Saturday, December 30, 2017

InfiniteBody Honor Roll 2017

Eva Yaa Asantewaa
InfiniteBody Honor Roll 2017





@APAP presentations of Pavel Zuštiak's Bastard (The Painted Bird: Part 1) and Custodians of Beauty--the latter, part of the PS 122's COIL festival--by Pavel Zuštiak/Palissimo at La MaMa, January 4-8

@APAP presentation of Dana Michel's Mercurial George, American Realness festival at Abrons Arts Center, January 5-10

@Artists Stand with Standing Rock, presented by ACRE PISAB at Downtown Art, January 21

@The Tempest by Donmar Warehouse at St. Ann's Warehouse, January 13-February 19

@Alive & Kicking (film), directed by Susan Glatzer (Magnolia Pictures), Dance on Camera Festival, February 3-7

@Last Work by Ohad Naharin, Batsheva Dance Company at BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, February 1-4

@to make ready again by Marguerite Hemmings at JACK, February 2-3

@I Am Not Your Negro (film), directed by Raoul Peck, released February 3

@What Remains (work-in-progress showing) by Will Rawls at BRIC, February 10-11

@Works & Process Rotunda Project: Michelle Dorrance with Nicholas Van Young at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, February 16

@This Ain’t A Eulogy: A Ritual for Re-Membering (film), directed by Taja Lindley, premiered February 16

@National Museum of African American History & Culture, visited February 24

@Loving (film; released 2016), directed by Jeff Nichols

Daniel Kuluuya and Allison Williams
in Jordan Peele's Get Out

@Get Out (film), directed by Jordan Peele, release date February 24

@Our Configurations, featuring works by AXIS Dance Company, Marc Brew, Kinetic Light and Marissa Perel, at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, March 4


Eiko Otake in residence at Cathedral of St. John the Divine
(photo: William Johnston)

@Remembering Fukushima: Art and Conversations in the Cathedral, conceived and directed by Eiko Otake and presented in partnership with the Asia Society and Danspace Project, March 11

Aynsley Vandenbroucke performs And
(photo: Ian Douglas)

@And by Aynsley Vandenbroucke at Abrons Arts Center, March 30-April 2

@Homecoming Queens, featuring work by The Dauphine of Bushwick, Haus of Umpteen Corpses, Kalandra Bankhead, K.James, lady bedbug, Ragamuffin and Vic Sin at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, April 5

@Good Mud by Lily Gold at Danspace Project, April 6-8

@Album, a work-in-progress showing by Mariana Valencia at BAX, April 7-8

@Bertha, a work-in-progress showing by Tara Aisha Willis, featuring sound design by Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste at Danspace Project, April 8

@Liveyard, a work-in-progress showing by Candace Thompson at Danspace Project, April 8

@an exercise in getting well soon, a work-in-progress showing by NIC Kay at Movement Research at the Judson Church, April 10

@Unwanted, a work-in-progress showing by Dorothée Munyanez with Holland Andrews at Baryshnikov Arts Center, April 13

@It's All True/Grandfather, a work-in-progress showing by Muna Tseng at Baryshnikov Arts Center, April 13

@Abandoned playground by Abby Z and the New Utility at Abrons Arts Center, April 13-15

@gl(host):lostatsea by Nia Love in "studies in living otherwise" at Theater for the New City, April 14-16


Renée Fleming and Elina Garanča
in Der Rosenkavalier
(photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera)

@Renée Fleming and Elina Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier, The Metropolitan Opera, April 17

@Poor People's TV Room by Okwui Okpokwasili at New York Live Arts, April 19-22, 26-29

@Nearly Sighted by Kayla Hamilton at BAAD!, April 21-22

@Irving Penn Centennial at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 24-July 30

@Arlington by Enda Walsh at St. Ann's Warehouse, May 3-28

@The Ghost Festival by Koma Otake at Danspace Project, May 11-13

@Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen set design for Keen [No. 2] by Ivy Baldwin, Ivy Baldwin Dance at Abrons Arts Center, June 1-11

