In a new staging of Amiri Baraka’s one-act play, the audience and performers alike are tasked with endurance.
In theory, it’s an easy sell: Amiri Baraka’s legendary 1964 play Dutchman, a tense conversation between a black man and a white woman in a sweltering subway car, “reimagined” for the saunas of the Russian & Turkish Baths on East 10th street. The major difficulty of Baraka’s one-act is how to get it to build so steeply to its near surreal conclusion (the white woman stabs the black man). Rashid Johnson, a visual artist by training, proposes heat.
So literal a solution is intriguing. If the heat of the subway car is, in some large part, what is driving the action of the play, why not make the heat real? What kind of new possibilities arise when the onus to create an environment is taken off the performers? This is where the difficulty begins. Even with the heat, the performers Johnson has selected cannot carry the piece.
In Quartet, multiple conversations become one. Claudia La Rocco, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener & Davison Scandrett muse on the nature of performance during the process of creating Way In.
This week, Way In, a performance choreographed by Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener in collaboration with poet & critic Claudia La Rocco and lighting designer Davison Scandrett, will have its premiere at Danspace Project. Composed by La Rocco in collaboration with Mitchell, Riener and Scandrett, Quartet assembles language generated during the process of making Way In, interweaving multiple conversations into one stream of exchanges. Four individuated voices emerge, bringing to bear concerns with each artist’s respective tools—language, the body, light—while revealing overlapping inquiries into the ambiguity of meaning, formal strategies, and relationships to technique.
Rashaun Mitchell People make their meaning. They will always do that. So then the question is how much or little do you guide them.
Davison Scandrett I think for most lighting designers, drafting a plot is the stupidest part of what they do; they hate it. I hate it too but there’s a certain art to things being laid out correctly and making sense and looking good. So, I do immediately—and part of it is being a production manager, too—go to not just “How is this going to look technically?” but “How is it going to get circuited and how long is it going to take to hang?” That shit does have aesthetic beauty to me, even if I’m usually the only one who would ever know that. There’s something about it; if something is systematic and has its own internal intrinsic logic, then that logic tends to radiate out into whatever you’re creating.
Emily Hoffman on the broken patterns in William Forsythe’s Sider, a work that conjures and contends with Elizabethan tragedy.
In contemporary dance, a certain degree of inscrutability can be expected. It comes with the territory of a non-narrative art.
But there are moments when inscrutability can feel exciting, and there are those when it can feel repellant. One feels ejected from the dance; the cost of watching outstrips the possible rewards. My experience of watching William Forsythe’s Sider, for all its conceptual complexity and rigor, felt more like the latter.
Performance artist Neal Medlyn discusses the celebrity public persona, growing up Pentacostal, and his new performance King, running through October 26 at The Kitchen.
Performance artist Neal Medlyn’s King, running through October 26 at The Kitchen, is the seventh and final installment of an eight-year series of shows in which he performs as pop culture icons including Lionel Richie, Prince, Britney Spears and the Insane Clown Posse. This one focuses on Michael Jackson. The show, in which Medlyn covers hit songs and tells stories, is accompanied by an installation of relics of previous shows in the theater during the day. Medlyn also now raps under the name Champagne Jerry.
Rosa Goldensohn Is this series an exploration of the idea of celebrity or is it an expression of your own stuff?
Neil Medlyn It’s expressing my own stuff, which has always been about performance. I’m interested in performance-related things, a lot of them being the things that pop stars do. Like there’s a part in every big pop concert where they suddenly stop in the middle of a well-known song and people applaud. A few seconds later, they don’t start the song again, they just stay silent. Then the 20,000 people there realize that they’re literally all in the same room and then they start to cheer even louder.
Taylor Swift stops and stands there for a second and then when people realize, Oh wait, this is really happening! she starts acting like she can’t do it… like she’s sort of overwhelmed by the cheering, by all those people reacting to her en masse. She stopped doing it, actually, because people caught on after a while. That kind of stuff can only happen with celebrities, in a way. Those performance ideas are awesome, I think.
RG And I guess the question is whether the audience is seeing “the real you,” when you’re performing.
NM Right, that’s been a big thing in the series. I was gravitating toward all these stars that had this thing about, “No, but this isn’t who I really am,” or “No, that wasn’t who I am, now I’m this person.” Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus was super-explicit about that being her thing. With Britney Spears it became very clear that what was going on with her emotionally was different from what she was doing on stage. And Prince realized that this bad part of himself called Camille had been responsible for all these dirty, nasty songs.
Katherine Cooper addresses a series of letters to performance artist Cynthia Hopkins in response to her work, This Clement World.
Cynthia Hopkins has just returned from a journey to the Arctic aboard the Noorderlicht, a Dutch sailing vessel which has been chartered by the British organization Cape Farewell, and had on board ten artists and five marine scientists from around the world. These passengers set sail on a twenty-two day voyage around the Arctic to “encounter the magnificence of this extreme and threatened environment and engage with the scientific research being conducted on board.” Hopkins was then charged with shaping her experience of that trip into a performance which she has titled This Clement World. And then she came to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
I. A Small Disturbance
I cried. I wasn’t planning to, but within the first few bars of her singing I was in tears. What she was singing wasn’t even particularly “sad,” nonetheless my lip quivered and my breath and heart quickened. I agreed to listen but I didn’t agree to cry.
White girls crying at other white girls singing about global warming. Ugh.
