Sunday, December 28, 2014

My most memorable arts experiences of 2014

 with Selma director Ava DuVernay
Nona Hendryx in Deep Roots of Rock & Roll
(photo: Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

Eva Yaa Asantewaa's List:
Most Memorable Arts and Cultural Experiences of 2014

Unlike the numerous "10-or-so-Best" lists you've seen in recent weeks, this list is not about sifting out a handful of elite art products. Rather, it's my chance to pay tribute to a bounty of special experiences from my year with the arts. It's personal; your experiences may vary. In fact, I encourage you to make note of your own treasured memories in the comments section below and on InfiniteBody's Facebook page.

One more thing: Very soon, InfiniteBody will reach its 5,000th post! Whew! And March 29, 2015 will make its eighth anniversary! Wow!

I wish you all an artful, heartful and fabulous 2015. Thanks for your support of InfiniteBody!


@William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time, October 22, 2013-May 11, 2014 and In Praise of Shadows: William Kentridge in the Collection, August 26, 2013-February 2, 2014, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ramya Ramana
(photo courtesy of Ramya Ramana)

@Ramya Ramana, New York City Youth Poet Laureate, at inauguration of Bill de Blasio, 109th Mayor of the City of New York, January 1

@Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey, Brooklyn Museum, October 11, 2013-March 9, 2014

@Tyson vs. Ali by Reid Farrington, 3-Legged Dog Art & Technology Center (commissioned by Performance Space 122, co-presented by 3-Legged Dog and Performance Space 122), January 3-26. Entire creative team, in particular, choreography by Laura K. Nicoll, script by Frank Boudreaux; performances by Dennis A. Allen II, Roger Casey, Femi Olagoke, Jonathan Swain and Dave Shelley; video and set design by Simon Harding; sound design by Juan Aboites; special effects makeup by Shenna Vaughn

@Christine McMillan performing in works by Cherylyn Lavagnino (Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance) at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, January 5

@Muazzez by Mac Wellman, performed by Steve Mellor at The Chocolate Factory, January 7-17

@13 Love Songs:dot dot dot by and featuring Ishmael Houston-Jones and Emily Wexler, American Realness 2014, Abrons Arts Center, January 9-18

Okwui Okpokwasili in Bronx Gothic
(photo: Ian Douglas)

@Bronx Gothic by Okwui Okpokwasili, COIL festival, Danspace Project, January 14-February 1

@Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, Guggenheim Museum, January 24-May 14

@The Little Prince: A New York Story, The Morgan Library & Museum, January 24-April 27

@Rennie Harris Puremovement at The Joyce Theater, January 28-February 2

@King Lear by Chichester Festival Theatre, BAM Harvey Theater, January 7-February 9. Directed by Angus Jackson; performances by Frank Langella, Max Bennett, Catherine McCormack and Harry Melling; set by Robert Innes Hopkins

@Black Male Revisited: experimental representations through the ephemeral form, curated by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Danspace Project, February 6-8

@Charmaine Warren (performance) and Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya (costumes) in Benon by Souleymane Badolo at Danspace Project, February 13-15

@Fiasco Theater in Measure for Measure at New Victory Theater, February 28-March 16

@The Blues Project: Dorrance Dance and Toshi Reagon/BIGLovely at Women's Jazz Festival, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Also with Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, March 10

A very different Beauty and the Beast
starred Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser
(photo: Sin Bozkurt)

@Beauty and the Beast by and starring Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser at Abrons Arts Center, March 13-30

@DNA Comedy's Affirmative Reaction at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, March 31. Written, choreographed and directed by Denae Hannah; additional writing by Kathleen Battista; music editing by Ebonie Smith. Starring Denae Hannah, Jason Aguirre, Michael Alexander, Richard Armstead, Atika Greene, Nancy Millien, Sydnie Mosley, Marisa Renee, Nicole Roerick, Daiquan Smith, Autumn Scoggan, Tsige Tafesse, Milly Tamarez, Kirya Traber, Iman Ward and Nehemoyia Young

@OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar at New York Live Arts, April 2-5

@Program A of Rhythm in Motion by American Tap Dance Foundation, directed and curated by Tony Waag at The Theater at 14th Street Y, April 8-12. Works by Nicholas Young, Michelle Dorrance, Chloe Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith, Lisa La Touche and Derick K. Grant. Special mention: dancing by Michelle Dorrance and Jason Samuels Smith

@The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Twyla Tharp (with dancing by Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild) at BAM Gilman Opera House, April 10.

@Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 14-July 27

@Ubu Sings Ubu, co-directed by Tony Torn and Dan Safer; adapted by Tony Torn; choreographed by Dan Safer at Abrons Arts Center, April 9-26. Starring Tony Torn and Julie Atlas Muz.

Tia Powell Harris, director Weeksville Heritage Center

@Weeksville Heritage Center tour, LaShaya Howie (Education Programs Curator), ongoing

@The Craft of The Father by Levi Gonzalez at The Chocolate Factory. Performed by Gonzalez, Kayvon Pourazar and Eleanor Smith. Sound design by Tatyana Tenenbaum and lighting design by Natalie Robin.

@Memory Withholdings by Love|Forté, A Collective at BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange, April 24-27. Choreography and performances by Nia Love and Marjani Forté

@Performances by Miguel Gutierrez and Mickey Mahar in Gutierrez's Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/ at 2014 Whitney Biennial, April 23-May 4

@David Thomson in Baron Samedi by Alain Buffard at New York Live Arts, May 1-3

@Kuniko Kato (music direction and performance) in Project IX-Pleiades by Luca Veggetti at Japan Society, May 2-3

@One Day Pina Asked..., a film by Chantal Akerman, screened by Dance Films Association at Gibney Dance Center's Sorry I Missed Your Show program, May 7

@Martin Barnes of ISH performing in HyperISH at New Victory Theater, May 9-18

Dancer Albert David of Australia's Black Cockatoo Dance Company

@Black Cockatoo Dance Company: Indigenous Australian Song and Dance at Asia Society, May 16

@a Natural dance by Jen Rosenblit at The Kitchen, May 29-31

@Dancing While Black at BAAD!, May 30-31, featuring panel discussion with Greg Tate, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Aimee Cox (moderated by Shani Jamil) and works choreographed by Adia Tamar Whitaker and Brian Polite; Ebony Noelle Golden; and Rashida Bumbray

@Annique Roberts, dancing in Torch (2013) by Ronald K. Brown in Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company Spring 2014 season at The Joyce Theater

@David Gaulein-Stef, dancing in Ghazals by Asha Thomas in Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company Spring 2014 season at The Joyce Theater

@Rosas in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's Rosas Danst Rosas at Lincoln Center Festival, July 11-12

@Toshi Reagon, musical director and performer, with entire cast of performers (including Corey Glover, Nona Hendryx, Tamar-kali, Karma Mayet Johnson, Carl Hancock Rux) for Deep Roots of Rock & Roll at Lincoln Center Out of Doors.

