Rip It Open: “Perforations Festival” is coming back to NYC
This week, Croatia’s Perforations (Perforacije) Festival returns to La MaMa (and Abrons Art Center) for the first time since 2011 (see Jeremy Barker’s previous interview). In 2009, Croatian curator and producer Zvonimir Dobrović created the Balkans-focused festival, developing local and international opportunities for young and emerging artists. The largest initiative focused on independent artists from Central and Eastern Europe, it was a recipient of an EFFE (Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe) Award for its innovative programming. Through Perforations, and as founder of the Queer Zagreb festival and co-founder of the Queer New York International Arts Festival, Zvonimir has produced hundreds of artists. For this year’s Perforations, from November 17 to 26 artists from Central and Eastern Europe will present seven productions over ten days including U.S. premieres by award-winning choreographer Bruno Isaković and Mia Zalukar, Via Negativa, Ina Sladić, Magda Stawman-Tuka and Anita Wach, Jasna L. Vinovrški, and Marta Ziółek.
The Great Jones Repertory Company’s 2015 work Pylade (see my 2016 “from-the-inside” tour reflection “Furious Capitalism”) , directed by Ivica Buljan, will also be presented as a free event “in-the-raw.”
Fellow Pylade cast and Great Jones Rep member, Eugene de Poogene, and I recently sat down with Zvonimir to talk about this year’s festival.
How did you get the name?
It was named as opposition to the current arts system in Eastern Europe and Croatia. The theater system was inherited as a German model where all theaters had ensembles, and also it was a system that had a socialist model of huge institutions with hundreds of employees. When political transition happened 27 years ago it was impossible to sustain that cultural system but cultural policies were all directed towards saving the institutions. That meant that over 90% of the arts budget went to institutions leaving very little funds for innovative programming for individual artists. The system was not responsive for a new environment that was emerging and I saw an opening, a chance to create an opening and to make a framework with Perforations to support these artists. So, literally we made a perforation in the system.
We’re watching a lot of funding disappear here and seeing arts organizations grow conservative, less experimental for fear of losing support.
The most forward-thinking work is developed through experimentation, from not maintaining the status quo. We need this kind of artists and work, they provide the space for critical thinking. It makes the arts all the more important today with all the neo-conservativism taking over. These artists are keeping the field of freedom, keeping political dissent alive. All these right-wing politicians are attacking the arts because of that. It’s not about the budget, there’s so little in our budgets that they really care about that it is something more sinister, they want to control the ideas and they are worth defending always.
Right, but there’s still a kind of self-censorship or increased conservativism that has permeated art making, like capitalism is doing the work on its own.
Yeah, strangely, it was here in NYC, where we were told “You cannot do that.” An artist who was unhappy with a certain theater policy wanted to print and read a statement about it. But, the venue said she couldn’t do it. They changed the statement of the artist. It was extraordinary. We have not returned to that place again. Nothing would have happened, the 30 or so people in the audience wouldn’t have minded. Out of respect for the artist, you don’t do that. Because, once you go there, once you put form over content, then everybody loses and who draws the line what you can and cannot do. There is no half-censorship, you either have censorship or you don’t. The role of the theater, no matter how big or small is to protect the space for the artists. Everybody should feel free to learn and teach and to be stupid in someone’s oppinion even. It is all a process and not everyone has to know everything, but everyone has to be free to say what they think without fear. Artists need to be free to test their ideas. The art institutions should be critical of the government, the funders, the systems, especially the big ones, they can afford it. Otherwise they are just part of that same system that needs to be perforated and have some breeze.
It often has felt as though the art institutions have become more important than the art and the artists. It is the long impact of the last great right-wing assault on the arts, during the culture wars of the 80s.
Artists in NYC are sustaining the institutions from what I am told and experience. They come in with grants to for everything and still have to split the box office. It’s different in Croatia. There’s a little more money for experimental, progressive pieces. It’s just not because things are cheaper, it is a state of mind. Once they produce you, they really produce you, you are covered. But we are also witnessing a change in that thinking by venues in Europe. But till now, it’s a different system especially because you don’t rely on ticketed income in Croatia at least. That allows you to be free to do whatever you want. You don’t have to please the audience. You can make a piece that’s good for 20 people. You need this in order to experiment and go forward. It gives people the freedom to make a ton of mistakes. Cause you make them anyway but you get another chance. Or at least you should. And another, and another.
