Saturday, May 25, 2019

Ainesh Madan returns with "Phantasies"


Ainesh Madan
Speyer Hall, University Settlement
May 24-25, 2019

The play of children is determined by their wishes, really by the child's ONE wish, which is to be grown-up.... He always plays at being grown-up; in play he imitates what is known to him of the lives of adults. -- Sigmund Freud, "The Poet and Daydreaming"

Superbly skillful dance artist Ainesh Madan has worked with noted choreographers such as Bill T. Jones, Pramila Vasudevan, RoseAnne Spradlin and Heidi Latsky. He won a 2018 Gibney Work Up residency and intrigued audiences with his developing solo, Phantasies, on a strong program shared with performers Evelyn Lilian Sánchez Narvaez and Marion Spencer. He now lives and works in his native India but is back in New York this weekend with a handsome production of Phantasies.

This solo, now roughly 40 minutes, is episodic, stark sections tightly spliced together by changes in Emma Matters's lighting and distinguished by unexpected imaginings of ways in which props (coins, umbrellas) can be used. Apparently tireless, Madan seems suspended between adulthood and childhood--his rendering of a Sigmund Freud quote, above, about child's play inspired the piece--drawing a palpable vitality from being in that liminal state.

His choreography for the piece, though informed by contemporary aesthetics, invokes qualities of classical Indian dance--percussive force and sweep and a breathtaking precision and speed of arm and hand gestures conveying a narrative. Only, with Madan, that narrative often remains elusive. Why Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee?" That music drops into the atmosphere like a memory, and might well be one, the significance of which we're left to imagine.

The piece, which opens with the sharp-pitched sounds of song birds, reads like a long series of random journal entries--or short-short stories, or a cycle of songs--each entry its own shiny facet in the diamond.

Here, by the way, is the original text of the quote from Freud's 1907 talk, "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming."
A child’s play is determined by wishes: in point of fact by a single wish–one that helps in his upbringing–the wish to be big and grown up. He is always playing at being “grown up,” and in his games he imitates what he knows about the lives of his elders. He has no reason to conceal this wish. With the adult, the case is different. On the one hand, he knows that he is expected not to go on playing or fantasying any longer, but to act in the real world; on the other hand, some of the wishes which give rise to his fantasies are of a kind which it is essential to conceal. Thus he is ashamed of his fantasies as being childish and as being unpermissible. 
In that talk, Freud also spoke of the way artists learn to draw a veil across personal elements in their work, sparing us what we might perceive to be TMI. I think it's possible to enjoy Phantasies without gaining entrance to all that's going on within it--which is surely a lot--and to leave that to the dazzling performer at work.

Phantasies concludes this evening with an 8pm performance. For information and tickets, click here.

Speyer Hall, University Settlement
184 Eldridge Street (between Rivington and Delancey), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Surveys the Prairie of Your Room" opens at La MaMa

Ae Andreas (front) with Dan Safer
in the premiere of Surveys the Prairie of Your Room at La MaMa
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Surveys the Prairie of Your Room
Witness Relocation/Dan Safer
La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre
May 18-19, 2019

Not a person shifted place during last night's performance of Surveys the Prairie of Your Room, though Dan Safer--who collaborated on this bold duet with his Witness Relocation colleague Ae Andreas--invited us to move anywhere around three sides of the perimeter of their crisply delineated rectangle of performance space. Standing in a single, constrained line curved around that space--I had one of several folding chairs--viewers were encouraged to look at the performers' duet from any number of angles.

And we did not. We stayed where we were planted. Which is kind of okay. The piece--Safer's first full-length duet--looks just fine from a stationery viewing point. Certainly, it moves enough, itself, for dozens of people. And there's enough excitement when a dancer's arm, sneaker sole or backside gets within a foot of your face. The intimacy of the setting--wide but shallow liminal space betwixt the theater's entrance and the back of its seating rows--heightens a sense of drama, urgency and potential. This "prairie" in a box has got a lot going on.

David Bowie's "prairie of your room" (from "Eight Line Poem") had its "tactful cactus." Andreas has a chair--a hard, unsparing one--and they are mighty restless not only sitting on that metal chair but sitting within their body in its man's suit.

At the top of the 45-minute piece, Andreas darts past the rectangle's white tape that keeps the audience sidelined, and they sit on the chair, their left foot instantly jittery. Turbulence ensues. Their hands shove their jaw this way and that. From the chair to the floor, their body wriggles, writhes, twists and stumbles, a mess of angles. And when Safer--shadow, partner, instigator, supporter, challenger--melts into the scene, also suited-and-sneakered-and-contradictory, all of this trouble is doubled and magnified.