But I’m still crying.
Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska of Nature Theater of Oklahoma on their series Life & Times, new episodes of which will be presented this September by FIAF as a part of its Crossing the Line festival.
Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, the directors of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, have charged themselves with the task of transforming material that by most standards would be deemed insignificant—16 hours of phone conversations during which Kristin Worrall tells the story of her life—into an epic performance that will eventually consist of ten episodes spanning 24 hours. The show is Life & Times and this September, FIAF will present Episodes 4.5 & 5 as a part of its Crossing the Line festival. Each episode of Life & Times has its own distinct context, but these two in particular mark a shift in the show’s trajectory. For these episodes, Copper and Liska used older forms of animation and bookmaking to create performances without actors. Always diving into unknown forms and challenges, Copper and Liska’s dedication to seeing the potential for performance in everything intrigued me. So what happens when you take an ordinary life and, as Kelly said, “claim more spectacle [for it] than you have a right to?” Well, it’s the Life & Times experiment—an invitation to reconsider what and how we value. In the conversation that follows, we discuss the impact of scale, the art of rotoscopy, and dealing with the middle.
Lauren Bakst I was re-reading the interview that Young Jean Lee did with you guys for BOMB a few years ago, and one of the things that you spoke about, Kelly, was this question of, “When does something become theatre?” or, “What’s the least thing we can do and have it be a show?” . . . In working with animation, drawing, and bookmaking for Episodes 4.5 & 5, do you find that those questions are still relevant for you? Are you approaching these mediums as theatre?
Kelly Copper Yeah, we are approaching them as theatre but also thinking about where these are in relation to the other episodes, because we’re always thinking about performing them consecutively. For instance, episodes one through four are always actors on stage, dancing, singing, acting, but always actors in front of an audience. We’re thinking about what it needs to become at this point. The audience has built up this relationship with the actors, but we needed to make a turn here—as artists. And we also needed the audience to make a turn here.
Performance artist Nelson and guitarist Reyna on women who shred and the unique artist community in Portland, Oregon.
Fabi Reyna is the founder and editor-in-chief of She Shreds Magazine—the world’s only magazine dedicated to female guitarists and bassists. She’s a guitarist of 12 years who’s been in bands since she was nine and also founded and organizes an annual festival that celebrates women in music called Shred Fest. Although originally from Cancun, Mexico, Fabi currently lives in Portland and continues to be an integral member of the music scene.
Rachel Nelson is a theater maker and writer from the Cascade Mountains. She is the founder of APORIA, a performance art think tank, as well as a core company member of Savage Umbrella, a theater company in Minneapolis. Her work has been produced across the country. She is interested in clear and compassionate theater that reverberates with conversations of queerness, philosophy, feminism, and interconnectedness.
Fabi and Rachel performed together at the Feminist Pop Up Festival in Portland, OR in May of ‘13. Since then, they have been putting this interview together via various technology waves beaming between Portland and Minneapolis. The following transcript consists of four separate digital postcards that can be strung together to make some sense of a conversation.
ONE: A HELLO
Rachel Nelson Let’s tell the story of how we met. Our meet/cute! I was planning the first leg of the Feminist Pop Up tour, and we wanted to get more musicians involved, and I talked to maybe three people I knew in Portland OR, and all three of them mentioned you as the first person to get in touch with. I couldn’t figure out if they thought you could play in the festival or help plan it. You were being suggested as this jack of all trades—the artist and the organizer. I was like, “Jesus, who is this person?”
Fabi Reyna Wow! I had no idea that’s how it went down. I knew that Jen had recommended me to you and I love the work she does so I was instantly in. It’s so cool how a community of artists works together like that to make stuff happen.
Mariana Valencia on her sculptural arrangements of bodies and objects, teenagers in parking lots, and Bushwick sunsets.
PHRESH is a word Mariana and I invented to talk about the things we like, things that are crisp, playful, and cool. My ADIDAS original high tops are PHRESH. Mariana’s collection of succulents on her windowsill are PHRESH. Like #hashtags, PHRESH carries embodied meaning, and defines itself the more often we use it. Referencing the conventionally spelled nineties term of the same name, PHRESH is fresh’s contemporary, queer sister. It is the objects we like to wear and the things we like to do. PHRESH is ours for the taking and the making.
Mariana’s installation and dance work is undeniably PHRESH and, like the term itself, her pieces resurrect embodied histories and codes while inscribing vibrant new happenings in the church attics, galleries, and theaters they occupy. Her work—while full of objects and colors and bodies—functions as a visual palette cleanser, deliberately constructed to create room for our digestion of its multifarious elements. Her work is a gateway to an unknown world that is controlled yet wild, one in which every shape, movement, sound, and object is equally understandable and mysterious.
Mariana and I conversed on her roof where we discussed #milk, #parkinglots, and #longbodies.
Mariana Valencia The name of the dance is Milk—well the name of it is M.I.A.M.I., but it’s an acronym. I secretly want this dance to be called Miami but I wanted it to be a whole sentence so we decided Milk is a Mother’s Idea was the best acronym.
Effie Bowen How did your process with this dance begin?
MV We were thinking about parking lots as a place to be.
Erin Markey discusses familial relationships, making “stuff for stage and video,” and dating chaperones.
