-and-egg dilemma–North American presenters don’t want to expend resources on them yet because their work is somewhat raw and undeveloped, but how are they to develop without opportunities to be challenged by new audiences? There’s a lot of great energy in experimental Dublin theater right now, and virtually none of it is on US shores yet. Perhaps IAC can help with that by funding some more touring opportunities in 2012/2013. We can hope…
- Fusebox in Austin: Ron Berry is, as usual, a veritable man about town. But this year, he’s here with two new full-timers at Austin’s Fusebox Fest, which is a good sign of growth, development and stability. Ron’s a great guy and he gives me hope for the future. In general I’m skeptical of the entire concept of the “curator” in performance, which seems to be getting ahead of itself with the ICCP or whatever at Wesleyan plus other initiatives… What the field needs isn’t a bunch of kids with college degrees looking to “curate” festivals in NYC–we’ve got too damn many already, and the big ugly secret is they’re financially shitty for local artists–but rather committed partisans around the country who can build a destination from the ground up. Fusebox is one of the newest and most successful, and based on what Ron suggested could be at the festival this year, it seems like they’re firmly on their own two feet in terms of being able to drive the conversation by supporting artists independently, rather than relying on cross-funded tours to get artists to their locale. It’s good news for Fusebox, Austin, and the field at large, and everyone here at Culturebot is really excited for them.
- The Europeans Respect Us! One of the things I was pleased to discover in my conversations over the last few days was the sense that European presenters were impressed by the level of discourse we Yanks are developing about the field, and not just the entire viz art v. performance issue that Andy’s going to be moderating tomorrow at the LuEster (see above pic/link for Culturebot Conversations). European presenters, I think, have been lulled into complacency when thinking about Americans by virtue of our radically different arts landscape. It’s hard for us to fund and promote artists, so from their perspective, our curatorial practices have seemed compromised by dint of practical limitations. But the people I was talking to–who aren’t newbies–seemed impressed to discover the quality of conversation and critical discourse that actually does exist, and yes, I like to think we, in our own way, have something to do with that. Facing substantial limitations, our curatorial practices are actually extremely scrutinized internally, and they seem to be coming to understand that. Our choices are hard and complex, and owe a lot to a lot of different interests; but really, I’m most impressed to see that recognized. Which brings us to…
- WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CURATORS PROJECT? Everyone who met those Croatian women who want to do a show about curators has been wondering this. Isn’t Vallejo Gantner supposed to pirouetting onstage right now in their show, baring all about his decision-making philosophy (and possibly just baring all)? Has anyone asked? Does anyone know? Many people I know suspected they were full of it (which was a bit my interpretation, based on them interviewing me), but others remain committed. WHAT’S THE DEAL?
5:40 p.m., Jan. 7 – Stupid Shit Some White People Say
Not APAP/Jan related at all, really, but tenuously so based on what I recently wrote about Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s new role at YBCA. This article is the stupidest, most risible bit of arts analysis I’ve read in ages. First, read the great responses by Jason and Isaac at Parabasis. Next, dear January theater-goers, think of who you’re seeing onstage. Are you comfortable with the racial dynamics you’re seeing? Good lord…I’m speechless because of this article. Next year for Culturebot Conversations: Race in Contemporary Performance.
5:05 p.m., Jan. 7 – SUPER PRODUCTIVITY YO!
Thank GOD for bars with free wifi. My review of Gob Squad and Builders Association is up. Sontag: Reborn is a hard show. It’s under-developed and doesn’t come together and I know a lot of people who mostly respond to that, because the mediation makes it read as cold and detached. By Sontag is a hell of a person, and I saw myself in that precocious, self-absorbed teenager. Serious empathy was happening, but it was all because of the performance and Sontag being so amazing. The production was cold and formal. It was a techie version of the stage version of A Year of Magical Thinking, except, you know, not based on a shitty book.
