Friday, October 24, 2014

Lost in space: Julian Barnett presents "Bluemarble"

Julian Barnett and Jocelyn Tobias in Bluemarble
(photos by Ian Douglas)

If I recall, it was Olatunji, famed Nigerian drummer, who once advised clueless people to imagine the map of Africa stripped of the artifice of national borders, a continent not carved up and served up to outsiders. In their own way, Julian Barnett and Jocelyn Tobias might be attempting something faintly similar--on a planetary level--with their short duet, Bluemarble.

Barnett's promotional material tells us:
Bluemarble reflects on a phenomenon referred to as the “overview effect,” which is said to be experienced when astronauts travel into space and see firsthand the reality of the whole Earth from afar. Bluemarble imagines a voyage where Barnett and co-performer Jocelyn Tobias tap into a field of persistence that relentlessly circulates physical and vocal information. Elevated glimpses are created that challenge perceptions of community and autonomy in both intimate and global ways.
Bluemarble, which received its US premiere at Danspace Project last evening, is not a complex production with a host of genres and media coming at you from every direction. It's basically two dancers. They do have simple props, a little later in the story. And they do have some sound that starts almost below awareness and builds to a grating, grinding aggression. That's about it.

I can't avoid the impression of a couple of artsy grade school teachers using their own bodies, and maybe a few toys from the back of the closet, to demonstrate the Creation of the World and the violent play of its elemental forces--air, fire, water, earth.

Along with soundman, Tian Rotteveel, the dancers brew a sense of chaos out of two bodies thrusting, twitching, thrashing, jutting, and retracting, flinging heads and limbs into St. Mark's looming and somewhat daunting space. Tobias looks stretchier than the more compact, jerky Barnett. Tobias can't escape looking like the lovely woman she is, a beautiful dancer slumming a little with these offbeat, quirky moves. On Barnett, the movements are more crunchy and have a childlike naïveté. He also looks like a guy trying to fight its way out of something--a bag, a dilemma, something. It's a little hard to see beyond all that, and I admit I kept hoping to discern a shape, a frame, a greater context.

Rotteveel's music intensifies then recedes into something gentler as the dancers begin a slow, affectless drift. Then, without warning, they freeze, one foot cocked behind each of them. Looking down, the dancers hunch forward. Barnett disturbs the silence, vomiting vocal noises; Tobias gazes at him with an expression of mild concern before he storms away towards a carton in a far corner. He yanks a child's beach ball out of the box, punching the ball out into the space. And he does this again and again until, the floor is littered with about twenty of these balls, and the dancers, with no clear interest or energy, push at a few of them with their feet.

Next, they tread a broad circle, round and round and round at a fairly fast clip, locking eye contact, continuously making firm shapes and gestures with their arms and hands. They speak, too, in little musical and metallic blips of one or two words that grow into a recitation of the countries of Latin America, the South Pacific, and all around the globe. An-goh-lah! An-goh-lah!  Tobias, who shares choreography credit with Barnett, is also a singer, and I think this section must bear her stamp.

The form looks, and the energy feels, like an abstraction of human communication--that relentless circulation of physical and verbal information alluded to in Barnett's publicity. It seemed deadly serious to me, though it drew a few titters from the opening night audience, a likely signal of uncertainty of tone and intent.

Bluemarble continues through Saturday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oscar de la Renta, 82

Oscar de la Renta, Who Clothed Stars and Became One, Dies at 82
by Cathy Horyn and Enid Nemy, The New York Times, October 20, 2014

The 2014 Bessie Awards...and Chirlane McCray! And Jessye Norman!

The 2014 Bessie Awards
returned to Harlem's Apollo Theater last evening
for a 30th Anniversary celebration.
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

I know there are some folks out there who don't quite get the Bessies or feel completely comfortable about any kind of awards thing. But that's not me.

I'm the one with the tear in my eye when I look at Arthur Mitchell.

And a smile on my face when I see Baba Chuck Davis

And nearly leaping out of my seat when I hear presenters read out names like Camille A. Brown and Nora Chipaumire and Aakash Odedra and Okwui Okpokwasili--all of whom won the Bessies I knew they'd win. 

It's for moments like these that I will always want to be at the Bessies. It just feels good.

Having said that, I've gotta add: Last night's award show was one of the feeling-goodest Bessie shows on record.

