Saturday, November 10, 2018

Coates and Phuon--and Mullins!--light up Danspace Project

Left: Emmanuéle Phuon
Right: Emily Coates
(photo: Pascal Lemaitre)

Emily Coates and Emmanuèle Phuon share an evening of new work. The two choreographers share aesthetic lineages, through working with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project and Yvonne Rainer.

Emmanuèle Phuon’s Bits & Pieces (Choreographic Donations) looks backward and inward, narrating her personal journey through dance via Cambodia, France, New York, and Brussels with the help of 5 choreographers: Patricia Hoffbauer, David Thomson, Elisa Monte, Yvonne Rainer, and Vincent Dunoyer. Their choreographic donations intersect in an eclectic collage of sounds, dances, childhood wounds, anecdotes, and memories from Phnom Penh to New York, with an open return.

A History of Light, Emily Coates’ new project with MacArthur recipient Josiah McElheny, looks backward and outward: tracing a history of light, by intertwining dance aesthetics and scientific knowledge, and the unique history of the universe through the stories of women who have pushed art, science, and technology ahead. Twentieth century cultural and scientific references inform the work’s content and form.
--from publicity for "Emily Coates & Josiah McElheny / Emmanuéle Phuon: A Shared Evening"

So, backward and inward, backward and outward, all in search of what is unseen or unacknowledged. A particle of light. The story that light can tell. The life of a dancer. The brilliance of a scientist ignored because she happens to be a woman. The subtle strands of connection within dance lineages and webs of influence. The struggles of refugees and of those who devote their lives to helping them. A passionate Black composer less well known to most of us than her world-famous husband. A lighting designer without whom this work--and Phuon's--would be missing a large part of its magic. Our world rushes forward with little awareness or valuing of any of these.

Both artists sharing an evening at Danspace Project--Emily Coates and Emmanuéle Phuon--radiate mature elegance and intelligence in every move as they serve as witnesses and reporters for us.

Coates is the former New York City Ballet dancer whose book on physics and dance, co-authored with CERN particle physicist Sarah Demers, comes out in January 2019. Demers appears as a narrator--though, unfortunately, challenged by audio issues last evening--in A History of Light. Sculptor Josiah McElheny, both integrates his work into the piece and plays a physical role in its scenario, further breaking down borders between disciplines. I especially enjoyed his simple, clear demonstration of relative distances in the cosmos and the profound sense of our planet's humble presence in a cosmos mostly made of dark matter.

"Why are ballerinas always dying?" Coates asks after her own "dying" in front of a filmed Dying Swan sequence. That irritable question lingers in the air, untouched.

Conceived/created by Emily Coates and Josiah McElheny
Performed by: Emily Coates, Sarah Demers and Josiah McElheny
Music direction and composition: Will Orzo
Lighting design: Carol Mullins

If, in some strange turn of events, I was forced to see only one more dancer for the rest of my life, I wouldn't linger over that choice. I'd select Emmanuèle Phuon whose performance, Bits & Pieces (Choreographic Donations), is an embodied, seamless memoir collage with a long, varied personal narrative about unfolding as an artist and person, contributions from several dance colleagues, and musical tastes as diverse as John Cage, Tina Turner and Eric Satie. Like Coates, Phuon makes room for a non-dance collaborator--her amazing sound wizard, Zai Tang--to physically and vocally stray into the dance. Although there was a point at which the thread seemed to be stretching out a bit too long, I ended up feeling sad to have to tear myself away from an artist--a human--I could watch and listen to forever. I wished, in that moment, for young artists everywhere to witness Phuon--her specificity of gesture and story-like pacing, her foxy sense of humor, her claiming of pleasure and freedom in movement despite the damaging messages she, as a vulnerable, developing artist, absorbed along the way. Her presence says victory to me.