Cassandra Wilson at Lincoln Center Out of Doors
(photo: Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

@Cassandra Wilson and The Campbell Brothers, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August.

@Forgetting the Details, written and performed by Nicole Maxali, New York International Fringe Festival, August

@Noah Diamond for his adaptation of I'll Say She Is, the lost Marx Brothers musical, New York International Fringe Festival, August. Also, performances by Diamond, Melody Jane, Seth Shelden and Kathy Biehl

@La Donna Improvvisata improvised and performed by Lisa Flanagan with pianist Frank Spitznagel, New York International Fringe Festival, August.

@Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects at The Kingsland Ward@St. John's, now extended through March 29, 2015. Entire creative and performance team

@The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is Calling You! (film) at Crossing the Line Festival, FIAF, directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper; New York premiere, September 8-October 20.

@Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 27-September 21

@Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 22-January 4, 2015

@Ai Weiwei: According to What?, Brooklyn Museum, April 18-August 10

@The Watershed by Kyle Abraham, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion at New York Live Arts, September 23-October 3. Set by Glenn Ligon, lighting by Dan Scully, sound by Sam Crawford and costumes by Karen Young

Justin Vivian Bond

@Love is Crazy by Justin Vivian Bond with Miguel Gutierrez at FIAF: Crossing the Line Festival, September 25

@Little Dot by Suzanne Bocanegra at Danspace Project, performance by New York Theatre Ballet, September 27

@g-h-o-s-t  c-r-o-w-n (working title) by RoseAnne Spradlin at New York Live Arts, performed by devynn emory, Natalie Green, Athena Malloy, Saul Ulerio, Rebecca Warner and Asli Bulbul; music by Jeffrey Young; sculpture and video by Glen Fogel; film by Bu Wancang, re-edited by Spradlin, October 8-11

@Court/Garden by Yanira Castro and a canary torsi creative team at Danspace Project; special mention costumes by Miodrag Guberinic; music by Stephan Moore; performances by Luke Miller and Simon Courchel, October 9-11

@Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 20-February 16, 2015

@Triple Consciousness: Body Rock: The Politics of Black Female Identity on "Stage," presented at Brooklyn Museum in co-sponsorship with 651 Arts and MAPP International Productions. Moderator: Toni Blackman. Panelists: Rev. Desiree Allen, Charlotte Braithwaite, Karma Mayet Johnson, Shannon Washington. Curator: Ebony Noelle Golden. October 18

@The Bessies 30th Anniversary at The Apollo Theater, October 20

@What Tammy Needs to Know About Getting Old and Having Sex, The Concert Tour by and starring Lois Weaver and a terrific cast of seniors at La MaMa, November 6-23

@Daria Fain in is as if alone, curated by RoseAnne Spradlin at DoublePlus, Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, November 12-15

@Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group)

Rakiya A. Orange in Aziza
(photo: Alex Escalante)

@Rakiya A. Orange in Aziza, curated by Miguel Gutierrez at DoublePlus, Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, November 19-22

@Black Violin at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, Brooklyn College, November 22

@October 7, 1944 by Jonah Bokaer at American Jewish Historical Society, Jewish Historical Center, October 7-December 30

@Rodney King by Roger Guenveur Smith with sound by Marc Anthony Thompson at BRIC House, December 3-7

@El gato con botas (Puss in Boots) by Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project with puppetry by Blind Summit Theatre at El Museo del Barrio, December 6-14

@WOW by Keely Garfield Dance at Danspace Project, December 11-13

@destabilizer by Abby Zbikowski, curated by Bebe Miller, performed by Fiona Lundie and Jennifer Meckley at DoublePlus, Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, December 10-13

@Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Museum of Modern Art, October 12-February 10, 2015

@Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, lead actors: David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, writer: Paul Webb, cinematographer: Bradford Young, opened New York City, December 25

Eva Yaa Asantewaa
(photo: D. Feller)

Okay, that's mine! What's yours?

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrate Kwanzaa at NYC's African Burial Ground

African Burial Ground National Monument
celebrates Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday observed from December 26 through January 1, which focuses on the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce and self improvement. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means, “first fruits” in Swahili.

    Friday, December 26

        10-10:30am: Libation ceremony and introduction

        10:30-12pm: Drum and dance performance by Fusha Dance

        12pm-1pm: West African drumming class by Cumbe Dance

        1-2:30pm: The Works of Langston Hughes: Dramatic performance by David Mills

        2:30-3:30pm: The Cultural Philosophy of Kwanzaa: Celebrating the Rich Cultural Roots of Americans of African Descent: Dr. Patricia Leonard

    Saturday, December 27

        11am-12:40pm: Film Screening of Tula: The Revolt
        1pm-2:40pm: Film Screening of Tula: The Revolt

All events and activities are free and open to the public but on a first come first serve basis. Schedule is subject to change, please see our website or Facebook page for up-to-date information.

For questions regarding our event please do not hesitate to contact us at or 212-238-4367.

African Burial Ground National Monument
290 Broadway, 1st Floor, Manhattan (directions)
(212) 238-4367

New York Times shows veteran music critic the door

A terrible mistake at the New York Times
by Norman Lebrecht, The New York Times, December 18, 2014

Irene Dalis, 89

Irene Dalis, Opera Singer and Company Founder, Dies at 89
by William Yardley, The New York Times, December 18, 2014

Virna Lisi, 78

Virna Lisi, Actress Who Rose in ’60s, Dies at 78
by Marc Santora, The New York Times, December 18, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DoublePlus ends first season: Maree ReMalia and Abby Zbikowski

This week, the DoublePlus series at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center wraps up its first season with works by Maree ReMalia | merrygogo and Abby Zbikowski. The two, both MFA grads from Ohio State University, were curated for DoublePlus by longtime OSU professor and award-winning choreographer Bebe Miller.

