Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gibney's DoublePlus: Wesley Chavis and Cori Olinghouse

Wesley Chavis in his solo, Ku In Tuo Muah,
a DoublePlus presentation of Gibney Dance,
curated by Dean Moss
(photos: Scott Shaw)

In Ku In Tuo Muah, soloist Wesley Chavis's "physicalizing [of] his worship"--to use Gibney DoublePlus curator Dean Moss's words--adopts a widespread human practice with ancient origins, still active, for example, in the Black churches of Chavis's own Southern upbringing. Worship of higher, disembodied powers is often a practice of the body, and extreme, transcendent states of mind have always been powerfully accessed through the body, say in ritual dancing or ingestion of sacred hallucinogens. 

Ku In Tuo Muah, like most dance works I get to see, might have many behind-the-scenes influencers and supporters. But the few program credits--for "concept, audio/visual design and, of course, performance--go to Chavis solely, no stated collaborators. For the audience, this solo offers a privileged, if complicated, view of a path engaged upon decidedly alone. It's an internal, private, abstract exploration with challenges only one man can know.

Even the sounds that arise from this exploration are sounds of the breathing and gasping (and maybe unseen crying) of a human body. The emphasis on peeling off and shedding articles of clothing suggests continuous self-transformation and digging down to the person beneath persona beyond the grip and labeling of an outside world.

Stopping to remove his shoes and shirt is the first thing Chavis does as he walks through the door into the theater called Studio H at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center. It's like watching a weary man come home.

At first, he does not enter the portion of the space directly in front of the audience seats and will not for a long time. Instead, he occupies that stage-left area near the mirrors. So we must look over, slightly sideways, to watch him. It's a brilliant distancing device. You see me, but you have to work a little for it. I'm still over here in my somewhat private space, and I'm going to make you feel like the voyeurs you are.

So we watch as he proceeds to disturb and distort the functional harmony of his body, and we watch the wrenching and shedding and listen to the ragged gasps. His entrance to the main section of the space, which is covered in shiny, black plastic introduces more sound--the noise of him scrunching that floor covering as he continues to contort and scrunch up his body.

At the end, Chavis simply gathers up his clothing and exits the theater, remaining someone seen with the physical eyes but not really known--an impressive, even beautiful, but remote performer. His dance, his ritual, remained--for me, at least--a journey monitored but not truly shared, and I note that with acceptance and respect.


Cori Olinghouse (above and below)
in GRANDMA
(photos: Scott Shaw)


What Cori Olinghouse calls Clown Therapy draws from The Fool's power to look at things sideways upside down and dismantle the everyday mundane and how we habitually see it. Her GRANDMA--an interdisciplinary piece for herself, Martita Abril and Kate Watson Wallace--is wacky without (for the most part) being funny. It really isn't clowning in the conventional manner. Its pace is most often glacial with stiff, stooped, dazed dancers shambling about a space littered with cheap snack food. Their overpowering, face-obscuring wigs and lipstick pink costumes, the recognizable snack food product placement, though--that's where the funny would normally be situated. The clown proffering little plastic-wrapped cupcakes could not be more pathetic as she apparently cannot bring herself to approach more than two people in the audience, her feet repeatedly colliding with the plastic cups that earlier exploded onto the floor right in front of us.

My sympathetic attention cleaves to one performer momentarily and sadly stuck facing a corner, as if in shame, confusion or both. The old-fashioned tv screen at the center of it all gives back nothing but static. Attempts to mop up the mess--or stuff slices of Wonderbread under one's wig--are futile, half-hearted and soon abandoned. The overall ineptitude and visual disarray speak to a growing upheaval at the core of something, and that must be the therapy Olinghouse chooses to agitate.

Olinghouse's inclusion of two pop hits--George Michael's "Father Figure" and Wham!'s "Everything She Wants"--will launch an army of earworms, I can attest. The songs underscore a displeasure with warped values, excess consumption and the detritus it generates.

Wesley Chavis + Cori Olinghouse concludes tonight with a performance at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (entrance: 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Your Christmas alternative: "Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars"

 Daniel Diaz (above) and Fleur Voorn on video (below)
in Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars
(photos: Theo Cote)


Pull up a chair, sip some white wine and kick back with Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars, your all-queer Christmas fête from writer/director Gian Marco Lo Forte and the Pioneers Go East Collective at La MaMa/The Downstairs. This 70-minute music-theater show dips into YouTube's vlogging trend to explore LGBTQ identity, culture, struggles, triumphs and the joy--and sheer relief--of being surrounded by family-of-choice at holiday time.