And as for Gob Squad, it was so good! Super Night Shot isn’t as smart or compelling as Kitchen, but it’s a super fun ride. You know, yesterday NY Times critic Jason Zinoman got raked over the coals by solo performer Holly Hughes and supporters (including Randy Gener–tsk tsk!) on Twitter for his January preview (see link below). Their main complaint was that his preview was oriented towards making the work seem non-threatening (which to their minds did the opposite). But Gob Squad, to my mind, is one of those companies who need that sort of attention.
They could be such a gateway for audiences, and if artists could get over their hard-on for critics who tell them what they want to hear and appreciate someone’s earnest desire to get butts in seats…well, I guess I just never expected to put Holly Hughes in the same bucket as Michael Kaiser. Sorry to have to disabuse you guys of your outdated notions again, but the spectator is emancipated–they’re not aspiring bourgeoisie anymore, dependent on a newspaper critic’s endorsement so as to know what they have to do to seem with it and high-class. The way to win them over isn’t to expect newspapers to contextualize things, it’s to get people in front on work that sucks them in and lets them realize that that insufferable, impenetrable performance art they saw isn’t inexplicable, it just wasn’t very good.
3:45 p.m., Jan. 7 – Quick Thoughts on Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife
Oh pain in the ass trains! I got sidetracked getting from The Chocolate Factory to Abrons and am missing Laura Arrington. Damn it! Well what would January be without one fuck up?
I just caught Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife, which the Chocolate Factory is putting up again for a limited number of performances, mainly for presenters (audience max is 12 people). I missed the first run but have been fascinated with the show ever since, based on so much positive feedback from so many people (not to mention its trio of Bessies). It’s a beautiful piece of formal choreography–one person there even declared it “existential,” begging the question of why?, and indeed, there’s a tension as you wait and expect its mirror effect and impeccable timing to break (which it never does).
Still, I couldn’t help but feel it looked very downtown. Gill definitely applies more sense of stage geometry to the piece than you often get. It’s consciously choreographed, which is different from the generative approach you normally get here, in which the artist is primarily interested in inhabiting the stage but doesn’t exactly step back to consciously draft the piece on the stage. So on the one hand, I think Gill demonstrates some remarkable gifts, but on the other it feels like the work exists firmly within the bounds of New York dance. Honestly, I’m not sure if that’s exactly a criticism or not. Anyway, if the question is whether I’d recommend the show–just for the avoidance of doubt–the answer is yes. If you’re a presenter interested in looking for important emerging voices, Gill may just be the woman for you.
11:30 a.m, Saturday, January 7 – Andy’s Update
Okay so here are a few brief notes on what I’ve seen so far. Balancing my actual job and Culturebot has been a bit of a challenge (thank goodness for Jeremy, Julie and the rest of the Cbot crew!) but here are some quick thoughts. Also a reminder about the conversation tomorrow at 1 PM in the LuEsther Lounge which will also be livestreamed at NewPlayTV.
Wednesday night – saw Sontag: Reborn. Jeremy and Jane liked it more than I did. It was interesting to see Sontag as a young, aspiring writer, to see the story behind the icon. I did not know that she had an affair with Maria Irene Fornes! But despite all the technical wizardry – the design was quite beautiful and impressive – I was underwhelmed. The text was edited thoughtfully but not really crafted into anything beyond diary excerpts. Left wanting more.
Thursday – Started the day with Word Becomes Flesh – not blown away but it was solid. Loved the live DJ and the mix of spoken word/movement as an idea, but fell a little short in execution. Next was In The Solitude of the Cotton Fields, which I really enjoyed. Some of the people I talked to after the show did NOT like it at all, which wasn’t surprising but a little disappointing. It was too long, especially the video sequence towards the end, but I really loved the writing and the band was incredible. The performers projected a kind of dark insanity that I really liked. It was kind of like a punk/techno Polish version of a Hubert Selby, Jr. novel, all drug-addled and desperate and dark. I guess that’s just kind of my thing. I feel like Lou Reed would like it. After that headed up to Japan Society for Toshiki Okada’s Hot Pepper… and Hideki Noda’s The Bee. Liked Hot Pepper… – interestingly it was presented in the Japan Society’s gallery, so I started thinking about performance and context, imagining Okada’s work situated in the visual art realm, which seems like an interesting proposition. I prefer Five Days In March and Enjoy, but this was a good intro to Okada. The Bee was not my cup of tea, so to speak. It was kind of like one of those Japanese Horror Porn movies where a domestic situation goes horribly awry turning bloody, gothic, cruel and inhuman. It was interesting to a certain extent and Kathryn Hunter was very impressive. But overall it felt a little dated and messy.
