COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Negative Space

    DYING IS A PROCESS, one that is both arduous and physically precise—so Faye Driscoll reminds us as we walk through a darkened theater wing to see Thank You For Coming: Space, which premiered as part of Montclair State University’s Peak Performances. This choreographic investigation of death begins when audiences step around (or accidentally on) a collage of art historical images taped to the floor. The pictures mostly depict the aftermath of violent acts: scenes of crime and martyrdom; pools of blood, splayed limbs. In one medieval painting, a smiling skeleton cavorts arm in arm with the living

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  • Cher and Cher Alike

    IT WAS EITHER SCOTT’S IDEA, or Maddie’s idea. Or it was Dave’s idea, but then Dave couldn’t come. He’d already seen it anyway and told me that it was like nothing that should be allowed onstage, but there it was. We gave his ticket to Jennifer, and the four of us made our way to the Neil Simon Theater to see The Cher Show, which—playing right across the way from Mean Girls—made a neat little homo alley out of Fifty-Second Street.

    Sitting way up in the $69 “cheap seats” on an undersold Wednesday night, I marveled at how beat up the stage floor was. This is Broadway, I thought, those words hovering

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  • ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

    OPERA, CHARLES ROSEN ONCE WROTE, is governed by “the expectation of essential lunacy.” Its unrepentant feeling, its curling decor, its warbling inheritances, all these gilded artifacts of empire seem so far from the word’s Latin root, opus, which translates to “work,” that favorite American religion.

    The late operas of Michigan-born composer Robert Ashley (1930–2014) are staged with a dignified efficiency that seems at once to point backward to this etymology and to push the genre forward into the twentieth century. To begin a new presentation of Ashley’s 1985 Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) this

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  • Ain’t We Got Fun?

    THERE’S NOTHING VERY COOL about going to see an eight-hour production of The Great Gatsby. I tried to get it past the kultur cop in my head by looking into various alternate interpretations of the play, my favorite being one originated by the now dean of Medgar Evers College, Carlyle V. Thompson, back in 2000, when he argued that Gatsby was in fact a light-skinned black man passing as white. Thompson cites clues like the forty acres that Gatsby owns, the withheld obscenity that gets scrawled on his front steps, the way Tom Buchanan’s racist claptrap helps frame the novel (“If we don’t look out

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  • American Heroine

    TINA SATTER/HALF STRADDLE'S IS THIS A ROOM is a verbatim enactment of an audio recording made by Special Agent Justin G. Garrick, the FBI officer who arrested Reality Winner for releasing classified information. You remember that, right? The world has been remade a thousand times since then, but we shouldn’t forget that we only know the Russians tried to hack our voting machines because a twenty-five-year-old intelligence specialist mailed reports (circulated internally at the NSA) to The Intercept in 2017.

    The show stages Winner’s encounter with the FBI team the day they show up—presumably with

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  • Now Ear This

    ON A RAINY SUNDAY MORNING IN DECEMBER, I took a walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park from St. Ann’s Warehouse via Hear Their There Here, a free audio guide which I’d downloaded onto my iPhone. Conceived by theater artist Geoff Sobelle—co-artistic director of the performance group rainpan 43 as well as a company member of Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company—with sound design by Gareth Fry and app design by Jesse Garrison, and commissioned by St. Ann’s—this interactive sound piece weaves together an aural experience of the park from hundreds of interviews Sobelle and his cohort conducted with

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  • Those Women Who Destroy the Infinite

    TWO PUDDLES, HYPNOTIC AND IRIDESCENT; ALL SURFACE, NO DEPTH. I watch a scrum of dancers make them, hunched and sobbing, emptying themselves. A knee drags through the wet. Afterward, as coats are slung across shoulders, the tears slowly return to air.

    Elements of the theater’s infrastructure, seemingly evaporated too, had been strategically removed: light rigs withdrawn, pipes displaced, the risers diarticulated and strewn about in clumps. The effect is the renovation of mood. Starkly cavernous, the changed architecture left both audience and performer to rattle around inside of it.

    Moriah Evans’s

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  • As Wastage

    THE SIREN RISES IN A LONG WAIL. It climbs through the darkness, sounding the alarm that The Head & The Load has begun. At first, the tinny signal of distress seems to emanate from a machine, but as it swells, it modulates into a multitude of voices of varying timbres, and vocalist Ann Masina, her mouth open in full-throated song, is spotlighted. The noise subsides, a pause to register that it is humans who summon us: not a machine. And from that small correction of understanding—the invitation to distinguish between a person and a tool—we are called to remember the difference between

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  • Dear Darling

    MARY MARGARET O’HARA DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK.

    If you had the talent of Billie Holiday and the aesthetic sensibility of Captain Beefheart, you probably wouldn’t give a fuck either. Fortunately, everyone at Issue Project Room for her one-off, sold-out return to New York is there to watch her not give a fuck—that’s what she does. She hasn’t performed in the city in ten years. She walks onstage holding a bugle. She interrupts herself at least once during every song, often simply ending in the middle. She yelps, yowls, mutters, and walks away from the microphone. There are four other musicians

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  • Your Groove

    THE RIGGED SOUND OF TECHNO is a language, dense with sentiment and context. In October, as part of its ongoing “Posthuman” series, Performance Space New York hosted “Man Machine,” a conversation between the Detroit-based electronic-music collective Underground Resistance and artist Kevin Beasley. Founded in 1989 by Jeff Mills and “Mad Mike” Banks, later joined by Robert Hood, Underground Resistance was militant in its rejection of “programming by mediocre mainstream music and public institutions.” Now they are the inheritors and protectors of the “original” techno sound. They were anti–status

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  • Off the Record

    ADVICE: IF YOU DECIDE TO ADAPT Joan Didion’s writing for the theater, downplay its literary origin. Her sentences inhere most naturally on the page, where they can be underlined, annotated, queried, immediately reread. Didion’s own theatrical presentation of The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), her meditation on mourning for her husband, the novelist and screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, whittled mazy streams of consciousness into a stark monologue performed by Vanessa Redgrave. The actor’s gravitas was compelling but at odds with the literary persona Didion has over decades so carefully honed

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