We Could Be Heroes: Nickyland & One-in-Themselves
An epic “Springtime” arrived early in Nickyland this year. Just a day short of the official start, Sunday’s almost 3-hour marathon of words, songs, stories and summonings, was both reflective of the malaise at winter’s end and the hopeful harbinger that our solar powered selves will re-charge and charge forward boldly into an American Spring. Nicky opened the event with a bit of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” and declared that everyday is an adventure, at “not-even 50 days into this shit.” But, he noted that wandering through the building that afternoon with the various artists on the roster warming up, rehearsing or testing ideas out in stairwells, dressing rooms and on stage before the show, offered him the “rumpus room of my suburban dreams in Queens.” In the end, we’ll remember over and over that coming together will bring us together, and together we’ll get through this.
It was a long show with a lot of artists (and some repeat acts from his December and February shows that I’ve previously written about) and, I’m really (really) behind on posts (damn you once again, James Comey), so I’m hitting the high notes quickly. Peggy Shaw. She could stand there and recite her laundry list and I would titter and giggle like a teenybopper. She shared a story about her concern for her partner (and Split Britches co-founder) Lois Weaver’s hearing loss…long story short Peggy’s got a new hearing aid. She detailed how as a 72-year old woman who passes as a 55-ish year old man, she has “sacrificed being a woman for youth” and offered that “Elvis Presley had no soul, Chuck Berry was rock n’roll.” I bought her a beer. She doesn’t know me. Author Laurie Stone recalled to me afterwards that during her time writing for the Village Voice, she had covered their first show “Split Britches, The True Story” at a theater at Bellevue Hospital(!) almost 34 years ago. When I consider those kinds of track records, I’m grateful for the physicalized and personalized reminders that past artistic practices and contemporary economics (think Reagonomics for this particular history) shape not only the nitty-gritty hows and wheres, but also the why’s of art making in any era. I will unabashedly gawk in awe at the potency of true tenacity. There’s something about those who make when the making gets tough and get tough when the making gets tough and stay tough when the making gets rough, but never ever let the real get too far away. I’ll never grow up to be as fly as Peggy Shaw or as “Ruff” (her newest show about surviving a stroke), but, man oh man, them there’s a hero.
Laurie’s in the midst of book touring and gigging for her “My Life as An Animal,” but it’s her “Laughing in the Dark,” a collection of essays from her Village Voice column on subversive comedy that’s held a place of honor on our shelf since she profiled Slant Performance Group over 20 years ago for the Voice. For Nickyland, she shared a list of sorts: “An artist wanted me to strip in public, but not in private… … at 26, I found out the psychoanalyst who molested me when I was young, did it to others. I realized it wasn’t personal. This relieved and disappointed me… … We don’t have language for units of sensation, only less and more.” Her wit is so sharp, you don’t know that you’ve been sliced open by it, until you find yourself gazing at your own insides.
Yoshiko Chuma returned with another edition of her School of Hard Knocks “Dead End, Hey! Women, Ban Ban Ban!” Among that particular collection of great dancing women (Vicky Shick, always), Christine Bonansea-Saulut offered a zesty counter punch to the po-mo detachment that, in Yoshiko style, confused itself against the overpowering text from Heather Litteer. In true Yoshiko fashion, this project will continue on along with dinners and gatherings to talk about the state of the arts in the Middle East post-Arab Spring. Tammy Faye Starlite’s doing 1960’s superstar Nico covering Bowie’s “Heroes” was a perfectly zonked out bit of time travel and another existential battle between detachment and war cry. She carries in all of Nico’s decidedly unheroic ego and narcissism with aggressive emptiness. It’s some good junk, I mean the kind that soothes you into submission and feels like golden goodness in your veins. She’s exactly on pitch in commenting on the character by capturing her perfectly. Nicky brought in another blonde with his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” It was his piece de resistance (after he’d earlier wikipedia’d the phrase’s origins and waxed briefly on The Resistance), a ballad of love and yearning that harkens back to times personal and political when we’ve lost our own “northern star.”
David Cale shared a ditty he’d written about Joni Mitchell (and how all the smart girls listened to her once). The endlessly eccentric Edgar Oliver offered Four Poems for Spring, quite beautiful but perfectly macabre in his droll delivery, like another Edgar of days yore. Yolanda Hawkins & William Niederkorn shared a beeezzzzarre performance of bees dealing with their forced migration to the US from Europe, the fear that Bayer’s mega-merger with Monsanto will cause their end, and trying to feed words like “neonicotinoids” into the dialogue. Jessica Litwak had blessed the space and Susan Murphy sang two songs, confessing that “The Bitch is Back.” The often spell-binding Dane Terry’s Marxist showtune was a sneaky, late-in-the-day gem…”They tried your plan…the rich just get richer and the poor you never have to see.” And, once again, George Emilio Sanchez brought the truth, brought the power and reminded us WE ARE THE PEOPLE. I wrote about his performance for the 2/20 “He’s Our President, He’s Our Problem” event at The Club already, but hearing it again a month later and writing this with the endless drone of a Supreme Court nominee’s excessively organized collegiality and evasion streaming in the other room, it was important to remember the “fierce urgency of now” and tomorrow. We could… we could be heroes…
A couple weeks ago, fellow Great Jones Rep member, Sara Galassini premiered her collaboration with Sophie Borolussi in The Club. So, while Nicky continues plotting his pieces and peoples de resistance other artists continue to fill out that beloved upstairs “underground” with their own antics. Program notes described it as “part wrestling match” and a “physical and vocal call to liberate the…silenced woman.” It’s not an easy thing, this dismantling of the patriarchy we’ve inhabited our entire lives. In “One-in-Themselves,” two European white women tackle the entrapment of, according to the program, their “desire to be wanted” and their “rejection of objectification.” An admirable and honest conundrum to admit to and explore in this work, though neither Sophie nor Sara ever fully escape the dominance of their very beguiling natures. Both are experienced performers and compelling to watch. I could gaze at Sara in a wig reciting anything for the sheer aesthetic pleasure of watching a beautiful performer. The work showcases much of their obvious charisma, but that very appeal could make the escape from their objectified selves all the more challenging. Emancipation is not an easy process, nor one without wounds, and in the end, after Sophie has disrobed and placed her body under focused magnification and spotlight, it is clear she is still fighting the good fight. It’s not the unapologetic, intersectional feminist intervention against the rampant misogyny that has been made unrepentantly public in the domain of pussy-grabber-in-chief’s beloved “lock her up” base. But, artistic recourse continues to arise and knowing that Sara also does work with refugee communities in Europe, I know, on other shores, she’s a real hero.