Saturday, October 20, 2018

luciana achugar: the body in power and joy

Choreographer luciana achugar
(photo: Scott Shaw)

Brujx, a world premiere, ritualizes the labor of the dancers, exposing and transcending it to unearth the powerful and primal magic brujx within them. As in all of achugar’s [sic] work it proposes DANCE as the necessary transformational healing for our time. Brujx resists western assumptions of beauty and hierarchical order, freeing the dancers both of their role as worker in the power structure within the creative project and of the universal shame of being animal-sexual-powerful-instinctive creatures. -- from publicity for luciana achugar's Brujx

As part of senior director and curator Jay Wegman's two-week Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx at NYU Skirball, luciana achugar's Brujx embeds her audience in the flow of the work, instantly transforming most of these "viewers" into performative, even scenic objects to be gazed upon far more than the official dancers. In her somewhat nervous pre-show welcome on Skirball's grand staircase, achugar offered each of us a choice: Either stand or sit onstage, or take a regular seat in the theater's rows.

As it turned out, if you sat facing the stage, as I chose to do for most of the 90+ minutes of Brujx--think bruja, Spanish for witch, but  gender-busting--you'd have to work to catch as much as could be seen from there. Sometimes you'd lean to one side or the other to glimpse dancers through a sliver of space in the crowd. Or, guided by the percussion of bodies slapping the floor or walls, use your imagination. Imagining the scene onstage behind a tightly-packed semicircle of people was not so hard, actually. A lot of Brujx happens through consistent, monotonous kinetic and sonic repetition with a blend of the organic, the industrial and the sexual. See enough, and you can make a good enough guess about the rest.

These aspects--organic, industrial, sexual--never separate in our minds as we observe. Instead of fixating on one notion of what we're seeing and hearing, we fluctuate even as the dancers stay steady in many of their actions. Their evoked nature ranges from insect-like to human, from animal to machine. One of the most indelible, brilliantly conceived and executed images is of a languid, cattle-like walk with each of the dancers on all fours, their haunches exposed and the luminous focus of everyone's attention.

achugar, curiously, is the only performer identified in NYU Skirball publicity, and no program notes, that might identify the others, were issued. Perhaps this anonymity has something to do with the significant partial nudity and behavior of the dancers throughout the piece. I was unnerved to see one man approach the stage with a cellphone and train his videocam on one dancer's upended, pumping backside.

It was not until late in the game that the most of those of us in the seats had mounted the stage to watch the three half-naked witches gyrate to electronic polyrhythms produced by an ingenious sound sculpture. I often think achugar aims to bring back the Sixties, which part of me, remembering the Sixties, finds a bit hokey. Also hokey, having dancers climb to the top of the audience seating and then, row by row, clamber down over the backs of seats. This makes both parts of the audience have to shift their gaze for a while, but to little purpose, and perhaps tells us what we already know about these witches. Yes, they are wild, unruly things. And hasn't the fourth wall been breached already--and more creatively?

Still, looking around as I stood with other on the stage, I noticed the audience's bodies were noticeably relaxed, their faces softened, as the dancers' liberated spirit seeped out into everyone. One woman, absorbed in herself and not even gazing towards the performers, kept up a serpentine undulation in response. As I took my leave, the dancing and gawking continued, the audience now almost completely merged and submerged.

Brujx concludes this evening with a performance at 7:30pm. For information and reservations*, click here.

NYU Skirball's Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx--*all free with an RSVP and a donation, if you desire--continues through October 28. For information, click here.

NYU Skirball
566 LaGuardia Place (between West 4th and West 3rd Streets), Manhattan

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Folk Incest": a new Juliana F. May ensemble at Abrons

Molly Poerstel dancing in Juliana F. May's Folk Incest
(photo: Ian Douglas)

In FOLK INCEST, five women interrogate seemingly unrepresentable subject matters including the Holocaust, sexual trauma, and the fetishization of young girls. As pop cultural references, genres, and bodily traumas compress into each other, the work’s biting humor offers catharsis, simultaneously critiquing and supporting abstraction. (from publicity for Juliana F. May's Folk Incest) 

Disorientation. It starts with being directed into one of the drab rooms at Abrons Arts Center not usually used as a venue for performance.

