Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reasons to be thankful!

I have many things to be thankful for--among them, being so often surrounded by gifted, accomplished artists. This season, I had the great pleasure of moderating BRIC Arts Media's post-show Q&A with choreographer Ronald K. Brown (celebrating his troupes's 30th anniversary) and poet Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. For Ronald K. Brown/Evidence's season at BRIC, Brown and Boyce-Taylor presented a revival of Water, their 1999 collaboration. 

The Q&A followed the performance on Friday, November 13 as New Yorkers were just hearing and struggling to process the horrific news from Paris. All through our conversation, I felt the unshakable force of Ron and Cheryl's groundedness and focus. I was happy that they both emphasized how important it is for young, innovating artists to value and tap the experience of arts elders as they move forward in a field--and a world--presenting numerous challenges.

Movers and Shakers: Dance Activists in NYC
a panel at Brooklyn Historical Society
(photo: Tyrone Z. McCants)
L to r: Jason Samuels Smith, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, AntBoogie,
Tamia Santana, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Camille A. Brown
(photo: Tyrone Z. McCants)

I also had the honor of being invited, by Meredith Duncan, Programs and Communication Manager of Brooklyn Historical Society, and Tamia Santana, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Dance Festival, to moderate their panel on dance and activism at BHS. The panelists? Knockouts, all: Camille A. Brown, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, AntBoogie and Jason Samuels Smith, distinguished in their respective genres of dance and deeply engaged with community, education and social justice.

(photo: Tyrone Z. McCants)
(photo: Tyrone Z. McCants)

Despite a late-fall downpour that kept some people home, we had a good gathering and a rich, wide-ranging discussion touching on the power of the arts to shift the way we think and imagine, the fundamental importance of technical discipline, the role of the body in political action, and the perennial challenge posed by mainstream media and conventional tastemakers and gatekeepers. So often, our talk returned to the imperative that progressive artists just go for it, find their own truths, control their own spaces, creating alternatives in an end run around these barriers. I greatly appreciate the example these artists continue to set for us all.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your nourishing support over the years. InfiniteBody continues to be here for you, and I hope you will continue to enjoy it and send your friends and colleagues my way.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Eva :-)

Cynthia Robinson, 69

Cynthia Robinson, Trumpeter and Co-Founder of Sly and the Family Stone, Dies at 69
by Yesha Callahan, The Root, November 24, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Congratulations to Carla Peterson!

Last evening, our dear friend and colleague Carla Peterson (along with Charles Ruas) was presented with the insignia of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in a joyous ceremony.

All photos 
©2015, Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Bénédicte de Montlaur,
Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy,
welcomes guests.
Carla Peterson,
Director of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography,
accepts her insignia from Bénédicte de Montlaur
in recognition of her international work on behalf of dance artists. 
Carla Peterson spoke of her working class upbringing
and how her parents would have been amazed
to see her receive this honor.
Charles Ruas--interviewer,
literary and art critic, and translator--
also became a Chevalier
for his prolific and multifaceted work.
Choreographer Tere O'Connor was one
of a many notable dance community members
 on hand to celebrate this tribute to Peterson.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The political spectacle of Bread and Puppet Theater

Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theater
returns to New York for a December season.
(photos courtesy of Bread and Puppet Theater)

The Bread and Puppet Theater was founded in 1963 by Peter Schumann on New York City’s Lower East Side. Besides rod-puppet and hand puppet shows for children, the concerns of the first productions were rents, rats, police, and other problems of the neighborhood. More complex theater pieces followed, in which sculpture, music, dance and language were equal partners. The puppets grew bigger and bigger.
During the Vietnam War, Bread and puppet staged block-long processions and pageants involving hundreds of people. In 1974 Bread and Puppet moved to a farm in Glover in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Read more and connect with Bread and Puppet Theater here. Volunteers are welcome for the theater's upcoming events in New York:

Upcoming shows and art auction 

The Overtakelessness Circus
December 12-13, 19-20 at 3pm

The Seditious Conspiracy Theater Presents: A monument to the Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera
December 16-20 at 8pm

Bread and Puppet Theater Art Auction (live auctioneer and band)
Friday, December 18at 9:30pm

Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), Manhattan

Saeed Jaffrey, 86

Saeed Jaffrey, Actor in ‘Gandhi’ and ‘The Man Who Would Be King,’ Dies at 86
by Nida Najar, The New York Times, November 22, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"this is an Irish dance": Jean Butler at Danspace Project

Neil Martin and Jean Butler
perform this is an Irish dance at Danspace Project.
(photos: Ian Douglas)

Jean Butler might still be best known for Riverdance--the global Irish dance phenomenon she starred in with Michael Flatley--but she has moved on to a new level of inquiry in contemporary dance. this is an Irish dance, her thoughtful and poetic performance with cellist/composer Neil Martin at Danspace Project, helps us hear music not only in the duet of instrument and movement but also in the sensitive aliveness within silence, stillness and near darkness.