Andreas and Safer
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Longtime Witness Relocation collaborator Heather Christian contributed an intriguing music-scape evoking diverse moods, and writer Kate Scelsa worked found text into a voiceover rendered by actress Grace McLean into soothing seduction in sharp contrast to the dancers' agitation. In a soft, moist tone, McLean touts the amenities of a luxury hotel and, if you're like me, you'll fixate on the apparently hundreds of pillow variations on offer--from anti-allergy to duck down.

There are two people here, but this appears to be a journal of one life, a long stretch of unpaved road with some exhilarating views along the way. It's handsome and danced with all-out exuberance, and you have only one more chance to line up around the rectangle--this afternoon!

Directed, choreographed and performed by Dan Safer
Co-preated and performed by Ae Andreas
Original music by Heather Christian
Original text by Kate Scelsa
Voiceover by Grace McLean
Suits by Ministry of Supply
Lights by Juan Merchan

Surveys the Prairie of Your Room, presented by La MaMa Moves! dance festival, concludes today with a 5pm performance. Tickets are limited. Hurry and click here.

And La MaMa continues to move! Now through May 26, in fact. For schedule and ticketing information for this annual dance festival, click here.

La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street (between Bowery and Second Avenue), Manhattan


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Eiko Otake: Distance is Malleable

Eiko Otake
at Middle Collegiate Church, East Village
during Danspace Project Platform 2016: A Body in Places
(photo: Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

This year's Soshitsu Sen XV Distinguished Lecture on Japanese Culture--presented by Columbia University's Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture--was given by venerable dance/interdisciplinary artist Eiko Otake who showed up fully as Eiko Otake, a body in places. The place, in this case, was the lobby of Columbia's Miller Theatre.
Fukushima is everywhere.
-- Eiko Otake
She showed up, as always, a wound in motion. Trailing crimson cloth behind her. Thwacking a yellow CAUTION WET-FLOOR sign on the tile floor. Darting out into the daylight of Broadway. Dropping white sheets of manifesto poetry from the theater balcony like a lazy snowstorm.

And only then talking. But not without images from her epic collaboration with photographer William Johnston that help her help us bridge the nearly 7,000 miles between New York and Fukushima, sites of mass trauma, of what she calls "fast violence and slow violence."
There's a sense of agitation in me, in finding two places so connected in me.
-- Eiko Otake
Her lecture--Distance is Malleable--gave us a mini-tour of her work of recent years, including residencies, installations and performances at Danspace Project (2016) and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (2016-2017) that I was fortunate to attend. It came with the poetic manifesto that a reader could drop into at any point and swim for a long, long time. All told, Otake's poem and her holistic performance--I will refrain, now, from calling it a lecture--offered valuable insights into this woman and artist I have long admired.
I don't want to dance in studios. Going to places is my choreography.
-- Eiko Otake
I now more clearly grasp the consistency of her presence and witness, how she seeks to interrupt societal trance and avoidance, to archive and deliver evidence through ragged and asymmetrical aesthetics, to reshape time and distance through her body so that we, in turn, might reshape what we think important enough to care about.
People make things not knowing what to do when they break.
-- Eiko Otake
I suddenly, and enviously, get the radical freedom she has long claimed for herself--Decide where to go, when, with whom, how and for how long/Decide where to learn, when, with whom, how, and for how long--and I marvel at it. Self-curation! That's what she calls it, excitedly adding that exclamation point. (In Nguzo Saba terms, I have long exclaimed the Kwanzaa principle called Kujichagulia, self-determination, my favorite.) Otake's Self-curation! strikes me as bearing a double-meaning. Exercising your right to do what you want and need to do in your own way, yes, but also fundamentally curating a self--and doing that your way, too.

When she next writes of how the student chooses the teacher (not vice versa), I feel the strength of her determination. She knows her own mind. She has been on this path a long time and is an excellent teacher to choose.

Follow Eiko Otake's work here.