Once there, the audience for Juliana F. May's new, short ensemble--
Folk Incest--sits in a single row around the perimeter of the room. Last night, May drew a particularly chatty, lively group with a bunch of friends even posing for a cellphone photo before, strangely, everyone suddenly piped down. I looked around to see if there something signaled this quieting. If so, I couldn't detect it. Eventually, the lights lowered.

Then a woman appeared--amazing Molly Poerstel--seated in a chair near one of two doors to the corridor. A gentle light fell upon her, a marking that told us she was not really one of us. Or maybe she was. One of us. Plus.

She held a few sheets of paper. She began to read from them...or try to speak with great, forceful difficulty...and I rapidly became so engrossed in what I heard that I don't even recall if she was really glancing at the paper. Poerstel's monologue turned into a tour de force utilizing dexterous mental and vocal ability, beginning with stammering and sputtering, spinning out into something that...oh, I don't know...maybe an exorcist should be brought in to handle. Secrets blurted, profanities barked, surfaces erupting with the long-buried dead. Searing. Scorching. It felt of the moment.

In time, other women appeared in the space--Leslie Cuyjet, Tess Dworman, Lucy Kaminsky, Rebecca Wender, eventually joined by Poerstel. Their big, ungainly, willful, scattered movements smack away any sense that they will behave, or that we can relax, or that they don't belong there. Vengeful energies Poerstel's monologue unleashed, perhaps. Later, there came a wiping-off of makeup, a baring of breasts, a flurry of words sometimes tripping out too quickly to catch, an incredibly elaborate performance of something folksong-ish that, once again, made a viewer marvel at performers' abilities to memorize and recall.

I take the "folk" aspect of this to allude to commonality, and that is something we are certainly coming to grips with as we deal with #MeToo revelations and other testimonies of trauma. Traumatic experience and its consequences are common, not rare, one-off incidents happening to people we do not know. They happen to people we know. They happen in our families. They happen to us. They happen with such frequency to make us question the environments in which we should seek safety and solace. They are common, shared among us like the air we breathe, toxic and injurious to individuals and, ultimately, to all.

And they are festering under the skin and in the bones of the art we choose to call abstract.

Seating is limited, and remaining shows are sold out. But if there's a waiting list, Folk Incest is worth a try to get in.

Folk Incest continues through this Saturday, October 20, with performances at 7:30pm. For information, click here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Tere O'Connor Dance presents "Long Run" at NYU Skirball

from Tere O'Connor's Long Run
(photo: Ben McKeown)

Two nights does not a long run make. But that's all we got of Long Run, the New York premiere of Tere O'Connor's 2017 octet, at NYU Skirball Center. Nor is a dancer' scamper, quietly observed by a trio of colleagues, long at all. It goes on just enough for you to register it as a breezy dance cliché before it's cut off. Long Run plays with a viewer's perception of a formal, distant stage and what we usually see there. Dancers who spill out, diagonally, from the wings--another attractive cliché. A dancer falling into the waiting support of a huddle of others--another emotion-stirring cliché. An artist filling the stages's expanse with rows of interspersed dancers, enlivening depth in what, essentially, is emptiness.

Folding, unfolding to O'Connor's charming and varied percussion, Judkins, Simon Courchel, Marc Crousillat, Eleanor Hullihan, Emma JudkinsJoey Loto, Silas Riener, Lee Serle and Jin Ju Song-Begin seem toy-like to me. Posable, folding and unfolding, snappily bending at all the joints, stepping to a jaunty rhythm in a way that resonates in a viewer's own body. Feel yourself marching along?

The extroverted movements often emphasize bold, cleanly-cut shapes--like printed letters, no cursive--and open space between dancers. You can almost feel wind coursing around them. You can clearly see the folks in the back. Again, there's that sense of movement bridging a distance, dancers extended in playfulness. I see them, sometimes, like jacks; like letters painted on letter blocks. I'm drawn to the detail of Riener's hands held taught and flat as rackets. And I'd guess my images mean nothing to O'Connor. But here they are. Something the dance is doing when it leaves home.