Fiona Lundie (left) and Jennifer Meckley
in Abby Zbikowski's destabilizer
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Zbikowski, now teaching at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), is showing her boisterous duet, destabilizer, a solid hunk of choreography. What starts off looking like a predictable gimmick--when Fiona Lundie and Jennifer Meckley show up with rolls of duct tape, you gotta figure where things are headed--turns into an explosive, deliriously creative tour de force. But it doesn't stop there. And it isn't just about two tough cookies, their punk-rock energy and prizefighter reflexes, which is as far as some less-interesting makers would have gotten. The work is surprisingly dance-y, not just athletic, and the excellent Lundie and Meckley are all over that. There's precision, rhythm, spring and sensuality in the bodies and the structure. And also, costume changes! For whatever reason! More Zbikowski, please--and soon.

Anna Thompson
in scenes from now is now by Maree ReMalia
(photos: Alex Escalante)

ReMalia (aka merrygogo), based now in DC, has a background in Gaga, the body-freeing technique created by Ohad Naharin. Her work, now is now, features Pittsburgh-based movement/sound art duo slowdanger (Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson) navigating sonic storms and small, crumpled heaps of plastic rain ponchos. As props and costuming, the ponchos offer nearly endless possibilities for a childlike, cartoonish imagination. But these are two very, very intense children and ones who never allow themselves to stay with any game long enough to get bored. You're advised to follow suit. Dip in where it suits you, pay attention to the now, and keep it moving.

ReMalia and Zbikowski's program continues tonight through Saturday. Performances start at 7:30pm. Friday's show will be followed by a Q&A with Bebe Miller and the choreographers. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis
Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

Poet Claudia Rankine: Uncovering violence in the day-to-day

Poet Claudia Rankine on the violent deaths of black men
by Mary Jo Brooks, PBS NewsHour, December 4, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"AUNTSforcamera" show opens at New Museum

Dance is an art of live bodies in charged space. If that space exists inside a machine, if the artist's delivery system is a screen, are the bodies in recorded time any less live to us, the space between us and them any less charged? Is the divide between viewer and do-er ever more distinct and unbridgeable? Is the work a discrete, permanent object, an owned commodity like anything else on display in a museum of visual art?

Test your responses to these questions at the New Museum, now through February 15, with AUNTSforcamera, an installation of dance-for-camera works created and filmed last September in a shared open-studio process at the museum.

The project, originally commissioned by Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum and TrouwAmsterdam, occupies transitional, non-gallery space, dispersed around various locations from lobby to stairway to Sky Room. A handy map helps you find your way. In the flexible and inviting AUNTS way, you're left on your own to make of this show what you will, choosing to go in order or mix things up, stay in front of one monitor for as long as you'd like or zip around, catching bits and pieces of the art in action.

Anya Liftig's A Very Something or Other might be a strategy for dealing, literally head-on, with her admitted discomfort in front of a camera. Her screen, set on a counter tucked into a tiny alcove, frames an extreme closeup of her face, in florid color, and the continual contortions of her facial muscles. A chair beckons a single viewer to sit close to Liftig's screen--the best way to get that alchemical charge, I'd say--although you can certainly stand in the space or even linger at the door as a few visitors did.

Saturated color in Cara Francis's REMOTE might signify human individuality, but images of blindfolded bodies and depersonalizing AR drone aerial shots, jerky framing and limbs detached by editing pull things in a completely opposite direction. An interesting and ominous tension.

The member of Collective Statement (Felicia Ballos, Jean Brennan and T. Charnan Lewis) solve the logistical challenge of not all being available at the same time by using the "exquisite corpse" technique. Their dance, drawing a line with my body straight to you, plays out in supple imagery over a stack of three monitors, one for each section of the human body--head, torso, legs. Each body section has costuming, props and activity all its own. Yes, in this patchwork world, it's possible to blow up a beach ball and nurse a child at the same time.

Other works on show:

#auntsforcamera (Karl Scholz)

Level Up: The Real Harlem Shake (Salome Asega, Chrybaby Cozie, Ali Rosa-Salas) Note: Accessible only on Saturday and Sundays.

Dancing the Edits (Vanessa Justice)

Primary Source (video): AUNTS at the New Museum 2012, 2014 (Gillian Walsh)

Star Crap Method via Lens (Larissa Velez-Jackson)


#trouwforcamera, #newmuseumforcamera (Karl Scholz)

AUNTSforcamera runs through February 15. Click here for hours and other visitor information.

For more on AUNTS, click here.

The New Museum
235 Bowery (one block south of Houston Street), Manhattan

Cumbe's on the move: Celebrate on January 31

Brooklyn's three-year old Cumbe: Center for African and Diasporan Dance has been forced out of its Fulton Street home, the building sold to make way for a residential tower. The directors are seeking interim space for classes. (Ideas? Click here.) In the meantime, you're invited to join the Cumbe community for a night of dancing and music including a live performance by Brown Rice Family band and mini-dance classes with the center's teachers.

The Moving Party
Saturday, January 31st, 9pm

Admission: $10-$20 sliding scale
Founded by Dominique Bravo, Pat Hall, and Jimena Martinez, Cumbe is the new home for African and diaspora dance in Brooklyn, bringing together classes and cultural education for dances from Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean. At Cumbe, young people, adults, and families alike immerse themselves in the joy and vitality of music and dance from the African diaspora.

Through a rich array of classes and dynamic teachers, students from novice to the experienced learn the rhythms and movements of Senegal, Guinea, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and a broad range of other cultures. Performances, talks, and dance parties encourage a deeper understanding of the origins, meaning and evolution of these many dances, as well as connections between them. 
Marking life moments big and small, joyous and fierce, dances from Africa and countries nourished and inspired by African traditions bring tremendous spirit to our modern lives. Through dance and music, Cumbe creates a community that celebrates exuberance, sensuality, power, and laughter! We look forward to supporting this community as we continue to offer a selection of classes in various locations through Brooklyn while we search for our new home. After three wonderful years of African and diaspora dance, we invite you to keep moving with us!
For further information on Cumbe, the move and The Moving Party, click here.

