COLUMNS

  • Phantom of the Oprah

    “THERE WAS A TIME—way, way back—when Oprah was a human being, just a woman, she felt pain and she suffered. She felt fear and desire.”

    So begins the storytelling in Poor People’s TV Room, a performance conceived by Okwui Okpokwasili, coauthored, designed, and directed in collaboration with Peter Born. Part theater, part dance, part installation, the piece hovers in an undefined space and time, conjuring the stories of four women: Merit (Katrina Reid), Madame (Okpokwasili), Honor (Thule Dumakude), and Yeru (Nehemoyia Young). From the grand tales of Oprah’s origin myth to the intimate gossip about

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  • Absolutely Fabulist

    THERE’S NO SATIRE QUITE LIKE THE PRESENT, a fact that poses a funny challenge to contemporary comedy—or at least threatens it with redundancy. How to harness the power of a joke, when a joke has been made all-powerful?

    Enter the great Absurdist, performance artist Michael Portnoy. His latest piece is titled Character Assassination, and it is (in part) a comedy heralding the end of comedy—or at least pointing to the rafters from which it’s hanging itself. Written in collaboration with Dan Fox (art critic, coeditor of Frieze, and author of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters), this deft and dizzying

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  • Life on Mars?

    ON FEBRUARY 19 MPA, an artist based in Joshua Tree, California, completed (along with colleagues Amapola Prada and Elizabeth Marcus-Sonenberg) an ersatz ten-day residency at the Whitney Museum titled Orbit. For that period, the three women lived sequestered in a thirty-six-foot-long by three-foot-wide sliver of the Museum’s theater facing the Hudson River. They resided like zoological specimens in this glass-enclosed box, isolated from yet completely exposed to the public during museum open hours. Dressed in red outfits that accessorized the vermillion infrastructure of their capsule, they lived

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  • Adult Contemporary

    WILLIAM FORSYTHE’S PAS/PARTS 2016 begins like an about-to-happen assignation at the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool. The air is dusky blue; the mood is at once alienated and electric. A lone woman is still, and then gloriously in motion, kinetic impulses flickering and undulating through her body with crystalline propulsion.

    The woman is Sofiane Sylve, the imperiously grand San Francisco Ballet principal. She is the cold-hot center of this episodic ensemble ballet and, like Thom Willems sinuous, spectacle-courting score, she is only warming up.

    Forsythe made Pas/Parts for the Paris Opera

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  • Fail Safe

    FAILURE HAS ALWAYS BEEN a ripe subject for theater. The stars don’t ever align for Romeo and Juliet. The three Prozorov sisters will never live happily ever after. Godot won’t arrive.

    The world’s stage is no different. The current spectacle of the forty-fifth President—his sociopathic twists of fact and fiction, stories told to seize the spotlight, to succeed—promises no happy endings either. It is part of the dispirit of our age that we must recognize that certain people seek not only to align themselves with power and money, but, barring real access to these things, they land their pride on

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  • Good Charlotte

    ONE TELEVISION MONITOR in “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s,” screened clips of Charlotte Moorman’s TV appearances. On the Merv Griffin Show in June 1967, Moorman performed John Cage’s 26’1.1499” for a String Player with the help of comedian Jerry Lewis. Holding a military-grade practice bomb that Moorman had converted into a cello, he asked the audiences, “Does she know I’m famous?” Gingerly, he kneeled down before her, his head bent toward her bare shoulders while she pulled a cello string taut up along his back, playing it with her bow. It’s a

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  • Hotel California

    YOU ARE MEETING A STRANGER AT THE HOTEL BAR. This is not your regular watering hole: velvet curtains, coffered ceilings, outstretched columns that hold up nothing. Everything is in the style of a ruin that doesn’t know it’s a ruin yet. You finger the thin straw plunged in a gin and tonic, unsure. Are you waiting to be found, or are you supposed to be looking?

    On the eighth floor, the room is dark. Shuffling in, you glimpse the outline of a recumbent figure. When the lights come up, a man is lying naked on one of two beds, phone in hand. You wait for him to speak first.

    His nakedness is not surprising

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  • Thank You for Being a Friend

    November 21, 2016 at 8:54 PM EST

    Dear Mr. B,

    I’ve just come home from an event of much love at the Kitchen, part of the rollout of Douglas [Crimp]’s superb memoir [Before Pictures]. Three exemplary interlocutors from three different dance worlds: Adrian Danchig-Waring (New York City Ballet/Balanchine), Silas Riener (Merce Cunningham), and Yvonne Rainer (Yvonne Rainer). 

    A little asymmetrical, I suppose, since Rainer got to play herself, though everyone did a very good job representing. 

    Rainer, at the end, was trying to respond to a question from the audience, and failing a bit. She said her mind

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  • Laugh Lines

    “IT’S A TERRIBLE WORD FOR A YOUNG ARTIST—creative dance; it’s oppressive.”

    “I hope you can understand how absurd my practice is.”

    These are two of the many very good lines Deborah Hay tossed off Saturday night on the stage of Zellerbach Hall, during a pre-performance lecture (a first for her and, no surprise, she nailed it) at Cal Performances in Berkeley. The occasion was her Figure a Sea, a 2015 collaboration with Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet.

    Here’s a third: “They both happened to laugh a lot, and that helped me.” This in reference to John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, whose art and thinking were

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  • Time and Time Again

    THE ARTISTS, MUSICIANS, CURATORS, AND WRITERS that work in and support time-based art are a small, necessarily close-knit tribe. Performance is, after all, easily the least lucrative of genres, a fact that has consistently made it the repository for work that is less monetarily driven and less safe, but which has also sometimes made it feel insular and uninterested in courting an audience outside its fold. This is why the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, one of only a handful of such festivals in the US, feels so consistently fresh, both in its programming and

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  • the Wooster Group’s Town Hall Affair

    WHAT EXACTLY IS The Town Hall Affair, an hour-long performance piece the Wooster Group staged this past May as a work-in-progress at the Performing Garage in SoHo? Is it a reconstruction of Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 feature Town Bloody Hall, which documented the “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation” presented April 30, 1971, at New York’s Town Hall by the Theatre for Ideas? Is it a deconstruction? A hall of mirrors? A stroll down memory lane?

    Multiple iterations of a narrative (often jumping from medium to medium) tend toward myth. Such has been made of that archetype-populated April

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  • Madness and Civilization

    TO THINK AND SPEAK AND ACT in the way of madness—meaning, to speak in opposition to madness made popular, shared, atomized, taken as reason, as the natural way of things—only to be seen and heard and understood as madness, as criminality, itself: This is the condition of Moses’s mother, or rather the woman we think of as Moses’s mother in theater artist Romeo Castellucci’s harrowing and brilliant Go Down, Moses.

    Spun very loosely from the story of the Biblical hero who led the Israelites to the Promised Land, Castellucci’s play doesn’t tell us the story of the great prophet. Instead, it follows

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