Sunday, December 15, 2019

The circus comes to town: Cirque Mechanics at New Victory

Battulga Battogtokh of Cirque Mechanics
in 42 Ft.--A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels

42 Ft.--A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels
by Cirque Mechanics
The New Victory Theater
December 6-January 5

Hailing from Las Vegas, Chris Lashua and Aloysia Gavre's Cirque Mechanics troupe has arrived at our city's family-friendly New Victory Theater with a production called 42 Ft.--A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels. (The measurement refers to the standard diameter of a circus ring.) Retrograde and wholesome, the show is a modest affair though, at nearly two hours with intermission, it might stretch beyond what most young kids would happily sit through, even some adults. Despite my own occasional squirming, I was charmed through most of the show and re-energized by fright at some of the dexterous aerial and slack wire work.

Impersonating a 1930s touring group named Circus Magnificus, the company eliminates the frills we might have come to expect from contemporary circus and just goes for feel-good basics, all the old-school sights and nostalgic sounds, but not without imagination. One of my favorite acts involved Tatiana Vasilenko dreamily juggling numerous balls while perched atop a wheeled chariot slowly "drawn" around the stage by a fetching cut-out horse--just one, and certainly the most benign, of the mechanical apparatuses alluded to the show's title and the company's name and reputation.

Justin Therrien combines low-key demeanor with exquisite physical skill as a wandering clown the troupe will eventually adopt. Mongolian strongman Battulga Battogtokh makes a believer out of the toughest skeptic when he handles weighty props with gusto and unexpected grace. There's even a lion tamer of sorts, though, in the blessed absence of trained animals, we must imagine a lion we will never see while Austin Bradley takes center stage, flourishing a stool and bullwhip. The show's only Black performer, Bradley otherwise has a minor presence in the lineup of acts. I was jarred by the crack of the bullwhip and the sight of it snapping and wrapping around his own body.

42 Ft.: A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels is recommended for ages 5 and up and continues through January 5 on a diverse time schedule. For information and tickets, click here.

The New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street (Times Square), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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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, December 14, 2019

Tracks get fresher: bold new moves at New York Live Arts

FRESH TRACKS artists, left to right:
Anh Vo, Annie Heath, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd,
Kayla Hamilton and Stuart B Meyers

FRESH TRACKS: Anh Vo, Annie Heath, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Kayla Hamilton, Stuart B Meyers
New York Live Arts
December 13-14

I came away from last night's edition of FRESH TRACKS--New York Live Arts' showcase for rising choreographers--eager to see each of the five pieces separately, with ample contemplative, processing time and space around each. But, of course, an omnibus program like this--squeezing in five 15-minute works, diverse in maker and nature--does not allow for that. You might take a restroom break during intermission and look around at other audience members on the line, each of them exclaiming variations on "Whew!" Other than that, you better keep pace. Simply put, this particular FRESH TRACKS lineup can be overwhelming--in a good way. Presentations by Anh Vo, Annie Heath, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Kayla Hamilton and Stuart B Meyers made me hopeful for the future of dance in New York City, exemplifying the bold, urgent spirit of the art today.

Kayla Hamilton, first up, is an artist you should already know. But if you don't, take this opportunity. Nearly Sighted/unearthing the dark, created with a community of makers, sasses back at the male gaze, the terrified Karens of this world and anyone who might want to voice unsolicited opinions about a fat Black woman's body. With its quirky lighting cues and accessibility accommodations--including a riveting ASL interpreter/dancer, Brandon Kazen-Maddox--it also messes with the usual centering of non-disabled viewers and points of view.  I love it to pieces.

Informed by German Expressionist film, Stuart B MeyersKOPFKINO (head cinema) enhances its eerie scenario with dim, blueish lighting that strips its dancers--Meyers and Isabel Umali--of healthy skintones and readable, relatable facial features. Aside from its extraordinary visual aesthetics, the piece gets hair-raising power from a combination of slow, creeping movement and frozen tension in the bodies. A nightmare from the past but made for our nightmarish times.

Anh Vo's BABYLIFT--the title memorializes a tragedy of the Vietnam War, the crash of the first plane to airlift evacuated South Vietnamese orphans--is the boldest of the bold and would reward repeated viewings. The subversive quality of Vo's slithery femme, hypersexualized self-presentation in front of a carefully-arranged votive altar would seem to clash with the projected photo of a Buddhist monk immolating himself as fellow monks look on. When I later had a moment to think it through, I realized these two figures might agree that the body is the fiercest site of resistance.