How did La MaMa and Abrons become venues you work with? I’m finally remembering that it was through a DTW fellowship (or internship) where we actually first met many years ago, right? Through the Suitcase Fund?
Yeah, when we were first doing things we were supposed to do the festival at Live Arts, but, when that fell through at the last moment, with everything prepped. I called La MaMa and Mia said: “Sure, we can be your home.” And with all of Ellen Stewart’s history in the Balkans, it made sense. It also makes sense with the kind of work we do and the kind of artists we’re trying to bring over. Often, it’s big names in Europe who are coming to New York for the first time. Abrons was great because they gave us a space and told us we could do whatever we want. I don’t like to overthink things. I don’t treat seasons like a golden child or to do only the best programs every year. That’s boring. If you only want to do the big names, you’ll end up with safe choices which is not interesting. That’s not the job of performance curators. I don’t want to present work that has all the answers. I want work that asks you questions, makes you question. So, I am grateful that we have found such a relationship with La MaMa and Abrons. Otherwise, we would not have been able to support so many artists to show their work in New York for the first time. That support has meant a lot to so many people.
It sometimes feels like if we’re not going to work like that, maybe it’d be better to stop working.
I think that’s an important idea, but we need to make a balance. There are always projects you do so that you will be able to do other things… we do this – so we can do that, so we can do what we really want to do. Producing art is our main work, but we can’t fund it only through producing art. We’ve built educational programs around queerness and trans issues. We did a program educating the police academy about human rights. We worked with judges when hate crime legislation was being introduced. We are an activist organization, we were hired to do a program with young policemen. This opened up a lot of other things for us, we did shows in prisons, and work with young kids and schools. This is a compromise for us in that we’re not only making art, but it is still part of our vision. Everything we do in helping to bring up an educated society allows us to have a more tolerant society. And then we could do more direct commissioning and art projects that we wanted.
The intersection of your activism and your insistence on the value of art is so clear in everything you’ve built. I’m so grateful for the radical vision of the artist as the keepers of critical thinking that persists in your work as a curator and producer.
I was always like this from queer issues on. Right now in Croatia, there is a lot of backlash against women. So, last year the Queer Zagreb fest was all women. And, this year we’re working with more trans artists. With governments becoming really right wing, the art must insist on being more open and active. The loss of funding scares organizations, but when you’re fighting the State, it’s important. Where else will we keep liberal space alive? We need to protect the smaller organizations who are losing space, this is a preservation of their future. Otherwise, we give up a whole generation.
You’re reminding me of countries and communities where intentional genocides and erasures of artists can result in not only the loss of radical voices, but a retraction in the art of the next generation.
I think that within radical, experimental performance you find what is intrinsically contemporary. The work directly relates to the world of today. It is for people of today to relate to today. You don’t have to only relate to Elizabethan England. It’s like learning to understand atonal music. If you’ve never had that exposer, if you’ve never followed experimentation, you stay attached to a narrative, chronological dependency. So, perhaps the first time you see it, you’ll, maybe, think it’s crap. But, eventually there is progress. That is why I say curators need to stop pretending they understand things. They say things such as “my audience won’t get it.” And then, won’t program experimental artists. They have to let go.
So, how do you get through I don’t understand it?
I trust the feeling that the artists went deep into their practice and there is something there. I’m fine with not getting it. If they are deeply invested and can’t express verbally, that’s okay. If I trust the artist is there, is working deeply. I go with them. It’s not about a production level either. You can’t put that over the concept. That’s also why I like to bring artists who aren’t necessarily the most well-known artists. But, once here there are chances for them to make connections and mesh.