Music: Tere O'Connor
Lighting design: Michael O'Connor
Costume design: Strauss Bourque-Lafrance


For information on future programming at NYU Skirball Center, click here.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Together: Nugent and Matteson at New York Live Arts

Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson
in their duet, another piece apart
at New York Live Arts
(photo: Ben McKeown)

I regret that I haven't seen Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson dance together for a long time. I well remember considering them among my favorite downtown performers--profoundly thoughtful, sensitive and moving in their artistry. Last evening, I went to New York Live Arts, excited to get reacquainted with these two Bessie winners and dance heroes of mine. I caught the New York premiere season of their duet another piece apart. Please do yourself a favor and go tonight--your last chance this time--if you can still get a ticket.

Nothing will distract you from these bodies. Now and again, that sort of spareness can be refreshing. Let us focus, for a minute, on the genius of the body.

Their low-lit performance space is completely bare and yet does not seem vast around them. They compel our eyes and subdue that gaping space. Labored breath and occasional, mostly muffled asides to each other provide raw, human sound to a space empty of accompanying music or soundscape. They are not even dressed for admiring gaze; items of dance-wear, stripped down late in the piece, suggest increasing vulnerability, increased transparency to each other.

And we don't even need that visual metaphor, really. From the moment Nugent first backpedals into the space and Matteson soon touches his forehead to hers, these two operate like limbs (and heightened senses) of one body. Locking, arching, twisting in and out and back into connection with one another, they each move with elastic, springy, sticky qualities as if puzzle pieces in 3-D animation. But, if they are pieces of a puzzle, they are polished ones that fit just so, with just the right knowing.

For most of the time, their intimate world is so tenderly quiet that I feared the scratch of my pen on my notebook paper would be heard in every corner of the theater. We are each exposed by their dancing.

This visual poetry of their duet's conclusion.... Well, let me leave it at that.

Lighting design: David Ferri

Another Piece Apart concludes with a 7:30 performance this evening. For tickets, click here.

PARTNERING WORKSHOP: October 13, 2-5pm

A toolbox of methods for partnering exploring negative space, interdependent support, responses to touch, and various ways of harnessing momentum. By a quick bridging of improvisation into set work—followed by imaginative reconstruction steps—we develop dances that embolden personal voice within kinetic collaboration.

For information on Nugent and Matteson's partnering workshop, click here.

219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Our Bessie Awards Winners of 2018

34th Annual Bessie Awards

The New York Dance
& Performance Awards

NYU Skirball Center

October 8, 2018

Marjani Forté-Saunders
in her Bessie-winning production
Memoirs of A . . .Unicorn
The piece also won her creative team
a Bessie for Outstanding Visual Design.
(photos: Maria Baranova) 


Mariana Valencia 
Presented in July 2018
For seamlessly blending ethnography, memoir, and observation of cross-cultural identities in choreography that engages from start to finish. For a unique vision that uses humor and sadness, reality and imagination, to push dance and performance into new territory.


Deborah Sale and Ted Striggles
For a lifelong commitment to supporting dance For working to better the lives of dance artists on and off the stage For warmly gathering and connecting the dance-making community across decades.


Courtney Cook
For bringing a powerhouse presence and a soulful strength to every performance A riveting performer of searing vocal work and sensuous explosive movement, who brings her rich range of dance forms and unique theatrical power to the work of Urban Bush Women, Maria Bauman and Marguerite Hemmings.