@SlowDancing/TrioA by David Michalek in collaboration with Yvonne Rainer at Danspace Project, June 23-July 1

@No Maps on My Taps (film, 1978) and About Tap (film, 1984) by George T. Nierenberg, first theatrical release at Quad Cinema, July 7-13

@Dearest Home by Kyle Abraham (Abraham.In.Motion) at The Kitchen as part of Lumberyand in The City festival, June 28-July 2


Will Rawls and Ishmael Houston-Jones
chief curators of the 2017 Danspace Project Platform, Lost and Found
(photo courtesy New York Dance and Performance Awards: The Bessies)

For this and everything you do, gentlemen, thanks and kudos!

Okwui Okpokwasili
in Andrew Rossi's documentary Bronx Gothic

@Bronx Gothic (film) directed by Andrew Rossi at Film Forum, released July 12

@GHOST LIGHT by Third Rail Projects at the Claire Tow Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, June 19 through August 6

@To T, or Not to T by D'Lo at the Hot! Festival, Dixon Place, July 7-22

@Citizen Reno at Hot! Festival, Dixon Place, July 6

@Shelby Shellz Suzie Q Felton in HERE ON OUT at Secret Project Robot, July 26


Left to right: Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith,
Tiffany Haddish and Regina Hall in Girls Trip

Thanks, sistergirls, for the bellylaughs!

@Girls Trip (film) directed by Malcolm D. Lee, released July 21

@Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip, released July 21

@Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, opened June 13

@Get Well Soon! by NIC Kay at the CURRENT SESSIONS: Volume VII: On Resistance at Wild Project, August 19

@Maria Bauman open studio for dying and dying and dying at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, August 24

@Dancing in the Hold: An Emergency Response to Charlottesville, convened by Mayfield Brooks for Movement Research at Abrons Arts Center, August 30




@Ten Huts by Jill Sigman, Wesleyan University Press, published in September

@Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955-1972 exhibition curated by Wendy Perron, New York Public Library, Library of the Performing Arts, June 27-September 16

@Terrifying Times Call for Terrifying Jewelry by Laurie Berg at Dixon Place, September 6

@Batanaba [new work] by Faustin Linyekula, danced with Moya Michael at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, FIAF's Crossing the Line festival, September 9-10

@CAST by Yanira Castro/a canary torsi (opening night performed by devynn emory, Luke Miller, Sai Somboon and Darrin Wright) at The Chocolate Factory, September 13-23

@#PUNK by Nora Chipaumire at FIAF's Crossing the Line festival, September 14-15

@The Peculiar Patriot by Liza Jessie Peterson at National Black Theatre, September 13-October 1

@Asami Morita (lighting design) and Diego Montoya (decor design) for choreographers Elena Rose Light, Jess Pretty, and Miriam Gabriel & Antonio Villanueva in Invocation Proclamation Manifesto at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, September 21-23

@Unwanted by Dorothée Munyaneza with Holland Andrews at Baryshnikov Arts Center, September 21-22

@My Lai, performed by Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert and by Vân-Ánh Võ; music by Jonathan Berger; libretto by Harriet Scott Chessman at BAM Harvey, September 27-30

@A Letter to My Nephew by Bill T. Jones, Janet Wong, members of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company and entire creative team at BAM Harvey, October 3-7

@Declassified Memory Fragment by Olivier Tarpaga, Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project at Harlem Stage, October 4

@Kazu Kumagai: HEAR/HERE at 92Y, October 13-14

@how to survive a plague by Brother(hood) Dance! at Danspace Project, October 19-21

@Virago-Man Dem by Cynthia Oliver at BAM Fisher, October 25-28

The sublime Leah Morrison (Trisha Brown Dance Company)
performs at the memorial service for Brown at Danspace Project.
(photo: Ian Douglas)

@Bird/Woman/Flower/Dare Devil: Trisha Brown, A Community Memorial, organized by Iréne Hultman and friends, Danspace Project, October 28