Chirlane McCray and Wendy Whelan
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

L-r: Faye Driscoll, Chirlane McCray and Omagbemi Omagbitse
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Let's start with Chirlane McCray. Thank you, First Lady of New York City, for gracing us with your presence and paying tribute to Frank Hatchett, who was your dance teacher in Springfield, MA, and who passed last winter. What a treat to learn how much you value your own experiences with dance.
I believe dancing is the most beautiful of all the arts. Not a translation or an abstraction of life, it is life itself.
--Chirlane McCray
Lisa Kron, thank you for being a really, really funny host visiting from "the land of theater." You only think you're not a dancer. (Talk to Baba Chuck. He'll fix you right up.) And I hope you and Crazy Legs have finally managed to work things out.

Crazy Legs and Joselle Yokogawa
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
L-r. Pau Atela, Aki Sasamoto, Sam Ekwurtzel,
Jessica Weinstein and John Bollingen
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
L-r, Mickey Mahar, Maggie Cloud and Gillian Walsh
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Jessye Norman, listening to you talk about Arthur Mitchell was almost as good as the time I was sitting in my aisle seat at the theater when someone came up and touched me on my knee to get my attention so they could get over to their seat, and I looked up, and it was...YOU.

BTW, I think someone's cellphone was ringing while Jessye Norman was speaking. Let's take a moment to pause and reflect.

This is the Bessies' 30th anniversary. I'm buying pearls for everybody.

Thanks for the fun!


2014 Bessie Award winners

Arthur Mitchell
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Lifetime Achievement in Dance: 
Arthur Mitchell

Dr. Chuck Davis (center) with (l-r) Dr. B. Angeloe Sr., Karen Thorto,
DeBorah Davis Gray and McDaniel Roberts
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Service to the Field of Dance: 
Dr. Chuck Davis

Juried Bessie Award: Gerard and Kelly, for the inspired use of a simple score of movement and text to create mesmerizing and moving duets in Timelining, and for bringing a fierce and rigorous intelligence to their work that never loses touch with the heart at its center.

Jen Rosenblit with Rebecca Serrell Cyr and Addys Gonzalez
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Outstanding Emerging Choreographer (previously announced): Jessica Lang for the formation of her own company and its inaugural season The Joyce

Also for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer (previously announced): Jen Rosenblit for a Natural dance at The Kitchen

John Jasperse
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Outstanding Production: John Jasperse’s Within between at New York Live Arts, for a feast of unpredictable kinetic imagination shaped by a sequence of dazzling light and soundscapes.

Also for Outstanding Production: Okwui Okpokwasili in collaboration with Peter Born for Bronx Gothic at Danspace Project, for creating a world within a world in which she embodied the fear, clarity and intelligence of a young girl; using text and movement to make public that which is intensely private.

Camille A. Brown
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Also for Outstanding Production: Camille A. Brown’s Mr. Tol E. RAncE produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts, for using the American vernacular dance forms of jazz, tap, and hip hop mixed with pop culture references and African-American stereotypes to question herself and her audience.

Also for Outstanding Production: Akram Khan’s Desh at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, for bringing a swath of Bangladeshi culture to life with a shape-shifting performance danced within a magical set that conjured a world of flora and fauna from muslin, movement, and light.

Outstanding Revival: Nora Chipaumire’s Dark Swan performed by Urban Bush Women at The Joyce, for re-imagining a severe and beautiful solo into an expanded emotional force field performed by nine powerful women.

Outstanding Performance: Stuart Singer in John Jasperse’s Within between at New York Live Arts, for a forceful grace capable of both commanding space and rendering delicate physical details with astonishing dynamic clarity.

Also for Outstanding Performance: Rebecca Serrell Cyr in Donna Uchizono’s Fire Underground at New York Live Arts, for a mesmerizing performance demanding precision, control, and a remarkable range of intense emotions and providing the strong quiet center around which the narrative of the piece revolves.

Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Sims
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Also for Outstanding Performance: Linda Celeste Sims, a major contributor for nearly two decades to the work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for being an expert interpreter of a vast range of styles who goes to the heart of chorographers’ visions and crafts countless tour-de-force performances.

Aakash Odedra
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Also for Outstanding Performance: Aakash Odedra in James Brown: Get on the Good Foot – a Celebration in Dance at the Apollo Theater, for a dynamically fluid translation of James Brown’s rhythms into kathak and bharata natyam expressions, turning traditional styles into original, contemporary, and captivating performance.

Outstanding Music Composition: Simphiwe Dana with Giuliano Modarelli, and Complete Quartet for Exit/Exist, choreographed by Gregory Maqoma and produced by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Art, for a tightly woven musical score, combining subtle guitar and traditional South African a capella choir singing, which movingly portrayed the struggle to maintain tradition in the face of colonialism.