We need to treat the experiment as an essential action. The success model inhibits artists from taking risks. But, that’s why I’m so excited by your curatorial practice and vision. I find it hard to encounter the kinds of artists you bring here. Rarely here, do I see performers who will go to the places that your artists will. So, there’s a very important part of the exchange for us, we need to be reminded that artists are the critical thinkers, the critical voices in contemporary culture. Sometimes, it feels like that’s been clipped or taken away inside of the success model or excessive economic concern as success. Your artists are investigatory and bold.
That’s part of why I’m excited about this year, about how we could bring all these Polish artists, all of these women this year. Especially against the backdrop of the nazi rally there just yesterday. This year we have all of these incredible women who are going in different directions, such as Marta Ziółek’s “Make Me”. She’s got an ensemble piece about a dance party, it’s about being individual in the mass and other way around. Or, Ina Sladić has a conceptual work where she’s talking about insecurity and improvisation. She walks on stage not knowing what she will do. So, one night Penny Arcade will be giving her pre-recorded instructions. Another night the audience will record instructions. All of the work is about risk taking. Sometimes its political like Via Negativa’s One Hundred Toasts. They’re toasts to democracy. The show is dedicated to Washington. Bruno Isaković and Mia Zalukar’s Suddenly Everywhere is a piece about “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” It’s a piece about an explosive relationship and claustrophobia. It’s political and personal. Because, of course, in times of political turmoil and chaos you are often the only one that you have. Everything comes down to you. And from there you can build a community. It’s a great group of young artists and recent works.
What are you hoping New York audiences will take away from the festival this year?
I am really excited about the opportunities for the Polish women, because there is a crazy backlash against women there and, hopefully, the increased visibility offers them more power. Hopefully, there will be increased recognition for them as artists and that will help establish their voices for a broader audience and outside the systems that call artists’ work blasphemy or against the state.
The system always goes after the artists in some form or another, sometimes it is more direct and sometimes it hidden. Neo-conservatives, right-wing and even the liberals will find it easy to scapegoat the arts. But, it’s just a game. They don’t care about the arts, it’s simply a tool to rally and stay in power.
But, it’s important to not give up on thinking, on questioning the ideas. I hope local artists can see that we’re not shut down, whether by our peers or politicians. And, that it’s up to each of us to create safe spaces to challenge our own views and take risks.
Perforations Festival begins this Friday, Nov 17 with Jasna L. Vinovrški’s “Staying Alive” at Abrons Arts Center. For tickets call 212-352-3101 / www.abronsartscenter.org The festival then continues at La MaMa through Sunda, Nov 26. Tickets for shows at La MaMa are based on a per night ticket price providing audiences with an opportunity to see more than one company each night. Tickets are $25 general/$20 students and seniors. The Great Jones Repertory Company’s performance of Pylade is free; reservations required. See calendar page or website for details. For tickets call 212-352-3101 / www.lamama.org.
SCHEDULE OF PERFORMANCES
Jasna L. Vinovrški (Croatia) Staying Alive (U.S. Premiere) Friday, November 17, and Saturday, November 18, at 8pm, Abrons Arts Center/Experimental Theater, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), $20 In Staying Alive, Croatian artist Jasna L. Vinovrški and her collaborators—a book and an electronic tablet—tackle the migration debate. In a humble demonstration of community, the book is passed around for the audience to touch and read while Vinovrški experiments with the iPad’s potential for eye contact. Teetering between the heartfelt and the absurd, Staying Alive is a precarious situation—one that gradually becomes a state of emergency. Support provided by the Trust for Mutual Understanding
The Great Jones Repertory Company (New York) Pylade (2015) Written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Directed by Ivica Buljan, Sunday, November 19, and Monday, November 20, at 8pm, La MaMa Great Jones Galleria, 47 Great Jones Street (between Bowery and Lafayette), Free Admission. The Great Jones Repertory Company (GJRC), the legendary troupe started by La MaMa’s late founder Ellen Stewart, director Andrei Serban, and composer Elizabeth Swados, collaborates with Croatian director Ivica Buljan on Pasolini’s Pylade. This contemporary reinterpretation of the relationship between Pylades and Orestes from Greek mythology and the Oresteia is a poetic, tragic meditation on democracy, consumerism, and the struggle for real social change. The rhythm and emotion of Pasolini’s text, translated into English by Adam Paolozza and Coleen MacPherson, is heightened by the music and movement incorporated into this production by Buljan and GJRC to create a total theater of movement, text, spectacle, and music. The cast features guest Slovenian actor Marko Mandić as Pylade with Great Jones Rep company members Mia Yoo, Perry Yung, Chris Wild, Cary Gant, Eugene the Poogene, Maura Donohue, Valois Mickens, John Gutierrez, and Tunde Sho as Orestes. Pylade had its world premiere at La MaMa in 2015.
