We Will Not Rest in Peace: Lost and Found Ends

Brother(hood) Dance! Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Brother(hood) Dance! Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

I’m so sorry I fell asleep. I joined a collective trance that lulled me into a belief in a linear, albeit frutstratingly slow, progressive evolution occurring in our country. I hadn’t signed on to a post-racial stance, but had believed with HOPE in the life-sustaining (or death-delaying) cocktails available to my gay, male, students of color in the era of Obamacare. That they were (all?) arriving to college already infected should have roused me from stupor.  But, I was too busy dreaming – in the wake of DOMA’s topple and last year’s Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states – of how everyone could now reap the benefits, protections and burden that legally binding oneself to another human affords. And, giggling in my slumber, at 4-year-old memories of performing at the Asia Society on election eve to a live-mixed sound scape of GOP candidates’ anti-choice and campaign ending rhetoric about “legitimate rape” or “god-given rape” or “emergency rape” and Rush Limbaugh’s hateful spewing against women.  Obamacare had enforced access and I’d danced my way through the Occupy Vagina moment. There was much to be done but things were better than before, right? I would feel the despair at each defeated effort to enact stronger gun control even in the face of slaughtered little white children. I’d feel the rush of hot anger with each police shooting, would vigil and protest and hashtag. Would tell the kids why we were wearing hoodies to remember a young boy or reprimand my son for re-enacting “down on the ground, down on the ground” scenarios with his buddies and their nerf arsenals from the wrong perspective. Would argue during rehearsals for a show about the failings of democratic revolutions (see “Furious Capitalism or Fascist Consumerism: Notes from Pylade“) that people ought to be looking at the timelines of the 60s and 70s Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Women’s Liberation movements to de-romanticize the monolithic sense of unity and accomplishment and understand the civil unrest, neighbor on neighbor vitriol, and violence that festered alongside the legislative, executive and judicial acts and policies that we built our progress on. I’d sit on boards, and panels, and at talks on cultural equity, and go to my day job planning arts and public policy events or trying to use dance as a vehicle to enrich the lives of working class, immigrant, first-generation-to-college kids of NYC. So, maybe I was just dozing, napping from fatigue at the daily, tedious grind of working towards inclusivity and pluralism in arts and academia. Or maybe, I was just taking care of my own. Softened in my domesticity and slowly gentrifying my own mind alongside the disappearance of Dominican neighbors and Puerto Rican flags on my street, expressing appreciation that after over 20 years in my rent controlled apt, there was finally some really good Chinese food in the hood for my kids. I’d started focusing my own artistic work away from my personal race and gender representation issues and into age, impermanence, improvisation and the ocean. The politics included the trans, queer or colored bodies of participating performers, but the focus was on the impending ecological disaster of contaminated waters. So, conscious perhaps, but not nearly woke. But then, Danspace Project’s 2016 Platform Lost and Found started working like a Homedics alarm clock, seeping the sound of crashing waves into my REM state with a potent, elegiac reminder of a more recent dire time (“Congregation Without Walls” and “Congregation of Survival“). And then, the clamorous alarm of election day amped up the adrenals, cranked cortisol into the system and sent me stumbling and disoriented into the the Platform’s final events. During the Memory Palace Vigil, the second Conversation Without Walls afternoon, the final performance and the last bow, the pain of loss had intensified and loomed over every act like a foreboding surveillance drone rebelliously tagged with Silence = Death graffiti.

This was a heartening and heart-breaking 6 weeks. Judy Hussie-Taylor, Ishmael Houston Jones, Will Rawls, Jaime Shearn Coan, and Visual AIDS along with all of the Danspace Project staff and over a 112 artists, undertook a labor of revisionist history and artistic accomplishment that is clearly one for the books historic… or cultural, sexual, political, aesthetic, curational, intersectional, geographical, and so on. Singularly, event-by-event or collectively, upon reflection of the large-scale vision, Lost and Found was easily among the most meaningful interactions I’ve ever had as an observer of live performance in New York. Contemporary American artists haven’t often experienced the kinds of genocidal targeting or state-enforced censorship that collaborators in Cambodia, Burma or Vietnam would often describe; or performed with the urgency of using one’s art against authoritarian regimes like many I’ve seen from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, the Ivory Coast or parts of South and Central America. Except, perhaps, when the brothers and sisters, lovers and fathers were dying due to the negligence, malice and persistent homophobia that kept the AIDS epidemic at a crisis level. When ACT-Up won a NY Dance and Performance (Bessie) Award for their “political and cultural provocation,” before they’d even staged the incredible FDA takeover. When Ishmael danced with a dead goat (and then a sheep) to negotiate with death. When Lucy Sexton and Anne Iobst/DANCENOISE took on the storm. When artists made or performed or wrote from the very edges of existence.