Nicholas Young and Carson Murphy
(c)2014, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Also for Outstanding Music Composition: Nicholas Young at American Tap Dance Foundation’s Rhythm in Motion, for inventive percussion platforms integrating the tap dancer’s traditional hardwood floor with electronic sound technology to allow for a deeply layered, live composition.

Outstanding Visual Design: Peter Ksander, Olivera Gajic, Ryan Holsopple, Chris Kuhl, and Keith Skretch, for a theater set seamlessly doubled by video projections, echoing the role of memory with its odd tricks and resurrections in the profoundly unified and moving production of This Was the End by Mallory Catlett.

Monday, October 20, 2014

This week, Cynthia Oliver goes BOOM!

R-l: Leslie Cuyjet and Cynthia Oliver in Boom!
(photos by Julieta Cervantes)

Acclaimed dancer, choreographer and educator Cynthia Oliver presents the world premiere of Boom!--a duet with Leslie Cuyjet--at New York Live Arts this Thursday evening. Yesterday, she put up with some of my "really provocative questions," as she called them.

EYA: Who are you? What elements make up who you are as a dancemaker?

CO: That's a question I've been asking myself since I was a teenager. For many years, I worked hard to think about it outside of what I do. In some ways, I am what I do in terms of how I move in the world. But first: a person, a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an artist. Not that the order of it shows any priority, but it's a humble mix.

EYA: What do you most value? What do you find non-negotiable?

CO: Being honest with myself, my relationships--my family, my friends--and being human and humane. Those guideposts in my work have never, ever led me wrong. They helped me steer the course of each piece clearly.

EYA: What challenges you?

CO: Fear. I feel like I push through fear every day. It's there. I acknowledge it. But I know that I'm not going to accomplish anything by buckling to it. I have to do what it is that's inspiring me anyway, and once I get on the other side of it, it's like a whole other world opens up.

I feel like fear has always been my biggest challenge. I'm not a very outward person, although I love people. I have some wonderful friends and enjoy social situations, but my husband is the real social butterfly. I am not at all. I push through that and see what happens. I feel that I have done okay with that.

EYA: Through what perceptual channels do you best perceive things?

CO: I think of my intuition as my strongest perceptual channel. I've learned how to trust it, listen to it and act on it. Because when I don't, I pay. I remember early on in my tenure [at University of Illinois], I created a piece with a large gospel group with the Black Chorus out there. I had never worked with more than five people in a piece. This was a chorus of forty-five. I was choreographing them and eight dancers.

The piece was called Whisper to Shout, and it addressed this very thing: I had started to realize that if I don't listen to the whisper, the shout was going to be a humdinger. The shout was going to kick my behind. So I had to attune my ear to the whisper and be much more sensitive and much more aware of the whisper. And that's just a matter of trust and not saying, Oh, no, I couldn't possibly be right with that feeling that I should act on. That's my strongest perceptual channel.

EYA: What audience would you most like to reach?

Honestly, I just want humans there. On so many different levels, I feel that the work can speak to a lot of different people. On the obvious level, yes, women audiences, Caribbean audiences, people of color. But at the same time, all of the concerns that I address--those that are both obvious and blatant and those that are layered and more subtle--are universal concerns that we all, as humans, negotiate. I want as many kinds of folks in the room as possible sitting right next to each other.

I think my audience is a reflection of my own life. I have always had a very diverse group of people around me. I grew up in an international community in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. When I moved to the states to be a professional dancer, that is something I continued. When I went to college, I found that the African American community in the states tended to be more segregated than where I came from. Not that there is not segregation there. But it's one of those things where you'd still see a lot of mixing, especially in those heady days of the '70s, when I was in high school. Less so now. It's much more polarized now [due to economic disparity, changes wrought by disasters such as Hurricane Hugo and other factors.] But at that time, it was very different. That's how I got exposed to a certain kind of experimental dance there, that breadth of experience across communities.

EYA: Do you need an outside eye on your work? Or are you able to be objective about what you do?

CO: I do both. I trust my own eye and my own sensibilities about what needs to happen--what kinds of sequence, what kinds of material, what kinds of language. And because I do a lot of research in the work, I trust that. I also strongly believe that none of us can be objective, and it helps to have a trusted eye in the room. The key word there is trusted. I make sure that the person I ask to come and watch, while the work is in that delicate state, is someone who can put aside their own aesthetic, their own agenda, and look at what I'm trying to do and ask me questions that will help me clarify what I'm trying to do, not what they want. I find that that combination--knowing when to bring people in, going back and revising, and then bringing folks in again--that's been really helpful to me.

