Catherine Damman

  • interviews July 14, 2020

    Saidiya Hartman

    Five centuries of white supremacist terror: not just a past to which we are ineluctably fastened, but a present which produces us, albeit in differing orders of magnitude and vulnerability. The United States has long maintained the fiction that this country had molted its foundational violence, and yet, just as your skin sheds daily only to live dispersed atop your furniture and knick-knacks, so too does the grime of history make up the loam in which a person is destined to flourish, struggle, or wither. The work of Saidiya Hartman has charted a path in and through the social arrangements produced

  • DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION

    JUXTAPOSITIONS, groupings, sight lines: Foundational to the curatorial enterprise, these considerations also subtend Wu Tsang’s two-channel video We hold where study, 2017. A honeyed baritone voice-over from poet and theorist Fred Moten introduces scenes of his sons, Julian and Lorenzo, carefree and joyous in a verdant landscape. Thereafter the work unfolds in a series of sensuous duets––between boychild and Josh Johnson, and Ligia Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez—that speak to and suffuse one another. Projected side by side so that their frames overlap, the videos present choreographed experiments

  • performance September 18, 2019

    Dancing in the Dark

    “GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good. 

    This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color

  • THESE WOMEN’S WORK

    THE SNEAKERS, six pairs in all, are pink. Every actress who appears in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole (2019) wears them—with jeans, with scrubs, beneath petticoats. The anesthetized set, by Mariana Sanchez, is spare: A hospital bed, a reception desk, and a waiting area adorned with potted plants are surrounded on three sides by tiles that match, almost exactly, the color of the actresses’ shoes. Flattering, photogenic, and distinctively of this moment, the rosy shade nonetheless seems almost threatening, mutant, evoking the soigné efforts of corporate branding run amok.

    Mournful bagpipes

  • ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

    OPERA, CHARLES ROSEN ONCE WROTE, is governed by “the expectation of essential lunacy.” Its unrepentant feeling, its curling decor, its warbling inheritances, all these gilded artifacts of empire seem so far from the word’s Latin root, opus, which translates to “work,” that favorite American religion.

    The late operas of Michigan-born composer Robert Ashley (1930–2014) are staged with a dignified efficiency that seems at once to point backward to this etymology and to push the genre forward into the twentieth century. To begin a new presentation of Ashley’s 1985 Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) this

  • performance January 08, 2019

    Those Women Who Destroy the Infinite

    TWO PUDDLES, HYPNOTIC AND IRIDESCENT; ALL SURFACE, NO DEPTH. I watch a scrum of dancers make them, hunched and sobbing, emptying themselves. A knee drags through the wet. Afterward, as coats are slung across shoulders, the tears slowly return to air.

    Elements of the theater’s infrastructure, seemingly evaporated too, had been strategically removed: light rigs withdrawn, pipes displaced, the risers diarticulated and strewn about in clumps. The effect is the renovation of mood. Starkly cavernous, the changed architecture left both audience and performer to rattle around inside of it.

    Moriah Evans’s

  • “MOVED BY THE MOTION: SUDDEN RISE”

    Organized by Adrienne Edwards with Greta Hartenstein

    I can see him smiling, swirling, velveteen. In Wu Tsang’s 2015 video Girl Talk, Fred Moten is verdant, shot through with sunshine. At the Whitney this spring, as the collective Moved by the Motion, Moten and Tsang—along with boychild, Patrick Belaga, Josh Johnson, and Asma Maroof—will present “Sudden Rise,” a series of performances encompassing fragments of music, text, dance, and film. Is an ensemble always already a collage? Language and references drawn from Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Jimi Hendrix, and Hannah

  • CLOSE UP: KINETIC ELEGY

    ON NOVEMBER 21, 1986, Them, a performance by Chris Cochrane, Dennis Cooper, and Ishmael Houston-Jones, had an infamous premiere at Performance Space 122; it nearly got the place shut down. Eight years ago, PS 122 revived the work, and this summer it returned to Ninth Street and First Avenue as part of the East Village Series inaugurating the newly renovated, and renamed, Performance Space New York. The work’s legend—in certain corners, though, I would argue, not enough—precedes it.

    So I knew Them would break my heart, but I wasn’t ready for it, not really. Premonition makes for a shitty

  • music October 10, 2018

    Half-Life of the Blues

    WHEN A FRIEND FIRST INTRODUCED ME to the music of Loren Connors, I refused to listen to it on the grounds that it was too beautiful. In his signature electric improvisations, Connors makes use of layered swells and serrated feedback; just as arresting is his permissive handling of negative space and scattered fuzz. Connors’s playing often luxuriates in extended caesura, punctuated by thin squeals and deliberately skeletal leads. Unanchored notes seem set aloft, only to drift and kink mid-air or be cut short by little catches of breath. Always plangent and often surreal, the more recent sounds

  • Presence at the Creation

    THE GRAMMAR OF IT ALL is nearly impossible to parse, slippery in the mind and unwieldy in the mouth. Questions—though not always the right ones—abound. The first: What was Judson Dance Theater? Those inclined to diffidence might say it was some dancing that took place in a church, Judson Memorial, located in the Village. For others, what went on in that inner sanctum was no less than the most significant convulsion in the history of twentieth-century dance: not just movement, then, but revolution. July 6, 1962 was the first Judson performance, straightforwardly advertised as “A Concert

  • P.S. I LOVE YOU

    “ARROGANT ASSHOLE,” spits a man, not realizing that the words and their inflection do more to indict speaker than subject. Their target is, ostensibly, Yve Laris Cohen, the artist. We are sitting in the middle of Laris Cohen’s performance P.S. 122 (2018) on opening night, and I wish everyone would shut up.

    Laris Cohen spends most of P.S. 122 stationed far upstage. The work’s title conjures the previous name of the hosting venue, which has recently been rebranded, to an admixture of chagrin and nostalgia, as Performance Space New York. He abandons this post only occasionally—in this instance,

  • HOW DO YOU KNOW?

    “A MAN DRIVES A PICKUP into a Chelsea gallery” could be the start of a bad joke; instead, it’s the beginning of a Richard Maxwell play. The truck is a white Chevy with a licked finish, the gallery is Greene Naftali, and the massive windows, edged in weathering steel, are vertical blades, rudders pivoted by two guys I worry about in the cold, their irradiated safety hoodies thick but perhaps not enough.

    Addressed to Dante’s Divine Comedy and borrowing the title from his third canticle, Paradiso foregrounds existential questions: What is our purpose? Where will we find salvation? But Maxwell’s