John Howell

  • Trisha Brown

    As one of the original members of the radical Judson Dance Theater in the early ’60s, Trisha Brown has always been a thinking choreographer who puts movement in the service of structural ideas. Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor, 1978, was a solo dance that stressed the relationship between movement and structure with a spontaneous monologue describing the development of the movements of the dance while she performed them, in a constantly changing interactive process. Her latest work—titled, with her characteristic wit, Newark (the New Jersey city, pronounced “new work,” with the accent

  • David Van Tieghem, Bump in the Night (Part 2)

    John Cage’s gently terroristic ideas so ravaged the conventional wisdom about music that experimental composers/performers are still busily rebuilding the “new music” genre years later. David Van Tieghem, in the latest version of his constantly retitled and revamped music-performance piece, adopted a neo-Cageian approach—a knowingly innocent attitude combined with whimsical choices in sound-making—to a distinctively ’80s theater of comedy. As indicated by the title of the series in which it appeared, the “Serious Fun Festival,” Van Tieghem’s concert was couched in terms of smart entertainment.

  • Huck Snyder, Circus

    From Pablo Picasso’s striking, painted decor for Parade to Alexander Calder’s toylike sculpture circus, the Big Top has been raided by visual artists in this century for colorful, “low” subject matter on which to exercise “high” art techniques, with a perfunctory nod to the circus-as-a-metaphor-for-life conceit to provide an implicit philosophical rationale. In Circus, visual artist Huck Snyder and a squad of collaborators created a performance-art revue on circus themes, based on an ’80s club/cabaret sensibility of multiplying ideas and modes of performance that are thoroughly compatible with

  • Lydia Lunch, The Gun is Loaded

    Like her records, videotapes, and writings, Lydia Lunch’s performance monologue The Gun Is Loaded tried to fall off the edge of the rational world with its relentless obscenities, unrelieved negativity, and flat-footed presentation. What was revealed, however, was not a devastating glimpse of the abyss, but the almost total failure of the clichés of classic blasphemy to shock. Lunch’s “too much” was not nearly enough; her additions to the nihilistic vocabulary—praise of “the plague” (clearly AIDS) as population control, rape fantasies with “niggers”—were as ineffectual as the other, standard

  • David Cale, Smooch Music

    Just as performance art began to be understood by the general public as a multimedia fusion, an increasing number of performance artists seem to be choosing a completely opposite form of the genre as their preferred method of getting their points across: the comic monologue. In its simplicity, its lack of pretension, and its homemade production style, this “poor theater” cousin offers a kind of karmic balance to the complex, multisensory, and expensive-to-produce mixed-media performance. It’s no accident that many of the artists working in this reduced style have sprung from low-rent venues.


  • Yoshiko Chuma, The Big Picture

    As the idea of collaboration continues to enthrall performance artists, new territories are still being staked out in the vast conceptual ground between the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk and a Merce Cunninghamesque independence of elements. One popular state of collaborative performance mind might be called “performance bouillabaisse,” i.e., two or more equal parts of performance laced with a liberal dash of conceptual conceit to bind the various components together. The Big Picture, whipped up by Yoshiko Chuma and her performing group, the School of Hard Knocks, was a dazzling multi-layer cake of

  • Pooh Kaye

    Of the many performance artists who focus on physical movement within a mixed-media format, Pooh Kaye would seem the least likely to turn toward choreography—that is, to realize her idiosyncratic kinesthetics on other bodies and to organize performing into dances. With her “wild child” persona (an infantilized female adult who scampered around topless while wearing a grass skirt), her singular unschooled movement, and her performance-as-play conceits, Kaye’s performances and films have been perfect examples of faux naïf events for nearly a decade. (Her principal mentor was another performer of

  • Karen Finley

    A performance artist who honed her act on the club circuit, Karen Finley is the latest late-night skit-maker to move to prime-time alternative performance spaces. Her performance trademark has been ranting monologues, in form not unlike John Giomo’s breath-defined chanting poetry, and in content similar to the “obscene,” taboo-attacking jeremiads of singer-poet Lydia Lunch and writer Kathy Acker. In front of jam-packed, drunkenly rowdy, on-the-prowl audiences, Finley’s run-on tirades about rape, incest, suicide, and, especially, oral and anal sex, combined with her gross physical gestures (

  • Robert Wilson and David Byrne, the Knee Plays

    The Knee Plays, a collaborative mixed media opera, almost effortlessly achieved the kind of successful melding of theatrical elements that most other such performances strain for. Its 13 scenes were originally planned as individual entr’actes between scene changes within the five long sections (each virtually an entire piece in itself) of the CIVIL warS, Robert Wilson’s global performance opera. Like all of Wilson’s architecturally interwoven visual stagework, the design motifs in each “knee play” were supposed to introduce the scene that each vignette preceded (the term comes from vaudeville,

  • John Jesurun, White Water

    John Jesurun’s performance theater is uncommon in that it challenges its audience to think at a time when performance as entertainment or spectacle is prevalent. His productions lay out an imposing agenda of knotty dialectic—live acting/electronic presence, theater staging/media techniques, minimalist structures/melodramatic subject matter—then don’t always bother to synthesize the clashing oppositions into a tidily coherent statement. While his rigorous concepts sometimes lead to a clogged-up, impacted presentation, White Water was a stellar example of how such a heady approach can yield a

  • Eiko & Koma, New Moon Stories

    The most striking feature of the Japanese dance-theater mode called butoh is the way it melds extreme physical action and cosmic themes into tightly disciplined, wildly emotional performances. Eiko and Koma, who count butoh pioneers Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno among their teachers, do not label their collaborations as butoh, but their grounding in the genre gives their performances a typically strenuous and metaphysical butohlike intensity. New Moon Stories adapted their performances to a format similar to other recent butoh pieces; revised versions of three earlier works and a new performance

  • Michael Clark & Company, No Fire Escape in Hell

    A rude boy of dance, British choreographer and dancer Michael Clark debuted in New York with his company in a clamor of frenzied hype. In his evening-length dance No Fire Escape in Hell Clark flaunted an ultrapunk look with earrings, futuristic fashions, and bleached, cropped hair, and loaded his choreography with equally aggressive trappings: dance in drag (Clark’s favorite costume: a tutu); upfront sexual imagery (a solo with dildo); and rock accompaniment from the far cutting edge, a “noise music” anthology sound track of grinding dissonance, distorted high volume, and furious rhythms.

    To the