Saturday, May 21, 2016

Entangled at JACK: "The Geneva Project"

Jennifer Harrison Newman in The Geneva Project
(photos: Barbara Anastaciao)

On any typical evening, the little Clinton Hill performance space JACK makes a tight fit for performers and audience. Visit Jennifer Harrison Newman's The Geneva Project, though, and you'll really find yourself all up in the scenery and some of the performing going on where you'd normally be sitting. But that's okay because you're allowed to step all over Abigail DeVille's very Southern Gothic installation, ducking under hoodoo spirit bottles, picking around wood shavings and dusty, tangled branches, trying to read the writing on discarded sheets of paper and wondering if those suspicious holes in a tattered, trampled American flag were torn by bullets.

Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite and presented in association with 651 Arts, the work draws inspiration from Newman's family photographs from Depression-era South Carolina.  She found these photos in the Library of Congress, and their captions identify their subjects as "negro," "mixed race" or "Indian." The title of the work comes from Newman's great-aunt, Geneva Varner Clark.

The Geneva Project is swampy--hazy and dark, airless and disorienting. Haunted, too, with Newman and Justin Hicks emerging out of the depths--or, perhaps, out of the history preserved by those strewn-about pages--like fretful ghosts. Her initial appearance is marginal, partial, fitful--mainly the repeated extension of fistfuls of crumpled paper. When she later moves into the central space, she shows, at first, an interesting combination of flexibility (at her core) and restraint.

Hicks' collaboration--as composer and sound designer as well as performer--contributes to the confining, obsessive, sometimes thunderous atmosphere. At one point, he sings, "I keep going up to that house, 'cause it's not too far up...." and "up" takes on eerie connotations.

But as much as The Geneva Project stirs up a troubled and troubling understory, it leaves so much more to history and to imagination--which is only correct. There's so much more to the American story, and we're scarcely ready for it.

with Paul Leiber (projections), Chris Myers (text) and Tuçe Yasak (lighting)

The Geneva Project concludes tonight with a performance at 8pm. Space is limited, but you can check on ticket availability here.

505 1/2 Waverly Avenue (between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue), Brooklyn

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Alan Young, 96

Alan Young, the Affable Owner on ‘Mister Ed,’ Dies at 96
by Alison J. Peterson, The New York Times, May 20, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Beth Gill premieres "Catacomb" at The Chocolate Factory

From Catacomb, a new site-specific work
by Bessie Award-winning choreographer Beth Gill
at The Chocolate Factory
(photos: Brian Rogers)

It's not every day that I read all the fine print on a dance show's program, the part where thanks are given to collaborators, friends, presenters, funders. But I had a little time before seeing Beth Gill's new work, Catacomb, at The Chocolate Factory, and my eyes were drawn to that part of the page. Anyone who knows me, knows my intuition rules. So, I read.

I'm beginning this way just to note that I'm in awe of the village it takes to get any dance up and running--from the folks who provide space and time and technical assistance to the folks who fork over the funds. Sometimes--as in Gill's case--it takes more than one New York City borough, just for geographical starters. Each dance, often starting with vague stirrings, undertakes a twisty journey to manifestation. The dance network consists of numerous guiding hands along the way, and it's incredibly moving to think about all of this.

In Catacomb, Gill appears to have been drawn by intuition to sub-regions of the self where sharp reason must yield to things unnamed and dimly understood.
The hour-plus piece, performed by Maggie Cloud, Jennifer Lafferty, Heather Lang, Stuart Singer and Marilyn Maywald Yahel, evokes any journalist's primary questions: Who? What? When? Where? and Why?

We're in the upstairs theater of The Chocolate Factory but--really--where are we? And, maybe from your angle, you won't be able to name the identity or even just the sex of the two bodies, conjoined and at first motionless, pressed against the floor. When these bodies do move--at once sluggishly slithering against each other as they creep along the floor--their interaction appears sexual in nature. If so, it is a very sleepy act of sex organically, unconsciously repeated again and again--the bodies sliding over each other in and out of place--until a certain catalyst draws them out of that pattern. It will be a long, long while before we gaze upon two upright forms and expressionless faces as if glimpsing models of the first human inhabitants on Earth.

Catacomb, described as site-specific, handsomely uses three points of entry into the theater--variously lit by Thomas Dunn to frame dancers for peak drama and strangeness. Dunn's work, along with Gill's interest in glacial pacing and in the marginal placement of one or another dancer--sometimes watching, sometimes ignoring the pair, sometimes stationed against or tucked along a wall--were, for me, the most distinct and fascinating elements of the production.

It is a terrain of risk, which Gill accepts even as she invites company in the risking. I bore that in mind as my mind occasionally wandered or withdrew from Catacomb, which, regrettably, feels longer than it is.  The invitation to take time to look deeply into the fabric of this dance does not come with a guarantee of anything but unfolding territory to explore--an experience, not a conclusion. We enter in media res. We leave, it seems, when Gill is finished with our being there. Its beginning and possible end might not have anything to do with us.

With sound by Jon Moniaci and vocals by Rachel Kara Perez and Peter Sciscioli

Catacomb continues through May 28, Wednesdays-Saturdays with performances at 8pm plus an added show at 8pm on Tuesday, May 24. For information and tickets, click here.

The Chocolate Factory
5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens

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