558 Fulton Street, 2nd Floor (near Flatbush Avenue), Brooklyn

Anusha Kedhar: The body in protest

Choreography and Gesture Play an Important Role in Protests
by Anusha Kedhar, The New York Times, December 15, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Free Artist Services Day at BAX, February 15

Artist Services Day
Dance artist Nia Love performs at BAX.
(photo: Iquo B. Essien)
Eva Yaa Asantewaa will facilitate
Words on the Move, helping artists
write better about themselves and their work.
(photo: D. Feller)

I'm excited to present Words on the Move, a workshop on writing for artists, as part of BAX's second annual Artist Services Day, Sunday, February 15.
Words on the Move
What challenges and opportunities do you face when you write about yourself? Your artistic mission? Your body of work or new projects? Bring one brief sample (~250-300 words) of this writing. We will share a freewriting exercise and explore a few of your samples, building strategies for effective, satisfying expression.
Artist Services Day at BAX is free and open to the public. Please join us!

For a complete schedule of workshops and facilitator bios, click here.

CHILDCARE IS AVAILABLE (free) by reservation one week in advance for participating adults. Please email

Artist Services Day workshops are sponsored through the underwriting and generous contributions of the Scott Klein Team at Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Pop-up pas de deux

Metropolitan Diary: Free Ballet at Columbus Circle
by Jules Cohn, The New York Times, December 14, 2014

Maria Bauman says: Come together to grieve and breathe.

photo by Whitney Browne
graphic design by Ashley Phillips

Dance artist, educator and activist Maria Bauman has created an event to support us in self- and community-care as we struggle in the movement for a just society. Please join us on the afternoon of December 31, 1-4pm, for Grieve & Breathe (followed by Solidarity Write-in) at Downtown Art. This is a free event. 

Bauman writes:
Just as pressuring our systems and institutions is key, our self-care and community-care must be part of this movement for justice and liberation. MBDance is offering an afternoon self- and community-care on December 31: 
1:00-2:00 MBDance starts the afternoon with a community-care circle of venting and discussion. The collective stress of navigating oppression and of holding grief creates high levels of cortisol in our bodies and can have us act out in ways that are unhealthy for ourselves and for our communities. We will take dedicated time to talk through our anger, sadness, action, and inaction around the two non-indictments and their larger context. A social worker who has a race analysis will be present to offer resources to anyone who feels he/she/they needs more than the community circle may be able to offer that day.
2:00-3:00 Then we will relieve tension, safely ease and lengthen our muscles, release stashed energy in the body, and take in the caring energy of the group through Partner Stretch & Tension Release. This is free of charge, all gender-inclusive, gender presentation-inclusive, age-inclusive, and body positive; people of all body types and levels of experience are welcome.
3:00-4:00 Afterward, we focus on community care by writing letters of condolence, support, and solidarity to Eric Garner's family: Mrs. Esaw Garner, five children, and three grandchildren. We have been in touch with Emerald Garner, one of the (adult) children; she has provided a mailing address for this purpose and the family welcomes this communication. Families can bring children to this last hour of the afternoon, as well. Crayons and paper will be provided in case children want to draw pictures to send to the Garner family, and MBDance will also provide letter-writing materials including addressed envelopes and stamps.
For updates and further information on Grieve & Breathe (followed by Solidarity Write-In), visit the event page on Facebook. Click here.

Downtown Art
61 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery), Manhattan

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Report details drop in corporate giving for dance

The most telling thing about this article in Crain's New York Business might be that, since being published a few days ago, it has received no comments.

Support for dance companies takes a tumble
Corporate donations that help sustain dance companies in the city have dropped precipitously.
by Theresa Agovino, Crain's New York Business, December 10, 2014

Read Dance/NYC 's complete report,
State of NYC Dance and Corporate Giving,

Museums and data-mining

When the Art Is Watching You
Museums are mining detailed information from visitors, raising questions about the use of Big Data in the arts
by Ellen Gamerman, The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Like, "WOW": Keely Garfield at Danspace Project

photo: Keely Garfield
In beginning to make WOW, I started thinking about what it would be like to make something that was entirely sincere without a hint of irony or trying to be clever.

--Keely Garfield 
Keely Garfield's WOW is a luminous mess that makes me smile, and I mean that sincerely. WOW encircles the music of Kate Bush, whose song "Wow," ironically, seems to lash at the insincerity of the entertainment biz.

The hour-long production, running now at Danspace Project, is an act of disruption, an unmasking with occasional masks, a mouthful of Pop Rocks, a baptismal immersion in feelings that continuously build, ebb and build again. Theatricalized for performances that, after all, will happen over three evenings, these feelings nevertheless appear to originate in and take their sustenance from someplace real.

WOW's a trip down the sub(terranean)way where public announcements end up not being what they seem at first. The edge comes off. These are not quite the expected MTA alerts any typical New Yorker could repeat out of a deep sleep, but dreams could produce the disarming little things Garfield turns them into.

A dancer (Leslie Kraus) pulls up a chair and locks with you, eye to eye, allowing all the sun to come through her face, and she cracks up, unable to hold anything back. A duet happens but with Garfield and Paul Hamilton endlessly writhing, wriggling their backs against the floor, and you might wonder where you, the baffled viewer, are located. Physically, you've retained your seat, surely, but has your vantage point somehow shifted to the air above this pair? No, that doesn't quite feel right either. Let's ask again: Where are you?

Big gestures and energies come unleashed; hills are run and conquered by desire. You're in the presence of a playful, exuberant mind, like that Facebook poster, "a browser with 2,857 tabs open. All. The. Time." Garfield's thousands of tabs include her collaborators, among them Brandin Steffensen, Jordan Morley, Hamilton and Kraus, each dancer a resource so wonderfully distinct and fascinating; singer/pianist Matthew Brookshire; and Kathy Kaufmann, whose lighting wizardry transforms the gaping openness of St. Mark's into the intensified dramatics of a proscenium.

WOW closes with tonight's performance at 8pm. Get information and tickets here.

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ann Marcus, 93

Ann Marcus, Writer for ‘Mary Hartman,’ Dies at 93
by Daniel E. Slotnik, The New York Times, December 11, 2014

Esoterico Collective open house supports social justice

A number of my good friends and Tarot students from the arts community are involved in this effort to support the new anti-racism movement for social justice. Please read the following notice, and give your consideration to joining this timely effort.




Esoterico Collective Open House

Saturday, December 20, 1-5pm

Esoterico Collective
67 West Street (4th Floor, Suite 402), Brooklyn

Book your session: 

The Esoterico Collective stands in solidarity with the families of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Duanna Johnson, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice and too many others whose lives have been cut short and impacted by police brutality. This open house event will take place on the Saturday just before the Winter Solstice, raising much needed monetary support for organizations doing work around issues of anti-Black racism and anti-police repression.

