COLUMNS

  • Back to School

    THIS IS THE THIRD TIME I’m writing here about Sarah Michelson’s work, following 4 in 2014 and tournamento in 2015. Now comes September2017/\, which I saw September 24 at Bard, and which was the culmination of a four-year residency Michelson had with students there. Culmination is the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one.

    I didn’t explicitly address those first two pieces to anyone, though of course there was a particular person I was writing to, and for. I’m thinking now of how Michelson has said she makes her dances for four people, herself included; it’s something, like many things

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  • Arca Covenant

    AMONG THE PECULIARITIES of our current moment is an unprecedented willingness to give attractive, clearly male-presenting individuals radical gender points for wearing heels in public. That post-Butlerian zeitgeist certainly isn’t hurting the popularity of Venezuelan performer/producer Arca, and it probably explains the presence of the “I shop at Nasty Pig on lunch break from my Manhattan gallery job” contingent at his show at Brooklyn Steel earlier this month. But Arca taps into a much deeper and more powerful tradition of queer experimentation—less RuPaul’s Drag Race and more COIL’s soundtracks

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  • Breaking Tradition

    “I FEEL TOTALLY SPUN OUT.”

    That’s a note from 4:24 PM Saturday, two hours shy of having experienced twelve hours, spread over two weekends, of THE SET UP: ISLAND GHOST SLEEP PRINCESS TIME STORY SHOW, a series of dances unfurling on Governors Island as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival, in makeshift locations ranging from carpeted office space to cavernous basement to the dry moat surrounding a nineteenth-century fort.

    My dizziness was mild in the scheme of things: For the twenty-seven performers, the entire marathon spanned twenty-four hours (each day-long

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  • 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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