EYA: What do you consider to be the most important qualities of a serious or professional artist?

CO: Openness. Sensitivity. A willingness to see beyond where you are and what your work is, to see the broader relationship to your field, to the world, to folks around you. Mostly, openness.

EYA: Why is dance your focus?

CO: The full embodiment. I actually didn't start out as a dancer. My sisters danced and, I think since I was the last of six kids, my parents just said, Go on with your sisters!, to get me out of the house.

I was a visual artist. My parents let me try a lot of things. I tried music. I was terrible at music. But painting, drawing, was my arena. I thought I'd make my living as an architect. I took courses in physics and calculus in high school thinking I was going to go in that direction. Dance was really a hobby early on.

And then I had this mentor who fell in love with me and I with her. She was from Kurt Jooss [the German choreographer] and had been in the Caribbean for decades and had a dance school. I would go there and study Afro-Caribbean dance during the week, and she invited me to start taking ballet and improvisation with her. Then she kept putting me onstage, and she encouraged me to move in this direction. And I loved it! I loved the physicality of dance. I'm a swimmer. So, moving on land was really nice too! She would bring dance companies to the island to expose young people to these companies. So, I saw George Faison's Universal Dance Experience; that really blew my mind. I saw a lot of different companies from Europe, South America, the Caribbean.

Recruiters came at the end of high school, and I thought, I really should do this! This feels like something I could really sink my teeth into. A big concern for my dad was, "How're you going to afford to live?" My mom--a brilliant artist and a seamstress--was different. She was like, "Take your wings and fly, girl. Do that art."

See the world premiere of Cynthia Oliver's BOOM! 
at New York Live Arts, Oct 23-25. 

Click here for details and tickets.

Related events:

October 23 at 6:30pm: Come Early Conversation: Sequencing Non-Linear Narratives, choreographer and educator Nia Love discusses the creative practice of Cynthia Oliver

October 24: Stay Late Discussion: Her History - Her Present - Her Future, Cynthia Oliver and Leslie Cuyjet in conversation with Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

Cynthia Oliver’s work is the visceral evidence of an incongruous mixture of aesthetics. Steeped in the everyday sounds of black voices and bodies moving in time and space in the Caribbean of her youth, Ms. Oliver was encouraged to explore ballet, dance dramas and site specific improvisational experiments led by Atti van den Berg - a former Kurt Jooss dance drama company member/performer. All the while she absorbed both the informal and formal of the Afro-Caribbean dance canons in the US Virgin Islands and elsewhere in the region. These vastly differing experiences defined her childhood coming into art. Moving in this way led her to an eclectic career in New York City and abroad in the world of performance art and experimental dancing with folks as diverse as The Caribbean Dance Company, Theatre Dance Inc., the David Gordon/Pick Up Company, Ronald Kevin Brown/EVIDENCE and Bebe Miller. She currently performs in Tere O’Connor’s Sister and BLEED dance works. Oliver has studied and been a part of the black avant garde theatre world, performing in the works of numerous playwrights, most notably, Laurie Carlos’ White Chocolate for my Father, and Vanquished by Voodoo, and Ntozake Shange’s A Photograph Lover’s In Motion, also directed by Ms. Carlos; Greg Tate’s My Darling Gremlin; and choreographing for theatrical productions like The University of Illinois’ theatre company production of George C. Wolff’s Colored Museum directed by Lisa Gaye Dixon. Her choreography for theater has been performed at Minnesota’s Penumbra and Pillsbury House Theaters, New York’s La MaMa Etc., Syncronicity Space and Aaron Davis Hall.
Oliver has been creating dance works since 1991. A mélange of dance, theatre and the spoken word, her pieces reflect her background and interests, incorporating the textures of Caribbean performance with African and American sensibilities. Named “Outstanding Young Choreographer” by reviewer Frank Werner in German Magazine Ballet Tanz early in her career, Oliver has since received numerous grants and awards including most notably, a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award, two Illinois Arts Council Choreography Fellowships, a Creative Capital award, a Rockefeller Multi-Arts Production grant, NEFA Touring support, NPN Creation Funds, a CalArts Alpert Award nomination and a prestigious University Scholar Award from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she is a Professor of dance. In addition to her performance credits, Oliver holds a PhD in performance studies from New York University. She has published widely and is the author of Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean (University Press of Mississippi. 2009).

You can't throw an unloved e-book across a room, but....

33 thoughts on reading
(A manifesto of sorts.)
by Austin Kleon, Medium, October 17, 2014

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