Concept: Emmanuèle Phuon
Performed by: Emmanuèle Phuon, Zai Tang
Dramaturgy and Direction: Vincent Dunoyer
Choreography: Vincent Dunoyer, Patricia Hoffbauer, Elisa Monte, Emmanuèle Phuon, Yvonne Rainer, David Thomson.
Sound Design: Zai Tang
Lighting Design: Carol Mullins

Emily Coates & Josiah McElheny / Emmanuéle Phuon: A Shared Evening concludes tonight with an 8pm performance. 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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Friday, November 2, 2018

prettygirl264264 checks in from Abrons Arts Center

Ashley R.T. Yergens
in character for prettygirl264264
(photo: Fred Attenborough)

What you focus on increases. Or, maybe it's, What you focus on expands. Or what...ever.

That favored quote of New Agey savants came to mind at last evening's world premiere of prettygirl264264, when I gauged the distance--physical and otherwise--between trans performance artist Ashley R.T. Yergens and a flat screen television displaying appearances by singer Cher, the late Sono Bono and their trans son Chaz Bono. My interest in Sonny and Cher had faded out quite early, with their pop star heyday and my youth, and has not made a miraculous recovery in the current age of celebrity tv and Twitter. So, I was content to train nearly undivided attention on the present moment and the live action before us at Abrons Arts Center where the Underground Theater's floor was nearly blanketed by a cheery layer of party balloons. Yes, party balloons for something Yergens billed as his "premature funeral."

The service served an atypical "In Loving Memory Of" funeral card in lieu of a program. The dearly not-quite-yet-departed took a while to appear, the buildup to that appearance including a standout, if painful, performance of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" by lily bo shapiro, dolled up in gleaming, cherry pink unitard and oversized, rhinestone-encrusted glasses. Yes, a Celine Dion anthem at a premature funeral where evocation of Judy Garland's connection to blackface, Sonny Bono's death by skiing into a tree, and a full-out dance duet routine to La Bouche's "Be My Lover" are not only inevitable but completely appropriate.

Not too long ago, I read a New York Times obituary that told the story of how the late actor James Karen asked his buddies, unbeknownst to one another, to draft his obit long before he actually passed. His wife finally revealed to one friend, George Clooney, that Karen had a habit of doing this so that he'd be around to enjoy what people thought of him. Not a terrible idea. And, in his way, Yergens is doing the same--inviting us in to indulge one trans man's moment of celebration and to contemplate how rare acknowledgement and celebration can be at the end of many trans lives.

If neither the celebs onscreen (one, a "gay icon" who is cisgender and straight; the other, an early, selective and reluctant object of mainstream media spotlight on trans lives) can fairly represent the range of trans experience, neither can Yergens, keenly aware of his white, able-bodied visibility and privilege. prettygirl264264--the title comes from an old AOL handle--speaks from a particular sliver of experience and sensibilities, bringing wry lightheartedness in a time of serious political struggle. And, yes, we need that contribution, too.

Video: Rena Anakwe

Performers: Sydney Boyu, Nico Brown, lily bo shapiro, Mur, Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal, Ashley R.T. Yergens

Lighting: Jennifer Fok

Original Music: Trashed My Living Room and ErasedMur

prettygirl264264 continues tonight and Saturday evening with performances at 7:30pm. 50% of ticket sales benefit trans rights organizations. Although both performances have sold out, Abrons promises to get some walkups in. So try for it! For information, click here.

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), Manhattan
(Plan your visit.)


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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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Forever hunger: Kimberly Bartosik at BAM Fisher

Joanna Kotze in Kimberly Bartosik's I hunger for you
(photo: Jim Coleman)

Lighting designer Roderick Murray's fluorescent tubes hang from the ceiling inside BAM Fisher's Fishman Space, colder and more severe than stalactites. Two dancers--Christian Allen and Lindsey Jones--step into the bare space of Kimberly Bartosik's I hunger for you. You can almost hear raptor wings, so forceful is the way they will lunge and beat and spin against the air. Arms lifting and rotated. Heavy breath audible. Heads and chins tilted upward. Torsos arching as they drop to a knee.

