Saturday, February 6, 2016

Seven emerging artists make tracks at New York Live Arts

Dance tends to be a highly sensory experience for me, less of a head experience. And it's my senses, my instincts, my gut that I trust first, if not exclusively. If your work comes packaged in words (for funders, for presenters, for press, for your closest colleagues), I might or might not find them useful or, ultimately, reflective of what I've experienced.

So, sometimes I just don't get it. I have to look past what you've written (or has been written about you) to see you. And maybe that means I'm not seeing you the way you want to be seen. But there it is. Think of me as that outsider from another planet who does not share your language now or yet or ever.

Case in point, the language surrounding this season's edition of Fresh Tracks--part of an extensive program for early-career choreographers at New York Live Arts--which will be repeated tonight. Some of the verbiage accompanying works from the current individual artists and duos I get and appreciate. Some of it looks hopelessly opaque to me. I just need to say that straight up.

Melanie Greene’s Performing Okay solos is described as conjuring "a curious contradiction of meaning, quality, and intention as one word sits simultaneously within competing body and language narratives. It sparks questions surrounding repetition, physicality, and language."

The solo is handsomely performed, fascinating, intermittently amusing and emotionally moving, and I suspect that descriptive language around it might speak to Greene's peers (other young choreographers) more than it does to me. What's going on in Performing Okay as I see it? I see a young woman, a Black woman, a young Black woman artist in New York literally struggling with the impulse to tell her truth--which is that she's not always okay--and the ingrained habit of hiding it. That's real and something worth dancing about. Maybe it's not a good idea for an artist to speak too clearly about such things before people have had a chance to sit their butts down in the theater, though. So, I would have been content to be completely surprised by the clear human beauty and meaning in this dance and not be searching for the abstractions dryly listed in its promotional statement.

Sarah Lifson’s i eat pancakes for dinner, we're told "is freedom, free will, and free verse. It concerns itself with consumption, and the active vs. passive infiltration of information into our cells."

In a queer way, I get the freedom part, and I like the implication of movement as free verse. (And pancakes for dinner? Girl, pass me some.) Her performance starts by taking us by surprise--a dash into and out of the space, flailing all the way. Then she leaves us to chuckle at the empty space. Next, a little bomb of music drops--splat!--then abruptly cuts off. When Lifson finally returns to the space, she's all flapping arms and hands; loose, angular body pelting here and there. With one arm rigidly restrained by the other, she zooms forward, aiming to poke a woman in the front row. She observes no boundaries. Her sense of space, time and even lighting are all equally offbeat, equally heedless. But "consumption, and the active vs. passive infiltration of information into our cells" are things she knows and that I don't see.

The earnest, comprehensive description for EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Jonathan González's now-titled I'd give you Bodies reads:
Mining collaborative as well as personal movement histories, EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Jonathan González’s yet-to-be-titled work investigates the disparities and similarities that lie between our bodies culturally, socially, and artistically. Harmony and dissonance continually emerge in their identity markers as a queer identified white woman and a queer identified brown man. While experimenting with the physical aspects of disorientation, duration, momentum, and intimacy, the manifold aspects of their identities, creative visions, and creative histories also become physical realities at play.
None of that conveys the keen, strange theatrical experience of overhearing these dancers apparently colliding and thrashing in the dark over a lengthy period with only a glimmer of their coordinates in space. They conduct an entire relationship in sound--which, oddly enough, sounds sexual--largely hidden from our sight. At one point, one does turn on a flashlight, the beam of which acts more as attractive decor against the dark of the stage than useful illumination of the performers. Eventually, lights reveal them, and the remaining time might show what we could not see and may or may not have misinterpreted--an attachment that looks complex and troublesome. A lot of humanity to look at and process. Skove-Epes and González are skillful, searching artists, and--as I've noticed in González's previous work--they seem intent on subverting how people watch and performers function within theatrical space.

The description for Eli Tamondong's solo (with audience helpers) Feast or Famine, might (just maybe) tell a little too much too soon, but it at least explicitly connects us to living human experience and gets the whole of my attention:
Melding dance and spoken word, Eli Tamondong’s Feast or Famine struggles with American masculinity and love through a queer Filipino boy’s eyes. Tinikling, a traditional Philippine dance, and ballet collide over golf commentary and gay sex, coming-of-age in a world of fetishization and colonized bodies. Entangled by white love, how does this boy find value in all colors?
My wife likes to say that some Hollywood trailers show you everything you need to know about a movie--for better or worse--and, then, why do you have to see it? Nevertheless, this dance's description offers some guidance to the stark, poetic and multi-sensory experience of Tamandong's performance. His visual and sonic approach is bold and unsettling, effective and not to be forgotten.

In Hope So Hard, Georgia Wall and Itamar Segev are, we learn, "topless, wearing only baggy white cotton briefs which resemble diapers or modern day loincloths. They merge and disperse, searching and subverting trying, to burst open lust and prayer. Georgia loves to alter her body. Itamar can make her cry when he sings."