Annie Heath and Sokunthary Svay--a Khmer refugee and now Bronx-based poet and librettist--often occupy different, primarily diametrically opposed areas of the stage in an excerpt from Heath's This Mother/land Fabric. This keeps you wondering about how they are related, how their thoughts and ways are related, as you gaze from one to the other. Careful, expert gestures of wrapping a sarong contrast with desperate, helpless ones such as lifting a heavy pile of folded clothes, trying to secure this bundle high against the back wall with nothing but one's tired arms. Heath struggles and struggles; Svay's words leave a chill: "my mouth is magically sewn together" and "to find a soft landing spot, leave your skin on the ground" and "let me nurture this brutality."

In his witty abstract ensemble, Neighbors, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd keeps five dancers moving like game pieces continually rearranged in dynamic spacial interrelationship. Coming at the end of a demanding evening, Neighbors both clears the palate and looks like a kind of work easily picked up by major troupe looking for bright new repertory. Which is to say, hooray for Lloyd. Watch this guy. But, really, keep track of everyone here.

FRESH TRACKS: Anh Vo, Annie Heath, Jordan Demetrius Lloyd, Kayla Hamilton, Stuart B Meyers concludes with tonight's 7:30pm performance. For tickets, click here.

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

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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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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Dormeshia and friends swing out at The Joyce

Dormeshia
(photo: Eduardo Patino)

And Still You Must Swing
by Dormeshia
at The Joyce Theater
December 3-8

No hype. Dormeshia has been crowned Queen of Tap and, while some might find the notion of regal hierarchy in the arts a bit distasteful, there's no denying the evidence of one's eyes and ears. Mastery is mastery. Moreover, the refined ability of this artist to make and switch up minute mental/physical calculations with every passing microsecond qualifies her for superstardom. Go see And Still You Must Swing, one of Aaron Mattocks' great tap presentations at The Joyce this season. All hail the Queen.

Dormeshia's show, which premiered in Summer 2016 at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, teams her with veteran dancers and frequent running buddies, Derick K. Grant and Jason Samuels Smith, of whom we can never ever see enough. The tap firepower is strong with this endearing trio, as we've come to expect. But look who's also in the house: Camille A. Brown, top-notch performer and in-demand choreographer of contemporary and Broadway dance. Her unmatched embodiment of Black culture and legacy adds a distinct, dedicated underpinning of wokeness/awareness to this seamlessly entertaining show.

From left to right:
Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia, Camille A. Brown and Jason Samuels Smith
(photo: Christopher Duggan)
Jason Samuels Smith
(photo: Christopher Duggan)

And Still You Must Swing, a 75-minute suite of dances and musical interludes, has a tight, intermission-less structure with generous fun but no time for fluff. Choreographed and "improvographed" solos, duos, trios and quartets each aim, jump and achieve high spots you think can't possibly be topped, all supported by a vivacious jazz band as sumptuously warm as it is driven--musical director and pianist Carmen Staaf, drummer Winard Harper, bassist Noah Garabedian and percussionist Gabriel Roxbury. And the linkage between the lush, expressive fluidity of swing in dance and swing in music--and the roots of all this in Black experience and sensibility--comes across clearly without being forced. If you can't imagine why a djembe, the iconic West African drum, deserves to get a highlighted moment in the middle of a tap show, no one will get up and tell you. But just wait for Brown's solos; she channels the innovations of enslaved African taking back the power of intense vibration and rhythm, preserving and expressing this freedom through the body. Drums, you see, were forbidden to a stolen people but never truly silenced.

Brown adds outrageous gutsiness and quirk to Dormeshia's lineup. The charming bros--often bookending sleek, slithery Dormeshia--add hoofericious heft while dazzling us with the possibly limitless variety of ways heels, toes and sides of feet can ring changes on the meeting of metal and wood. Legs and feet fly like the digits of a 75 wpm typist.

Breathless, you eventually stop thinking How'd they do that? and surrender to your own connection to the music.

Good. They got ya.

Original music: Allison Miller and Dormeshia
Lighting design: Sue Samuels/Divine Rhythm Prod./Event Systems & Design Inc.
Costume design: Javier Pedroza

And Still You Must Swing continues through Sunday, December 8 (Wednesday, 7:30; Thursday and Friday, 8pm; Saturday and Sunday 2pm and 8pm). If any tickets remain--and that's chancy--grab them here. In the event of sold-out shows, there will be a ticket line for hopefuls starting one hour before curtain time.

175 Eighth Avenue at West 19th Street, Manhattan

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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, November 17, 2019

Stepping out: Colin Dunne's "Concert" at BAC

Dancer Colin Dunne in his solo, Concert,
given its US premiere this month at Baryshnikov Arts Center
(photo: Whitney Browne)

Concert
by Colin Dunne
Baryshnikov Arts Center
co-presented with Irish Arts Center
November 14-16

Irish step dancing might start with a bit of stomping, a bit of running, as Colin Dunne--best known as an early superstar of the Riverdance phenomenon--informed us in the casual opening of his piece, Concert. But it can claim a more expansive range than we might have ever seen or imagined. Dunne's imagination, however, remains unfettered and restless after exploring contemporary dance for nearly two decades. Furthermore, as presented in Concert, his aesthetic journey is inspired by virtuoso Irish fiddler, Tommy Potts. Potts' spirit guided and presided over this intriguing hour of solo performance.