I sat down with Erin Markey at Van Leeuwen, a cafe-cum-ice cream shop in Greenpoint this winter. I had first seen her live show on the day of the Gay Pride Parade, an event about which I’d had my trepidations, after seeing banners hanging from lamp posts in lower Manhattan advertising its Pepsi-sponsorship. So I headed to Everybooty, an alternative event at DeKalb Market—a temporary space in downtown Brooklyn composed mostly of old shipping containers.
The June sun beat down and my Linda Rondstadt-esque floral prom dress stuck to my body. By the time Erin Markey came onstage, following a lamé-clad pair of Dolly Parton impersonators, enough beer had circulated the crowd for a feeling of jubilance to hang in the air. Markey wore green suspenders and lace-up boots, her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She flashed a wide smile at the crowd and started by singing a song about Skyping with her mother and father—”Let Me Go to Fullscreen.” As soon as she finished (to great applause) she went on to perform her second musical number, “Secret Puddles” in the drag persona of Timmy.
Timmy—Markey in a fire red wig and mud smeared face—introduced himself timidly as Markey’s fundraiser, eliciting laughs from the audience. She sang shyly while holding a baby doll: “I have a doll named Secret. Secret is his name. Secret’s just a baby. And a baby’s not a game. I know because I was one, and a tiny one at that. My mom and dad they left me, in a shabby London flat.”
From the minute Timmy begins singing I am laughing. Absurd!, I am thinking. Absurd! I sense an incommensurability between the stage tune and melody of Markey’s song and the dark content of the lyrics. The feelings that Timmy expresses do not line up with the circumstances he describes and the proximity of Timmy’s tragic ballad to “Let me Go to Fullscreen” reveals a hilarious ambivalence about family. Even in this short performance, Markey has me thinking about family as fallible, wonderful, deeply political and entirely unresolved.
I have to talk to this person, I thought. My conversation with Markey, six months later, ambled from family politics to astrological signs (she’s a Leo) and artist statements to Catholicism. I wanted to discuss Erin’s particular breed of humor and, enjoyably, that humor seeped into every area of our discussion.
Katherine Cooper I feel like misquoting people is really yucky.
Erin Markey It is. Having been misquoted many times.
Geo Wyeth discusses first experience with video in Kitchen Steve Project and examines the relationship between technology and performance.
In his studio, Geo Wyeth shows me a cruddy talking doll named Cricket. He found her in a thrift store and rigged her with a microphone running through effects pedals. Cricket’s mouth moves stiffly, and as Wyeth turns knobs, her chatter becomes menacing. He laughs and looks pleased while I stare, alarmed.
There’s a thread of frenetic experimentation through Wyeth’s work, performance or otherwise. He invents characters played by puppets or himself—one ongoing role, Kitchen Steve, is a neurotic exhibitionist wearing an apron and three-foot stuffed dong. Add Wyeth’s virtuosic piano playing and songwriting, and his events are one-man spectacles that dash from comic, to sinister, to agonizingly serious.
Judith Shimer You just got back from a Yaddo residency a few days ago. What were you working on up there?
Geo Wyeth Mostly Kitchen Steve Project; I made a bunch of videos for him. I made a set in my studio, and a sculptural prosthetic puppet thing for him. I did these improvisational piano exercises that helped me think about my own process and how my background as a piano player and my relationship to the piano has affected my work and why I do what I do.
Michael Portnoy and Jovana Stokić discuss abstract games, the dangers of Relational Aesthetics and Portnoy’s recent participatory work 27 Gnosis.
In 27 Gnosis, the latest work from New York-based performance artist Michael Portnoy, language as we know it is broken down and re-introduced as a tool for discovery. Taking place inside a mauve-hued “ontic sphere”, Portnoy plays the “Rigid Designator” alongside his wife, performance artist Ieva Misevičiūtė, who appears as “Modifa, The Modifier” and together—outfitted in matching suits by designers threeASFOUR—they steer a group of participants through a game sequence led by dance, instruction, 17th century knowledge systems, revised syntax codes, and melancholic jokes. The winners’ ideas, or results, christen a ‘gnose’, a black, vaguely nose-like clay sculpture which is then passed onto the next group. Originally commissioned and performed for dOCUMENTA (13) last year, the work was adapted for a two-week run at The Kitchen in New York during March 2013.
Michael Portnoy I met you at one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Lucien. And you were with our common friend, Adina, who’s also from those lands in the east. Instantly, what I appreciated about you was this kind of unrestrained presentation of yourself.
Jovana Stokić Sounds awful!
MP No, you felt very real to me. A strong life force.
Milka Djordjevich on repetition, transformation, and abstracting everyday movement.
Milka Djordjevich has always been somewhat of a shooting star to me. Our paths have crossed many times over the years, with overlapping circles of friends, collaborators, and colleagues. I witnessed her finesse as a curator at the Movement Research Spring Festival 2008: Somewhere Out There, when I made a brief visit as a guest teacher and artist. I remember that over a dinner during the festival, Milka turned to her then fellow curator, Chris Peck, and started a conversation with him about how dance and music could be composed at the same time by both the choreographer and composer. That conversation was the seed for what became An Evening with Djordjevich and Peck at The Chocolate Factory Theater in 2009. Hearing of the continuing success of their project, as their collaboration took them to the Whitney Biennial in 2010, Milka stayed on my radar.