Friday – was at work most of the day – busy, busy, busy. Went to see Chimera at HERE which was kind of neutral – Suli Holum gives a fun, engaging performance but the show promises more than it delivers. Then hurried over to the Public to see Gob Squad’s Super Night Shot. OMG. So good. Those Gob Squad kids hit it out of the park again. It is sold out so you can’t see it but maybe if you beg and plead or mug somebody on the line you can get in. Totally mug somebody if you have to, because it is just that freakin’ good. Went to LuEsther Lounge after to hang. Fun times.
3:39 p.m., Fri. Jan. 7 – Friday Afternooniness
Good lord can time not speed up just a wee bit? I’m ready to leave the office and get on with this! People are flying in, I’ve got a pair of shows at Japan Society tonight (which I’m very excited for), and you know. Stuff. Anyway, a couple brief notes:
- See here for info on watching Culturebot Conversations (and other stuff at UTR) via the interwebs
- See here for my review of Motus’s Alexis
- See here for TenduTV’s Marc Kirschner’s list of 10 things the dance field needs to be thinking about for 2012
12:22 p.m., Fri. Jan. 7 – Ben Brantley’s Times Review of Motus
From today’s Times:
The heat that rises from these debates may give you brain burn, but it’s also thoroughly absorbing. So watch out. Toward the show’s end you may wind up leaping to the stage to join an instant protest movement that illustrates the differences between the single heroic gesture and the same gesture repeated ad infinitum. Even if you don’t know exactly why you’re raising your fist and making like you’re charging barricades, you’ll feel the exhilaration of people caught up in something bigger than themselves.
I wonder if the editor knew that the action Brantley describers as “heroic” was miming chucking a rock in a cop’s face? I also wonder if Brantley knew?
7:54 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 6 – Builders Association at UTR
Just a quick note–I’d heard mixed things about “Sontag Reborn” at UTR, as had CBOT’s Jane Jung, but we were both really impressed. I think it lacked something–the performance never achieved a complex dialogue with the content of Sontag’s journal, and we were both left with the “why live?” question unanswered–but overall it was enjoyable. That insufferable young woman was me (with more talent and intelligence), and even if I was left a bit underwhelmed, I enjoyed it.
3:3o p.m., Thurs., Jan. 6 – Marc Bamuthi Joseph Named Curator at YBCA
Okay, so the press release from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts just came in, and indeed, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who has a show at UTR right now, has been named performing arts curator.
In general, I think it’s a good choice for a couple reasons. One, although he’s from New York originally, he’s been working in the Bay Area for a while and the choice is probably at least in part an attempt by YBCA to re-engage the local community, which is great. An ongoing project of mine is exploring how local communities have different (and often less developed) arts support infrastructures, and I think a re-commitment by top tier arts centers is important to developing their localities as arts hubs. If Joseph can more align YBCA with the work being made in SF, it’ll be another important piece of the puzzle with Z Space and the Off Center and the great work they’re doing.
Second, it’s good to see a non white guy being made a curator. I’ve written about this before, but the ugly truth is that contemporary performance has a race problem. This is a huge, complicated issue in numerous ways, and one I don’t have time to try to suss out even in part here. But my hope is that in his role as a curator, Joseph will try to find new ways to support artists of color, and seek to recontextualize how their work is presented to place in the larger arts discourse where it belongs.
The question I guess is, will he prove as competent and accomplished a leader as he is an artist? I don’t know as much about the work he’s done locally, but my hope is that he’s been brought on as much for his proven leadership as for his local ties or taste-making eye for emerging artists. I think he does have a background in this, but I don’t have time to look into it further. Anyway, much luck to him and if you see him around the Public in the next few days, be sure to congratulate him.
