COLUMNS

  • Butch Chasers and Femmes Fatales

    I ARRIVE TO SEE BAR DYKES at the Flea just a few minutes before 7 PM on a Friday. I spot Becca Blackwell and their best friend Casey ambling toward the theater from an unremarkable Tribeca watering hole; Jennifer is waiting inside with the tickets. Tanya texts me—“hold the curtain!”—and I can only guess what special dose of hell the MTA is serving her this evening. Returning from a quick visit to the all-gender bathroom, Becca excitedly informs us that bottles of wine are going for twenty dollars at the lobby bar. It’s a forgone conclusion that two will be purchased, and drunk, before the play

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  • Forbidden Love

    ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the LGBT Center on West Thirteenth Street, at the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, Sebastián Castro Niculescu stands in teacherly repose next to a large screen. An academic goth of indeterminate age, she begins to introduce her performance, Tired Selena, by gently bemoaning the heat of the room. She gives us permission to do what we must to survive our enclosure and assures the crowd that she herself will only get shinier over the course of the next hour. Appreciative titters travel over the small audience that has gathered here, although I’m doubtful anyone will

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  • VEILED MEANING

    SINGULAR BEINGS LIKE THE DANCER, artist, and poet Paul Swan (1883–1972) are best approached with curiosity rather than a firm thesis. Those whose work has fallen out of favor—or whose tastes were out of step with their times—are often burdened with narratives of failure, of irrelevance, which anyone who understands the unpredictable values of art should dismiss outright. As Jack Smith, one of the great reader-recuperators of culture, wrote in his bravura encomium “The Perfect Filmic Appositeness of Maria Montez” (1962–63): “A highly charged idiosyncratic person (in films) is a rare phenomenon

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  • CROWD CONTROL

    IN 1792, Robert Barker, the Irish painter and inventor, exhibited a 360-degree view of London as seen from the roof of Albion Mills, a flour mill roughly five hundred feet west of where Tate Modern now stands. His “panorama” and others like it were technological marvels, popular attractions that rendered sweeping landscapes—both foreign and domestic, historical and contemporary—from the standpoint of an all-seeing visitor, the sublimity of the ungraspable world translated for ready capture by the centered individual. London from the Roof of the Albion Mills triumphed in Leicester Square before

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  • Open Access

    I VIVIDLY RECALL participating in a workshop hosted by Park McArthur and Constantina Zavitsanos four years ago in Glasgow as part of “We Can’t Live Without Our Lives,” the seventh episode of an annual festival put on by the political arts organization Arika. Their discussions of “access intimacy” based on Mia Mingus’s insight that the body should be treated as a “medium through which we can become one another’s means” profoundly shaped not only my art but also the way I relate to and care for my chronically ill mother.

    A related three-day festival held in mid-April at Performance Space New York,

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  • Nice Troy

    NORMA JEANE BAKER/MARILYN MONROE: a well of sadness/a siren of the silver screen. “War creates two categories of persons,” wrote poet and translator Anne Carson in Norma Jeane Baker of Troy. “Those who outlive it and those who don’t. Both carry wounds.” Stardom also splits one into two—a celebrity, a person—and like war, advances and succeeds on the brute power of the myths that fuel it. (Few have ever pillaged this world defending unadorned fact.) And although it is true that a persona is not a war, it is also true that Norma Jeane didn’t survive the bombshell.

    This is the Nile and I’m a liar.

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  • All Falls Down

    YVONNE RAINER ONCE QUIPPED that, if she invented running, then Steve Paxton invented walking. At the opening of this major retrospective, “Drafting Interior Techniques” at Culturgest in Lisbon, Paxton walked through the exhibition space clutching a hand-held camera. We followed, watching him walk around, watching him watch and film himself on projected documents around us. The observance of others and the performance of the everyday are governing principles of much of Paxton’s work, evident in the very first room of the exhibition, which is dominated by an elongated projection of Waiting, Walking,

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  • Live After Death

    IN THE LOBBY OF THE KITCHEN, a small black table offers tiny plastic cups of clear alcohol—wine or liquor I can’t be sure, and I don’t actually know the color of absinthe, but it seems like an appropriately gothic choice for this event—a staging of Anohni’s SHE WHO SAW BEAUTIFUL THINGS, advertised as “a two-act surrealist and absurdist drama containing music, painting, video and performance.” I imagine the preshow drink as ritualistically endowed with a kind of ceremonial magic useful for conjuring up the past. A merch table offers, among other staples, vinyls of Anohni’s music, which I first

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  • THESE WOMEN’S WORK

    THE SNEAKERS, six pairs in all, are pink. Every actress who appears in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole (2019) wears them—with jeans, with scrubs, beneath petticoats. The anesthetized set, by Mariana Sanchez, is spare: A hospital bed, a reception desk, and a waiting area adorned with potted plants are surrounded on three sides by tiles that match, almost exactly, the color of the actresses’ shoes. Flattering, photogenic, and distinctively of this moment, the rosy shade nonetheless seems almost threatening, mutant, evoking the soigné efforts of corporate branding run amok.

    Mournful bagpipes

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  • Night of 100 Solos: London

    AROUND FIFTEEN MINUTES into the one-and-a-half hour performance of Night of 100 Solos: A Centenary Event at the Barbican Theatre, the phrase SKILL—FOR THE HOLES was projected against a large cyclorama onstage. Shadows cast by readymades, 2019, was part of artist Richard Hamilton’s contribution to the evening, splicing Duchampian images with found texts from engineering manuals. Although it runs counter to the aleatory spirit of a Cunningham Event to use any one part as the key with which to decode another, this aphoristic slogan resonated in my mind for the rest of the performance. The pleasures

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  • Night of 100 Solos: Los Angeles

    WHAT MAKES A CUNNINGHAM DANCER? What makes a Cunningham dance? These questions flickered in my mind like the digital butterflies on the massive screen in UCLA’s Royce Hall as I watched the Los Angeles iteration of Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, a celebration of the late choreographer’s one-hundredth birthday. Once the ninety-minute performance and all standing ovations were over, I was no nearer to an answer but better off for bearing witness to brilliant dancing and the sheer dedication to Merce Cunningham’s legacy.

    There was the explosive pass across the stage by Rena Butler, a standout

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  • Night of 100 Solos: New York

    ON APRIL 16, ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, MERCE CUNNINGHAM WAS BORN. On April 15, 2019, I was sitting in the balcony of the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House among the hundred or so people watching the final run-through of the “Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event.” Can I say that I assisted at the memorial’s birth? Probably not.

    The program took even more risks than the patchworked material that his company used to perform worldwide as Events. Each of the seventy-five dancers celebrating his birthday (twenty-five in New York, and the same number in London and in Los Angeles) learned short passages culled

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