It wasn’t until January of 2012 that we met again, this time at the Movement Research office. She was there, along with Lydia Bell, to hand off the annual cycle of the co-editorial position of Critical Correspondence to me. At the meeting we briefly discussed her move to California, and I exchanged some reflections with her on the experience of living and making work in other cities and communities. It seemed like this was what we were fated to do, to work in tandem without ever seeing of one another exactly what brought us to New York in the first place—being artists and performers.
I was ecstatic that finally, in 2013, five years since meeting Milka and knowing, albeit remotely, of her conceptual and relentless work, I was going to get to see her perform. I felt extra lucky that I would see her perform a solo. Kinetic Makeover, which premiered at the Chocolate Factory Theater this April, was a trance-inducing, morphing, highly-driven performance that left me stunned. I immediately felt the need to ask her questions, artist-to-artist, and probe further into her choreographic process. How was she able to carry out one gesture past the point of exhaustion until it became something else? What does it mean when a dance is made to become a collection of images? How can a body be an object, but not be objectified? We sat down together for a lengthy discussion of her relationship to her body, her previous dance training, and the evolution of repetition toward a greater consciousness of and possibility for performance.
Marissa Perel I thought of your solo as one continuous piece—how did you come to make decisions about the transitions from one set of movement phrases to another?
Lauri Stallings discusses her dance company gloATL and why it’s crucial to export contemporary art from Atlanta.
If you live in Atlanta, chances are you’ve encountered the work of Lauri Stallings. There aren’t many contemporary choreographers, or many cities, one could say this about—a testament to the complicated, synergistic, multi-platform relationship that Stallings has with Atlanta.
Stallings first began choreographing work late in her career as a dancer with Ballet BC and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. After a three-year stint as choreographer-in-residence at the Atlanta Ballet, Stallings remained in Atlanta where she founded the company gloATL in 2009. Through the company’s numerous public performances, Stallings has sought to engage the city in all of its aspects—its most central, trafficked and familiar places as well as its tucked away, odd, and hidden pockets. Whether in a busy shopping mall, an empty public pool, the High Museum’s central plaza, or an odd drainage gulley of Piedmont Park, Stallings’ work utilizes an intriguing gestural and visual language that encompasses everything from the erotic and the absurd to the grotesque and the unabashedly beautiful, drawing in an ever-widening circle of viewers, participants, and collaborators.
Andrew Alexander How does new work begin for you? I imagine it’s somewhat different each time, but is there some way to generalize?
Lauri Stallings There’s something that I sort of allow to happen. I guess the best word would be ‘intuition.’ Surprisingly, it’s a mindful one: It’s mental. I’m not saying I’m always aware of it, but it is something that happens. I never know when, but it is prior to getting in the studio, the literal process of generating material as a choreographer. The consistent thing is: I’m always surprised at what comes to me first. That’s what can’t be generalized. But intuition is the one thing I don’t second-guess, and I think that comes from my parents. They kept telling us over and over again, “All you have are your instincts.” I’m very grateful they kept telling me that.
Marissa Perel talks about her recent performance Night Ballast which explores the power that can come from vulnerability.
“Now, there’s a Full moon. I’m opening boxes. In one box are notes from my old studio… Questions, “Is this a play? Am I a counterpart to an as yet undetermined main character?” “How is a text a body?” How is an object an event?” —excerpt from Perel’s performance text
i sat down with Marissa Perel to discuss the process of her performance, Night Ballast, which was presented as part of Food For Thought at Danspace Project on April 12, 2013. The evening was curated by Stacy Szymaszek, Director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and in this instance, represented an overlap of the D/d/owntown worlds of dance and poetry.
Marissa and i have been engaging in an ongoing conversation about body politics in relationship to dance, wellness, and gender identity. In the face of my own health challenges, newly navigating the world with invisible disabilities, and bringing these complex dynamics into my own choreographic work, i connected to Perel’s ongoing struggles with chronic pain and performance making, and how these things which seem somewhat contradictory can coalesce and lead to new forms.
In this conversation, we talk about the choreographic process in her living room, the use of sculptural objects to mediate and heighten perceptions of stillness and everyday movement, and the reading of her personal narrative as part of the dance. We arrive at an open, moving conversation on “fierce vulnerability,” and the power of emotional content and choreographic subtlety.
Iele Paloumpis In my memory of how the performance started, the way Justin [Cabrillos] entered with a brightly colored rug and stick, stood out to me. It was something about the stick, how pale the wood was, that looked like it was naturally a part of the space of St. Mark’s. When I saw him lean the stick against one of columns, it made me think of you, of your body, leaning. And the rug was this lone source of comfort. The movement was very still, but at the same time it felt very personal to the dancers themselves. It was quiet, internal, reflective, subtle. Were the performers improvising, or was the movement choreographed?
Marissa Perel It was a combination of set choreography and improvisation. Tess [Dworman]’s movement on the rug comes from a series of Authentic Movement sessions on the rug on my living room floor. We then weaved certain phrases together from those sessions. When Tess was walking with the wooden stick, and would lean on the stick to pivot her body, it’s a stance I take with my cane in everyday life that becomes a gesture.
Gillian Walsh discusses her dance series Grinding and Equations, the art of ass tyranny, and the mystery of the “Monica Lewinsky moment.”
In Gillian Walsh’s series of dance works, Grinding and Equations, the fetishized body meets choreography in its most calculated, relentless form. Here are two asses—two asses that are part of two bodies—sometimes performed by Gillian Walsh and Robert Maynard, sometimes by Gillian and a pre-recorded video of herself, and sometimes by Gillian and a completely new and un-rehearsed performer. Each cheek of each ass twitches in accordance with a regulated time structure.