I should put quote marks around "solo." Dunne, dressed in unglamourous running shoes and black jeans and t-shirt, might have been the only flesh-and-blood performer in BAC's space, but he was far from alone. Potts, dead since 1988, was very much in the house. We heard him speak, watched him play in a projected film and saw his eccentric artistry reflected in the thoughtful whimsy of Dunne's choices.

Like Dunne's costuming, his choice of props and sonic accompaniment tilted towards the humble and the analog, stripping away flash, getting down to the nitty gritty. There's no pretense of perfection (or restraint) in Dunne's physicality. That's the honest body of a man who has lived a while. And for equipment to invoke both history and the spirit realm, he employed a turntable spinning the LP of Potts' The Liffey Banks, his only recording. A couple of unremarkable speakers carried Potts' words. There was an upright piano that probably has seen a few years. And, for god's sake, a cassette player. With all of these, Dunne wove an atmosphere with character and authenticity and--would you believe it?--continuity.

Moveable patches of flooring, rearranged as needed, helped the dancer--sometimes barefoot, sometimes wearing heeled boots--lay down sound, some tentative and soft or bold and complex scrapes and patters with one arm or another un-traditionally free to flap out or lift in a kind of punctuation. It was impossible to be a tap dance fan and not sit there mentally pairing him with tap artists--Black ones in particular--soul to soul.

Direction: Sinéad Rushe
Composing/sound designer: Mel Mercier
Lighting: Colin Grenfell
Film design: Jeffrey Weeter

Concert is closed. For more information on events at Baryshnikov Arts Center, click here. For more information on events at Irish Arts Center, click here.

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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, November 16, 2019

Tiffany Mills premieres "Not then, not yet" at The Flea

Top: Kenneth Olguin
Bottom: left, Mei Yamanaka; right, Jordan Morley
in Tiffany Mills' Not then, not yet at The Flea Theater
(photos: Robert Altman)

Not then, not yet
Tiffany Mills Company
The Flea
November 13-16

Making themselves at home in one's subconscious are all manner of energies and drives eluding conscious control. This is the disquieting atmosphere of Not then, not yet, a work by dance artist Tiffany Mills with Puerto Rican composer Angélica Negrón and French vocalist/composer Muriel Louveau, now in world premiere at The Flea Theater in Tribeca.

The first sight of a few toppled metal chairs--with toppled dancers crumpled beside them--hints that this chair dance, led off by Jordan Morley, will surely go in a dark direction. Indeed, a kind of "musical chairs" game breaks out. But...no game, folks. The dancers--each dressed in Pei-Chi Su's costumes that bind together clothing details assigned along binary gender lines--don't play. Not at all. Their wary, tense actions around the chairs are cutthroat, life or death, driving towards a passage in which Morley obsessively arranges four chairs in a row that, nevertheless, ends up off-kilter. Negrón's music, including vocals by Louveau, invokes the relentlessness pace of time, pressure and complexity.

Inspired by novelist Mary Shelley's writing, the piece locates humanity in a place of precarious transition, the possibility that our inherent potential for monstrosity might consume us all. Is there a way out? Surely, the condition of life in these times raises this unsettling question every single day.

Strongly directed, the performers display physical vibrancy and vivid expressiveness--traits I've come to expect from Mills ensembles. Besides Morley and Mills herself, they are Kenneth Olguin, Nicholas Owens, Emily Pope and Mei Yamanaka, and Mills is fortunate to have every one of them.

Dramaturgy: Kay Cummings
Lighting design: Chris Hudacs

The Flea
20 Thomas Street (near Broadway), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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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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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

can you can you: Jerron Herman and Molly Joyce at Danspace Project

Jerron Herman and Molly Joyce
in Breaking and Entering at Danspace Project
In deep background below: ASL Interpreter Kathleen D.Taylor
(photos: Ian Douglas)


Breaking and Entering
by Jerron Herman and Molly Joyce
at Danspace Project
November 12, 15-16

Breaking and Entering, a collaboration between two well-regarded disabled artists--Jerron Herman and Molly Joyce--creates an intriguing relationship among its players and with its audience. Early on, we're introduced to American Sign Language Interpreter Kathleen D. Taylor whose signing rings with a robust, dancer-ly flow.

Uh-oh, I thought at first sight of her hands in motion, knowing all too well my tendency to gaze long at ASL interpreters whose particular style draws me in. What if I look at Taylor and miss important things that Herman might be doing?