I’d missed several key events during the Platform, including the centerpiece “Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd” that Ish had directed. While away at the Congress on Research in Dance/Society of Dance History Scholars conference, I’d blithely answered a question at the roundtable for Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance contributing authors (Danspace’s Peggy Cheng is on the cover btw) that perhaps the future of Asian American dance studies should serve the field the way Lost and Found had, circulating more stories intermingled with scholarship and action, because as Theodore Kerr’s quote in Judy’s foreward to the platform’s print catalogue states “history will always be limited in its reach.” Despite the minor tingle of anxiety, even at that moment, I hadn’t predicted the hatred that, still seething against all those perceived as different, was waiting to arise again. And yet, here we are being sharply reminded by Kerr’s catalogue contribution The Sailor’s Daughter: AIDS before AIDS in the Present that “in a white supremacist and patriarchal culture, it is an illness of the unseen other” allowed to wipe out queers and coloreds, weirdos and women, artists, activists, anyone else. So, while Lost and Found has worked to answer to “the story of HIV in the US and Canada as both whitewashed and pinkwashed, resulting in the erasure of black people, women, people of color, people living in poverty, people who do drugs, and others from both the history of HIV and the ongoing crisis,” it also offered consistent reinforcement for the value of resistant non-conformity and and supportive communities, both geographic and socially constructed.

Dan Fishback, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Dan Fishback, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

The Memory Palace vigil referenced the catalogue’s gallery of “grief texts or images from more than 25 artists.” Conceived by Will as a place for artists of different generations to remember those people or places that were lost to AIDS, the Tuesday night event was memorial and concert. It was the same evening as the national day of Dakota Access Pipeline protests, so I’d arrived full of swirling thoughts about historic, federally sanctioned genocides and the extreme capitalism that is today’s normalized imperialism and quite incapable of articulating that complex and rapidly oscillating mix of inspired, raging, activated, raging, sorrowful, raging, heartbroken, raging, other than to say “in grief.” However, artist and curator Dan Fishback was able to describe his recent experience of bitterly laughing until you’re sobbing with the Yiddish phrase lakhn mit yashtsherkes, meaning to laugh with lizzards. He noted that he was feeling in a language he doesn’t speak, but as a language of exile and suffering it makes sense he would find a descriptor for this present pathos in it. His reading of the You Can’t Wear a Red Ribbon if Your Dead 1993 speech in David Feinberg’s Queer and Loathing: Rants and Raves of a Raging AIDS Clone was a reminder of the urgent necessity to avoid the lull of passively sporting images of solidarity: You can’t wear a red ribbon if you’re dead. You can’t march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade if you’re dead. You can’t register as domestic partners if you’re dead. You can’t belong to the military if you’re dead. I’ve been a member of ACT UP since 1987. ACT UP is a diverse, nonpartisan group, united in anger and committed to ending the AIDS crisis. I know, it feels as if the great moment of ACT UP has passed. Many of our members have burnt out. Many more have died. After finishing his duties as bus monitor, David Serko calmly set up his infusion on the bus ride to Kennebunkport when ACT UP invaded Bush’s summer home. David Serko is dead. Tom Cunningham selflessly managed our work-space for two years with heart and soul. Tom Cunningham is dead. Katrina Haslip brought AIDS activism to the New York City prison system. Katrina Haslip is dead. Robert Garcia energized the Latino/Latina Caucus of ACT UP with his commitment, ideals and vitality. Robert Garcia is dead. Last year, during the presidential campaign, Bob Rafsky, our conscience, our reality check, accused Bill Clinton face to face of dying of ambition while Bob was dying of AIDS. Bob Rafsky is dead. Feinberg’s book is a reminder of the many ways messages and individual experiences can be co-opted into well-meaning banality when not matched with direct action. Increased exposure to the AIDS crisis through visual aids (and Visual AIDS) is vital was essential in mainstreaming and maintaining the message but, even an enormous Red Ribbon draped on the White House on the 1st of December doesn’t tell the story of Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy or PEPFAR, or why in the 21st Century we are still trying to eradicate this disease through presidential “emergency plans.”