One. One two. Two three. Four two three one.
This kind of detail requires a particular kind of attention, a gaze that mainstream culture does not prepare you for. By locating this rigorous exactitude in the ass, Gillian makes the processes by which our bodies become fetishized hyper-visible. We experience Gillian’s intellectual deconstruction of fetishism through her embodiment of the process. In Gillian’s world, the idea, the body, the action, and the dance are distilled to a singular experience in which they can all coexist. It is at once subtle and virtuosic. It is detached but it cares about you. It is post-modern and pop-culture. It is a score that Gillian mostly fails but also sometimes executes perfectly, usually with the help of a cyborgian double-self who accompanies her via computer screen. And when she does execute, after we have all been watching the tireless work of trying to “get something right,” that magical thing happens—the moment when a body exceeds its persistent failure and achieves fleeting perfection—a thing that is sometimes, although very rarely, possible in dance. I imagine the kind of excitement and nervous anticipation that filled spectators when Nijinsky would leap across the stage in Le Spectre de la Rose. It manifests through a suspension of belief that seems to hold time in the air. In Gillian’s work, we just don’t see it coming, and that is precisely what makes it so subversive and so very satisfying.
Gillian and I sat down to discuss her choreographic process in August, and over the past six months we have remained in dialogue, shaping the conversation that is published here today. As Gillian says of her work, “I’m still researching . . . trying to resist the pressure to jump to arrive somewhere or create a product. Never believe in arrival.” And so this conversation follows suit—we didn’t want it to arrive, but nevertheless, here it is.
LAUREN BAKST So Ass Tyranny, is this the section where you and Robert are on the floor?
GILLIAN WALSH Yeah. Ass Tyranny is choreography for butt cheeks—or really any four flesh parts. It’s been performed mostly by Robert Maynard and myself but recently I’ve also been performing with other people, performing teaching Ass Tyranny to other people, and performing ass tyranny duets with myself. Was the performance at Dixon Place the only thing you saw?
Kristen Kosmas talks text-based performance, its formal implications, and the practice of dis- and reappearing. Her piece There There is a part of PS122’s COIL Festival, and runs through January 12.
I spoke with Kristen Kosmas earlier in December, just as the first of two runs of her new show There There was opening. We talked about the solo form, about surviving the solo form; about populating the solo form; about how populating the solo form was easy when there were so many sides to a question, so many skepticisms and enthusiasms within a solitary train of thought; we talked about what it does to your mouth to have to say your own writing, and what it does to your writing when you know it has to occupy your mouth; about the simultaneous love of artifice and plainness; about the technical challenges of this show; about the way the fact of its simultaneous translation into Russian might introduce a new and strange feeling in her mouth; and about Kristen’s return to performing solo and whether it was any different than writing for many people (her answer was mostly that it is not, which encouraged me).
People talking about Kristen’s performances back in Seattle in the ’90s (before she moved to New York, where I met her, and before she moved away from New York and then back to New York and then again away from it) emanate a sense of having really been there for something, maybe the way my Grandpa used to disappear into the recollected glow of LA in the ’30s, or the way people remember scenes of unfettered, free-ranging ’70s childhoods bathed in Kodak light. I don’t know exactly what she did in those performances but I feel like I can sense it somehow, like in a little way it is possible to imagine them and float in the imagination enough to get a little souvenir for yourself, even if it’s a fake. I think this is because Kristen, in person, both in conversation and in the performances she constructs, always sounds like she is in a looping, tumbling, gently forward-moving part of a very long thought, one that started before you saw her enter, and will continue after she rounds the bend. Even, as in This From Cloudland, when things get very still, they do go on:
Brian Rogers talks about reprising his performance piece Hot Box, the challenges of performing, and his compulsion to keep creating.
I meet Brian at The Chocolate Factory (the performance space he and his wife Sheila Lewandowski founded and run in Long Island City) before we go for drinks. Sheila’s in there counting change for a neighboring business. She’s got on a warm wooly sweater and a cough. Brian’s looking at the computer. He’s sporting a new beard, hasn’t shaved since September which may have something to do with having made a new performance, traveled to four countries, presented six shows by other people, and participated in an artist residency in Seattle and his first gallery exhibition in Brooklyn, all in the last few months. The beard is cute. And I’m glad to get to see my friend for a few hours. We walk to Domaine and talk about many things, not all printed here. I start with the upcoming January 12–15 reprise performances (at The Chocolate Factory co-presented with PS122 as part of the COIL Festival of his performance, Hot Box). Press materials describe Hot Box as loud, dark, messy and inspired by films like Apocalypse Now, but we discuss the through line of quiet found within the piece. Brian’s work as a director straddles dance, theater, film, installation, computer programming, and music making. I find his work immersive and meditative, original and sophisticated. His mind is just as wonderful. I’m interested to hear what he’s thinking about right now.
Aynsley Vandenbroucke [laughter] We can totally digress, but I have a few questions to start with. How do you feel about redoing Hot Box a couple of months after the premiere?
