Body Shop

Claudia La Rocco at the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters

Left: Miguel Gutierrez in Heavens What Have I Done at Abrons Arts Center. (Photo: Ian Douglas) Right: Belarus Free Theater's Being Harold Pinter at the Public.

ANYONE WHO THINKS there’s nothing to buy or sell in the performing arts has never been to APAP. The annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York, which this year fell from January 7 to 11, features over one thousand showings by more than five hundred artists, all hoping to get their “product” picked up. And this isn’t even counting the increasingly ambitious (overstuffed?) festivals that have coalesced around APAP like asteroid fields sucked into the Death Star’s gravitational pull. It’s like the city becomes one giant performance mall.

“It’s a marketplace—let’s not kid ourselves,” said the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez, during a Saturday morning panel at Performance Space 122 on international touring, collaboration, and commissioning. Gutierrez’s rich, sprawling solo Heavens What Have I Done was part of Ben Pryor’s American Realness, a concurrent festival designed with adventuresome shoppers in mind. “If you’re an artist, you have pieces you apply to grants with—the official pieces,” Gutierrez said later that day, during a performance of Heavens at Abrons Arts Center. “This is not one of those pieces.”

But it is a strong piece, and it proved strong enough to leave an imprint in the hazy APAP torrent of shows, parties, panels, and networking sessions, most of which necessitated at least some consumption of alcohol, punctuated by mad crosstown/downtown/interborough dashes. What a thing of beauty and cockeyed optimism is the hypothetical schedule of conference attendees, few of whom will make it to all or even most of what they plan to see; the Walker Art Center’s Philip Bither had a particularly lovely color-coded chart, which looked almost doable were Bither able to bilocate. Such is the stress of trying to take in everything you’re supposed to see that it’s actually a relief when the inevitable visa screw-ups delay foreign artists’ debuts. (This year it also looked like the Belarus Free Theater artists weren’t going to make it out of their country—and then they did, and nobody could get into their sold-out show in Mark Russell’s Under the Radar theater festival at the Public. Same old APAP story.)

Brian Rogers's Selective Memory at PS 122. (Photo: Paula Court)

“It feels like I’m playing human Tetris,” said Laura Nicoll, who was enduring her first APAP as the marketing manager of Performance Space 122, whose eleven-day interdisciplinary COIL festival ran through the 15th. She and a few colleagues were catching an early dinner at V Bar on Saint Marks, in between the opening COIL show and the opening Under the Radar toast.

“You’re going to hit a cone of exhaustion that will help you,” assured Brian Rogers, an APAP veteran who, as artistic director of the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City and a participating artist in COIL, was doing double duty. “It’s like getting so drunk that you’re sober.”

I could relate by 10:30 PM Saturday, when I staggered back into Abrons, having zoomed over to the Baryshnikov Arts Center to catch a performance by Wally Cardona. Abrons was my last official stop of the night, where I would catch my sixth show of the day, and I had long since passed through the other side of my cone of exhaustion.

But then Ann Liv Young’s Mermaid Solo began: All of a sudden I knew exactly where I was.

Ann Liv Young in Mermaid Solo at Abrons Arts Center. (Photo: Christy Pessagno)

There’s nothing like the fear of being hit with flying chunks of raw Spanish mackerel to situate you in a specific time and place. This is especially true if those chunks are being ripped out of the whole (reeking) fish by a bare-breasted, reptile contact lens–adorned woman, as she heaves her rubber fishtail–encased body around a kiddie pool, wreaking further havoc with her giant fin. Live art: There’s nothing like it.

And there’s nothing quite like Young. She was lying calmly in her pool when we entered, but it still took one of her handlers informing us that the show wouldn’t start until everyone left their seats and surrounded her onstage (ominously covered in plastic) to get most people anywhere near her. As one woman said none-too-quietly to her companion, “No way am I moving down to that tub.”

A few people did come to grief with the mackerel. But Young endured the most injury and insult, piercing her lip on a bone and getting her ankles wrenched around inside her unwieldy mermaid costume. Everything that could go wrong did, from microphone malfunctions to what appeared to be Young’s allergic reaction to the fish. And Young let it all hang out, completely in control of being out of control. Is there any performer doing more interesting work with the art of failure right now?

“Just seeing her oil herself out of her fish costume for five minutes was pretty rad,” said Keith Hennessy, whose gorgeously smart Bessie Award–winning solo Crotch (All the Joseph Beuys References in the World Could Not Heal the Pain, Confusion, Regret, Cruelty, Betrayal or Trauma . . . ) was also part of American Realness. He sat along one wall during Young’s show, nodding along in fascination. Nearby sat a seemingly equally engaged Lane Czaplinski, the artistic director of Seattle’s On the Boards theater, and the choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones, whose Them, a powerfully disturbing take on the relationships of young gay men, had been performed earlier that day in the same space.

“I’d do ’em in the same weekend, just for the stench problem,” said Czaplinski, referring to the equally pungent dead goat that makes a key appearance in Them. Dazed audience members milled around in the wake of Young’s exit, and Czaplinski grinned broadly: another happy APAP customer.