Germaine Acogny
For her fierce, fearless embrace of the “sacrificial one” in a reimagined Rite of Spring created especially for her. No longer doomed, she performs a powerful solo celebrating her heritages in dance, and women, and black women dancing. In Mon élue noire (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2 by Olivier Dubois at BAM Fisher

Elizabeth DeMent
For her cool, intelligent presence, exquisite dancing, and ability to move seamlessly between spoken text and virtuosic dance. For a brilliantly nuanced performance, comic and serious and continuously captivating as a 17th century woman and the narrator of the piece. In 17C by Big Dance Theater BAM Harvey

Sara Mearns
Sustained Achievement in the work of New York City Ballet, Isadora Duncan, Jodi Melnick, Wang Ramirez and Matthew Bourne.
For her work as a mesmerizing ballet dancer and insatiable dance explorer, known for consummate musicality, imagination, and theatricality. For an extraordinary season in which she boldy immersed herself in work by masters of hip hop, classic modern, experimental post modern, and theater ballet.


David Thomson
for he his own mythical beast 
Performance Space New York
For demolishing the idea of a ‘neutral’ body in a revelatory excavation of his own mythological identity as a dancer, performer, artist, man, person. For the team creation of an inexhaustible, ecstatic, sweaty swirl of voice and movement addressing race, gender, and the many selves contained within a body.

Geoff Sobelle
for HOME 
BAM Harvey 
For exploring and exploding the relationship between house and home. For collaborating with a brilliant team using dance, illusion, live music, scenic engineering and audience interaction to create a moving, poignant and zany theatrical work.

Nami Yamamoto
for Headless Wolf 
For an entertaining and profound journey through the range of human experience. For interweaving five distinctive performers, a puppet, and yards of paper into a total work of theater, a contemplation of birth and death and all in between.

Marjani Forté-Saunders
for Memoirs of a . . . Unicorn
Presented by New York Live Arts at Collapsable Hole 
For an installation and performance that digs underground to mine memory and mythology; For conjuring family, friends, and ancestors as she navigates a magical landscape, weaving intersecting tales into a collective memoir.


40th Anniversary Retrospective 
by Jane Comfort & Company 
La MaMa
For a program highlighting four decades of illuminating work delving into politics, family, friendship, and pure dancing. For a pivotal exploration of language, music and movement in pieces addressing social issues in ways that continue to have impact in the current moment.


Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste
For mobilizing the technologies of the age to conjure new worlds. For bringing forth hidden languages and primal presences via layered soundscapes in his own work and in collaborations with Jaamil Olowale Kosoko, André M. Zachery/Renegade Performance Group, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Will Rawls.


Mimi Lien (set), Meena Murugesan (media), Peiyi Wong (installation), Tuçe Yasak (lights), and Richard Forté (set construction)
Memoirs of a . . . Unicorn by Marjani Forte-Saunders
Presented by New York Live Arts at Collapsable Hole

For creating a mythical, multi-sensory and immersive design in the industrial basement space of Collapsible Hole. For beautifully integrating all the visual elements in a way that heightened the emotional impact of the choreographer’s journey through time and memory.


Simone Forti
For her revolutionary, fearless, and widely influential approach to movement, pushing the boundaries of what dance could be-----in her dance constructions and improvised work. For years of investigation into the human body in motion, finding poetry in gravitational forces, the movement of animals, and the natural world.


Marya Warshaw
For her visionary work at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange creating a space for choreographers of all identities and backgrounds, and for students of all ages and incomes. For finding new and comprehensive ways to support the long process of creation through pioneering residencies and by fostering a true home for dance artists and innovators.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

"Y" premiered by RoseAnne Spradlin at New York Live Arts

Y is perhaps a chromosome. Or maybe the fork in a choreographic road, a place of duality and uncertainty. In any case, in all its moody sensuality, Y comes to us this week from award-winning choreographer RoseAnne Spradlin who is the 2017-19 Randjelović/Stryker Resident Commissioned Artist at New York Live Arts.

My initial reading of Annie Heath, Ainesh Madan, Athena Malloy, Claire Westby, Connor Voss, Doug Lecours, EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Thomas Welsh-Huggins, as they streamed down NYLA's aisles and spread across the stage, was of eight dynamic bodies serving as building blocks piled up and tumbling over one another. Weighted, tilted and propelled, they enlivened the air around them with a wonderful freedom. A few mics, stationed close to the floor, captured the sounds of their footfalls--a sounding that registering presence and marking a place for oneself. I pondered how the distance from viewers or the type of footwear or the cover of music or the nature of technique (as in, say, ballet) usually masks this aspect of the labor, and assertiveness, of dancers.