To make this work, the two artists collaborated through simultaneous improvisation. We read the living record of those explorations as they perform or even just regard each other across space, or as Butler quietly holds the cello for Martin as he busies himself with pushing a white cube a short distance. The warmth of his cello's voice contrasts with her sculpted serenity. Its heartful earthiness creates a trusty base for her still-very-Irish lightfootedness.

In an essay for this production, Butler writes of the supremely controlled form of Irish dancing as "a gesture of defiance," meant to elevate the Irish stereotyped by the English as "uncivilized, unruly, and of questionable character." I tried to understand this notion of physical self-restraint as a form of defiance. As a Black woman, I know how, under similar racist conditions, self-restraint can be a strategy for survival, if a self-erasing one. But an act of defiance? Nevertheless, Butler's birdlike physicality does reveal the powerful presence and strength within cool control, a self-awareness and a witty, mercurial facility that could as readily be turned to battle as to fanciful play.

Frank Conway's set further complicates things, evoking the aftermath of some unidentified disaster the two performers have survived. Upon first entering the church sanctuary and seeing his arrangement, I flashed back to the time I passed through my wife's art studio and closed its door behind me just as its ceiling collapsed.

Aside from a narrow, plain white table and a few white cubes, Conway has spilled jagged chunks of white foamcore down two sides of the floor--heavy piles near the altar steps tapering down into lighter remains and finally single pieces close to the audience. Although Butler and Martin rarely interact with this wreckage, it's hard to not be aware of its presence as they interact with each other.

Are we not all living with the wreckage of past injury and, quite likely in these times, foreboding? And do we not all, despite our first misgivings, hope to move beyond these things and find ways to connect and to heal?

this is an Irish dance continues through November 21 with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In their skin: BAAD! presents works by men of color

Jonathan González
(photo courtesy of the artist)
Benjamin Lundberg
(photo: Jeca Rodríguez-Colón)

In Our Skin--a one-evening show presented at BAAD! with Pepatián for the 2015 BlakTinX Performance Series--offered a rare and important opportunity. The event focused on works by young male choreographers and performance artists of color--Benjamin Lundberg, Gentry George (who showed several short pieces), Alvaro González Dupuy, Eduardo Fajardo and Jonathan González. The run-on format--two hours with no intermission--should be rethought as it became tedious, poorly serving works presented late in the program. Why not distribute the lineup of artists over at least two evenings of reasonable length--say, no more than 90 minutes--allowing breathing room for both these artists and their audiences?

In a program ranging from Lundberg drawing vials of his own blood to mix with dishwashing liquid as a painting medium (Limpieza de Sangre) to queer chatterbox Fajardo charmingly singing and dancing along to a cumbia hit he later questions for its misogyny (CABARET), George's solos and duets stood out for conventional polish--the look of Ailey crossed with contemporary ballet--and the remarkable facility of their performers. In Our Skin certainly could not be faulted for lack of variety in approach to performance.

Chilean, New York-based Alvaro González Dupuy was, for me, the strongest discovery and pleasure of the evening. In Dame la Mano and i give you my elbow--his duet with equally vivid Emily Smith--stream-of-contact, genial roughhousing and audience involvement yielded unexpected freshness. I would welcome the chance to see more from this mind.

Jonathan González's curious deep divine shows him to be a clean, feline mover with an interest in engaging the possibilities of his environment and messing with the way we understand sound, lighting and the body in theater space. Sorry to say, by this point, the lengthy evening found me feeling captive, low in energy and unprepared to give my best attention. But González--recently seen in Patricia Hoffbauer's Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People at Gibney--has some new projects coming up in 2016. Worth getting on your radar.

Closed. For information on remaining BlakTinX Performance Series programs (closing November 21), click here.

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