Learn more about the illustrious history of the annual Sen Lecture here.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Friday, April 26, 2019

Imprinting (Dan)space: Tendayi Kuumba and Samita Sinha

Left: Tendayi Kuumba (photo: Angie Vasquez)
Right: Samita Sinha (photo: Aram Jibilian)

A shared evening of new work by Tendayi Kuumba and Samita Sinha
Danspace Project
April 25 and April 27, 2019

collective terrain/s is a collective research process into sounding in the body. How does the body open up possibilities for voice and resistance? What resonances in the voice and body exist beyond language?
 --from Danspace Project

As part of an evening organized by collective terrain/s, composer and vocalist Samita Sinha--with numerous collaborating vocalists of cultural diversity--creates a force field of sonic energy to surround an audience informally positioned at the center, not the perimeter, of the performance space. Infinity Folds is vocal music in motion, a lovely, luscious gift that makes you the focus of a meditative sonic bath and massage, your aura tingling. It's marvelously coordinated as the circle of vocalists shape and move breath--moans and drones, trills and low roars--into the outer air, using softly-adjusted bodies as tuning devices. You absorb the circling and circling soundscape that builds, pulses, overlaps, presses towards listeners and then ebbs, flares in spots, sometimes drops away entirely. Set in the sacred and justice-conscious space of St. Mark's Church, this loving ritual feels and sounds so right. You might never want it to end. [Performed by Regina Bain, Rina Espiritu, Fana Fraser, Yingjia Lemon Guo, Chaesong Kim, Risha Lee, Okwui Okpokwasili, lily bo shapiro, Samita Sinha, Sheena Sood and Helen Yung]

Somewhere in the midst of U.F.O.:(Unidentified Fly Objects), made and performed by Tendayi Kuumba in creative collaboration with Greg Purnell, an intermittent projection flashes against an upper corner of the church's wall. It images a patch of cloudy sky lit up by the glow of lightning. Kuumba's formidably quirky self-presentation gives way to something simply majestic, and you realize: this unpredictable, kinda scary woman is lightning. Folding, writhing, recoiling, she lights up the night with pure energy coursing through every stretch of her without impediment. The piece--accompanied by Purnell, seated at a desk, working a soundboard and providing a strong, rumbling ostinato--also features Kuumba's vocals. In body and voice--and soul--she is jazz.

We already whole, she sings. Even through the rain/somehow we always maintain.

We already home.

Purnell sings with her.

Can't break my soul.

Now hear that!

Choreography: Tendayi Kuumba
Creative concepts, lighting, dramaturgy, set design and songwriting/musical composition created with collaborator Greg Purnell

collective terrain/s is organized by Lydia Bell, Jasmine Hearn and Tatyana Tenenbaum. To learn more about collective terrain/s's activities and the series' publication--designed by collective please--click here.

A shared evening of new work by Tendayi Kuumba and Samita Sinha concludes tomorrow (Saturday) with a performance at 8pm. For the best effects, come a bit early to get a prime seat in the center, though you can also sit along the church's risers. For information and tickets, click here.

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


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Mariana Valencia offers "Bouquet" at The Chocolate Factory

Mariana Valencia (right)
with collaborator Lydia Okrent in Bouquet
(photo: Ian Douglas)

Mariana Valencia
The Chocolate Factory
April 18-27
Created and performed by Mariana Valencia, Bouquet examines authorship within the premise of transmission, relation, alliance and ensemble. Her body is the main archive as she quotes dances by Alvin Ailey, Trisha Brown, Frank Conversano and nia love, as well as Eurhythmics and Garifuna dance forms. Valencia also quotes sections of her old dances that were made with her longtime collaborator Lydia Okrent, who has also artistically directed Bouquet with an attunement to ensemble and reference. Valencia’s choreographic retrospective is partnered with her own body as she moves various objects about the space. A smattering of fake fruits, a net, a large piece of glass and a plinth -to name a few- accompany Valencia as she moves her way through a sound score of origin stories. The sound score is a series of letters that circumnavigate her creative path in New York, weaving also through her adolescence and stories from her early 20s. These reveal a vast range of serious, tender and humorous growing pains that lend her abstract movements a foundation that anchors them to the plurality of creation. Valencia fleshes out these movements, histories and influences, as if this timeline of encounters were the sole reasons for producing any work of art. In Bouquet, Valencia invites the audience to traverse a dense field of collective reference.
-- promotional text for Bouquet

What is it?

First thought as you take your seat inside The Chocolate Factory's performance space and look across the floor at a large, ungainly parcel wrapped in a net and resting on a long white base.

It's oddly shaped, and a gap in the tied net that displays an inner wrapping of pale aqua. There's also something small, squarish, equally mysterious stuck between this aqua surface and the netting.