Memory Palace scroll, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Memory Palace scroll, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

In an increasingly sound-bite, click-baited, post-truth propoganda landscape, personal stories and the kind of remembering that Denise Roberts Hurlin (Founding Director of Dancers Responding to AIDS), Arthur Aviles, Dan, Eiko, Muna Tseng, and Jeff Weinstein shared reveal the important work that arts organizations can have in serving as community centers, keepers and challengers of history, and voices for the ignored or forgotten. Artist and death-doula, iele paloumpis read her contribution to the catalogue: Last April, a gay elder I didn’t know died of cancer. His far-away cousin hoped I’d accompany him as a doula in his final days. Neglected and abused in his nursing home, he had no nearby family or visitors and died before I could reach him. I imagine him often. “We are family,” as they say. What happened to his blood and chosen families? How many loved ones did he lose to AIDS or old age? His stories and theirs, gone. For every person who dies alone, a keeper of memories, how many others die a second death of disappearance? Nicky Paraiso sang his Song: Requiem, written for lost lovers and colleagues, from his 1994 Performance Space 122 show Asian Boys in a time-collapsing reach back to the rending disorientation and confusion that was also prescient to our new future: I do not really understand these times, But I will see the next day through, Oh Lord why do you take the ones I love, Why do you take my friends so soon? Oh Lord why do you take the ones we love, Why do you take our friends so soon? And somewhere in there he or someone else said “We have to be the rays of hope now.” It’s scribbled on my program and I sit here, in a NYC public high school cafeteria in Hell’s Kitchen waiting for a 13-year old who received a “Day 1” message that “Donald Trump should depart [sic] ur dad” to finish her interview and wondering how we’re going to battle all of these battles now, when we keep just becoming statistics in a spike of increasing hate crimes. With weaponized fear all around us, how will we battle the criminalizing of difference that is upon us. Can we remember? Can we teach the opiated, digitized and distracted youngsters about the best and the worst parts of the individual and collective fights against criminalized gayness and HIV-positivenss and mobilize with intelligence before we are beset by stronger mutations, deadlier plagues?

