David Neumann’s Restless Eye at NYLA and a backlog of ephemera

Hi everyone, Andy here. Hope you’ve been well. We here at Culturebot have been super-busy seeing shows, writing, planning, etc. It has been an action-packed year so far and there’s a lot going on over the next 12 months. So be sure to keep checking back for more news.

Personally, my day job is getting pretty hectic as we do our Access Restricted discussion series and gear up for this year’s awesome edition of the River To River Festival (be a part of it! Dance with Sylvain Emard) – so my writing contributions may be a little more sporadic.

So okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about art.

Friday night took us to Exit Art for their final opening. After 30 years they are closing up shop with two exhibits Every Exit is an Entrance: 30 Years of Exit Art and Collective / Performative. It just so happens that Culturebot was invited to be a part of the Collective/Performative exhibit and we’re totally honored and kind of in awe. When we went to the opening and saw, in one place, all the amazing artists that Exit Art has supported and nurtured over the past 30 years, it was kind of crazy to think that we would be a part of it. It as a great party where art stars who were young kids in the 1980s were hanging with young artists of today and you could really feel the energy, connection and creativity. Unlike other fancy gallery openings I’ve been too, this felt like the real deal, not just a “see and be seen” for big money types. More on that later as we finalize Culturebot’s program at Exit Art for the week of April 17-21.

Saturday night we went to NYLA to see David Neumann’s new work with Advanced Beginner Group, Restless Eye. I will always have a soft spot for David Neumann’s work. His show Sentence was one of the first dance pieces that I really, truly enjoyed. I was working at PS122 at the time, where it was presented, so I got to actually see the work develop a bit and then see it multiple times over a few weeks. The humor, the text by Will Eno, the pedestrian movement, all gave me access to new ways of looking at dance and was pretty pivotal in my understanding of the form. From that work I could go out into all the different dance directions.

In Restless Eye Neumann is working with a different writer, Sybil Kempson, who seems to be everywhere this spring, and his collaborators in Advanced Beginner Group – Kennis Hawkins, Neal Medlyn, Andrew Dinwiddie, Jeremy Olson and Victoria Roberts-Wierzbowski – to create an atmospheric riff on the intersection of human experience as enhanced or mitigated by technology. Interpolating Chekhov and other sources, Restless Eye seems to create a tense juxtaposition between a more rustic, pre-digital way of life with the disconnectedness and information overload of the Internet age. There isn’t a whole lot of text, actually, but Kempson’s voice is ever-present – her fascination with New Jersey, with the mysteries of the road, with a vaguely threatening suburbia, a suggestion of existential unease in every moment.

Neumann’s choreography has gotten (it seems) a little more lyrical and expansive and he uses long, tall performers like Kennis Hawkins and Neal Medlyn to create elongated poses and gestures that exist in neat contrast to the more confined movements, focused on the arms, of other dancers.

There was a beautiful house, essentially a video screen, that changed from scene to scene and the sound design was enjoyable – moving from a spacey/digital soundscape to fractured language to something approaching music from time to time – a warbled “This Much Is True” playing as if from a house across the lake, etc.

Overall, though I enjoyed the piece, I frequently lost the thread and couldn’t always draw connections between one sequence and another. They flowed quite nicely into each other, but I was often disoriented and I didn’t feel that there was necessarily a cumulative effect. My eye was, in fact, restless – and maybe that was part of what I was meant to take away.

So in the interest of time travel let’s rewind to March 4 at PS1 where we went to check out Marten Spangberg do his thing. Spangberg is a Swedish choreographer and art star who leverages his outsize personality and keen intellect to propose scenarios around performance, visual art, choreography and dance. At PS1 he gave a performance/lecture based on his “book” Spangbergianism. Ostensibly the book came out of his deep and ongoing despair around his work as a choreographer, so he sat down and blogged for 60 days in a row then took the 60 posts and compiled them into a book. He called the blogging “choreography” and the book “dance” and went from there, critiquing dance, choreography, politics and the current visual arts/museum fetish for performance. Anybody who reads Culturebot regularly knows my basic thoughts on that, so I’m not going to re-hash it all here. I quite enjoyed the lecture, though some of my peers, apparently, did not. Raising, to my mind, the question: when is critique performance and when is it not?

But anyway – I did have a few thoughts on reflection after Spangberg’s lecture:

Dance is only one possible outcome of choreography. Choreography as an organizing principle or set of theories around the possibilities of bodies existing in time and space; much as architecture is a set of tactics and theories around the possibilities of the built (or unbuilt) environment.