Marta Ziółek (Poland), Make Yourself (U.S. Premiere), Wednesday, November 22, at 7pm, and Saturday, November 25, at 9pm, La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street, 2nd Floor (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery) Make Yourself, an experience somewhere between gym training, techno party, and corporate mindfulness church, starts with a set of imperatives and a body sculpture. Five performers assume the names High Speed, Coco, Lordi, Glow and Beauty, with Marta Ziółek (aka Angel Dust) serving as moderator and guide. Described by the artists as “a utopian structure that creates its own style, language, and sexuality—Make Yourself is a kind of ‘trip’ that transmutes the body into a machine.” Choreographer and performer Marta Ziółek studied humanities at the University of Warsaw before studying choreography at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Her work focuses on expanding the field of practice in choreography and the study of new forms of expression and embodiment. Ziółek has participated in workshops and collaborated with such choreographers and theoreticians as Bojana Cvejić, DD Dorvillier, Deborah Hay, Maria La Ribot, Trajal Harrell, Benoit Lachambre, Ann Liv Young, Xavier Le Roy, and Meg Stuart. Ziółek’s work has been presented in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and the United States.
Via Negativa (Slovenia and Poland), One Hundred Toasts (U.S. Premiere), Wednesday, November 22, at 8pm, La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre Conceived and devised by Anita Wach and Bojan Jablanovec of Via Negativa, One Hundred Toasts is a celebration—a farewell toast, so to speak, of the romantic idea of the artist-producer and a welcome to the artist-consumer. The work examines how the artist as an embodiment of “true, authentic, genuine human production” no longer exists and how we are faced with the artist as innovator of consumption, and a maker of various artistic forms of consumption. Performed by Wach, with music by Glenn Miller, Michael Nyman, the Stooges, and Alfred Schnittke. Via Negativa is a Ljubljana-based international platform for research, development, and production of contemporary performing arts. Founded in 2002, it operates under the artistic direction of theater director Bojan Jablanovec and is focused on devising and exploring different performing strategies, with an emphasis on ethics, performance practices, procedures, and genres. In addition to productions, Via Negativa conducts workshops as the VN Laboratory for Contemporary Performing Arts. Via Negativa has devised numerous projects that have been presented in 24 European countries and in the United States.
Bruno Isaković with Mia Zalukar (Croatia) Suddenly Everywhere (U.S. Premiere) Friday, November 24, and Saturday, November 25, at 7pm, Sunday, November 26, at 4pm, La MaMa/Ellen Stewart TheatreThrough movement and encounter of two bodies and their opposite poles, Suddenly Everywhere explores the influences on our (ir)rational decisions and states of being—how we are woven by our histories, experiences, (in)securities, and personal aims for the future. Deconstructing the complicated structure of paths we take and gaps therein,Suddenly Everywhere makes visible that which is seemingly not present. Cocreated and performed by Bruno Isaković and Mia Zalukar. Dramaturgy by Katarina Pejović. Video design by Dora Durkesac. Bruno Isaković is a performer, choreographer, and teacher based in Zagreb. He graduated with a degree in contemporary dance from the Amsterdam School of the Arts in 2009. From 2011 to 2015 he was a member of Contemporary Dance Studio. Isaković has received various awards, including a Jury Award and Best Solo Dance Award at the Solo Dance International Festival in Budapest, and the 2016 Croatian national award for best choreographer for his work Denuded (ensemble version). His solo Denuded(2013) toured around the world and his work Disclosures premiered in New York in 2015. He is artistic director of the annual Sounded Bodies Festival in Zagreb. Mia Zalukar studied at the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance and completed her BA in cultural management in Croatia. She has collaborated with many choreographers, including Marjana Krajač, Irma Omerzo, and Bruno Isaković. She was nominated for a Croatian Theatre Award in 2016 for her performances in Denuded andDisclosures by Bruno Isaković. She is a high school art teacher of stage performance, contemporary dance, and rhythmics.
