“A New Year” Series Brings Nightmares, Isolation, and Jump-Roping Dinosaurs to The Brick Stage

Credit: ZANNI Productions

On Friday, a battle against nightmares. On Saturday, the struggle to accomplish one basic task. On Sunday, a dinosaur trying to jump-rope. And on Sunday, the crushing weight of depression.

The Brick Theater’s “A New Year” festival streamed live from the theater’s stage March 26-29, and was as delightfully strange and eclectic as we’d come to expect from the experimental Williamsburg space. Four disparate artists presented entrancing and melancholic pieces, all filmed flawlessly by Zanni Productions. It was, despite The Brick’s relatively scarce resources, among the highest-quality livestream work of the past year.

Each night, artistic director Theresa Buchheister greeted us from the booth to intro the show (“You don’t really have time for the bathroom, but also don’t hold it”) and explain that, yes, The Brick is struggling (“We spend our energy in so many ways that are not fundraising”). Friends in the YouTube chat yelled back love and greetings. 

Given that Buchheister took over The Brick last January, naturally some big plans got interrupted. A bonus thrill of “A New Year,” then, was getting some glimpse at how a Buchheister Brick might come to look – and feel. 

Chris Ignacio’s Dream Machine

Credit: Walter Wlodarczyk

A figure floats through ink blots. A single eye stares at us through a peephole. The figure starts to take shape as artist Chris Ignacio. He watches his own head spin, then steps in front of it, distorting a vision of himself. 

As light and sound grows more chaotic, Ignacio battles his own nightmares. He emerges triumphant by tearing through the projection screen. Light snaps back, and Ignacio emerges in victory, announcing: “That was called Dream Machine, although it was more like what my nightmares look like.”

An overwhelming and confusing journey through a parade of nightmares feels like an apt way to start us off. Ignacio’s piece is wonderfully oblique, capturing the mania and fear of seclusion without hand-holding you through obvious parallels.

And the back wall of The Brick even gets a delightful ‘reveal’ moment after Ignacio tears down the screen. Feels good to see it again. 

Nadia Pinder’s Mind As Well

Credit: Andrew Zinicola

“What’s the deal with being, on your phone, on the internet, these days?” Nadia Pinder asks, then frowns and waves her hand, as if trying to bat her own question anyway.

Pinder is sleeping in a lot lately. She can’t get anything done. She tries yoga (with instructions from a weird baby voice) but can’t relax into it. She attempts some soft-shoe dancing, but it devolves into delirium.

Pinder’s piece brings to mind a frequent refrain of very ‘online’ folks: “My brain is broken.” Mind As Well feels like “brain broken” as a show. It moves confusedly between styles and genres, unable to decide where, why or what it is. 

Until suddenly, Pinder finds clarity—by reading us an elementary school assignment she found in her parents’ attic, a fictionalized Union soldier diary from the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s not exactly good, but there’s a focus and sincerity which seems to awe her. 

“I really committed to the bit,” Pinder says, sounding jealous of that younger self, she who possessed a brain not yet broken. 

Leonie Bell’s Slowtanz

Credit: ZANNI Productions

Slowtanz begins and ends with Leonie Bell inside an inflatable dinosaur costume. At one point Dinosaur-Bell attempts to jump-rope.

What more could you need?

After escaping the dinosaur life, the German-born Bell sings a fake-cheery song of “Frühjahrsmüdigkeit” (springtime lethargy). Then she makes breakfast as a recorded voice (also Bell) pushes her to confront her loneliness. Bell sings again, this time mournfully. Finally, she retreats back into her dinosaur life. Dinosaur-Bell walks out the front door, down the block and into the subway, presumably to catch the next L train. 

Slowtanz is a poignant, often desperately sad piece. Even when Bell smiles and sings happily, it feels like she’s masking a deep sorrow. The sadness somehow extends even to Dinosaur-Bell, who by the end seems a confused, dejected figure as she hobbles into the darkness of the Brooklyn night. 

But also, it’s a big dinosaur walking down the street, and that’s really funny.

Julia Mounsey and Peter Mills Weiss’ Protec/Attac

Credit: Walter Wlodarczyk

Julia and Peter sit down across from one another. Peter asks Julia questions.

“How are you feeling?”
“Very tired.”

“Are you low on sleep?”

“No, I sleep a lot.”

“Then, why are you tired?”

“I’m malnourished.” 

Peter probes Julia’s mental state, but speaks neutrally, giving no indication that he cares. Julia answers, sometimes looking annoyed. Then, almost imperceptibly, we’ve moved into the future, and Julia is telling us what lies ahead for her. 

Following three works that tackled misery and hopelessness more indirectly—projections, soft-shoe dancing, dinosaurs—Protec/Attac is a comparatively bare, talky piece. But as Peter begins to show hints of concern, its initial coldness gradually reveals a quiet journey to empathy. 

Opposite him, Julia Mounsey’s delicate performance begins with numb detachment and grows, in tiny flickers and quivers, into something more expressive. By the end, she is filling one word—the name “Chester”—with rich, devastating emotion. 

“A New Year” placed artists in repertory with one another on The Brick’s stage, the works subtly commenting and building on each other, in a way that in-person programming has not always allowed. Given the affecting results, it’s hopefully something we’ll see more of at The Brick. That is, once we can see jump-roping dinosaurs in-person again.

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