12:15 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 6 – More Reading
- Mini interview on ArtsBeat with the directors of Motus.
- We have another interview up–Maura Donahue speaks with Molissa Fenley about the two pieces she’s showing at Judson Church on Mon., Jan. 9.
- George Hunka posts a fantastic essay–one I really liked immensely when I first read it–on criticism from Australia’s Alison Croggon.
- Alexis Soloski has a piece in the Times interviewing Gob Squad.
1:55 a.m., Thurs., Jan. 6 – Day 1 Wrap-up
Well, it’s damn near two in the morning, and I’m home, fed, showered, and ready for bed. After seeing MOTUS’s Alexis, I hit up–thanks to my +1’s more in-the-know-ness–the opening night party for UTR at the Public. Met some interesting people, had some interesting discussions. More to come tomorrow, but here’s a quick wrap-up:
- MOTUS at UTR: I decided not to review tonight, because I’m tired and didn’t want my response to get the better of me, but broadly speaking, it will be negative. Emotionally manipulative , intellectually weak, and even potentially exploitative, not only is it politically irresponsible political theater, but it compares poorly to the work of other artists on display this month (work by chelfitsch and The TEAM came to mind while I watched it, along with Gunther Grass’s The Plebians Rehearse an Uprising).
- Are we seeing the end of January? God I hope so; look, I was planning on saving this until after the fact, to have as a broader discussion one way or another, but let’s face it: everyone knows that things have gotten out of hand. While the public face of January festival time is that it’s a happy-go-lucky string of festivals, the truth is that all this was born of a trade-show mentality that wanted to put top artists up in front on the handful of North American presenters at APAP who can program this stuff (realistically you can count them on two hands). Anyway, I got to talking with people about the fact that HERE Arts Center’s Culturemart has become the first January festival to push itself outside the APAP window. The reasons are complicated but…it’s surely a sign of things to come. With COIL, UTR and American Realness delivering more than 40 shows alone, the fully “produced” work is just plain too much for the presenters to take in. As a trade show, it’s a failure. We’ll see what happens after the fact.
- Curators and who gets what curating job is a constant fascination of this community. APAP casts a big tent that includes a large number of people who have virtually nothing to do with the theater and dance we talk about at January festivals. Seriously, in the USA there’s about ten non-NYC presenters of note. Now, I haven’t actually followed this too closely, but a new job opened up at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF earlier this year when Angela Mattox left her performance curation role at YBCA to take up the artistic director job in Portland at PICA, where she’s replace Cathy Edwards at TBA. Tonight I heard tell of who’s getting Mattox’s position–and equally interesting, who were the runners up–but as I don’t see evidence it’s been publicly released, I won’t say anything other than it would seem to confirm the rest of the country’s anti-NYC bias.
4:45 p.m., Weds., Jan. 5 – Reading Materials
It’s nearly time for me to head off towards the East Village, where I begin 18 shows in 11 days with Italy’s MOTUS at La Mama as part of UTR, but I thought I’d take a minute to share some other writings on what’s going on.
- Jason Zinoman’s NY Times preview is def worth a quick read.
- Helen Shaw has a breakdown of what’s the what at Time Out
- At the Voice, Alexis Soloski has the beginning of an interesting exploration of technology and mediation in live performance; it’s a great over-view of what you’ll see, but it has little critical perspective. This is something I believe I’ll be returning to in a week or so once I have time to digest the performances.
- Meiyin Wang of UTR has a great thought piece on approaching contemporary performance over at HownRound
- George Hunka has a nifty post up today on critical authority; Hunka will be on the panel for the second Culturebot Conversation at UTR, and by way of example (and preview), he uses David Levine, who has a show at COIL and who happens to be on the first panel for us. David was one of the artists we didn’t have enough time to give his due onsite, so thanks to George for pulling out slack.
12: 15 p.m., Weds. Jan. 5 – Dance Worth Seeing
There’s three dance events I want to call it since they’ve gone unmentioned so far.