We will be offering our services as healers and intuitive counselors to all who seek it out. We are asking for donations of $25 and up for each 20 minute session. The services we will provide include Tarot, Reiki, Ayurvedic Consultation and I Ching readings (other modalities TBA). 100% of proceeds from those who book in advance (prior to December 18th) will be donated to Healing Justice For Black Lives Matter ( and Equality for Flatbush : E4F

Book a session with iele paloumpis, Bobby Abate, Jasmine Spacher, Regina Rocke or Robyn Olds (other member offerings TBA) @ 

You will receive an email with information on how to donate to the causes above.

Generally speaking our open houses are intended to help Esoterico keep its doors open, so we will be accepting separate donations for the space on December 20th as well.

There are many ways to contribute to this movement - healing justice, self and community care are all vital components toward movement building. Our services will be free to organizers who need to take time to self reflect so that their work can sustainably continue, contact Our intention is to help create more space for healing to happen.

We are sending energy to the protesters out in the streets and activists organizing against state violence, moving us toward racial justice and all forms of social change. We hope that you will add your energy and voices in whatever ways you can. We hope we can support you on your path toward self reflection and healing in this time when community care is so needed.

Michel du Cille, 58

Washington Post Photographer, Michel du Cille, Dies in Liberia
by Ashley Southall, The New York Times, December 11, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DoublePlus: new works by Anna Azrieli and Stuart Shugg at Gibney

Choreographer Stuart Shugg dances in Dear Washing Machine, Long Night
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Making work for the new DoublePlus series (Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center), choreographers contend with distinctive features of the theater space, including two stands of columns and a mirrored wall. My sense of this environment, its challenges and opportunities, has grown--largely on a subliminal level, I think--as I've attended these artist-curated programs over several weeks. But last night, as I watched ensemble works by Stuart Shugg and Anna Azrieli (curated by Jon Kinzel), it really hit me.

It's fascinating how both of these artists put themselves and their fellow dancers into the space, taking up strategies that previous choreographers have used and discovering their own approach.

That mirrored wall, for instance, could be avoided and even covered, I suppose, but DoublePlus choreographers often seem drawn to it. Columns can temporarily hide things from view. They can also suggest handy subdivisions in what what would be, for a piece with one or a few dancers, a fairly roomy play area. You can stash one or more dancers in one spot and force viewers to shift attention between that place and something happening elsewhere, making us work to piece together a relationship between the two or abandon all hope of finding one. Or you can even make the audience look beyond the space itself. For instance, while choreographer Audrey Hailes (showing Death Made Love to My Feet in an earlier DoubePlus program) danced alone in the center of the theater, a door opened onto a partial view of two dancers in a brightly-lit dressing room. We could only wonder what they were doing (playing cards, I think, and later, applying makeup) and why Hailes wanted us to be aware of their presence.

Shugg's Dear Washing Machine, Long Night
above: Hadar Ahuvia, front, with Shugg and TJ Spaur
below: Spaur, left, and Shugg
(photos: Alex Escalante)

I mostly liked Shugg's Dear Washing Machine, Long Night for qualities of springiness and momentum where one thing leads to another--a tilt, a swing, a toss of the arm, an easy communication that doesn't have to mean anything other than the flow of a body's internal messages continuously sent and agreeably received and acted upon. It pleased me to watch how Shugg and Hadar Ahuvia and TJ Spaur move. Shugg acknowledges the columns, seems to have made peace with them. His dancers touch, slide down or push away from them with gentleness. The columns could be partners, or wished-for partners, in the dance, and they lend an unobtrusive structure to something soft and evanescent.

Anna Azrieli's Averaging
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Like some other DoublePlus artists, Azrieli sends some of her dancers in Averaging to wash right up against the front row of the audience. Like the mirrored wall, the Gibney audience's edge seems irresistible to artists. And why not? We're right there on your level, dancers. Make us feel something. Even, as with Averaging, a touch of seasickness.

But pretty much everything about Averaging feels organic yet odd and out of place in the space, bearing a hint of transgression. With her fellow dancers Talya Epstein, Evvie Allison, Megan Kendzior and Katy Telfer, Azrieli has created an environment of endless shifting, incremental change, that appears to reference how things in nature make their way over surfaces. Undulating, sidling, crawling, rocking, wriggling, flopping, splaying and sloshing while sometimes humming, sighing or moaning. Plainly, it's not so much about the feet or us two-leggeds.

One focal image, though, comes from the decidedly two-legged world of ballet--the arabesque penché, a step where the dancer stands on one leg, tilting the torso forward while raising the other leg in a high, backward lift. There's a lovely serenity about an arabesque penché and a deliberately soporific serenity about its serial deployment here in Averaging, isolated from a typical ballet sequence. According to the work's description, Averaging engages with "the inevitability of being average" and a certain "mediocrity" and "vulnerability," Azrieli sees in the arabesque penché. There's also a lengthy, repeated bit of business drinking glasses of water and making like water dispensers that, to be frank, got on my nerves.

Kinzel's program is the next to the last DoublePlus presentation of this interesting premiere season; next week, curator Bebe Miller presents works by Maree ReMalia and Abby Zbikowski. On Wednesday, December 17, come early (6:45) for a pre-show Q&A with Miller.

Azrieli and Shugg continue tonight through Saturday with performances at 7:30pm. Friday's show will be followed by a Q&A with Jon Kinzel and the choreographers. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis
Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

Jane Freilicher, 90

Jane Freilicher, 90, a Lyrical Painter of Long Island Landscapes, Is Dead
by William Grimes, The New York Times, December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Gotham Chamber Opera's "El gato con botas (Puss in Boots)"

Now here's a poor cat in a whole lotta trouble--and sans boots. But just you wait!
(photo: Richard Termine)

Are you tired of Nutcrackers? Want something a little different this season?

Then head to El Museo del Barrio where Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project bring the fun with their opera/puppet show production of composer Xavier Montsalvatge's El gato con botas (Puss in Boots), directed by Moisés Kaufman and conducted by Neal Goren.

Yes, fairy tale fun for all ages. I'm sure the adults among you will have more nightmares from staring at the looming, lurching Ogre (the excellent bass Kevin Burdette) than will the little kiddies.