I walked into the Saturday afternoon long-form “Conversation Without Walls: Two of Two,” seeking answers to those questions, wondering what an anguishing past could offer our fraught present and feared future. Flipping back and forth through time and thinking of Will’s statements in the catalogue: It seems obvious to me that we no longer have the option to live in linear and straight time. We circle back to retrieve, stay here to stake claim and move forward to imagine all at once. It requires new physics; at every stage a prognosis, an intervention is required. The LOST panel, moderated by Jaime, with Allied Productions/Jack Waters and Peter Cramer, Alex Fialho (Visual AIDS), Ishmael, and Gentrification of the Mind author Sarah Schulman reflected on the loss of the East Village ethos that defined the immigrant and artistic communities who informed a “downtown” response to the AIDS pandemic in the 80s and 90s. Aside from various recollections on local, Lower East Side initiatives and experiences, including Peter and Jack’s Le Petit Versailles garden, Sarah noted that AIDS politicized many gay men who hadn’t been active before lives were on the line, that heroin was what had made the neighborhood a destination and not the art, and that it was important to reach further back to the long-lasting impact of McCarthyism on our continuing artistic legacies. Elizabeth Zimmer (seated next to me) pointed me towards Moira Roth’s essay “The Aesthetic of Indifference,” as backing for the panelist’s discussion about how closeting one’s gay or lesbian identity (and even naming names the way Jerome Robbins did before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee) allowed certain artists to survive in the aftermath of, y’know, that way back time when there was incredible national fear about the Russian influence in American lives and politics. Sarah argued that many artists were still closeting their HIV+ status because it still has negative impacts and in looking up Roth’s essay, I got stuck on the title of her book, Difference/Indifference: Musings on Postmodernism. Indifference is not the absence of difference, but the absence of caring. When the dominating aesthetic of postmodernism was a perfected distance from the differentiating that occurs when personal details or perspectives are public, the personal becomes apolitical and artists like Merce Cunningham and Meredith Monk (named by the panel) were able to thrive. If the artistic practice wasn’t initially based in a love of formality so much as an indifference to identity or the alienation from the self (another take on the Zen Buddhist influences on Cage, and then Cunningham) and the self includes politically charged personal details like gayness, the legacy of postmodernism is rampant negligence to social concerns resulting in generations of artists rewarded for remaining indoctrinated into political apathy. The mythology of art for art’s sake instead of art for the artist’s sake instead of the artist for artist’s world’s sake instead of artists for the world’s sake instead of art for the world instead of art for the world of the artist. Instead of a world where American Abstract Expressionists were secretly bank-rolled by the CIA as Cold War propaganda (I wrote about this a few years ago for MR’s Performance Journal “Dancing at the End of Empire) for freedom (and non-political art) or a world detailed by Sarah in her excerpt from Gentrification of the Mind where artists “are faced with conformity of aesthetics and values in their neighborhoods. Conventional bourgeois behavoir becomes a requirement for surviving socially, developing professionally, and earning a living. By necessity, their goals are altered. Reimagining the world becomes far more difficult…”‘ due to the age of extreme capitalism we’re in, can we re-build a world where “people who are not wealthy are going to become artists and revolutionaries.” And can we hold onto Sarah’s answer to Jaime’s question about what values and sensibilities to carry forward into this impending political climate to NOT project censorship until it is there, don’t start self-censoring. 

The next day during a Great Jones Rep Co meeting at La Mama, I proclaimed we needed urgently to bring back the Pasolini play we’d performed in NY last year and toured Europe with this summer to make it more naked, more queer, more violently disturbing and insistently more uncomfortable for all of us inside the show and out of it. I’ll admit to a slide into bougie territory, I wed and bred and credentialed and worked towards economic stability for the offspring. But even from there, from here, know more insistently that we must constantly push back against the “dialogic relationship with the culture” that Sarah writes of “when consumers learn that uncomfortable = bad instead of expansive, they develop an equation of passivity with the art-going experience. In the end, the definition of what is “good” becomes what does not challenge, and the entire endeavor of art-making is undermined.” It is present in our academic institutions, it walks in the door with our students and pushes down from administrations intent on bolstering the university’s brand. It’s excessively heteronormative. Exhaustingly rooted in “pure dance” requirements. So, it must be the artists for whom debilitating debt and alternative gauges for success, the difficult student, the un-professionalized maker, the weirdos who didn’t fit in or who took all of that great training and flipped it, that I will take to seeking as Nicky’s “rays of hopes” in the continued work of the weird and the queered.

Katy Pyle & Ezra (the back of Sarah's head)

Katy Pyle & Ezra (the back of Sarah’s head)

Thankfully, I don’t have to look very far, many of them showed up as some part of Lost and Found. Katy Pyle’s Life Drawing (Response #3) response to the work of Greer Lankton, was her version of the ballet “Coppelia” with the always compelling Ezra Azrielie-Holzman (they’d previously been in Miguel Guitierrez’s “Age and Beauty part 3”). It set me to plots for working undercover. In the tale of “Coppelia,” our beloved protagonist Swanhilda has to deceive both the maker of the life size doll and her stupid-ass boyfriend who has fallen for the toy by dressing up as the doll and trashing the place. It reminded me of either a Bitch or a Pantsuiter who’d recently described passing as a straight, white, cis-gendered male online to troll discussion threads. Perhaps an example of Audre Lorde’s idea that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” and will only momentarily beat him at his game, but still a momentary victory. And while infiltration may become necessary, there’s a reason we come or stay here. And, there’s a reason so many of Danspace Project’s recent Platforms have resonated with the importance of the East Village/LES and at St. Mark’s Place. Here is where the weird is wonderful. Pyle drew the doll reference from Lankton’s work, a collection of incredible dolls that represented the “freaks” of the world, and brought it into her Ballez mission to “insert the stories, bodies, and fantasies of lesbian, transgender and queer people into the ballet canon.” The gender-non-conforming Ezra inside the gendered costume of the tutu inside the potentially, almost trans-friendly “passing” narrative against ballet’s fraught history of shifting didactics of gender performance was gentle and subversive. We did, as Katy later announced was her agenda, all fall in love with Ezra. Yes. Normalize this.