Dim glow from a row of lights placed low to the floor gave the space an eerie, somewhat illicit atmosphere. A torso and pelvis might suddenly and broadly undulate like a creature giving birth or glide over a partner's supine body. The pale outer costumes dancer Voss designed for his colleagues give only illusory coverage.

Stripping down to undies and near- and full-nudity featured heavily later on in the hour-or-so piece as did images of buttocks openly groped with no shame on the faces staring back at the audience--or, really, any display of feeling--as partners embraced. It's interesting that, when the dance was over and performers appeared for their bow, it seemed only men had had time to slip on a bit of clothing. This might mean nothing to Spradlin. It might be a coincidence. I have no idea. But it is curious.

If we always ask ourselves--and we should--what manner of world have we entered when we enter a dance, this world seems transitional and perhaps reflects something of our own transitional time. It is brazen and discomforting. We can take either road branching away from that Y. Which road will it be? And why?

There is, as yet, no answer to that question.

Production and sound design: Glen Fogel
Lighting design: Roderick Murray
Audio engineer and sound design: Ben Manley
Costume design: Connor Voss
Dramaturgy: Susan Mar Landau

Y continues through Saturday with performances at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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Deborah Hay's "Ten" draws a crowd at MoMA

Deborah Hay presents a revival of Ten (1968)
at the Museum of Modern Art's Marron Atrium.
(photo: Ralf Hiemisch)

Heading to MoMA for performances of Deborah Hay's 1968 ensemble piece, Ten, today or tomorrow at 2pm? Be sure to set out early. The audience for postmodern dance exists! I found them at the museum's Marron Atrium (exhibiting Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done through February 3) and on four floors of overlooking balconies. In the atrium, they stood several rows deep, cupping the open performance area with stragglers, like me, struggling for viewing space. Associate Curator Thomas Lax kindly secured a folding stool for me and a vantage point on one extreme end, and I was happy as a clam.

Against the far wall, the band Gang Gang Dance--with guitar, percussion, electronic keyboard--started things off precisely at 2 with a cascading, deepening rumble of sounds, a hot, gradually complicating, poly-ethnic mush that would hold steady through most, though not all, of the lengthy performance. A metal pole--perhaps fifteen feet, if dancer Wally Cardona's height is any gauge--rose from the dove-grey floor, and a metal barre, very low to the ground, stretched across the width of the performance space. Black-clad dancers would attach themselves to these items in various ways, as other dancers--inaudible to us over the loud music--would monitor and coach them into just the right positions. The dancers regularly but unpredictably rotated in and out of these supervisory and performing roles.

These dancers--Cardona, Michelle Boulé, Miguel Gutierrez, Miguel Ángel Guzmán, Malcolm Low, Shelley Senter, David Thomson, Adrienne Truscott, Arturo Vidich and Marýa Wethers--well, let me just say these folks are the equivalent of actors you'd pay to hear read the phone book. Given that Hay basically has them doing a string of tasks like draping themselves over the barre as if sunbathing or gracefully embracing the pole or creating a line or stack-up of dancers in similar poses, that phone book thing might not be too far off. It definitely looked more banal when the music dropped out and I could pick up what a patrolling Gutierrez was actually saying to his charges.

But I was enthralled from the first and stayed that way over more than an hour. I can account for this only in that, for several decades now, my mind has been infiltrated by postmodern artists and that I remain a weird child. This is my tribe--or, at least, one of them.

Ten runs through Saturday with performances at 2pm with limited seating. Free with museum admission. For those with sensitive ears, bring earplugs just in case you end up near the speakers. Today's performance will be followed at 3pm with a conversation between Hay and Ana Janevski, MoMA's Curator of Performance and Media. Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done runs through February 3. For information, click here.

Museum of Modern Art
Enter at 18 West 54th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), Manhattan

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