The Ogre in his dark castle
(photo: Richard Termine)

What you'll have to watch for with the kids is that they, like you, will fall in love with the desperate, wily Cat and take away the lesson that lying is an acceptable practice. Oh, wait. They've already learned that from the news.

Hmmm. The wiliness of this cat might be no match for the survival instincts of these rabbits.
(photo: Richard Termine)

A poor miller (baritone Craig Verm) receives an inheritance. Hooray? Not quite.

It's not riches. It's a big-eyed orange tabby (voiced last night by the supple mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain), scrawny, trembling, weeping at the man's swift rejection. But this is one determined cat. Facing sure death, kitty brainstorms an elaborate plan to bring good fortune--and the love of a good woman--into the life of this simple (and clearly not PETA-friendly) fellow.

The cat knows a thing or two about gullibility and works it, and the forces of nature, to amazing effect. Along the way, we get to enjoy some deliriously amusing Bunraku puppetry by London's Blind Summit Theatre and choreography by Seán Curran.

As it turns out, so many lives are saved--and changed--by the actions of one feline who would not take no for an answer. Sure, take your kids. That's a damn good lesson.

El gato con botas continues through this weekend on the following schedule:

Thursday, December 11, 7pm
Friday, December 12, 7pm
Saturday, December 13, 2pm
Saturday, December 13, 7pm
Sunday, December 14, 2pm

For more information and tickets, click here.

El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue (between 104th and 105th Streets), Manhattan

Juan Flores, 71

Juan Flores, a Scholar of Puerto Rican Culture in New York, Dies at 71
by Paul Vitello, The New York Times, December 9, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lisa Jarnot, Claudia Rankine to read, Poetry Project

The Poetry Project

Lisa Jarnot and Claudia Rankine

December 17, 8pm

Lisa Jarnot is the author of six collections of poetry and a biography of the poet Robert Duncan (The Ambassador from Venus, 2012, University of California Press). She lives in Jackson Heights, Queens with her husband and daughter and works as a freelance gardener.

Claudia Rankine is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Citizen, which was realeased by Graywolf in October 2014 and has since been nominated for a National Book Award. Rankine currently teaches at Pomona College.

Facebook event page

The Poetry Project
131 East 10th Street (off Second Avenue), Manhattan

Dance Magazine Awards 2014: Meet the Winners

2014 Dance Magazine Awards 

Misty Copeland (American Ballet Theater)
presented by
Raven Wilkinson

Larissa Saveliev (Youth America Grand Prix)
presented by
Susan Jaffe

Luigi (jazz master)
presented by
Liza Minnelli

Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag (American Tap Dance Foundation)
presented by
Constance Valis Hill

Wayne McGregor (independent choreographer)
presented by
Jedediah Wheeler


Last evening at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, as this year's Dance Magazine Awards were handed out, speaker after speaker voiced concerns and hopes for the future of the great art of dance. From those stalwart tap masters and advocates Brenda Bufalino and Tony Waag to ballerina Raven Wilkinson who, in the 1950s, broke the color line with a contract for full-time employment at Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, nearly everyone spoke of how far dance had come and the role of Dance Magazine as its supporter. Before presenting an award to choreographer Wayne McGregorJedediah Wheeler, Executive Director for Arts and Cultural Programming at Montclair State University, made brief note of the significance of dance writers and the media in general in connecting artists to audiences. 

"I don't want to bring the energy down, but I feel we have a bit of a crisis going on," Wheeler began while avoiding putting a name on that crisis. A little later, he lauded Dance Magazine for being "indispensable to our community." 

I wondered how a publication that had eliminated dance reviews could be considered "indispensable" to this field. Also, in light of the recent blowup around The New Republic, I wondered how any media outlet today could justify what, from the looks of the staff members proudly rising to identify themselves, is an all-white editorial team. Moreover, from my vantage point, it was impossible to miss one stark difference between the Dance Magazine ceremony and the Bessies, held now at The Apollo Theater. At the Bessie Awards, the audience's diversity in race, age and dance genre--especially in the Bessies' recent comeback years under Lucy Sexton--is thrilling and heartening. That, my friends, is the future of dance, the future of its makers, its movers, its shakers, its fans.

Dance Magazine's evening featured five presentations interspersed with performances, including La Mort d'Ophéliea commissioned duet by American Ballet Theater's Marcelo Gomes for Sarah Lane with Sterling Baca as her inexpressive but efficient handler; an excerpt from American Tap Dance Orchestra's All Blues/Tacit/Latin that swiftly whipped up intricate and frisky charm when Bufalino and Waag got out of the way and left wonderful Felipe Galganni and Lynn Schwab to their own devices; a duet from McGregor's Chroma performed by Ailey dancers Akua Noni Parker and Jeroboam Bozeman. Copeland selected Gomes's Toccare (2012) to dance with the excellent Alexandre Hammoudi, and we could not have wished for a more alive and bracing performance from this pair. When Wilkinson later declared that the ballerina, with her mission to promote racial diversity in the ballet world, was one reason "ballet will not become dry on a musty vine," one could see that, yes, her point had much to do with race but not everything to do with race.

Overall, the presenters tended to ramble. In the future, can everyone take a tip from Liza with-a-z Minnelli, presenting via audio to the also-absent Luigi, and just declare their respect and affection in 100 words or less? Here's Liza, quickly wrapping up her already brief remarks to Luigi: "I think of you, I get up and do the damn exercises, and I'm fine. I think of you and love you more than anybody knows!"

I get up and do the damn exercises, and I'm fine. Seriously, what more do you need? That's even Twitter-ready. But, honestly, I could listen all day to Susan Jaffe talk about her friend Larissa Saveliev ("the quintessential entrepreneur CEO of the ballet world"), and Saveliev talk about herself and her path towards creating the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition. Both have a great sense of self and humor, and their stories are delightfully entertaining and inspiring ones.


2014 Dance Magazine Award Committee Members

Joseph Carman (author, Round About the Ballet)
Amy Cogan (Senior VP, Publisher, DanceMedia)
Karen Hildebrand (VP, Editorial, DanceMedia)
Susan Jaffe (Dean of Dance, University of North Carolina School of the Arts)
Wendy Perron (Editor at Large, Dance Magazine; author, Through the Eyes of a Dancer)
Charles Reinhart (Director Emeritus, American Dance Festival)

Learn more about the 2014 Dance Magazine Award winners here.