Spangberg talked about the moment – though he didn’t use the term – of aesthetic arrest. And I thought of this wonderful poem:

– Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”:

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Subsequently Spangberg referenced this idea of choreography/art as a squid and/or monster that is simultaneously two things and nothing, that is incomprehensible and demands to be apprehended on its own terms. In an email to him (I have not received a response) I wrote:

Re “squid” and the monster idea….. I’m not a religious/spiritual person but in Jewish theology (in the Hebrew) the word that is translated as “God” or “Yahweh” is in fact what is known as an “ineffable tetragrammaton” (יהוה) – it is unpronounceable and incomprehensible, pointing to the indivisible one-ness of the divine – which of course suffuses all Being. The subjective confrontation with the unknowable (and inseparable) One is the aspiration of mystics, etc. etc. Moving along those lines, I think of the idea of “afflatus” or inspiration, from Cicero, according to Wikipedia: “…”inspiration” came to mean simply the gathering of a new idea, Cicero reiterated the idea of a rush of unexpected breath, a powerful force that would render the poet helpless and unaware of its origin.”

I’m having trouble closing the circle on this one – something about how art, being inspired by the ineffable, is in and of itself ineffable and beyond form, existing outside of time and space, coming into embodiment for a brief moment and then vanishing again. We defy commodification because we are only playing with that which will vanish and return to the nothingness from which it came, performance is the brief temporal and physical manifestation of ideas and entities that are always extant in the ether: dancers, musicians, performers, writers, bring them into being briefly, long enough for us to observe and try to fix in memory, before they disincorporate and vanish yet again….

Dude. I totally used to drop acid, like, a lot.

Okay so after Spangberg I had a bunch of work commitments until March 8 when I got to see Jodi Melnick at NYLA for her double-bill of One of Sixty Five Thousand Gestures and Solo, Deluxe Version. What an amazing evening! One of Sixty Five Thousand Gestures was co-choreographed with Trisha Brown and Jodi just has Brown’s choreography deep in her body. It was transfixing to watch, just beautiful. The composition by Hahn Rowe was ethereal and evocative and Melnick moves with precision, elegance, grace and subtle emotion.

That was followed by Solo, Deluxe Version where she worked with dancers Jon Kinzel, Hristoula Harakas and Stuart Shugg on a series of pieces linked together. Once again, just great movement, top-notch dancers, evocative, subtle, surprising, elegant. But the extra added bonus was live, original music from Steven Reker and his band, People GetReady (Luke Fasano, James Rickman and Jen Goma). They were fantastic, veering from rock-type riffs to spaceier, almost raga-like repeated figures, to atmoshperic sound to sections that almost sounded like songs. Great night, glad I got to see it.

The next night. Friday March 9, took us to The Kitchen to see Pam Tanowitz’ Untitled (The Blue Ballet). The piece was set to the FLUX Quartet’s interpretation of avant-garde composer Morton Feldman’s challenging String Quartet #1. Feldman is very minimal and sparse and the choreography took that as a starting point, using ballet – and ballet dancers – as source material and then stripping away all the frills down to some very sparse, select, precise movements. The piece was alternately fascinating and frustrating – less because of the intentional exploration of absence, time and emptiness, but because it just felt, to me, somewhat cold and analytical. That being said, perception is everything. I was frequently riveted by Ashley Tuttle who seemed to verily radiate. My colleague seated next to me found her to be conventional and mechanical. Go figure. But it is always, always a delight to see incredibly well-trained dancers re-purpose their skills into a contemporary context.

Saturday March 10 took us to The Joyce for Stephen Petronio’s The Architecture of Loss. The evening began with Petronio coming onstage and doing a five minute intro to his staging of Steve Paxton’s “Intravenous Lecture”. This was probably my favorite part of the whole evening, as he started talking about the time he saw Nureyev dance and then, within a few months, met Paxton and then Trisha Brown. In five minutes Petronio explained in the most succinct and personal way, the evolution of dance from Ballet to Modern to Post-Modern to Contemporary. And he did it with words AND his body. He physically demonstrated the transition from Nureyev’s rigid spine to Paxton’s flexible spine, from being oriented towards the audience to existing in 365-Degree space. It was beautiful. Then he started “Intravenous Lecture” which was kind of cool – he’s a great dancer – but I wasn’t so in love with the text.

Also on the bill was Wendy Whelan doing a short solo called “Ethersketch I” which was amazing. In some way this seemed to draw a line from Melnick on Thursday, to Tanowitz on Friday through to Petronio on Saturday. Something about the evolution of dance, the influence of ballet, of Trisha Brown… something about the way embodied movement can, ideally, comment on what it means to us, as non-dancers, to exist in the embodied world. Hm.Food for thought. I pass this on to you, dear reader, to expand and comment.