Brian Rogers On the level of performing in it, I’m dreading it completely. Largely because normally when I make something, I can, after a while, think about what it was and for my own benefit decide whether it worked or didn’t. And I haven’t been able to do that with this piece because I’m in it. I made the thing and put it out there. And what I want to do is work on it more but I don’t know how. I’m happy to have the piece out there again, to have more people to see it.
robbinschilds embark on a journey that straddles the mundane and the otherworldly in their latest two-part show, I came here on my own & Salzburggrubzlas, Grubzlassalzburg!
robbinschilds’ interdisciplinary media works seamlessly integrate dance, fashion, and film into visually rich site-specific experiments. In a verdant Icelandic valley or on a desolate highway, Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs design remarkable performances in which they occupy places both extraordinary and mundane. With few pretenses, the glory of robbinschilds’ work is realized watching mystic bodies explore majestic landscapes.
Their latest two-part show at Art in General is half live dance and half film. The opening live portion, Salzburggrubzlas, Grubzlassalzburg!, is a quartet featuring Robbins, Childs, and younger performers, Aretha Aoki and Vanessa Anspaugh. The audience sits against two parallel walls while in the center of the space, Aoki and Anspaugh deliberately swing their arms, spin, and lunge in a momentum-less duet. Manning four slide projectors for most of the dance, Robbins and Childs shift the carousel from one slide to the next in sync, projecting four images on the wall above each audience row. The pairs of photos on opposing walls are messy snapshots of food, buildings, and landscapes, arranged as slanted off-set diptychs. While the pairs of images are clearly not duplicates, the photos presumably present the same subject captured through the eyes of each choreographer.
Although the metaphors expressed in I came here on my own—the film portion of the performance—are poetic, they are not subtle. Sitting across from the other half of the audience, we are face to face with our own “reflection” until Robbins and Childs transport massive split screens to the center of the space, rupturing us from our counterparts. Under lighting designed by Megan Byrne, Anspaugh and Aoki perform the animated flip image of one another. Robbins and Childs, perfectly countered, play their own recorded voices from iPhones, providing diary-worthy summaries that detail each one’s experience meeting a man in Munich and arriving in Salzburg. The audio flips between both their voices as all four performers heavily stomp about the space and end by languidly rolling across the floor closest to each audience.
Emily Hoffman reviews the latest installment of Sarah Michelson’s Devotion series.
Devotion Study #3 has the quality of a vision. It begins when Nicole Mannarino, braced on the arms of two security guards, runs through the air into the MoMA atrium, and it ends 30 minutes later when Sarah Michelson, all in white, jogs out after her dancer who’s disappeared just as swiftly as she entered, followed by her suited retinue.
What the two conjure in the interim is something very close to the soul of dance. In the first of her Devotion pieces, Michelson drew her movement vocabulary from Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp, titans of 20th century American dance and in Michelson’s own artistic formation. In Devotion Study #3, she employs a more plain-spoken register. The referent here is a social dance of the sort you might see in a 1970s dance hall: feet swivelling from side to side, hips popping. But it is a ghost of a reference, a trace of desire for a setting, a partner. The movement is made sharp and hard in Michelson’s choreography: Mannarino’s legs are locked and her arms are pulled behind her back as she swivels. She drops into the occasional deep lunge and sometimes kicks high and forceful. It is exacting work, fast and sequential, not at all fluid. It is a choreography about effort, and it is charged with all the desire of becoming. It is hard work, and it is also joy: the joy comes from the effort. It is in every way a virtuosic performance.
Choreographer Tere O’Connor’s work is grounded in multiplicity. Cassie Peterson explores its implications.
“There are no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by them. It therefore has a combination. It is a multiplicity…”
–Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy
“An ideology of multiplicity drives my aesthetic.”
In Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, she writes, “to attempt to write about the undocumentable event of performance is to invoke the rules of the written document and thereby alter the event itself.” How can one write about a performance without distilling it to a theme or reducing it to a moment? How can one circumvent language’s propensity for singularity, linear coherence, and causal reckonings? Writing about O’Connor’s work is an especially delicate task because of his work’s enduring commitment to multiple meanings and its resistance to the constraints of what he calls, “narrative resolution.” O’Connor’s choreographic processes are poetic investments in abstraction and a departure from the aesthetics of representation.
Jesse Zaritt reviews Political Mother, a fast and furious spectacle choreographed and directed by Hofesh Shechter.
Political Mother is a massive jolting spectacle, choreographed and directed with skill by Israel-born and London-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter. This work depicts a bleak world of pervasive powerlessness; it challenges me to find hope in the ways that performance, perception, and embodiment might disrupt the kind of thinking and behavior enabled by systems of domination.
The dance opens by falling back in time. Through the haze of stage smoke, a man dressed as a Japanese warrior attempts suicide accompanied by soothing baroque choral music.
Soon seven musicians (drummers, guitarists, bassists) emerge out of the darkness, performing on two raised platforms that hover above an open stage area below. These powerful male musicians unleash pulsing chords and rhythms from their instruments. Periodically throughout the performance, a male singer/speaker screams into a microphone. Shechter, who composed this music, seems to intend for this sound to assault the audience. It does not invite participation in the events unfolding on stage, but rather pins the spectators to their seats. The figures at the top of the stage frame are all men, they wield sound as weapon. The opening of this dance reveals that an unyielding masculine presence controls what we hear and how we feel.
Haleem “Stringz” Rasul talks about the constantly evolving form of street dancing in Detroit—from the jit to b-boy swag.