Alla Sizova, 75

Alla Sizova, Star Kirov Ballerina, Dies at 75
by Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times, December 8, 2014

Laveen Naidu resigning Dance Theater of Harlem directorship

Dance Theater of Harlem’s Executive Director to Step Down
by Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, December 8, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wynn Chamberlain, 87

Wynn Chamberlain, an Artist in Paint, on Screen and in Novels, Dies at 87
by Bruce Weber, The New York Times, December 6, 2014

Galapagos Arts Space to relocate to Detroit

Born in Brooklyn, Now Making a Motown Move
Galapagos Art Space Will Make Detroit Its Home
by Colin Moynihan, The New York Times, December 7, 2014

New book pays tribute to feminist author Merlin Stone

Cover of Merlin Stone's When God Was A Woman (1976),
a formative work of the Women's Spirituality movement

Merlin Stone Remembered: Her Life and Works
by David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, Lenny Schneir and Merlin Stone
(Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., 2014; 384 pages)
ISBN: 9780738740911

reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody
also posted to hummingwitch

Merlin Stone's research into ancient Goddess civilizations and spiritual beliefs (as author of When God Was A Woman and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood) and her prodigious creativity on the feminist scene of the 1970s and '80s, touched the lives of many women and our male allies. When I was a producer and host at WBAI, New York's Pacifica radio station, I interviewed Stone (World Watch: Goddess at Dawn, May 1988) and, in 1990, had the honor of speaking on a panel with her, Spiderwoman Theater's Gloria Miguel and other feminists working in non-mainstream spiritual traditions and the arts. Later, Stone invited me to assist with a new audio project. We began to meet, but our work was interrupted and never completed. In declining health, she passed in the winter of 2011.

We're now at a time when young women often distance themselves from the feminist label; when the public discourse, even among feminist activists, relegates spirituality to oblivion; and when the religious dictates of patriarchy demonstrate their disastrous effects on a civic and global level. I was excited to learn that Llewellyn Worldwide planned to bring out a book on Merlin Stone's life and contributions. Surely, Stone would speak to our condition once again, offering alternative perspectives and motivation.

Merlin Stone Remembered--a rough patchwork assembled by admiring colleagues and family members--is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the book I'd hoped to read. Ideally, that book might be researched and written by an independent scholar, not a committee intent on unnecessarily and redundantly pleading The Case for Merlin Stone's Greatness. It would offer both a deep, detailed, coherent, reasonably objective portrait of this unusual and unusually determined woman, born Marilyn Claire Jacobson in Brooklyn in 1931. It might give us an engaging account of her many travels throughout the Mediterranean and Near East, to the extent that adequate documentation exists, and a professional assessment of her life's work. At least the introduction by noted ecofeminist Dr. Gloria F. Orenstein takes pains to put Stone in the context of other pioneering, if often controversial, authors such as Helen Diner, Monica Sjoo, and Marija Gimbutas.

The book's collaborators take a preemptive tack, defending their inclusion of a memoir by Stone's companion, Leonard ("Lenny") Schneir. A professional poker player and dealer in gambling memorabilia, Schneir lived with Stone for decades, seeing her through her final illness and death. By all accounts, the relationship was a happy one and, for Schneir, instructive and transforming. Apparently, though, the book team ran into some unidentified women's objections to the idea of Schneir adding his story to Merlin Stone Remembered.

I would never take issue with Schneir having a say here merely because he is male. But I suspect that you, like me, might find yourself hurrying through the lengthy, at times self-indulgent narrative about his journey before and with Stone--and, definitely, you will want to move past the poems. Greater care should have been taken with the overall structure and balance of this book.

Schneir's participation is not the book's only flaw, merely one out of many. Throwing together excerpts from Stone's interviews, bits of her published and (perhaps, justifiably) unpublished work, and repetitive essays like David B. Axelrod's "reflection on the poetic genius of Merlin Stone" and another by Schneir with Axelrod, entitled "The Importance of Merlin Stone" argues that this is a case of opportunities not only missed but willfully refused.

Instead of illuminating substance, we get filler: Stone's honorary doctorate certificate from The California Institute of Integral Studies, her birth certificate, pages of photos not selected to add anything to our understanding of the woman. One section reproduces numerous examples of fan mail from her readers, but I doubt that, even in the Internet Age, this author needs Yelp-style testimonials. What follows these letters? Another essay: this time, "The Legacy of Merlin Stone."

Here's how I want to remember Stone: as the woman who, in a talk with Michael Toms, subtly noted a difference between "planetary consciousness" and "planetary conscience." As a white woman troubled by racism, an observer of psyches and societies who saw fear at the root of repression. As a writer, sometimes pedagogic in tone but broadminded in her vision of feminism and of spirituality. A writer whose informed, complex, inspiring work was everything this book is not.

Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody
also posted to hummingwitch

Saturday, December 6, 2014

How's that Ailey troupe looking?

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
performing Ronald K. Brown's Four Corners
(photo: Paul Kolnik)

Holiday time has come again. As we ask each year, then, how's the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater looking?

Looking good! That is not news. That is pretty much what they do.

I have no news for you in this post.

And I really won't be able to tell you much about the 2014 New York City Center season, because I'm making only one dip into it, and that happened last night in the company of loyal fans of America's cherished dance ambassadors to the world.

Antonio Douthit-Boyd
in Ulysses Dove's Bad Blood
(photo: Steve Wilson)

The troupe performed Bad Blood (Ulysses Dove, 1984), Four Corners (Ronald K. Brown, 2013) and After the Rain (Christopher Wheeldon, 2005), capping the evening off with Ailey's Revelations (1960). I wouldn't call this slate a program of radical experimentation or risk on the part of Robert Battle. I'd say it maintains the status of Ailey as filled with expertly sculpted performers whose bodies are the point and the meaning behind whole stretches of movement of any kind in any season. Give Ailey audiences this beauty, this technical facility, this passionate physicality to behold, and the job is done. We go to kick back and drink in these marvelous stars and stars-in-waiting, maybe to feel a little better about the potential of the human race, and they give us their all.

This is not all I look for in an experience of dance. Far from it. But it's not nothing either. It is what it is.