@Air This Pain and Alter It: What Can Poetry Do? at The Graduate Center, CUNY, with readings by Eduardo C. Corral, Nick Flynn, Kimiko Hahn, Bob Hicok, Jane Hirshfield, Tyehimba Jess, Gregory Pardlo and Jacqueline Woodson, November 2

Marjani Forté-Saunders in Memoirs of a... Unicorn
(photo: Maria Baranova)

@Memoirs of a... Unicorn by Marjani Forté-Saunders at The Collapsable Hole, presented by New York Live Arts, November 15-19


Disney Pixar's Coco

@Coco (film), directed by Lee Unkrich, co-directed by Adrian Molina, released November 22

@Skeleton Architecture opening Movement Research Fall Festival 2017: invisible material at Judson Church, November 27

@Haruki Murakami's Sleep by Ripe Time at BAM Fisher, part of BAM Next Wave 2017, November 29-December 2

@Race Card by Karma Mayet at JACK, December 1-16

Yinka Esi Graves
(photo: Camilla Greenwall)

@Yinka Esi Graves + Shamar Wayne Watt curated by Nora Chipaumire for DoublePlus shared evening at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, November 30-December 2

@Showtime NYC at George Emilio Sanchez's Bang Bang Gun Amok at Abrons Arts Center, December 8-9

@Thomas Dunn, lighting design for Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination by Kota Yamazaki at Baryshnikov Arts Center, December 13-15

@The Golden Section by Twyla Tharp and Shelter by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, November 29-December 31

@Best books I caught up with this year: Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi; Hunger by Roxane Gay; Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi; Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo; Binti and Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor; Shrill by Lindy West


Season Three cannot drop fast enough for me!

@Best Netflix or Amazon movies and tv I caught up with this year: Anthropoid, How to Get Away With Murder (Season 3), Master of None (Season 2); Stranger Things 2, Mudbound, She's Gotta Have It, The Crown, Schitt's Creek


Okay, that's my honor roll for the year! 
What's on yours?


(photo: D. Feller)

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gives us "Shelter"

Linda Celeste Sims
of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
in Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section
(photo: Paul Kolnik)

All I wanted for Solstice was a trip up to New York City Center for an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater matinee!

It was great to see Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section on Ailey bodies again and to watch (for my first time) Ailey women embody Shelter, a work Jawole Willa Jo Zollar premiered with her renowned Urban Bush Women.

Tharp's company first launched The Golden Section in 1981 as the exhilarating finale of The Catherine Wheel, her Broadway collaboration with her lover at the time, rock composer David Byrne; later, that segment gained its own spotlight as a standalone work in Tharp repertory. The Ailey troupe got it in 2006. The Zollar piece premiered for UBW in 1988 and for Ailey in 1992. Both works, then, are products of the Reagan years, and both have much to offer us today.

These dances lit up a program also featuring Robert Battle's The Hunt and Alvin Ailey's cherished signature work, Revelations. (The only revelation here? Clifton Brown's "I Wanna Be Ready." How can he still look as sharp as a jet while exuding so much gravitas?) The exciting Tharp and Zollar pieces--like forest fires that, paradoxically, usher in new life--make it hard to watch dancers not being challenged, shown off but not shown at their most fluent, capable and venturesome.

The Golden Section--which once blasted its way out of The Catherine Wheel's odd tale of nuclear family/nuclear peril--is brassy fanfare with no let up. (We're going boom, boom, boom! That's the way we live!) Dancers scoot, slide, glide, twist, twirl, prance and fly across the stage in continual agitation, working flavors of jazz, flourishes of ballet, and dashes of athletics into Byrne's percussive, polyrhythmic brew. (There's nothing stronger than the feeling you get when your eyes are wide open!) Back door, screen door--all wide open, Byrne sings. Dancers embody physical and mental joy, liberated and defiant back in the day and defiant today, needed again. For them, nothing exists besides this ecstasy. Tharpian fusion, wriggling through a company of mostly Black bodies, looks like movement going right back home to its people. The Ailey dancers claim it and then some.

