COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Deep Space

    SHORTLY BEFORE I SAW BLANK MAP, a work created and performed collectively by five black, queer artists, an invitation for “Blackness in Abstraction,” a show at Pace Gallery curated by Adrienne Edwards, landed in my inbox. 

     

    As I watched these five disparate individuals in Blank Map moving and not moving, together and apart, for roughly an hour, the concept of Edwards’s exhibition kept surfacing. When Brontez Purnell lay prone in front of a camera positioned on the floor, pulled down his pants and undulated his ass, the audience witnessed both the spectacle of bouncing flesh and the dark, wavelike

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  • Comin’ Round the Mountain

    IN THE BEGINNING IS THE END.

    That’s what I kept thinking while standing alone in 356 S. Mission’s industrial backlot amid shifting clumps of art-world denizens. The late-day golden light was fading, and wave upon wave of Biblical so-and-so begat so-and-so washed up and over us via James Earl Jones’s unmistakable voice.

    It was the opening night of Lutz Bacher’s Magic Mountain, an expansive installation that is one of the best things—full stop—I’ve been inside of in ages. All of the choices on display feel inevitable, unerring: complexity and clarity wandering hand in hand.

    Found objects and materials

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  • Great Ballz of Fire

    IT’S HAPPY HOUR IN AMERICA. A day’s work done, the gainfully, under- and self-employed rush home by way of a well-earned pint. On South Main Street in Los Angeles, from a sidewalk cluttered with chalkboards, a dozen upscale haunts beckon the thirsty. 452 South Main is not among them.

    That address, the once and future home of a food truck turned brick-and-mortar hopeful known as Great Balls, has stood empty for four lucrative years. The blank storefront has its neighbors to thank. In 2013, residents of the New Genesis Apartments, the low-income and recovery housing complex for which 452 is

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  • Church and State

    IN A THREE-NIGHT STRETCH earlier this month, I saw jazz legend Cecil Taylor’s concert with Min Tanaka and Tony Oxley at the Whitney, Miami City Ballet at Lincoln Center, and Vicky Shick at Danspace Project. “This is a totally weird amalgamation,” I wrote to my editor, “and so I’m thinking it might make for a good column.”

    Such, it seems, are the dubious writerly frames I devise when faced with an overabundance of choices. I should have Shick choreograph this column for me; Another Spell, which marked the twentieth anniversary of her first commission at Danspace, showed yet again how skilled this

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  • Big Words

    IS DEATH A CRUELER FATE for those who have lived a creative life? Is it a greater tragedy that one day a body that has channeled dance or theater or poetry will betray not just life, but art too? These questions surfaced in two recent productions, each of which consider the condition of the male artist in his golden years: Alvis Hermanis’s Brodsky/Baryshnikov starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Robert Wilson’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. At the center of both plays are the words of long-dead authors, ego ideals for the artists on stage. In the face of their own mortality,

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  • Forced Entertainment

    MOST ARTISTIC COLLABORATION is ad hoc and short-lived. But what happens when it goes on for decades, and yet takes place within the most ephemeral of genres, live performance? This probably wasn’t the question a group of University of Exeter drama graduates set out to answer in 1984 when founding a company that was not quite traditional artists’ collective and not quite traditional theater group. They called themselves Forced Entertainment, and led by artistic director Tim Etchells, the group’s current members (Etchells, Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, and Terry

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  • History in the Making

    AS WITH HIS PREVIOUS SERIES, Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, 2009–2013, Trajal Harrell’s new production, The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai, is explicitly concerned with speculative history. But this time around, instead of imagining a meeting between the Harlem voguing and Judson Dance Theater worlds, Harrell turns abroad, to a choreographic encounter between two enigmatic figures: Tatsumi Hijikata, a founder of Japanese butoh dance, and Dominique Bagouet, of France’s Nouvelle Danse movement.

    He also dreams up a midwife: Ellen Stewart, the inimitable force behind

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  • Present Tense

    THE WOMAN IS sitting on a couch in the museum. She is only sitting. She isn’t looking distractedly at a brochure, or taking a picture of art, or herself, or herself and art. She isn’t doing anything with her phone, even just holding it like a talisman, and in fact it appears that she doesn’t even have a phone. In a room full of chaotic, barely-there bodies, she simply and powerfully is.

    Soon enough she will not be sitting. She will, slowly and with a coiled, liquid purpose that seems to originate at a cellular level, flow into less conventional poses, coming up for air periodically to level her

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  • Syms’s City

    QUEEN LATIFAH looks at the camera, smiling with lips lined, hair pressed, blazer on. A headshot from her days starring as Khadijah James in the 1990s FOX sitcom Living Single, the image’s caption betrays an earlier, discarded title for the show: “My Girls.”

    To whom, in fact, do these girls belong? The artist Martine Syms calls photos like this—purchased on eBay and at flea markets—a type of “prosthetic memory,” a means of claiming a past that is not, conventionally speaking, your own. Speaking to an audience at The Broad in Los Angeles, Syms tells us that the term (from cultural historian Alison

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  • Proof of Life

    “ROSE IS A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A ROSE,” wrote Gertrude Stein, her most famous line dissolving the distinctions between a woman, a name, a word, a flower. Identity is, as the writer suggests, a slippery condition, and who we are rarely has much to do with how we’re called. In Erin Markey’s rousing and tender new musical A Ride on the Irish Cream, Irish Cream is a name is a pontoon boat is a horse is a lover, all borne in this production on the body of trans performer/writer Becca Blackwell, who is also Markey’s partner in life. One of the distinct pleasures of this joyful show is how it brings to

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  • Five Years

    But to impose is not

    To discover. To discover an order as of

    A season, to discover summer and know it,

    To discover winter and know it well, to find,

    Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,

    Out of nothing to have come on major weather,

    It is possible, possible, possible. It must

    Be possible. It must be that in time

    The real will from its crude compoundings come

    LAST WEEK I had the great good fortune to secure a hard-to-come-by seat to I Understand Everything Better, a dance-theater work by David Neumann and his Advanced Beginner Group. Co-commissioned last year by Abrons Arts Center and the

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