John Howell

  • 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

  • Victoria Marks

    The overheated affair between post-Modern dance and theater that has been going on for over a decade shows no signs of cooling off, despite a recent lack of inspired offspring. Victoria Marks is one of the few young choreographers who has thought her way through the pervasive influence of heavily theatricalized dance, both American (Karole Armitage, Twyla Tharp) and European (Pina Bausch, Maguy Marin), to create work that successfully exploits theatrical elements in movement terms without pandering to bastardized forms of glitz and/or heavy-handed theme-mongering. Her accomplishment is perhaps

  • Fiona Templeton, You: The City

    Everyday urban life considered as an art form has been a Modernist trope since Baudelaire first defined its tenets. Paris Spleen, the poet’s collection of odes to the romance of urban spectacle, crystallizes around a meditation on the city street, to Baudelaire the primary setting for the playing out of modern life’s rituals. Over 100 years later, performance artist Fiona Templeton and company sent theatergoers streetwalking down avenues that would have been paradise to the proto slummer Baudelaire: the seedy area of midtown Manhattan just west of Times Square. But YOU: The City cruised for

  • Daniel Larrieu and Astrakan, Waterproof

    Waterproof is a dance-theater performance that resembles an abstract water ballet — a denatured entertainment—with a strong conceptual bent. Originally staged in Paris in 1985, the work is performed in a swimming pool by eight swimmer-dancers in black tank suits and identical goggles. Its 12 sections are organized around movement and/or perceptual conceits that generally carry an explicitly opaque metaphorical charge: “The Walk—traversing the aquatic space like a compact rain of autumn; solitude” reads a typical program note. The actual movement consists of a sort of floating/pedaling by

  • Kodō

    Severe disciplines serving mystical visions; exotic instruments, costumes, and techniques; unusual staging contexts—these are what Western audiences have been conditioned to expect from the Eastern performing arts for years. And then there’s the “authenticity” factor, which charms contemporary audiences into suspending the usually modern filters—i.e., irony, detachment, etc.—when they witness performances that fit no Western categories. In the 1930s, Antonin Artaud was outlining ideas for the performance of the future based on his search for “the real,” a theoretical leap that led him to declare