Unlike The Golden Section, Zollar's Shelter retains its context of peril and specifically calls for responsibility and justice. (Texts by Hattie Gossett, Carl Hancock Rux, Laurie Carlos, Paloma McGregor and Zollar address the carelessness with which we treat our fellow humans and our environment, as if both were disposable.) But the dancing steadily moves through this context and builds its ecstasy, sourced in woman ways and the Black diaspora. Shelter often calls for mass movement--coordinated shifting of weight, direction and energy that feels like collective amplification of Zollar's design. It's not just doing the same thing at the same time in a huddle. It's a feeling shared from woman to woman, and either you have it, as a group, or you don't. They have it, we can all tell. In the performance I saw, Ailey's Ashley Mayeux, Fana Tesfagiorgis, Danica Paulos, Hope Boykin, Bélen Pereyra-Alem and Constance Stamatiou boldly rendered the collective aesthetics and intention of the work. They showed us a powerful community. Credit not only Zollar but also her team of rehearsal assistants--Maria Bauman, Jaimé Dzandu, Marjani Forté, McGregor, Samantha Speis and Bennalldra Williams--for the excellent training of the Ailey dancers in this moving production.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues through December 31. For schedule and ticket information, click here.

New York City Center
131 W 55th St (between 6th and 7th Avenues), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gibney's DoublePlus: Wesley Chavis and Cori Olinghouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Your Christmas alternative: "Gemini Stars/Scorpio Stars"

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunny Murray, 81

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

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Vincent Nguini, 65

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

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Darkness into light: Kota Yamazaki at Baryshnikov Arts Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pat DiNizio, 62

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

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Anthony Harvey, 87

Anthony Harvey, ‘Lion in Winter’ Director, Dies at 87
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, December 13, 2017

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Happy Holidays! Trisha Brown repertory at The Joyce

Trisha Brown Dance Company in
Brown's Groove and CountermoveBelow: Geometry of Quiet
(photos: Stephanie Berger)


Imagine The Joyce Theater, or some other lucky venue, making Trisha Brown Dance Company an annual holiday-time tradition! Works like what the Joyce has aqcuired for this season--L’Amour au Théâtre, 2009; Geometry of Quiet, 2002; Groove and Countermove, 2002--possess both the late choreographer's postmodern-pioneer cred and her luscious, eye-pleasing appeal in a time when we all could use some reassurance and soothing. I can easily foresee a future in which Ailey and the usual Nutcrackers share the bounty of the holiday season with TBDC, now under the leadership of Carolyn Lucas and Diane Madden.

This is work, too, that might aspire to heal the desperate rawness we feel now across the spectrum of gender. The dances persist in showing egalitarian interactions between and among bodies. L’Amour au Théâtre, set to excerpts from Rameau's opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, is particularly good with this as gender never determines who will grasp, lift and support whom. Brown seems to advise, "Just do the next thing that needs doing." Bodies quietly, efficiently align themselves to be as ready and humbly useful as possible, no one more powerful than another in an unpredictable landscape they create and re-create by their moving. No one flies tremendously high, literally or figuratively. One's virtuosity--if we choose to call it that--lies in the ability to go all quicksilver fluid and responsive in that space between heaven and gravity.

A duet of two women opens Geometry of Quiet, a quartet set to music by Salvatore Sciarrino, taking a different route to the same locale. The music--played live by flutist Sato Moughalian stationed at stage left--breathes, but it can also bark. Leah Ives and Amanda Kmett'Pendry, gleaming in white, each stretch out, front and back, from one firmly-grounded standing leg, a picturesque image. But they end up clasping each other like jigsaw pieces with only as much individuality to be able to fit and lock together perfectly. No surprise that Groove and Countermove's dancers, in their Crayola array of costumes, seem like drawing implements in the hand of a smart, happy child. Brown's choreography invites us to focus, breathe, be flexible, be surprised, take pleasure in the unending doing and discovering.