Ailey dancers in Four Corners
above: Belen Pereyra
below: Kervin Douthit-Boyd

Last night's marquee item might have been the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain, danced by Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims. Anything coming from the world of ballet has a certain built-in sheen to it, and this is Wheeldon, after all. Safe choice. But, for me, Brown's Four Corners was the evening's knockout. The piece stirs Brown's eclectic (and perennial) movement elements and embodied spirituality to silky perfection. And look at its primary inspiration--a song by poet Carl Hancock Rux with grief for the fallen, angels seeking to bestoy healing peace and a ringing exhortation to the people:

Yours is simply this
Command and stand up
You are beautiful
And lovely
Beautiful and lovely

In this time of pain and despair, could there really be anything more in the spirit of Ailey?

an excerpt from Four Corners

The 2014 Ailey season at New York City Center continues through January 4. For schedule and ticket information, click here.

Claudia Emerson, 57

Claudia Emerson, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies at 57
by Douglas Martin, The New York Times, December 5, 2014

Arthur Leipzig, 96

Arthur Leipzig, a Photographer Inspired by Everyday Life in New York, Dies at 96
by William Yardley, The New York Times, December 5, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Open Season: conversation on the arts and urban justice

Open Season

An Evening of Art and Conversation 
about our Culture of Confinement

Wednesday, Dec 10, 6pm

at Urban Justice Center Human Rights Project


•Dr. William Jelani Cobb, UConn Professor and New Yorker contributor
•Bryonn Bain, Poet and New York University Professor
•Esther Armah, MSNBC Contributor
•Taneya Gethers-Muhammed, Brooklyn Public Library
•Lumumba Bandele, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
•Paloma McGregor, Dancer and Choreographer

•Moderator: Shani Jamila, Artist and Human Rights Project Director

Dance performances curated with Dancing While Black

Soundscape by DJ Jahsonic

Community partners include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, NYU’s Prison Education Program, Angela’s Pulse and Articulations. Additional support is being provided by The Studio Museum of Harlem.

This event is open to all.  A $15 donation is suggested, but no one will be turned away for a lack of funds. Please register below, a ticket is required.

To RSVP, please click here and fill out the form at the base of the page.


Urban Justice Center Human Rights Project
40 Rector Street (at West Street), Manhattan

Roger Guenveur Smith brings "Rodney King" to BRIC

Portraits of Roger Guenveur Smith in Rodney King
(all photos by Patti McGuir)

When I reserved my ticket to review Rodney King--Roger Guenveur Smith's solo performance in its new run at BRIC House--I had no way to know that the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions would land a one-two punch and knock the breath out of least, people of conscience. And send the bewildered and outraged into the streets. And put some of us suddenly at odds with friends whose hearts and minds we thought we knew.

The show, which first opened in Los Angeles in 2012 and had its New York premiere at the 2013 Under The Radar Festival, lasts just one hour. Trust me, you do not have the fortitude for anything more, for Smith lands blows of his own in this panoramic view of the interlocked tragedies of one Black man and one nation.

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King, a construction worker, was driving with two drinking buddies on a Los Angeles freeway. LAPD cops spotted his speeding white Hyundai and chased it for mile after mile, with more patrol cars and a helicopter joining the pursuit. King's car was eventually trapped on a residential street and all three men ordered out and brutalized by a swarm of cops. King suffered extensive injuries, including brain damage. Despite videotaped evidence of excessive force, a Simi Valley jury--before whom King was never allowed to testify--acquitted his assailants, leading to massive riots throughout LA and incidents of violent retribution.

Rodney King opens with a slurry stew of sounds, designed by Smith's longtime collaborator, Mark Anthony Thompson, from televised news crossed with a musical loop of famous words from a speech he delivered to tamp the unrest: "Can't we all get along?" It becomes an earworm you can't will away. The audience, anticipating Smith, listens and listens as the space, darkened except for a corded microphone lying on the floor inside a large white square of light, remains empty. That white light gradually blooms into the aqua of a swimming pool, like the pool where King, son of an alcoholic who drowned in a bathtub, met his own accidental end.

"Fuck you, Rodney King! You're a goddamn sellout!"

And it begins. Not a monologue so much as a votive offering of Smith's entire body--through fluid, powerful movement, through voice--to a heady, seamless, rhythmic poetry of storytelling with never a wasted gesture or moment.

"You were viral before viral was viral," Smith says, addressing his subject. "Everyone recording you and fastforwarding you." King's ordeal became "the first reality tv show." Smith imagines King watching the televised infernos ("This is for you, Rodney King!"), knocking back brandy to medicate the pain of witness, pulling on a non-threatening Cosby/Huxtable sweater to make a speech to help restore that strange state of "calm" the authorities tell us to respond with when insane things are done to us.

It is a tale tailor-made for a nation obsessed with media and multimedia. But, aside from Thompson's sonic bracketing, Smith has chosen simplicity of form to house complexities and contrasts, letting the supple partnership of voice and body be his channel. Every texture of Smith's narrative is set out in vivid tones, from King's giddy pleasure of surfing a wave to the explosive crack of a baton on facial bones. Smith's words and phrases tumble, pause, swirl, recede, loop around and reappear. Within the confines of his square of light, he conjures energies, impressions, facts, memories.

Smith, aptly, calls his method "jazz acting, where there's a head and a riff, and you come back to the head." (In the post-show Q&A, he also answered an admiring dancer's question by citing his intensive study of dance "in the Cornelius School. Don Cornelius. Every Saturday.") This is an important performance for this very moment--and beyond--but your chances to see it now are few. Rodney King continues only through Sunday on the following schedule: tonight at 7:30pm, Saturday at 7:30pm and 9:30pm, and Sunday at 4:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Smith greets his audience
after performing Rodney King at BRIC.
The actor also sat for a Q&A with writer Nelson George.
(photo by Eva Yaa Asantewaa)
Roger Guenveur Smith adapted his Obie Award-winning solo performance of A Huey P. Newton Story into a Peabody Award-winning telefilm. His history-driven work also includes Frederick Douglass NowWho Killed Bob Marley?Juan And JohnChristopher Columbus 1992The Watts Towers ProjectIn Honor of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and, with Mark Broyard, the award-winning Inside The Creole Mafia. For Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, Smith created the stuttering hero Smiley. His astonishing range of film credits also includes Malcolm XHe Got GameGet On The BusEve's BayouAll About The BenjaminsHamletDeep Cover and American Gangster, for which he was nominated for the Screen Actors' Guild Award. He starred in the HBO series K StreetOz, and Unchained Memories: Readings From The Slave Narratives.
BRIC House
647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

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