Standing Up in January: Day 2 Dispatch (COIL, Squirts & La Mama with Pavel Zustiak, Patti Harrison & Marga Gomez)

© David Kumerman Courtesy of Palissimo

Friday 1/6/17 – My 2nd night of feasting for the January Festival of Festivals, aka APAP, was spent at La Mama. PS 122’s COIL Festival presented Pavel Zustiak’s Custodians of Beauty at La Mama. La Mama/Palissimo presented Pavel’s Bastard (The Painted Bird: Part 1) and Squirts offered it’s first night of intergenerational queer pairings with stand up sets from Patti Harrison and Marga Gomez. To start the year alternating between bent over from either despair or because I might laugh so hard that the tears trickle down my legs felt fitting to my polar emotional swings of late.

Since establishing his company Palissimo in 2004, Czechoslovakian-born Pavel Zustiak, has become a recognized voice in the NYC contemporary dance world. His 2015 Juried Bessie Award win established him as an artist that other iconic artists (in his case Susan Marshall, Shen Wei and Reggie Wilson) admire and respect. He’s arrived at this status through a collection of works that challenge our passivity and by crafting landscapes rife with poetics of reality and fantasy. An Eastern European bloc childhood TV star, Pavel’s life in front of the camera, as well as under single-party communist rule and through the Velvet (or Gentle, depending on which side of Czech or Slovak one inhabited) Revolution and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, is reflected in a kind of stabbing sweetness and sorrow that festers beneath the surface of many of his works. Fiercely humanistic, he’s neither naive to humanity’s endless cruelty nor bereft of hope for its salvation.

Photo by Courtney Perry for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

5pm, La Mama, The Basement –
2015’s Custodians of Beauty was brought back for PS 122’s COIL Festival. A “sardonic nod to Pope Benedict XVI’s appeal to 250 artists” from 2009 that they were “the custodians of beauty in the world,” it is a meditation on our individual responsibilities in finding where, why and how beauty reveals itself to us. Nicholas Bruder, Emma Judkins and Justin Morrison take us through sequences of seamless partnering, in and out of one another’s shadows, up against a back wall and a slow, barebacked progression across the floor. A hyper-reflexive series of projected texts mimicking a post-performance conversation between two viewers with dramatically different viewing response captures much of my previous internal dialogue right down to the voice that told me I was just “hangry.” The meta commentary of the work inside the work shifts my perspective immediately, casting my earlier lack of ease in a different light and pointing it towards attentional priming. The work is bold in its dogged adherence to persistence. It’s not just persistent, it is insistently persistent. So much so that it works a special kind of magic in the end.

8pm, La Mama, The Basement – The 2017 Revival of Bastard (The Painted Bird: Part 1) has a program note paying respect to the Lenape peoples, acknowledging the presence of Palissimo’s work on Mannahatta and all of us on occupied land. This situated the 2010 work against the American histories of continuing subjugation and genocides in a way that felt precariously current. The much-lauded (and Culturebot documented) work, which had returned to La Mama in 2013 for the full 4-hour Painted Bird Trilogy, exemplifies the cogency of Pavel’s artistic vision. In it there is delight, horror, a disruption to the absolution of audience responsibility, vigorous and subtle physicalities, and the complementary visions of long time collaborators lighting designer Joe Levasseur and composer/performer Christian Frederickson. Slovakian dancer Jaro Vinarsky returned for his Bessie Award winning role in a performance that captured the fantastical innocence and punishing violence of a tale about a wandering boy in post-WWII Europe (inspired by Jerzy Kosinski’s 1965 novel) who watches a bird he’d painted violently killed “by its own kind as a perceived interloper.” Vinarsky is both diminutive wanderer and blistering rock star, scorching through the space in relentless crashes and rolls before dissolving into the local ensemble that arrives for the final 3rd of the show. Just before I’ve dissolved into a deep hole of despair at the imagery of a mass grave (enacted by the ensemble slowly laying themselves at each other’s feet) and thoughts of how many times around the globe they’ve been used, Rina Espiritu stands up from the floor and I’m tickled that my former Hunter College student got a solo in this seminal work.

10pm, La Mama, The Club – Last week, when I interviewed Squirts founder, curator and host, Dan Fishback he pointed out that days away from Trump’s inauguration, he wanted to laugh JUST ONE MORE TIME. And, I’d agree that queer stand-up was in order. Queer stand up by women of color was in order. Turned out queer stand up by a mid-20s Asian American trans girl (‘s Patti Harrison) and a properly mid-Nifty legendary New Yorker turned Bay Area lesbian (Marga Gomez, look for her in Sense 8 Season 2) were exactly what I should order. The squirt versus the self proclaimed droplet proved a great back-to-back pairing with early Yu-Gi-Oh references and bizarre Pokemon-like impressions balanced out with “Pantsuit Nation’s not a dating site” and “composting, building cabinets, and rescuing senior pets” jokes later. Both sets included references to coping and finding humor in the wake of a devastating election, but also managed to bring personal experiences into odd, funny and powerfully wierd hilarity. Patti’s opening was the richest bit of setup leading to the best laugh I’ve had in a long time. And, Marga’s various anticipatory (‘weekend at Bernie’s for RBG’) ideas and coping (“I’m trying this new thing… breathing…”) mechanisms allowed a light-hearted way through the misery. In the end, stand up offered one way to keep standing up.

Check out Marga while she’s in town at Under the Radar this Weds-Sun.

Squirts returns Fri, Sat & Sun.

COIL continues til Jan 22.

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