This fall at the Shanghai Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will curate the Detroit Pavilion. The pavilion will feature live performances by dancer Haleem “Stringz” Rasul and the Hinterlands, an experimental theater company. Two members of the Hinterlands, Richard Newman and Liza Bielby, recently sat down with Stringz to learn more about “jit,” a style of dance specific to Detroit that he will be performing in China.
Richard Newman So Haleem, tell me what is jit?
Haleem Rasul Well, “jit” is a very popular dance style from Detroit that has roots in the ’70s from a group called the Jitterbugs. The dance progressed over the years adding other elements like tap and various contemporary styles. It is a heavily footwork-oriented dance . . . a combination of a bunch of different kind of dances, actually. Yeah—so that’s the jit. The Jitterbugs were the pioneering group. The dance form today is usually done to a more techno-electro sound—very up-tempo dance. You can do it to any tempo, to any music, but it’s known to be done to techno music.
RN Once techno happened in Detroit, did the dance change or adapt?
HR Yeah, there were a couple different turning points in the evolution of the dance. In the ’70s, the Jitterbugs was dancing, doing the dance-form, to funk, more of a George Clinton-type of sound. And then, as it got into the ’80s, it changed; for some reason in Detroit dance was always faster tempo, and we gravitated to footwork. So, I would say that music definitely played an important role as far as how the dance changed over the years, the subtle changes or the additions.
RN Would you call yourself a Jitter?
HR Yes, I would call myself a Jitter.
Liza Bielby of The Hinterlands Would other people call you a Jitter?
HR Yeah, definitely.
Choreographer Douglas Dunn and frequent collaborator Mimi Gross offer insight into Dunn’s pedagogical approach and to his art’s evolution over time.
If you have a glass of wine with Douglas Dunn, be prepared for an animated conversation, and the occasional emphatic arm extending out of nowhere to snap the air. Douglas is pretty buoyant for a man nearing retirement age, in mind and body. So, who is Douglas Dunn? He’s a choreographer’s choreographer—revered by everyone in the dance community who has ever seen or heard of him. But somehow he is always one step off the radar, and therefore sort of, you know, cult. Since he formed his own company in the ’70s after studying ballet and dancing with Merce Cunningham and with contemporaries like Yvonne Rainer, he’s been innovating and reinventing himself over and over again, all the while collecting the most colorful and gifted collaborators and characters, like Charles Atlas and Mimi Gross, who have done sets and costumes for Douglas going back three decades now, and dancer-choreographers like Christopher Williams, Kiera Blazek, and Emily Pope Blackman. But above all he’s friends with the poets. I spoke to Anne Waldman about Douglas the other night. “Douglas is my man!” I said, tapping my beer bottle to hers. Evidently, she felt the same.
Mimi Gross brought me to see Douglas’s performance last Spring at St. Mark’s church and we had an interview a few days later. With Douglas’s next dance about to open at the 92nd Street Y this weekend, I thought it was a perfect time to go back and see what we recorded.
Douglas Dunn I used to use one of those (pointing to the tape recorder) to record random thoughts.
Mimi Gross Do you still?
DD I still have the recorder, I just don’t have the random thoughts anymore. (laughter)
MG But you use a video recorder right?
DD Dorvillier on her transnational upbringing, the origins of The Matzoh Factory, and her artistic development.
DD Dorvillier has long been a dance hero of mine, as a choreographer whose work reads more like visual art than dance, despite its kinesthetic virtuosity. Earlier this month, I spoke to Dorvillier about her studio practice, her upcoming performances at The Kitchen, and the music of Ludwig Beethoven. When we spoke, Dorvillier was sitting at a desk in Bandol, France, a small town on the French Riviera where her in-laws have a home. We stole a few hours to talk via Skype, shortly before Dorvillier embarked on a month of rehearsals and performances in Paris and New York.
She is accustomed to radical (and frequent) changes of landscape. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she moved to New Hampshire in her teens, spent a year in France, and later graduated from Bennington College before landing in New York, where she established herself as a choreographer and performer among a close-knit group of downtown choreographers whose stars continue to rise. A few years ago, Dorvillier began spending time in France to be with her partner, composer Sébastien Roux. Currently, she splits her time between New York and Paris, and continues her transnational collaborations with musician Zeena Parkins and lighting designer Thomas Dunn. She explains that she never truly left New York, physically or spiritually. None of this lessens the anticipation of her return, this month.
Suzanne Snider Let’s talk about the life and death of The Matzoh Factory.
DD Dorvillier The Matzoh Factory was a loft that Jennifer Monson and I founded in Williamsburg in 1991. It had a concrete floor and we built a dance floor, a bathroom, two little bedrooms and a kitchenette.
Lauren Bakst interviews Nora Chipaumire on dance-making as a form of activism and the power of the human body as a medium for art.
Originally from Mutare, Zimbabwe, Nora Chipaumire is a choreographer, performer, and director whose work directly confronts and challenges “stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body.” I caught up with Nora over email while she was in residence at Mass MoCA developing her latest work, Miriam, which will have its NY premiere at the new BAM Fisher space, Sept 12-15. Nora shares some of her thoughts on the multiplicity of Miriam, post-colonialism, and dance as activism.
Lauren Bakst The name Miriam evokes many historical, religious, and mythic references. You specifically draw influence from the life of Miriam Makeba, the South African singer and activist, as well as from religious iconography. What initially drew you to the idea of Miriam, and who/what has she become for you throughout the process of making the work?