Monday night I had some family in from Mississippi and was at a loss as to what to do with them. Broadway being dark and so forth. Luckily I remembered that Rinde Eckert’s show And God Created Great Whales was playing at 45 Bleecker, produced by The Culture Project. My uncle and his wife are both mental health professionals, so it seemed like a show about a man losing his memory to Alzheimer’s (or some related if unnamed disorder) would be interesting. I think they liked it. I know I did. It has been many years since I first saw it but it held up in the new version. Rinde Eckert is just one of those artists who has incredible presence and a unique, fascinating creative sensibility. I’ve rarely been disappointed by his work and this is a great example of blending music/opera with poetic writing and imaginative, dream-like staging to create a kind of memory play, a sad, moving and intimate portrait of a man trying to hold on to his identity as it slowly erodes. Universal and tragic, powerful stuff.

Thursday, March 15 took me to the Gene Frankel Theater to see Lost & Found Project’s Doroga. ДOROGA, is a play that explores personal family stories about the Russian-Jewish immigrant experience from the current generation of 20-somethings, intertwining with the history of Jews in the countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

Not normally my kind of thing, but Culturebot’s office is frequently located at the back tables at Shoolbred’s, because they have a great two-for-one happy hour, a fireplace in winter and no televisions. And one of our favorite bartenders is Mariya King, and she’s part of this company and, well, you know, you gotta support your bartender, am I right? Also, I used to work in Jewish Culture so I kind of feel like I want to check in on things from time to time. Also, when I worked in that world I gave a lecture on “Envisioning Contemporary Jewish Theater and Performance” and I keep hoping that someone will actually do it, rather than replicate the same sort of conventional, narrative-based, work that confines identity to this very narrow slice of reality. Here’s that lecture, which is about 20 minutes long so you can just watch it some other time:

Envisioning Contemporary Jewish Theatre Lecture from Andy Horwitz on Vimeo.

ANYWAY – ДOROGA aroused in me the same feelings I often have about earnest, culturally-specific work. It feels cruel to criticize because it obviously means a lot to everyone involved and it definitely means a lot to the audiences that come and see it. It is validating and gratifying to see one’s “story” on stage, but at some point you have to make work that matches the critical and aesthetic standards of a general audience. That comes over time and I certainly hope that the young, enthusiastic and energetic team involved with this production continues to develop their craft, maybe gets exposed to performance makers who are doing more innovative work around culturally-specific performance and evolve into something more rigorous.

Friday March 16 took me to HERE Arts Center to see 64, written by Culturebot’s own Austin, TX correspondent Timothy Braun and presented by Surf Reality. I used to go to Surf Reality back in the day (it is now a “hot yoga” studio) when it was a teeming pit of cheap beer, cigarettes and weird LES performance art depravity. Glad to see that Rob Pritchard and Co. have not grown up too much! The technical elements – laptops, videos, sound design, etc.- have gotten a lot more sophisticated, the scenarios make a little more sense and there is a lot less in the way of bodily fluids and on-stage nastiness, but that same kind of DIY. rough and ready, a view from underground aesthetic still applies.

Timothy Braun was at an artist retreat when he met Jennilie Brewster who was in the midst of creating 4 paintings, often using NY Times images as source material. Braun was inspired to write 64 one page plays, and Pritchard then reimagined the plays as a kind of multimedia collage. Images come and go, soundscapes are mixed live, people meet, interact and vanish. Sometimes stories seem to reflect on each other and connect, sometimes they just appear and then drift off into the ether. 64 is a fluid, floating nightmare dreamscape of America going down in flames.

Speaking of which, if only tangentially, Saturday the 17th took us out to Bushwick Starr for Karma Kharms directed by Eliza Bent as part of Target Margin’s Last Futurist Lab. It was fun and crazy and silly movement-based, ensemble work with live origami-folding. It was based on the writing of Daniil Kharms an early Soviet-era surrealist and absurdist poet, writer and dramatist. I don’t know exactly how this all fits into Futurism (someone send me a press kit, pronto!) but I do think that there is probably a darker, more dangerous component to all of this. I’d surmise that so much of art in the early 20th Century was an attempt to assimilate the startling velocity of change that as much as it will sometimes appear frivolous to us, there is a kind of manic, nervous laughter attached, floating above a deep, ontological terror about the death of God and the dawn of essential meaninglessness. And the onrush of a new century birthing unprecedented genocide enabled by previously unimaginable weapons of mass destruction. But Karma Kharms was fun.

Sunday the 18th took us to Abrons Arts Center for a concert by Alarm Will Sound, part of the American Mavericks Festival presented by Carnegie Hall. The concert featured work by Cage, Varese and three others (I lost my program) and it was really great. It was free and the place was packed, even at 3PM on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Alarm Will Sound, led by Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Alan Pierson, is a diverse and dynamic 20-person ensemble who are always presenting new and imaginative interpretations of iconic material, supporting the work of early career composers and arrangers and just generally breaking down barriers left and right. You should definitely check them out.

Then more work then Friday and we’re back to Exit Art which brings us back to today. Sunday. Which I’ve now spent writing this column. SO MANY SHOWS SO LITTLE TIME!!!

Okay, hope you’ve all been having an art-tastic month and we look forward to seeing you out and about!!

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