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Alex Fialho, Nelson Santos, Larissa Velez-Jackson, DonChristian, Ali Rosa-Salas

The FOUND panel, moderated by Alex Fialho was envisioned around “Imaginative Alliances” and asked Ali Rosa-Salas, DonChristian, Nelson Santos and Larissa Velez-Jackson how they each address AIDS in their work today. Nelson, as Executive Director of Visual AIDS and an individual artist, has worked with over 500 artists and curators. In 1989, Visual AIDS was responsible for turning the World Health Organization’s 2nd Annual World AIDS day into A Day Without Art, was the originator of the iconic Red Ribbon, maintains The Archive Project, Artist+ Registry and produces exhibitions, publications and keeps art as the weapon to combat the issues that “contribute to and exacerbate the pandemic, such as poverty, homophobia and racism.”  DonChristian, who had also curated the concert part of Tuesday night’s Memory Palace (I wasn’t able to stay), offered the bleakest landscape, detailing the work he was been participating in on Riker’s Island where the continued apartheid state of the US maintains racial segregation and oppression thanks to heavy implementation of the clause “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” in our 13th Amendment. (Yes, I think you should see Ava DuVernay’s documentary). In 2004, those inside the prison-industrial complex were 4 times more likely to become HIV+ due to prison rape. The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act was meant to stem the sexual assault of prisoners, but sexual violence remains high and DonChristian described a “subjugated, marginalized, underserved and hurting” population of HIV+ prisoners. Ali, as an independent curator and MA candidate at the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University, noted that the etymology of curator is “to care,” the latin curare meaning to care for or attend to. Larissa worked through memories of her father and his lost lover and child to AIDS and spoke of her newest work in development and teaching exercise classes to seniors. Sarah declared her desire to join Larissa’s cast in March at NYLA.

Narcissister (and the back of Sarah's head again)

Narcissister (and the back of Sarah’s head again)

And then and then, holy YES, Narcissister!!! I mean… I’d be speechless and wordless if I didn’t consider that a failure of my civic duty. However, Ariel Osterweis has been writing about her for a few years and can offer a more scholarly take, so from me just… YAS. yasssssss. and uh fucking huh. For what was supposed to be the Life Drawing Response #4 (Alvin Ailey) Narcissister brought Chaka Khan, puppetry, video, live performance, and some hella serious orifice virtuosity to the Platform. We saw several of her videos where stunning examples of her fascinating design sensibility, exceptional werkswomanship and serious handicraft skills filled out a variety of personal, fanciful and down-right bizarre scenarious that kept her body at the center. She’s been called “the topless feminist superhero New York needs” and could easily serve as the covergirl for a 21st Century follow up to Rebecca Schneider’s The Explicit Body in Performance. She joined us, live, to perform her acclaimed “Every Woman” piece during which she reverses the strip tease, starting naked but for her signature mask and an enormous afro wig and then pulling various clothing items and accessories from mouth, anus, vagina and The Wig and ending fully dressed and with a hand bag to boot. Right when I had started feeling like I should just grab my cubs and burrow down, she showed up to remind us all not to hide. Okay, she’s relatively anonymous behind her mask, but the work is bold and creative in ways far beyond my imagination. Don’t normalize this. It’s too rare, too special. Celebrate it. Champion it. Love it. Find it.

