Wednesday, January 24, 2018

COIL: Dean Moss premieres "Petra" at Performance Space New York

Dean Moss fuses a notorious Fassbinder character
with headless, blood-spurting Hindu goddess Chinnamasta
in his new work, Petra, at Performance Space New York.
(photo courtesy of COIL Festival)

APAP might be long gone, but COIL keeps on coiling, offering new chances to take the measure of Performance Space New York, this new--or, I should say, renovated and blandly re-branded--East Village entity. There's not a bit bland, though, about the current PSNY occupant, Dean Moss, and his newest interdisciplinary piece, Petra. Here's this world premiere production has been described:
A masochistic autobiographical meditation on desire, Petra examines race, sex, and power through the lens of service and unrequited love. Directed by Dean Moss, with music performed live by Composer Samita Sinha, and inspired by the Rainer Fassbinder film “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”, Petra merges the imagined and real lives of its all women immigrant cast, drawing parallels between theirs, his, and the film’s queer, anxiety-laced explorations of ambition, subjection and dispossession. Simultaneously, (taking inspiration from “She whose head is severed” - a Hindu goddess associated with self-sacrifice, spiritual awakening, and the power of the erotic - Moss questions the institutional processes of diversity management, highlighting not only its aspirational goals, but also its self-serving strategies, the implementation of which both support and undermine projects not unlike his own.
I remembered it was mischievous Moss--invited into Parallels, Ishmael Houston-Jones's 2012 Black avant-garde platform for Danspace Project--who raised eyebrows by titling his curated program Black Dance though his selected artists were actually Korean-American, Latinx and white. Petra's adoption and adaptations of characters and visual and narrative elements from Fassbinder's film provide a striking framework for Moss's agenda. Here he battles assumptions and restrictions in arts support and presenting that, as he sees it, can manipulate and hamstring creativity.

Much of Petra contains clues about how Moss feels about his complicated place as a Black artist in a white-dominated downtown performance community where, nevertheless, he has gained recognition and respect. He surrounds his imperious alter-ego, Petra (theater artist Kaneza Schaal), with efficient minions--dancers Mina Nishimura, Sari Nordman and Paz Tanjuaquio. (The women represent different cultural backgrounds: Schaal is of Rwandan ancestry; composer/performer Samita Sinha is Indian; Nishimura, born in Japan; Nordman, in Finland; Tanjuaquio, in the Philippines.) Moss's three "Marlenes"--Nishimura, Nordman and Tanjuaquio--snap to fulfill the stately, glamorous Petra's every barked order. They quietly submit as she towers over them, pulling one after another into a smothering slow dance. The way Schaal clasps and carefully positions that first head (Tanjuaquio's) at her bosom tells us everything we need to know about power imbalance. Sinha, glittering in gold, is Petra's much-desired "Karin," everything an artist’s ego longs for and is often denied. You can't always get what you want.

The numerous Fassbinder parallels can be fascinating, but the work turns far more pointed as it winds down with a solo for Tanjuaquio with Sinha leading three audience members in a vocal chorus. Their text, intoned in unison, rolls out familiar lines of institutional interrogation meant to discern an artist's or cultural project's degree of attention to programming diversity and community engagement. Tanjuaquio's dance--saying nothing particularly translatable to the linear, anxious mind--pushes ever onward. The dancer skims right over the surface of this score just as, I suspect, Moss wants us to know he will always prefer to do.

Concept, Direction, Choreography, Audio/Visual Design: Dean Moss

Performing Collaborators: Mina Nishimura, Sari Nordman, Kaneza Schaal, Samita Sinha and Paz Tanjuaquio

Video Collaborators: Julia Cumming, Cassie Mey, Marya Warshaw and Asher Woodworth

Lighting Design: Zack Tinkelman

Original Music: Samita Sinha

Petra continues with 7:30pm performances tonight through Saturday, January 27. For information and tickets for this and other COIL events, click here.

Performance Space New York
150 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets, 4th Floor), Manhattan

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