Performance

  • 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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  • Pulling the Plug

    IN 1981, Tony Award–winning actor/singer/dancer Ben Vereen accepted an invitation to perform as part of Ronald Reagan’s All-Star Inaugural Gala. Also slated to entertain the newly elected Republican and his supporters were Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Debbie Boone, Donnie and Marie Osmond, and Johnny Carson, the show’s master of ceremonies. Knowing the event would be broadcast to millions of viewers, Vereen decided to address the troubled history of black performers in America with a tribute to Bert Williams, one of the great vaudevillians (and subject of a forthcoming program at MoMA), a

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  • Pointe / Counterpointe

    FOR HIS PERFORMA 15 COMMISSION, Jérôme Bel has created a compact work in an unwieldy delivery system: The thirty-five-minute Ballet (New York) is being presented in three spaces around Manhattan this month—Marian Goodman Gallery, the Martha Graham Studio, and the theater at El Museo del Barrio—so that, per the program, it “plays with how these environments each frame and shape the ways we see and ‘feel’ dance.” (Amusingly, the Graham Center, a modern-dance shrine that now occupies Merce Cunningham’s fabled digs on Bethune Street, gets labeled “a downtown dance studio.”)

    Alas, for this contextual

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  • Wojciech Kosma

    TWO WOMEN lie reclining in different positions on a matte-black foam floor. “How are you?” asks one. “I’m better than yesterday,” replies the other. As they continue to chat, they begin to move—pacing and swerving around each other—surrounded by an audience sitting on the floor along the four walls. “How was your Tinder date?” asks one. “It was really good. She was supercute,” replies the other.

    This was the tentative beginning to JESSICA LLEWELLYN TIMOTHY DWAYNE WOJCIECH YUNUEN, the latest installment in a project instigated in 2011 by Wojciech Kosma. The premise is simple: The performers

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  • Delusional Downtown Divas

    THE PSYCHOSIS OF SISTERHOOD never goes out of style, I suppose. Two recent performances feature characters who are sisters—each other’s closest and most cherished rivals—and yet strangely at the heart of each of these productions is a kind mourning or meditation on theatrical space. Why?

    Basil Twist’s latest production, Sisters’ Follies: Between Two Worlds, was commissioned for the one hundredth anniversary of Abrons Playhouse, founded in 1915 by sisters Alice and Irene Lewisohn to give a home and audience to avant-garde theater. Part of the absolute delight of the show is its celebration-cum

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  • Out of Shape

    WHEN THE DEVIL COMES TO MOSCOW, he puts on a vaudeville show.

    At least, that was his M.O. in Mikhail Bulgakov’s mesmerizing The Master and Margarita, which was written in the prime purge period from 1928–1940, but could only be published in 1967. Dazzling and dense, the book splices a reverie on writer’s block, a defense of Pontius Pilate, and a razor-sharp critique of the early Soviet state—though to be fair, that last one writes its own jokes.

    The novel opens with a kitsch-schilling poet and the director of the Writers Union in conversation at Moscow’s Patriarch’s Ponds. The city is slathered

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  • Game On

    IT’S A FUNNY THING to spend five hours with something and not know how you feel about it. This is especially true when it’s someone else’s thing, that you have ostensibly, or so convention holds, been invited in to witness.

    Sarah Michelson’s four-day tournamento took over the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater last week. I was in attendance for only the final hours on Sunday, starting with two-and-a-half hours of afternoon activities that began at 4 PM, followed by the last official show, which began at 7.

    But “activities” isn’t quite right here, and neither is “show.” Better

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