In the final round up, there was expressed desire to keep the conversation going. And, to acknowledge those who had died in the closet, who were still struggling in a Cone of Silence. That both then and now, taking care of your own was both coping and cause for concern. That the Platform had worked stridently to disrupt the “single-channel thinking” about AIDS that the historic whitewashing of the epidemic had established as a truth. That queering the norms, like Ballez’s “Sleeping Beauty and the Beast” would help us out of isolationism. Creation over everything else. love more. policy. Larissa asked that we work diligently to call out the truth, expose gas lighting. And, someone stated simply (or my notes were written simply) “caregiving = be nice to each other,” re-create the communities and the families if the socially sanctioned tolerances that have made coming out easier for some have been recently destroyed and familial ties eroded. And, to not too deeply romanticize a time when people were brought closer together because the tragedy was so large. Remember lives were lost, careers ended, art destroyed and that legacy of a lost generation influenced the material realities of today.

Brother(hood) Dance! Costumes by Shane Ballard, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Brother(hood) Dance! Costumes by Shane Ballard, Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

And, on the evening of Saturday November 19, Lost and Found came to a close in its final public event, the last performance of the final program An Evening with Brother(hood) Dance!, Antonio Ramos, and DANCENOISE. I was joined by my regular Lost and Found viewing companion, Gilbert Reyes, a Dominican, Bronx-born/Spanish Harlem-raised, HIV+, Hunter College alumn who has danced with me, Muna Tseng, Christal Brown, Vanessa Anspaugh, Jumatatu Poe and Frankie Martinez, who was detained at the Canadian border once while we were touring with La Mama’s Loco 7 Co, and had been showing his own powerful work on policing at Judson and BAX and elsewhere before getting dragged back to PT school to, y’know, try to make the leap to survivability beyond the poverty level that keeps him Medicaid eligible. He’s been a family friend, confidante, collaborator, giggle buddy, my son’s hero in all things parkour and pizza, and a constant example of good humor even when shit stinks, even when there is no safety net. During this Platform, he’s been more than a living fount of contemporary HIV+ experiences, only coming out to me as positive, one warm evening on my stoop earlier this year, he’s also been a reminder not to fall into malaise, cynicism or disillusion. Because, there’s always another viral HipHopVine to weaken us from laughter or another Daniel Muscato to RightOn with. He’s also toured and performed with both Brother(hood) Dance! founders Orlando Zane Hunter Jr. and Ricarrdo Valentine in Christal Brown’s Muhammed Ali-dedicated “The Opulence of Integrity.” I’ve written about Brother(hood)’s work recently and remain excited about what they offer, but their how to survive a plague was full of so many references historic and cultural it would take multiple viewings for me to de-code it all and do it proper. Shane Ballard’s splendid costumes filled out the enigmatic opening sequence with a references to Yoruba traditions of Santeria and Haitian (or New Orleans?) Vodou, with Ricarrdo hinting at Babalu Aye, Orisha of Illness, and Orlando looking camera-ready for a blockbuster action movie with Shango (or Xango or Chango), god of thunder and male sexuality, as our hero. Brought into proximity, one could see a gay, Afro-Caribbean incarnation of AIDS-mysticism as male sexuality couples with disease and unleashes a plague upon the world. Projections of names of artists lost as well as posters such as the People of Color Against AIDS “famous last words” campaign, like AIDS is a White Man’s Disease would pull my attention away from the performers. A voiceover from Boghuma Kabisen Titanji’s TEDTalk about the need for ethical research methodologies in the search for a cure to HIV, esp among subjects in developing countries, served as a reminder of the global history and significant suffering for women around the world. Gilbert pointed out that the subject Titanji describes will likely suffer from the break in access to her antiretrovirals because of the resistance that develops when the regiment is not kept up. This story stung noticeably and sent my attention into reckoning with the specifics of the issues raised long after the guys had shifted to a light-hearted Soul Train line with members of the audience.