TukaWach/Magda Stawman-Tuka and Anita Wach (Poland) How the Hares Are Dying | Private Inventory (U.S. Premiere) Friday, November 24, at 8pm La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre A double bill of ontological insecurity that differs wildly in style, the latest two-hander by Magda Stawman-Tuka and Anita Wach plays with ideas of disappearance in relation to our sense of being. The episodic ritual of Private Inventory, conceived as a choreography of the hidden, is followed by an imaginary Joseph Beuys workshop, the setting for an exploration of self-sacrifice and transformation in How the Hares Are Dying. Together with the audience the performers enter the empty space and will try to fill it with events rooted in very personal sources. The events may seem trivial, frivolous, bizarre, but because they are theirs they are unique. TukaWach was founded by the core creative team of Magdalena Tuka and Anita Wach, performers from theater and dance respectively. After working together in previous collaborations, the two were inspired to formally unite as a company. From 2013 to 2016 TukaWach was known as Ja Ja Ja Ne Ne Ne after the Joseph Beuys artwork. Through its various fusions of new dramaturgy and multimedia experimentation, the narrative of a TukaWach show is never a linear cause-and-effect system of events but one open to fragmentation and deconstruction. Fiction is employed as a device for the performer-devisors to confront personal material though unfixed strategies.
Ina Sladić (Croatia) Penny/Audience (U.S. Premiere) Saturday, November 25, at 8pm, and Sunday, November 26, at 5pm La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre A two-part conceptual project, Ina Sladić’s Penny/Audience plays with the ideas of risk and of art that disappears in the moment of the performance. The two works will be presented on separate nights. On November 25, Sladić will perform Penny in which legendary downtown performance artist Penny Arcade will give her performance instructions via an audio installation that Sladić will hear for the first time when she steps on stage. In Audience (presented on November 26), the instructions will come from the audience and will be given to the artist right before the show. Ina Sladić lives and works in Croatia and Germany. She continuously explores borders of performance art, phenomena of pop culture, social networks, and spectacle-oriented society in her works. Educated as a dancer at Folkwang University of Arts, Sladić has worked with various choreographers and performance artists including Xavier Le Roy, Marten Spangberg, Isabelle Schad, Johannes Wieland, Mike Kelley, Simone Forti, and Joan Jonas. She has also worked with Marina Abramovic since 2012; including a re-performance of Abramović’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Zagreb.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17
8pm: Jasna L. Vinovrški, Staying Alive | Abrons Arts Center/Experimental Theater
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18
8pm: Jasna L. Vinovrški, Staying Alive | Abrons Arts Center/Experimental Theater
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 19
8pm: The Great Jones Repertory Company, Pylade | La MaMa Great Jones
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20
8pm: The Great Jones Repertory Company, Pylade | La MaMa Great Jones
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22
7pm: Marta Ziółek, Make Yourself | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
8pm: Via Negativa, One Hundred Toasts | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24
7pm: Bruno Isaković/Mia Zalukar, Suddenly Everywhere | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
8pm: Tukawach, How the Hares Are Dying and Private Inventory | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 25
7pm: Bruno Isaković/Mia Zalukar, Suddenly Everywhere | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
8pm: Ina Sladić, Penny – La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
9pm: Marta Ziółek, Make Yourself | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26
4pm: Bruno Isaković/Mia Zalukar, Suddenly Everywhere | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre
5pm: Ina Sladić, Audience | La MaMa/Ellen Stewart Theatre