Like the previous artists, Wall and Segev find ways to tear down the fourth wall and mess with lighting, structure and all sense of propriety. I'm just not sure why, and I'm also not sure what's fresh about this particular track.

"Fresh Tracks" concludes tonight with a 7:30pm performance. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

Friday, February 5, 2016

Welcome to Paradise!

Displaying 3-TaraOCon_JoshuaReaverphotobyDarialSneed.jpg
Scene from The Grand Paradise,
the new production from award-winning Third Rail Projects
(photo: Darial Sneed)
Displaying 10+Elizabeth+Carena.jpg
Elizabeth Carena plays The Siren
in The Grand Paradise.
(photo: Joshua Reaver)

The Grand Paradise--the sexy new confection from Third Rail Projects of Bessie-winning Then She Fell fame--takes place in a cleverly simulated tropical resort. For two hours, "vacationers" get to drift from room to room watching and engaging with a cast of saucy characters in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Immersive physical theater in quirky, lavishly re-designed locations has become TRP's specialty, and the directorial team of Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett ground it all in dance. Performers clamber all over high and dicey surfaces like mountain goats and handle one another's bodies with gleeful audacity. Dreamy, often ecstatic movement sequences, performed in tight quarters, vie with more intimate, semi-private interludes between resort guests and characters for offering the most delight.

Unlike another critic, I refuse to divulge every last detail of this paradisiacal experience. You should come to The Grand Paradise fairly fresh. A little shyness or bemusement is okay, too. You'll be well taken care of, sweetly so.

Really, it's all for you--the piped-in '70s-style lounge music, the mystery beverages (which can be declined), the self-help advice about setting sail for your "geography of desire." At the core of all the breathless phenomena and bustle is a genuine, and quite gentle, invitation to free your mind--or your ass, as Funkadelic would have it, which will serve up the same result. Whether you find the means of delivery provocative and motivational or hokey depends upon you.

Like Then She Fell (still running), The Grand Paradise might end up running and running and running some more, but the stated end date is March 31. Get all information, schedule and tickets here.

The Grand Paradise
383 Troutman Street (near Jefferson Street station), Brooklyn

Maurice White, 74

Maurice White, Founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, Dies at 74
by Peter Keepnews, The New York Times, February 4, 2016

Thursday, February 4, 2016

robbinschilds spells "Hex" at Gibney

Hex probes the complexities surrounding authorship, specifically how each collaborator influences the outcome of a day’s work, the building of material, and ultimately the finished composition. By exposing the cooperative agency in the construction of artistic vocabulary, Hex expands the notion of creator.
--from publicity for Hex 
Postmodern choreographers often pose questions or assign themselves challenges that seem mainly addressed to their peers. And just look around at who's sitting in the seats, supporting and grappling with the work--their peers. It's an inside job, a subset of the big, wide world of dance (even just that portion of it fighting for life in New York), a world in which values, philosophies, methods, needs and aspirations are quite diverse.

Portion of Hedia Maron's video for Hex
(photo: Scott Shaw)
Anna Azrieli (top) with Eleanor Smith in Hex
(photo: Scott Shaw)

The dancing in Hex--an hour-long video/live work by robbinschilds at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center--strikes me as a prime example of this situation. It's populated by interesting individual movers--Aretha AokiAnna AzrieliBessie McDonough-ThayerEleanor SmithMariana Valencia--overshadowed by premise and staging. Here, robbinschilds directors Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs yield authorship to these dancers as choreographers. The sixth maker--Vanessa Anspaugh--does not perform live in the piece.
We are committed to our cooperative practice as a means of subverting the archetypal 'male' trope of solo-creator. For this reason we see the process of collaboration not merely as a creative strategy, but also a feminist platform from which to cull a stronger collective vision.
--from "A short manifesto on Hex" by robbinschilds
The audience enters Gibney's Studio C to see four projection screens extended around the broad performance area, two of the screens divided to show two different scenes of the choreographers at work on solos that the ensemble will then take up as material to explore. We watch these images for a while, perhaps most naturally drawn in by the crisp intensity in Hedia Maron's closeups of Valencia and Azrieli.

Otherwise, where to look? Without received direction, our eyes flit and roam, scanning the screens, taking in fragments, randomly piecing one bit with another and another. In a real sense, watchers add to the authorship, and I wonder if Robbins and Childs factored us in.

The soundscape (Dana Wachs/Vorhees) often suggests street-side construction. The live performing seems fragmentary and accumulative, too. A single dancer first appears in the space--McDonough-Thayer, if I recall correctly--but we don't see other dancers in waiting, percolating in the open space to the rear of our seating. Something made me turn my head, though, and I noticed them. Over the course of the dance, one or more drifted into view or returned to this dark recess.  And, again, as a watcher (author?), I found I could relate--leaning in or leaning out from time to time.

Hex runs through Saturday, February 6. Performances are at 8pm plus an additional show at 5pm on Saturday. For information and tickets, click here.

280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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