No chance of that, really, since Herman is not exactly someone you can miss. Moreover--and curiously--Taylor soon gets relegated to deep backdrop, removed to the upper reaches of St. Mark's Church's altar steps for the rest of the piece. Thinking back on that now, I realize that distancing, blurring any initial, vivid connection to Taylor, might be by complicating design.

The words accompanying the work's three movements--entitled "Compliance," "Defiance" and "Emergence"--suggest a negotiated relationship with others, perhaps with viewers, perhaps with parts of the performers' own bodies.

Herman, who bills himself as "an interdisciplinary artist, primarily working in dance," is a snazzy performer with hemiplegic cerebral palsy which has caused him to devise ways to work balance and propulsion differently. His energy in the space is wrenching, surprising and always thrilling. Composer/musician Joyce, disabled in an accident, often moves with Herman, sings high and sweet, and plays a vintage toy piano set up in the middle distance between far-off Taylor and the audience. Their textures are so different, they make me think of their performance space as a painting canvas generous enough to make room, at once, for the roughest impasto and a silky brush.

The evening ends in an invitation to the audience to join the artists on the floor and dance to a DJ's fifteen-minute set. Disability activist and scholar Kevin Gotkin dj'ed last evening; Michael Hammond and JIJI will do the honors on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Text: Marco Grosse, Molly Joyce, Jerron Herman
Sound: Michael Hammon
Costumes: Gerald and Cynthia Herman

Breaking and Entering continues with performances this Friday, November 15, and Saturday, November 16, at 8pm. Besides ASL interpretation, audio description is also provide for each performance. Each concludes with a fifteen-minute dance party for the artists and audience. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (and Second Avenue), Manhattan

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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 1, 2019

Drury and Rankine: award-winning writers challenge whiteness


MaYaa Boteng portrays Keisha,
the pivotal character in Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview
(photo: Julienta Cervantes)


Hosted by Brooklyn's Center for Fiction and presented with Theater Communications Group, playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury and poet Claudia Rankine sat in conversation about Drury's Pulitizer-winning play, Fairview (2018), and Rankine's first published play, The White Card (March 2019). Both stories have scenes centered around a dinner party and deal with race and white surveillance, ultimately training a floodlight on what whiteness is and what it does. The writers discussed Fairview, mostly, including Rankine's experience of seeing Drury's play in the company of a white woman, a close friend and colleague, who (literally) failed to rise to its challenge. So, The White Card, which I have neither seen nor read will remain more of a mystery to me for a bit longer.

Though highly anticipated, the event proved to be frustrating, beginning with its late start (a half-hour) and a curious mismatch of speakers--both thoughtful, distinguished artists--whose personas could not have been more different. Rankine more reserved and watchful, read not from The White Card but from her essay responding to Fairview and contributed careful, finely-wrought, even mournful analysis at select moments. Drury, more accessible and endearing, too often seemed like a nervous student in awe of a visiting star scholar who is, yes, a MacArthur-certified genius. Rakine's 2014 multiple award-winning volume of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric, zoomed her into mainstream awareness as a critical witness to everyday racist microaggressions that, along with the fundamental nature and tenacity of white supremacy, make any mention of "post-racial America" an absurd lie. Would that The Center for Fiction could have magically blended these two writers into one fascinating being.

Rankine largely supported Drury in working through the creative process and the varying audience responses to Fairview, a play that first soothes and reassures white audience members with a familiar sit-com scenario and then asks them to participate in gradual, then increasingly unsettling, hard-to-escape exposure of their own white privilege. This conversation gave me a moment to revisit my own reaction to Fairview's final section where the teenager Keisha invites white people to rise from their seats and reassemble on the stage. As a Black woman, I immediately got the system-tilting shift Drury was going for in this theatrical exercise, and I must admit I felt a little smug. No, a lot smug. I also recall that the white people in the SoHo Rep audience I had sat with were all quite cooperative. From Drury's report, it seems that reaction was far from common.

As with reading Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, I'm struck, once again, by a sense of unacknowledged tragedy--what Rankine refers to as the loneliness an oppressed person feels, the sense of having been abandoned by all to injustice. On many levels, for many reasons, so many of us live with unhealed trauma. Gaslighting deepens and worsens the tenacious psychological/emotional effects of injustice. It messes with our overall health as individuals, communities and a society, and we're living in a time when gaslighting is pretty much the National Anthem.

Artists like Drury and Rankine bring heroic witness to this incendiary, potentially transitional time. The rest is up to us--to clean these uncovered wounds and allow them to heal.

Learn about The Center for Fiction and its upcoming events--such as evenings with authors like Edwidge Danticat, Annie Baker and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins--here.

The Center for Fiction
15 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

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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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