Nora Chipaumire Miriam: singer/activist, prophetess, sister of Moses, Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Mariama: Old testament, New Testament, Koran, 21st century (imperialism, the scramble for Africa/apartheid).
Cassie Peterson discusses deconstructions of form in Joseph Keckler’s I am an opera.
The first time I encountered the enigmatic voice of Joseph Keckler was at the Chocolate Factory for an installment of the Catch Performance series. Nearing the end of the informal, cabaret-style show, Keckler quietly walked on stage to perform a seven minute excerpt from a performance-in-process called I am an Opera, the completed version of which will play at Joe’s Pub on July 8. I remember that I was sitting on a hard, tin bleacher. The artists from the previous performances were downstairs, talking loudly and working off their adrenaline by drinking cheap beer from a keg. It was loud, casual, a familial gathering. Keckler began his performance by addressing the audience in a very colloquial, nearly apathetic tone. He told us some mundane story from his day, chock full of minute, conversational details.
Keckler laughed as I recounted this moment over brunch recently and said, “I’m not afraid of being boring.” Which made it all that more surprising when, after that “boring” prelude, he opened his mouth and began to sing a breathtaking aria. He sang in low, bold Italian with English subtitles projected onto a screen behind him. Instantly, I felt like Jonah or Pinocchio being unwittingly swallowed by the whale. Keckler’s transition from the initial, improvised structure into a very formal, operatic structure was jarring to say the least. For the next seven minutes, he worked methodically to juxtapose and seamlessly combine the grandiosity of the opera with his more personal, pedestrian, and muted style of storytelling, something like the late great Klaus Nomi, but with a more understated, coy, and dry-witted theatricality about him.
Legacy Russell Twinterviews performance artist Ann Hirsch about being scandalous, scandylicious, and the radical politics of the packaged female form in the sex-saturated era of reality television and social media.
Cassie Peterson unravels the many layers of self at work in Faye Driscoll’s newest creation, You’re Me, now at The Kitchen.
I met Faye Driscoll back in 2002 at some house party in San Francisco’s Mission District. In that cliché, small-talk-at-a-party way, we quickly discovered that our birthdays fall on the same date, but that she’s a Sagittarius and I’m a Scorpio; I’ve yet to sort out the logic in this “fact.” At the time of our first meeting, I was busy putting myself through college and she was busy finding herself after graduating from NYU and dancing in Doug Varone’s company for a stint. I was unbearably young and naïve and just beginning to take an interest in movement and performance practices. I was cobbling together my own amateurish understanding of dance history and was primarily engaging dance with a cool, cerebral distance before Faye swept in and introduced me to a whole new visceral vocabulary. Faye’s early-career, Bay Area DIY-style choreography was an unapologetic declaration of the depraved. Her work was and continues to be a modernist refusal of form, a postmodern refusal of narrative, and a post-postmodern reclamation of both and of everything. Her work gives space and permission for the grotesque. The bizarre. The unsayable. Faye showed me that a dance performance could leave me feeling cold and disemboweled. Assaulted. Seduced. And confused. She showed me that dance could actually reflect my personal realities, my identities, my own secret conflicts, and cellular vibrations. Her dances invite me to find myself in them.
Lori DeGolyer reviews Dixon Place’s Brink showcase featuring works by Diana Crum and Katy Pyle.
More than a snug experimental theater in Soho, Dixon Place is home to the voices of marginalized artists. Self-proclaimed as placing “special emphasis on the needs of women, people of color, youth, seniors and lesbian/gay artists,” the theater offers a necessary space for local talent in the literary and performing arts. As part of their new dance series, Brink, the theater featured two works-in-progress by choreographers Diana Crum and Katy Pyle on February 28th and 29th—works that both explore and push traditional limits of dance, albeit from vastly different places.
Lori DeGolyer chats with choreographer devynn emory after catching a rehearsal of their latest piece, this horse is not a home.
A transgenderqueer choreographer, dancer, and massage therapist, devynn emory is fluent in the language of the body. Well-versed in both classical and contemporary techniques, emory infuses traditional aesthetics of dance with the conceptual and enigmatic charm of performance art. emory’s choreography contemplates the presence and absence of space along with the various bodies that occupy it—awakening a heightened sense of weight as bodies fall and compile, extend and recoil, and flourish in transition.
In their latest piece, this horse is not a home, emory presents a dynamic confluence of movement based on their close relationships with three performers—Margot Bassett, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Meghan Milam—while bringing some newer elements to the table, including an 18-foot-long hair extension of their braided tail. I recently had the opportunity to see a rehearsal of this piece and later, to interview emory over tea. emory is currently in residence with New York Live Arts where they will be showing this horse is not a home on February 24th and 25th—find your tickets here.
Lori DeGolyer Do you consider yourself a modern dancer or a performance artist and how do you make the distinction between those classifications?
Devynn Emory This is a conversation topic that I have with a lot of my comrades . . . how to define this form we partake in. There’s shifting language right now on how to name it. I suppose I would say I am a contemporary choreographer, if I had to hold an umbrella over me. Modern dance is really classic, which is what I was trained in, lots of Graham, Horton and Release. These are deep in my muscle memory and foundation. I imagine because of this, I hold onto a lot of formalist structures. Add a splash of “experimental dance scene”, “downtown choreographer”, and “performance artist” into the mix and I guess I would call myself a contemporary experimental performing artist? (laughter) The age-old downtown dance question.