John Howell

  • Laurie Anderson

    The latest of Laurie Anderson’s talking electronic-blues performances showed subtle changes in her trademark formula of musical monologues accompanied by elaborate mixed media visual imagery and quirky props. She has continued to refine a small vocabulary of rich ideas that seems to be capable of infinite development. On the surface, these shifts of emphasis don’t appear to be major new statements. In this concert, however, the sum total of Anderson’s alterations—those that have slowly accumulated over her more-than-a-decade-long performing career as well as those apparent since her last New

  • Squat Theatre, Dreamland Burns

    In one of the first scenes of the 45-minute film that opens Dreamland Burns, 1985, two men riding in a truck banter about sex and death, and are then revealed to be minor characters and mere lugs, furniture movers who are relocating a young woman from her suburban home to a Manhattan apartment. It’s a comic-mythic Squat Theatre twist, familiar from their previous multimedia performance works, all of which are about an “America” that is part symbol, part cartoon, and part primal urge. Overall, it’s more a dreamlike state of mind than a realistic portrait of an actual place. The America of this

  • Jan Fabre

    “When the will does the work of the imagination, the result is rhetoric,” concluded William Butler Yeats. So much was so willfully wrongheaded about Jan Fabre’s The Power of Theatrical Madness, a much-heralded example of European avant-garde theater, that it’s hard to know how to begin analyzing this mass of didactic bombast parading as vision. One might begin with the overall air of smug self-importance. From its title, through four and a half hours of pretentious action, to its ludicrous finale, in which a nude woman was spanked while shouting out that very title (thus adding it to the list

  • John Kelly and Huck Snyder

    Performance art’s attack on theater has often been an all-out war of concept versus drama. In the “that’s entertainment” mood of the ’80s, some performance artists have reached a separate peace with drama to produce performances with conceptual content and go-for-broke theatrics. Diary of a Somnambulist, 1986, a collaborative performance and exhibition by performer john Kelly and painter Huck Snyder, is one of the most fully realized performances to emerge from this detente Constructed from a catalogue of appropriated expressionist attitudes and images arrayed in dialectical patterns, Diary of

  • Lucinda Childs

    “Decorative” was the worst possible insult to the experimental choreographers of the Judson Dance Theater in the ’60s: basics were of the essence. But surprisingly, of the three dance-by-numbers Post-Moderns—Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, and Lucinda Childs—it is the most severely reductive of the group, Childs, who has best reintroduced those theatrical elements stripped from dance by the Judson’s revolutionary agenda.

    Since her featured appearance as a performer/choreographer in Robert Wilson’s and Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, 1976, the Gesamtkunstwerk of Minimalism, Childs has added—in a

  • Wendy Perron

    What happens when ’70s conceptual choreography—linear, task oriented, geometric—barrels head-on into the flashy theatricalism that is the standard choreographic rhetoric of the ’80s? One satisfactory answer can be found in Wendy Perron’s hybrid choreography By bringing brain power to dance theater, Perron and her company avoid the glib flourishes of show-bizzy routines that now overload too many “experimental” dances. And by adding some touches of performance pizzazz to her formerly too-diffident dances, Perron allows their intrinsic kinetic charm to shine through their conceptual conceits.

    This

  • “The Explicit Image”

    While the debate rages about pornography—its definition, purpose, and social implications—artists continue to create a free zone in which graphic erotic imagery and art interface apart from sociological categorization. In no area are the issues more tangled than in photography; the technical capabilities of film have shifted erotic discourse away from literature, from the nuance of the written word to the bluntness of the visual image.

    “The Explicit Image: an exhibition of 55 erotic photographs culled from the 3,500 images in the Vasta Images/Books collection, was a curatorial statement about

  • The Birth of the Poet

    This “opera” was the wildest collaboration yet staged in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s pack-happy Next Wave series, since the production’s principals—director Richard Foreman, librettist Kathy Acker, composer Peter Gordon, and set-and-costume-designer David Salle—would admit to no collaboration at all.

    Set in three “traumatic” periods of history—New York City in the near future after a nuclear-plant explosion, the falling Roman empire, and modern-day Iran—the various elements of The Birth of the Poet mimicked the anarchic subject matter by their complete independence of one another. The result

  • Nina Wiener, In Closed Time

    The annual Next Wave Festival is structured on the classic avant-garde notion of collaborative projects. As with any artistic agenda, traditional or "cutting edge,” this criterion has yielded both shining moments and total misfires. Nina Wiener’s In Closed Time, 1985, was one of the flawed productions, its unevenly realized elements jostling out-of-sync in a failed attempt to achieve a Big Statement.

    As always, Wiener’s complex formalist choreography was provocative and vigorous, and superbly performed; however, its narrative overlay, clearly intended to transmit a weighty message, was not

  • Kazuo Ohno

    Butoh, the Japanese experimental dance-theater form, has been performed recently around the country by some of its younger practitioners, notably the Sankai Juku troupe and the Butoh-influenced dancers Eiko and Koma. The latest New York performances of Kazuo Ohno, the 79-year-old “father” of Butoh, both confirmed its status as one of the major forms of contemporary avant-garde theater and restated in emphatic terms its risky, limit-pushing esthetic. Although Ohno’s performances recalled Butoh’s origins in traditional forms of theater, they were in no way academic; his virtuosic dancing and

  • Christo in Paris. The bridge wore beige.

    CHRISTO’S PACKAGING IN CLOTH of the venerable Paris bridge the Pont-Neuf confirms his spot right up there in Cecil B. De Mille’s class as a creator of dazzling spectacle. The numbers involved read like a movie-studio budget: ten years in the making; 440,000 square feet of fabric; 42,900 feet of rope; executed by over 500 engineers, construction workers, scuba divers, and rock climbers; 500,000 samples of cloth to be distributed free; estimated cost: $2.5 million; privately financed by the producer/director, Christo, with no grant monies or government subsidies.

    A conceptual underpinning has been

  • Lenora Champagne

    For the last seven years Creative Time has sponsored “Art on the Beach,” one of New York’s most unpredictable exhibition and performance programs, on the Battery Park landfill in lower Manhattan. This season marks the end of this innovative summer series of cross-disciplinary collaborations, since the high-rise condominiums and office buildings long planned for the site are now scheduled for construction. That’s a shame, because the stunning setting—the banks of dunes beside the Hudson River; the sweeping view of the harbor; the flanking wall of skyscrapers, dramatically lit (the performances