- Heather Kravas’s Green Surround at PS122’s COIL Fest. I wanted to interview Kravas but ran out of time. Readers may recall that I love this show when it debuted at PS in May, and if you missed it you should catch it now. As I wrote at the time:
What unfolds from there is an implacably paced and painstakingly deliberate exploration of how women are encouraged to pursue the expectation of physical and aesthetic perfection. Heavily referencing classical dance as a stepping off point for what it reveals about idealization of the feminine, Kravas runs her company through the gauntlet, forcing the dancers through a series of ever more ridiculous–and even dehumanizing–processes of synchronization in pursuit of an ideal, while letting bits of personality and individuality bleed through the cracks.
- Zoe Scofield at the Joyce. So, has anyone else notice that the Joyce has also gotten on the festival bandwagon? No? I didn’t think so. It’s called Focus Dance and it opened last night. Zoe is an amazing artist from Seattle and she’s going to be performing again on Saturday. I caught her show A Crack in Everything at TBA last fall and had this to say:
Anyway, the point is, I think this is as good a way as any to approach A Crack in Everything, a complex, provocative, and occasionally stunning dance-installation (the set itself rises to the latter definition, plus there is an actual attendant gallery piece which I did not see). Its central images all focus an unrelenting gaze on experiences, inhabited by the dancers, engaging them over and over again, in a sense chopping up the linear flow of time to demand we consider otherwise fleeting moments, without the comforting sfumato effect memory offers.
- Rebecca Patek at CPR this Saturday. Patek is a flippin’ genius. All I got to say. Girl cracks me up and she’s a fine dancer too. From my glowing review of her at Fresh Tracks 2010:
The entire thing is deliciously absurd, occasionally cringe-inducingly awkward humor. In terms of movement, Patek made sure she had at least one beautifully realized solo, but also managed to throw herself around the stage in comic pratfall (with three audience volunteers, playing the people who failed Baby Jessica), as well as perform a redemptive baptism in which the audience is compelled to be the response in a quasi-religious call and response.
11:17 a.m., Weds. Jan. 5 – Welcome to the Resource Page
Welcome to our first “blog” entry for January festival time. As most readers probably know, there’s a lot to do–in fact, the entire theater community has apparently adopted the habit of labeling this time of year with some sort of mental derangement: “madness,” “insanity,” “craziness,” what have you. And it’s true, there is in fact too much to do, which is a shame, because from the outset I know I’m going to miss some phenomenal artists who are going to slip under the radar (pun intended), unable to stand out. There’s 16 shows at UTR, eight or ten at COIL, and 20 at American Realness. And that’s not counting the showcases, Jay Scheib at the Kitchen, and so on.
But this is also Culturebot’s biggest time of year. We’re the only news and review source we’re aware of (at least in New York) that’s exclusively dedicated to covering contemporary performance, progressive theater, live art, dance, and so on. We’ve been busy all December interviewing artists showing this month (and we’re still busy–interview with Big Art Group and Jay Scheib are coming in the next 36 hours). But with that said, we want to encourage you to check out the interviews we’ve done that will hopefully help inform your showgoing:
- Argentinean director Mariano Pensotti (UTR)
- Lebanese theater artist Rabih Mroue (COIL)
- chelfitsch writer/director Toshiki Okada (UTR)
- Witness Relocation’s Dan Safer
- Buzzworthy SF choreographer Laura Arrington (Amer Realness)
- Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish, two of the minds behind influential company Goat Island (COIL)
- The guys behind Temporary Distortion (COIL)
- The TEAM’s Rachel Chavkin (COIL)
- Awesome Polish director Radek Rychcik (UTR)
- Japanese theater legend Hideki Noda (UTR)
That’s a hell of a lot of work, and we hope it’s helping audiences place the work they’re seeing in context. Also, PLEASE join us for Culturebot Conversations. These are Under the Radar Fest events that happen on Sunday Jan. 8 & 15, moderated by our own Andy Horwitz. We hope to see you there and around!