Our technology grows slicker by the minute, but humans remain a species eager to tell and consume stories--a truth manifest in phenomena like StoryCorpsThe Moth and YouTube vlogs. Gemini Stars//Scorpio Stars features personal stories contributed and shared by its performers--Daniel Diaz, Jess Barbagallo, Fleur Voorn, Michaela Reggio, Niko Tsocanos and Ryan Leach, all live; Julia Dobner-Pereira and Chloe Li Piazza on video. Not all of its tales land with equal effectiveness. But there is often charm, humor and poignancy enhanced by spirited, if easy-going, presentation along with music, movement and decor.

Best of the batch: The hilarious Diaz has vivid recall of meeting a hunky firefighter near the muumuu racks in the musty basement of a vintage clothing store; Barbagallo and Reggio amusingly and affectionately reflect on a road trip that sounds like their relationship in microcosm. And you probably shouldn't miss the tender ballad performed by musical guest Ombro de Oro and dedicated to one "Blanca Ivanka."

Perversely, all of this made me flash back to those Andy Williams  Christmas tv shows in the 1960s. You remember Williams, right? Smooth-singing Republican who, nevertheless, championed Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern? Whose politics corroded with age--foe of Obama ("a Marxist!"), fan of Limbaugh and Beck? I'm trying to imagine what might have been--some alternative much like Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars.

Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars continues through December 17 with performances tonight and Saturday at 7pm and on Sunday at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

La MaMa (The Downstairs)
66 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Sunny Murray, 81

Sunny Murray, Influential Free-Jazz Drummer, Is Dead at 81
by Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times, December 14, 2017

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Vincent Nguini, 65

Vincent Nguini, Guitarist With Paul Simon, Dies at 65
by Jon Pareles, The New York Times, December 14, 2017

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Darkness into light: Kota Yamazaki at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Julian Barnett in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination,
Raja Feather Kelly and Mina Nishimura in background
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

Philosophy, dance, and folklore merge in Bessie Award-winning choreographer Kota Yamazaki’s latest work inspired by French writers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata’s notion of a “dance of darkness,” and Japan’s Goze music tradition. Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination explores the fragile body, the vaporizing body, and the body as an absorbing force.
--from promotional material for Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination

Mina Nishimura (foreground) with Raja Feather Kelly
(photo: Stephanie Berger)

I started watching Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug's new dance, Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination, by drawing a diagram of each dancer's position along the floor of Baryshnikov Arts Center's Gilman space. So one corner of my notebook page now resembles a star map. It also includes an arrow representing Kota's delayed entrance and indicating the direction in which, for most of the dance, his prone body will rest, alongside the outer edge of the special floor mat. And I drew a little, three-lined flap hanging just above the stars. That's for the sheer, opalescent fabric dipping low over the space (like the costumes and, indeed, the choreography, the inexplicably whimsical handiwork of Kota Yamazaki). It seems arbitrarily placed and more decorative than functional--say, as a space divider. But then, to be decorative is a function, and the fabric catches, liquifies and softly reflects a portion of Thomas Dunn's lighting. Even silence seems to have a function destabilized by the patter of dancers' feet on the surface. Later, Kenta Nagai's music will emerge--at first, a distance whistling seemingly from two sources and then a muffled chiming. 

Yamazaki's dancers--Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, all seasoned dancemakers in their own right--spend much of the time in relative proximity to but isolation of one another, each suspended in a specific portion of space, maybe slowly...slowly...shifting weight and gaze and, eventually, location. Limbs jutting or retracted, taking a few steps here or there on the balls of their feet, go their own way and mind their own business in that way aquarium fish have. And we watch them in a similar fashion. I quickly realized Yamazaki was splitting up the imagery so I'd have to make a choice. Most often I chose Barnett, a dancer who turned into a volatile madman as the piece went along, his nearly-comical agitation so propulsive that he stormed the audience...twice!

At one point, facing the black back curtain, Kotze muttered something we all could hear but, I'm sure, not make out. That was fine with me, because I doubt Yamazaki wanted us to try to understand it any more than he needed any other pop-up scrap of speech to make contextual sense.

The hour-or-so "hallucination" is part of a planned trilogy, and I missed Part 1, which is probably okay in the overall scheme of things. It has a fishy relationship to clock time and a (suspected) protagonist who, intriguingly, stays out of sight at first and then stays out of action for almost the entirety of it. And the piece winds down with wondrous Dunn lighting that bathes increasingly serene dancers in the cool gold of morning.

Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination continues tonight and Friday, December 15 with performances at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Baryshnikov Arts Center
450 West 37th Street, Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Pat DiNizio, 62

Pat DiNizio, Singer and Songwriter for the Smithereens, Dies at 62
by Daniel E. Slotnik, The New York Times, December 13, 2017

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