Burr Johnson, Dylan Crossman and Joanna Kotze--raptors, too, or perhaps angels, if angels have feet to strike mountainous earth--come in and churn and lash against the empty space as well. Back and forth, they cross it, overlapping in time and close pathways, until their labors clearly take a toll. Watching them, too, provides an initial sensation of exhilaration followed by exertion. When they stop--just stop and stand and shift inside and gasp--you feel the same internal wooziness, everything inside one's own body saying, "Hold up. Can we just settle back into order?"

I hunger for you plays with the risk of release--the kind of dropping of form and letting go that we experience in extremes of sensual and spiritual ecstasy--without guarantee of connection. Or guarantee that connection achieved will stay or will satisfy. A partner backs off or quietly quits the space entirely. The one remaining might freeze in a pose of hopelessness--arms wrenched forward from a torso bent as if in abject submission.

Much of the inspiration for the piece comes from the choreographer's religious upbringing, and it's interesting that she has cast her own child, Dahlia Bartosik-Murray, as a silent witness to some moments of Kotze's dancing as well as, later, a figure of release, coursing around the space like a wild filly.

Choreography: Kimberly Bartosik in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Sivan Jacobovitz, with arrangement by Kimberly Bartosik
Costume design: Harriet Jung
Sound Engineering: James Bigbee Garver
Dramaturgy: Melanie George

I hunger for you continues a sold-out run through Saturday with performances at 7:30pm. For information, click here.

Also, Friday's audience is welcome to an informal post-show discussion, facilitated by Melanie George with Bartosik and company in BAM Fisher's Lower Lobby.

BAM Fisher
321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn


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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Inside the mask: Narcissister releases documentary self-portrait

Performer Narcissister opens the world theatrical premiere and two-week run of her documentary, Narcissister Organ Player, at Film Forum next Wednesday, November 7. A former dancer, she's best known in the performance art world for the contradiction of concealing her identity with doll-like masks while revealing her flesh and wildly creative preoccupation with body organs, orifices and functions. Narcissister regularly propels audiences into forbidden dimensions of the familiar. With this new self-portrait, though, she guides us to the hidden source of that extreme courage--the familial.

Just over 90 minutes, this stunning, poignant film--expansive and mythic in imagery--centers the influence of the artist's relationship with her Morocco-born Jewish mother (and, to a far lesser extent, her Black American father) on the ideas that drive her work. Q&As with Narcissister will follow the 7pm screenings on these dates:

Wednesday, November 7, moderated by Jeffrey Deitch, Gallerist, Deitch Projects

Thursday, November 8, moderated by Lia Gangitano, Director, Participant Inc.

Saturday, November 10, moderated by writer Ren Weschler

Narcissister Organ Player will also be screened at Northwest Film Forum (Seattle, Washington), November 15-18.

209 West Houston Street, 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, October 27, 2018

Shamar Wayne Watt and family revisit "Gully spring" at JACK

Shamar Wayne Watt
(photo: Scott Shaw)

This week, Brooklyn's JACK performance space is presenting a new version of Gully spring: Di exhortation, a dance piece by Jamaica-born Shamar Wayne Watt, originally shown on a Gibney program curated by Nora Chipaumire. (See my review of that late 2017 engagement here.) Just short of an hour, the piece centers Afro-Atlantic spirituality as a landscape of resistance to colonial power and the constraints of Eurocentric Christianity. The work embodies and elevates family with the presence of Watt's mother, Valerie Davis, who contributes her choir-singing joy and, now at JACK, brother Lamar Jerome Watt, a Florida-based student athlete and krump dancer.

The center of Gully spring, though, remains the prophet Watt, mounting a platform and revolving and testifying beneath the ongoing baptismal drip of a gallon jug of water suspended above his head. I recall, from Gibney's promotion, that he declared a new religion of his own making, drawn from African-Jamaican traditions and Pentecostal worship as well as the political awareness and urgency of the moment. Is it not fitting and right that he administer his own benediction?

You have one last chance to witness this performance I called "exhortative, magnetic, formidable" this evening at JACK (8pm). For information and tickets, click here.

505 ½ Waverly Ave, Brooklyn
C or G train to Clinton-Washington


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, 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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