Trisha Brown Dance Company runs through Sunday, December 17. Tonight's program includes a "curtain chat" moderated by Wendy Perron, dance writer, educator and former Trisha Brown dancer. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Defending the Black dead: Jaamil Olawale Kosoko at Abrons

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko in Séancers,
a world premiere at Abrons Arts Center
(photo: Amanda Jensen)
(photo: Erik Carter)

Séancers has landed at Abrons Arts Center like something to gladden the hearts of Sun Ra...and Fela...and Toni Morrison. An audacious, extravagant, overstuffed masquerade enclosing--and sometimes exposing--a gentle, vulnerable core. Jaamil Olawale Kosoko starts off almost backing into the space and backing into performing, gingerly, tentatively talking his way into the thick of things with help, on the night I attended, from a brief exchange with Autumn Knight, another interdisciplinary artist. Each night, Kosoko engages a different companion and wayshower. He calls these helpers Special Guest Séancers.

He appears to meander, physically, verbally, like a warm-up, a figuring out, a taking of temperatures--the room, his own--a way to let his ancestral spirits know he's ready to be inhabited. He fumbles a little, trying to recall exact scripture from bell hooks and James Baldwin; notes that part of his opening represents an homage to Cuban-American artist Félix González-Torres; ambushes us with poet Audre Lorde's searing, furious "Power."

Abrons's Experimental Theater, from the top audience row (where composer Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste generates swoony, enveloping weather) to the far wall of the space, is splashed with all manner of glittery and quaint stuff I can't even begin to inventory--from silver-wrapped Hershey's kisses to rippling, gleaming sheets of golden Mylar and everything in between.

The tiny-fonted program notes include a long, long, long list of members of the creative and production team including a dramaturg, "performance doulas," and the "Special Guest Séancers," a statement about Séancers, a further, and longer, "STATEMENT ABOUT THE WORK" by Kosoko, and a full-paged, three-columned, footnoted, intriguing and quite comprehensive essay about the work by acclaimed dance scholar Brenda Dixon-Gottschild. All of it quite hard to get much into with typical low lighting and the pre-show chatter of people around you. Read it--carefully--at home. It is its own work of art.

This massive documentation--which, frankly, leaves me to think, "What's left to say?"--is likely strategic, a necessary shot across the bow of any presumptuous critic looking to clamp nasty, dirty paws all over an artist's bright new efforts. It says, "I'll document my work myself, thank you very much!" I sympathize--believe me, I do--but I also had to take all of this and lay it to the side.

There is also this, from promotional text for Séancers:

Setting the fugitive experience afforded Black people on fire with majesty, opulence, and agency, Séancers is a nonlinear examination of how the American racialized body uses psychic, spiritual, and theoretical strategies to shapeshift through socio-politically charged fields of loss and oppression.

... collapses lyrical poetry, psychic movement forms and strategies of discursive performance to investigate concepts of loss, resurrection and paranormal activity. Interrogating issues related to American history and coloniality, Séancers journeys into the surreal and fantastical states of the Black imagination to traverse the “fatal” axis of abstraction, illegibility and gender complexity.

So...everything. Everything. Also laid aside...to make room for me to see what I could see.

The work--this apparition, hallucination, ritual container for all of the above--is only 65 minutes. In that time, I saw a man capable of wearing sweetness and bewilderment as easily as he wore jet black fake eyelashes and exquisite costumes sending two inseparable messages--the bold and the delicate. I saw a spirit land as Kosoko's arms and writhing body swished streamers of golden Mylar. I heard him intone the words "get lost" several times like a mantra...or a directive...or, a simple plea. I heard words about trying, about getting tired. I saw the armor of oversized glasses and bespangled bodysuits. And I saw the letting go...of costumes, of coverings. The shedding and sloughing off. The retracing of steps, away from the crossroads, back up the stairway, into piercing light.

Séancers continues through Saturday, December 9 with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

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

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