Luke Miller in Antonio Ramos/The Gangbanger's "Almodovar Distopya" Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Luke Miller in Antonio Ramos/The Gangbanger’s “Almodovar Distopya” Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

Antonio Ramos and the Gang Bangers (Sarah White-Ayon, Darrin Wright, Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy, Shantelle Couroisier Jackson, and Luke Miller) presented an excerpt from a new work: Almodovar Distopya, that was at once sartorial satirical, with the dancers grandly wrapped in nothing but a few colorful ribbons from designer Eric Gorsuch and stylistically satyrical, with the dancers bounding and stomping like human-goat or human-horse hybrids. I’ll admit we were well into the piece before I realized I was watching Luke and Darrin because Gilbert and I had been obsessed with their bouncing balls (and they had masks painted on their eyes, but yeah… I hadn’t even looked up…). The work was created prior to the realities of present politics, but in reading Antonio’s program notes: Looking back on the ’80s and the AIDS epidemic, I lost everything from my virginity to the virus to friends to exile my country and made NYC the new cave to live in…all I wanted to do was run away from it all…like today all lost after the election and hope since to vanished all that… Make a legacy, fight for AIDS, for rights for ur brothers, for love, don’t leave us like this. I could imagine the unrelenting leaps and shaking as a contemporary and inter-gendered rendering of the Theophania, a Dionysian Greek ritual dance by men in masks and goatskins meant to keep the demons at bay.

DANCENOISE with Laurie Berg, Nora Burns, Heidi Dorow, Melanie Greene, Salley May, Greta Hartenstein and Adrienne Truscott - Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

DANCENOISE with Laurie Berg, Nora Burns, Heidi Dorow, Melanie Greene, Salley May, Greta Hartenstein and Adrienne Truscott – Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Danspace Project

And then, and then, in the end it was DANCENOISE. As it had to be, as it was meant to be. DANCENOISE the true feminist superheroes of yore. Years ago, Anne Iobst and I had travelled to Copenhagen on a PS 122 Field Trip together, but I hadn’t yet seen DANCENOISE, arriving here after Anne had relocated to San Francisco (and after all of the crisis years of this Platform). To me she was The Naked Lady of once-upon-a-time-DANCENOISE legend. I was naively doing naked karate katas to ani difranco in my 90s version of anti-heroine-ism. I should recall more about what we did and said, but we all spent too much time in Freetown Christiana enjoying the “legal” cannibas trade and eating fresh Danish pastries. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, she was iconic to me. Lucy, being here and being someone I’ve known from producing the Bessies, adjudicating at Hunter, and breeding young artists (my daughter once “reviewed” her daughter for Culturebot) has carried the more pragmatic role of Factress and local GetItDoneGrrl. Still, these were the women, womyn, wimmin of passion and fire. The original riot grrls. So, at first, when they started I thought, I’ve made too much of this, set expectations to high, or I’m too numb or too old. Their Silence = Death banner didn’t hurt badly enough, didn’t rouse the anger up from underneath the sadness. Wrapping up 2016 and putting it away didn’t feel as good as when I watched John Oliver blow it up on the telly. But then the Runaways came on and they and their team of Laurie Berg, Nora Burns, Heidi Dorow, Melanie Greene, Salley May, Greta Hartenstein and Adrienne Truscott were running around screaming FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU then they, at least, were embodying, inhabiting the old anger and I thought – Art Matters, Honest Art Matters, Thoughtfully crafted, but performatively raw, honest art matters. Presenting Thoughtfully Crafted, But Performatively Raw, Honest Art must be a mandate. Do not self-censor. We’ve Never Needed You More. And then, no, I think they were needed then too. But, I’d never needed them more than now. Trying to unshackle a decade long descent into complacency and arm-chair activism, into bourgeois, domestic adulting and intellectual debate and in need of more public FUCK YOUS or to just cover myself in mud again or dollar bills, not blood – that’s theirs, or go back to boxing or start smashing yellow-haired pumpkins with my thighs or shooting a video of my son and his Mexican, black, and brown buddies and their cute little blonde-haired girl buddies all smashing a pinata of the asshole-elect in slow motion while Kendrick sings “we gonna be alright” or whatever it takes to remain OUT there. LOUD. and PROUD. And to remind everyone, in Queer and Loathing terms that WE WILL NOT REST IN PEACE.

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