As you continue glancing across the space, you notice the back wall sports a painting of a vase of flowers. A bouquet is a collection of flowers--a collection of things deliberately chosen for aesthetic effect for yourself or others to savor. By the end of Bouquet, you will understand Valencia sees herself as a bouquet.

She enters suddenly--Hi! Thanks for coming!--a radiant apparition, amusingly modest and yet a little larger than life. The red of her matte lipstick pops as does the metallic cobalt blue of the unitard she wears under dark khaki-tan slacks. She speaks. Her gesticulation--big, sharply delineated gestures--click into place with satisfying assurance even as they remain elusive in meaning. There's charm, a connection with her audience. But, over time, the verbal stream becomes choppy, broken into haltingly-delivered bits--word by word, syllable by syllable, incomprehensible sound by sound--as if, intermittently, she's withdrawing or retrogressing.

But check her face a bit later as she begins to unwrap and unpack her parcel. The singing and speaking voice you hear now is in the air, recorded, maybe comes from where the revealed items come from--the past, the archive.

"The game is on/Give me a call, boo/My love is strong/Gonna give my all to you."

Whatever you've expected the lumpy package to contain, it turns out to hold simple items which Valencia sets out in a clear, pristine arrangement and identifies--"a bandanna, a pillow, a mat...pomegranate, plinth, tempered glass"--without narrative explanation. They are, simply, "some of my favorite objects," and you're wise to accept these talismans as they are.

She does mention that the floral bouquet painting was made by her dad--"a Sunday painter."

A body is a mass of stories, each body unique in its collection. But that emergent individuality continuously circles back into the multiplicity of its sources. So, Valencia gives her all--or, at least, a fair representation of what all might be. And then she leads an exercise that draws the audience into this multiplicity as well. Now you, too--all of you--have joined her ensemble, joined with her voice, become her history and her future.

Made in collaboration with dramaturg Lydia Okrent
Sound: Jules Gimbrone
Lighting: Kathy Kaufmann

Bouquet continues through Saturday, April 27 with Thursday-Saturday performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Writer Lea Marshall has some questions for Ohad Naharin

Batsheva Dance Company
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

Batsheva Dance Company
University of Richmond
March 23, 2019

Guest reviewer: Lea Marshall

I have questions for Ohad Naharin that I know he won’t answer, since he’s famously reluctant to comment on his work. But I want to ask them anyway. Batsheva Dance Company recently performed his 2018 work Venezuela in Richmond, Virginia, the week before their performance in New York at BAM. The longer I sit with the work, the more questions I have. 

What does it mean when an Israeli choreographer creates a dance titled Venezuela that has nothing, apparently, to do with that country? What does it mean that the piece includes two dancers (both appearing to be white) lipsyncing the song “Dead Wrong,” by American rapper Notorious B.I.G.? And that the rest of the sound score ranged from Gregorian chant to Arabic trap to Rage Against the Machine? And finally, what does it mean for Naharin to present 40 minutes of choreography, and then repeat the exact same choreography--with some casting, lighting and music changes--as the second half of the work?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but the way they stack up points to the privilege of an internationally revered male choreographer choosing from a global menu of artistic elements to support his creative vision. But the name of a country, an American rap song--these elements have specific cultural contexts that beg addressing, or at least noticing, when included in an artist’s work. To pluck them from their contexts solely for dramatic effect feels at best whimsical and, at worst, arrogant. Hasn’t contemporary artistic discourse moved beyond the idea that aesthetic choices can be separated from the sociocultural forces shaping them? Because they can’t be. And choosing to dismiss or ignore those forces reduces powerful ideas to a kind of aesthetic servitude.

Although these concerns have lingered in my mind for weeks now, I want to spend time appreciating the undeniable power of the Batsheva performers. In theater, the phrase “fourth wall” refers to the front edge of the stage as a boundary between performers and audience. Watching these dancers, I became conscious of a fifth wall--the sky above. 

Sometimes the choreography spoke directly upward, as when dancers flung white cloths into the air under stark white light. But more compellingly, the dancers themselves absorbed and reflected the space around and above them through muscles, bones, lungs--through the flash of a neck toward the light; the sailing arc of a foot; the rainbow sweep of a forehead from downward-facing, upward, and over into a backbend.

Batsheva dancers train in a technique called Gaga, which was developed by Naharin over years as he choreographed for and served as artistic director of the company (he has handed over the administrative reins to former dancer Gili Navot and now holds the title House Choreographer). Gaga, according to its website, is “predicated on a deep listening to the body and to physical sensations.” Dancers practice this technique without mirrors to encourage focus on sensation rather than shape or line.

