John Howell

  • Creation Production Company

    The givens are these: two characters, a man and a woman, with no proper names; subject matter culled from a cross-cultural laundry list; and a dramaturgical methodology that depends on mixed-media technology and consists of collaged vignettes separated by blackouts. Sound familiar? These are the essential ingredients of the post-Modern performance, a theatrical exercise built around a handful of by now familiar formalisms and a thesis which is no less vehemently terroristic for being the conventional wisdom of the day. The agenda might besummarized thusly: no one story is “the story,” experience

  • Watchface

    While the theater world occupies itself with tricked-up British musicals, antique revivals, and the occasional serious effort, the idea of theater continues to mutate in unexpected quarters. Rock concerts, dance and performance art, site-specific sculpture, and cabaret acts are all working changes on traditional definitions of theater. Watchface is one of the handful of groups that approach theater in the classic avant-garde performance style associated with troupes like the Living Theater, the Open Theater, and Mabou Mines. The company employs a repertory ensemble of performers, and combines

  • Blue Man Group

    Blue Man Group (Chris Wink, Matthew Goldman, and Phil Stanton) is the latest in a line of gross-out performance artists that traces back to the Kipper Kids of the mid ’70s. Unlike the Kippers, who evince a Teutonic fondness for the scatalogical (fake-caca smearing, spitting, and fart-sound chatter), Blue Man Group is a buttoned-down version of bad behavior; their messes are cleanly executed and tidily contained, rather than anarchic and stumbling. While they don’t sprawl into redundant offensiveness, neither do they generate the inspired, squirm-in-your-seat moments that the borderline acting

  • Momix

    Since the ’60s, anti-illusionism in its many forms has ruled contemporary dance, theatrical illusionism often being equated with cultural as well as philosophical deception. Of course it’s entirely logical that out of the current welter of kinesthetic truth-tellers would arise yet another restatement of illusion in movement. Moses Pendleton, a founder of the determinedly sleight-of-foot Pilobolus troupe, takes magic over the top in the choreography for his own company, Momix (company members are also credited as creators of individual pieces). Each of the 14 dances on Momix’s recent program (13

  • Industrial Symphony #1

    Artists who traffic in dreams run the risk of confusing profundity with silliness. Dream motifs too often degenerate into hackneyed psychobabble. David Lynch’s films, such as Eraserhead, 1978, and Blue Velvet, 1986, have resolved the problem by joining logic and illogic, thereby conjuring disorienting truths out of the most banal dream elements. For Industrial Symphony #1, his live presentation that kicked off the New Music America Festival, Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti created a large-scale operatic dreamscape that combined goofy, cartoonlike characters and actions with a deadpan

  • Can We Dance a Landscape?

    The brand of Japanese dance-theater called butoh has typically been performed on an empty stage, a dark void penetrated only by noirish light that underlines the metaphoric idea of earth as a nightmarish environment. For Peut-on Danser le Paysage? (Can we dance a landscape?, 1989) performed by Min Tanaka and his butoh group Maijuku, Karel Appel created a visible context of hellish surroundings in the form of several backdrops and a few drop-in flats. With large-scale, slashing brushstrokes and blunt, blaring colors, Appel’s quasi-abstract hilly landscapes were an appropriate visual realization

  • Jack Benny!

    Those who are unfamiliar with the original Jack Benny television program of the late ’50s and early ’60s may be pardoned for thinking that composer John Moran and the Ridge Theater Company have performed a distorting deconstructivist exercise on a hapless cultural cliché. The Jack Benny Show, however, was itself skewed to an amazing degree. The theme of most segments was the effort by the host, Benny, to “put on a show”—which his regular cast and guest stars often deliberately prevented him from doing. Endless and repetitive interruptions, ad -libs, and digressive chatter about personal problems

  • Joe

    With its Everyman title and its effacing costumes of drab overcoats, fedoras pulled down tight, and clunky boots for men and women alike, Joe presents itself as a post-Metropolis fable for our time. First presented as part of the international festival of new dance in Montreal, this performance piece, choreographed by Jean-Pierre Perreault, has been revived in an expanded form. The setting is one of generalized, industrial bleakness, a vast blue-lit area marked off by rectangles, with a stage-wide ramp upstage leading to “windows” (which open onto blank space). In this logical hell of a futuristic

  • Trisha Brown

    This outdoor concert of works by Trisha Brown was a mini-retrospective, a double bill featuring one of the choreographer’s earliest works followed by one of her most recent. Raft Piece, 1973, demonstrates two elements typical of most early Brown dances: a structure in which movement accumulates over time, and a quirky physical setting—here, the four dancers performed flat on their backs on four floating rafts. The governing concept is a perceptual conundrum aimed at creating phenomenological doubt: how to see a rigorous structural ordering subjected to the whimsical factor of chance, as represented

  • John O’Keefe

    John O’Keefe’s Shimmer, 1989, a monologue about life in a juvenile home in the mid ’50s, is a singular concoction. It is as sociologically acerbic as Eric Bogosian’s sketches yet with an affecting autobiographical edge; as emotionally revealing as Spalding Gray’s performances yet more complexly dramatized. O’Keefe plays several roles and performs his script with an athletic exuberance. The piece filters its Huckleberry Finn theme of escape from oppressive civilization and its Beat-era humor through a fine mesh of haunting magical realism. Like its title, which refers to a homemade philosophy in

  • Dr. Charcot's Hysteria Shows

    Freud called Jean-Martin Charcot, the late 19th-century director of Salpêtrière, the Parisian asylum, an “artist, a man who sees.” What Freud and other doctors saw were Charcot’s présentations des malades, “hysteria shows” in which the doctor staged demonstrations of his experiments with hypnosis, seeking to analyze, control, and correct hysterical behavior. To 20th-century sensibilities, his methods come off as equal parts snake-oil charades and progressive medical practice. Charcot was among the first to insist that hysteria was a genuine affliction, and he used art as an important diagnostic

  • Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane & Co.

    Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane’s signature style came out of a visual and kinetic dialectic. Jones—black, tall, and lyrically athletic—was paired off with Zane—white, short, and frenetically antic—in duets that explored the ways such extreme contrasts could connect through movement. This trademark esthetic became diluted almost as soon as it was established, becoming submerged to the point of invisibility when the duo moved on to evening-length, company-sized works. These dances seemed to sprawl shapelessly under the weight of too many ideas. Now, a year after Zane’s death, their enterprise has

  • En Garde Arts, At the Chelsea

    The Chelsea Hotel in lower Manhattan is one of the legendary settings of American bohemianism. Its guest list reads like a who’s who of innovators as renowned for their roistering as for their art: Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Jimi Hendrix. Andy Warhol’s film The Chelsea Girls, 1967, paid tribute to the Chelsea’s history by creating a contemporary version of its near-mythic ambience, and set the conceptual stage for the hotel’s most bizarre act yet, the Sid Vicious-Nancy Spungen episode. So it must have seemed perfectly natural to En Garde Arts, a site-specific

  • Torture Chorus, Breakfast With The Moors Murderers

    Los Angeles’ principle contribution to performance has been a kind of homemade Dada cabaret. It’s characteristics include a deliberately naive presentation, scabrous and childish subject matter, a mocking humor, and a blurring of the boundaries between performance and outrageous behavior—a desire to shock at any cost. Located in an ill-defined gray zone between offbeat comedy, new vaudeville, punk rock, and a let’s-put-on-a-show theater, this hybrid form has not traveled well, so much does it depend on the ambient context of Southern California anomie and rage, of one-time, undefined clubs and

  • DV8 Physical Theatre

    DV8 Physical Theatre is a British dance company with a fervent mission: to set dance straight by returning it to real life. With a righteous contempt reminiscent of ’70s punk, DV8, led by artistic director Lloyd Newson, spurns the overly refined techniques and effete aims of modern dance and ballet alike in favor of blunt physical action. The company’s dances make comic-book-clear points about relationships of both hetero- and homosexual persuasion. The didactic agenda is activated through another classical revolutionary device: works told from the viewpoints of the mentally disturbed. This

  • Voguing

    NEW YORK TRENDING-MONGERS these days are busily touting the latest phenomenon to emerge from the city’s urban subcultures: voguing. Strictly speaking, it’s a solo dance form, with elements of break dancing, gymnastics, body-building “attitudes,” and, of course, the poses of fashion-magazine modeling (hence the name). The participants are black—and some Latin—gays who belong to “houses,” associations that stage “balls” at which they present their versions of fashion and of the fashion stance. Some houses specialize in brand-name cachet (House of Chanel, House of Saint Laurent); others are based

  • Opera at the Academy, La Vie Parisienne

    In an exercise that seems analogous to the revival of interest in pompier painting and “sentimental” novelists, Opera at the Academy restaged the 1866 operetta La Vie Parisienne, one of Offenbach’s 90-odd opéras comiques. Of course, La Vie Parisienne, like all theater, no longer exists in its original form; the 123-year-old score is a performance guide, not the show itself. This difference proved crucial, for while Opera at the Academy’s version was faithful to its source in important ways, director Christopher Alden and company were free to interpret their source material to a degree not possible

  • Tango Varsoviano

    As part of the “Next Wave” series of collaborative performances, Teatro del Sur’s Tango Varsoviano (Warsaw Tango) was an especially polyglot hybrid: an ’80s work set in the ’40s, a theater piece with almost no words, a Hispanic creation (the group is from Argentina) grounded in the French nouveau roman theories of Alain Robbe-Grillet. In this case, however, cross-fertilization produced a sterile offshoot. Warsaw Tango, written and directed by Alberto Félix Alberto, realized neither the intellectual provocation of its conceptual agenda nor the visceral wallop of its low-life material.

    The main

  • Heat

    Heat was a mixture of dance, music, and poetry presented by a consortium of performing ensembles: Urban Bush Women, a group of dancers directed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; the Dirty Tones Band, led by composer Craig Harris; and Thought Music, a performance group consisting of codirector Laurie Carlos, Jessica Hagedorn, and Robbie McCauley. The piece proposed an examination of various metaphoric aspects of heat—burgeoning sexuality, rage, desire, tropical atmospherics—in terms of an equally multifarious conceptual agenda: black, feminist, politically radical. In this two-hour, polymorphous mélange,

  • 1000 Airplanes on the Roof

    In this era of mega-Gesamtkunstwerk performance affairs, it’s rare to encounter works that actually deliver the new theatrical pleasures promised by the couplings of cross-genre collaboration and polymorphous mixed media. 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, a “science-fiction music-drama,” combined musical, dramatic, and scenic elements by its three collaborators—composer Philip Glass, playwright David Henry Hwang, and set designer Jerome Sirlin—in exemplary fashion. In practical terms, this hyphenate hybrid resembled a chamber opera, with its 90-minute length, limited character development, and constant