Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Yanira Castro trilogy spans three spaces and boroughs

Left to right, Luke Miller, Darrin Wright and Kyle Bukhari,
three dancers among a revolving cast for Yanira Castro's new CAST,
running now at The Chocolate Factory Theater
(photo: Brian Rogers)

This month, choreographer Yanira Castro and her a canary torsi (name anagram) operation are making their mark, simultaneously, on three New York City boroughs--Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Claiming lots of physical and conceptual space and institutional support is, in my eyes, a terrific thing for a woman to do, a woman of color in particular and, even more so, a woman of dance. Go. Get. It.

The three institutions hosting the world premiere of Castro's ambitious trilogy, CAST, STAGE, AUTHOR, are:

  • The Invisible Dog Art Center--where, each afternoon, AUTHOR invites visitors, one at a time, to wind their way inside an installation to a little room, remove their shoes, close the door, sit down at a laptop and...that's as far as it makes sense for me to go, because your experience of what Castro has set up and what it means will be unique to you. On view through Sunday, September 17, weekdays and Saturday, 1pm to 7pm; Sunday, 1pm to 5pm. Free admission. For information and directions, click here.
  • The Chocolate Factory Theater--home to CAST, now through Saturday, September 23, which I attended last evening and will discuss in a little bit. Information and tickets here.
  • Abrons Arts Center--hosting STAGE in the Playhouse, tonight through Saturday, September 23. Information and tickets here.

Now, to my experience of CAST at The Chocolate Factory Theater. From publicity materials about the performance:
CAST brings together a rotating cast of four performers, different each night, who negotiate a new script at each performance in front of a live audience. A computer generates a unique script culling from transcripts of over 100 hours of conversation with CAST’s 15 performers regarding casting, performing and the complexities of representation. It is a concentrated study of what constitutes a cast. 
Last evening's opening night performance set the audience up in a couple of rows of folding chairs on risers arranged in a kind of horseshoe shape around a constricted performance space. The fourth end of the theater was reserved for seating for the evening's quartet of dancers--devynn emory, Luke Miller, Sai Somboon and Darrin Wright, out of an available roster of fifteen performers--and a printer and a table laden with props.

As audience members gradually filled all available seats, Miller sat at another table within the performance area, his hand clasping a stubby pencil poised over a sheet of paper. His steady gaze implied a thinking process and, from time to time, he circled the pencil point just above the paper, all of this provoking a curious frustration in the viewer (well, this viewer).  To the left of him, a laptop screen greeted us with a stark HELLO in white letters and a fast-disappearing list of the evening's performers. The other cast members sat quietly reading scripts with randomly-assigned material they were seeing for the first time. At 7pm on the nose, the noisy audience members suddenly hushed as it became clear that something was starting to happen.

A computer-generated voice identified the script as #67, 404 (I believe, unless it was #67, 040--a number I think I heard later) and proceeded to cyber-stutter its way through the cast's names. It told us the source of the material (conversations at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) and the length of the performance (45 minutes, which would be accurately and usefully announced at its completion).

Wright rose, pulled Miller's table and chair out of the way, re-positioned two speakers and stretched out on the carpeted floor with a microphone. Not quite comfy, though. The script tasked him with a long monologue and the apparent pressure to read it quickly, forcefully and as if, by the time he reached the end of sentences, his throat was squeezed, struggling for the breath to continue. Among other things, allusions to race would surface, float off and disappear in the flood of verbiage and, after a while, a listener (well, this listener) surrendered to the possibility, the likelihood, that none of these words mattered. Whether they do or not, whether dance is about transcending or resisting words, addressing or skating around specific issues and should be or shouldn't be, it was just too much to deal with. The voice was strangulated. The man was gasping to speak and, finally, crumpling the script pages and tossing them aside.

Words on race slipped through later verbal material and complicated activity--the dancers taping paper, cardboard, Mylar and cloth around Miller's head and torso. "this white racist thing gender history seventies noise sorry like Athena body fascist line that identifieds you phallic queer body brain labor...." A misshapen monster, a captive, he struggled to rise and move around the space with all that had been stuck onto him, eventually ripping it off him--an action that looked satisfying to observers (well, this observer). The printer whirred to life and birthed new sheets.

devynn held up the first page, and the others followed suit, posing together and beginning to musically chant a series of scripts for solo or interwoven choral voices ("Ailey, when I was at the Ailey," "I considered Trisha feminine," "When we auditioned, I had really brown eyes" and the rapturous, amusing, repeated intonation of a single seductive name--"Bausch").

So, at this point, I want to stop describing all that went on from there--especially since a lot of it involved rapid, relentless and arbitrary introduction and rearrangement of props, movement and dancers' proximity to a vulnerable audience, a flow of thingy things, none of which we could or would be intended to worry over or hold onto.  Instead, I want to share a thought that popped into my mind as first I gazed at Miller and then at Wright.

Over the years, I'd seen each of these two guys dance in so many works by some of our most accomplished choreographers. Their bodies contain so much and such diverse information, so much imprinting and history, from disparate sources. And--I began to realize--so much wisdom. I began to see these two men as our knights and sages, and I know I don't live in a society that thinks of dancers as sages. But these guys are, and we have a wealth of more like them in our dance community, knights and sages of all genders and gender non-conforming.

I was also aware, towards the end of the 45 minutes, of a feeling of sacredness. I pulled back from this, a little bit, because it began to seem, even to me, a bit hokey. But I really started to think of the space as church. And I am not a church-goer.

Am I going too far with this? I don't know. I don't even know if Castro would care. But when the 45 minutes was dutifully (and cybernetically) announced, it truly felt as if the Mass was ended, and we could go in peace.

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