Gaga technique yields performers suffused with a sensual awareness of their own power, who move with luscious, elastic fullness, devouring space at full throttle or shifting with a delicate gesture into complete stillness. Much of the pleasure I found in watching this work derived from the absorbing dynamism of the dancers’ performances.

I did not get to know these dancers as people, or characters. In Venezuela, performers appear to function as ciphers or symbols, their humanity foremost but their individual personhood veiled. I should say gendered humanity, since the costumes of black dresses and shirts/pants implied a cast of men and women who often split off into pairs, almost always of opposite genders. Power dynamics in these couples--often dancing what, though I am not versed in Latin dance forms, appeared to be salsa-inflected steps--and seemed to shift continuously as it did among the entire group. I frequently felt aware, however, of the choreographer’s power over his dancers--sometimes in the extremes of speed or flexion or torque the movement required, and sometimes in the imagery deployed, such as when five women rode men as on horseback, letting their legs drag the floor in a way that made it clear all their weight rested in their crotch as the men crawled slowly downstage and then up again. 

I had leisure to contemplate this section more fully--as with every other section--during the dance’s second half. A primary motif of Venezuela appeared to be repetition. As the same choreography unfolded again in the second half, I grew puzzled, and then, truthfully, annoyed even as I remained engaged. The chance to relish all that movement again--with different inflections of new music, lighting and performers--felt luxurious. It also felt like a bold choice, almost a slap in the face--a feeling amplified by the frontal choreography, the dancers’ direct gazes toward the audience and their interaction with the provocative music choices. And now I’m back where I started, with the same questions, and perhaps that’s just where Naharin wants me to be.

Lea Marshall
(photo courtesy of Lea Marshall)

Guest reviewer Lea Marshall’s writing on dance has appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is Associate Chair of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Dance + Choreography.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Davalois Fearon: dancing for C.J. and so many others

Davalois Fearon wearing a costume from For C.J.

Davalois Fearon Dance
For C.J.
March 29-30

When dance artist Davalois Fearon lost her nephew to asthma, she turned mourning into action. Her work, For C.J., represents a cry against the dire health outcomes for communities--predominantly, Black and Latinx people--doubly-impacted by urban pollution and inadequate health care. Fearon, a Jamaican immigrant who grew up in the Bronx, created The For C.J. Initiative to raise awareness and spur city policymakers to address these life-threatening conditions. But she also created a dance to honor her nephew, set to music played live at BAAD! by her husband, composer Mike McGinnis (wood winds), Elias Bailey (tuba) and Jeff Hermanson (trumpet). For C.J.'s resolute symbolism even carries over into instrumentation which requires expert and sustained use of breath.

Without careful reading of Fearon's program notes, it might be tricky to figure out at first look, but her performers represent not only an asthma victim (Mikaila Ware) but also the engulfing forces of her doom (Morgan Anderson, as the medical system, and Njeri Rutherford as the environment). The minute you grasp it, though, the symbolism feels heavy and obvious. All three are dressed in extraordinary wearable art--like hair-coverings made of whole and broken plastic hair rollers--and glittery makeup, blurring distinctions between high and low, pretty and poisonous. The set, unusual costuming give the work the heightened aura of tribal ritual.

The audience gets drawn in, too. Before the piece begins, we're invited to inscribe the names of deceased loved ones on cut-out leaves and tie the stems to ropes that play a significant part in this dance. Those leaves, then, will accumulate and remain for all future performances of the piece.

Like the visual display--including Ware's grotesque, bulbous headdress constructed of something mysterious and, frankly, nauseating--choreography alternates oddity with poignancy. We end with the vision of Ware's body folded forward in yoga's child's pose, covered in a glittery, earth-dark wrapping that now kills her.

To lift the energy, then, the choreographer and her dancers return to celebrate the life and spirit C.J. with the exuberance I remember of forceful, high-flying Fearon dancing for choreographer Stephen Petronio.

Concept, choreography and artistic direction: Davalois Fearon
Collaborating dancers: Morgan Anderson, Njeri Rutherford and Mikaila Ware
Costumes, wearable sculptures and makeup: Jasmine Murrell
Set Design: Myssi Robinson

For C.J. concludes this evening with an 8pm performance. For information, click here and scroll down.

2474 Westchester Avenue, The Bronx


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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