COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Back to the Future

    HERE IT IS: the annual highly selective, totally subjective, goddammit-I-only-remembered-the-best/weirdest/awfullest-thing-after-it-was-published, New York fall performance preview. Trust me, this hurts me more than it hurts you.

    I decided to take a different tack and focus as much as possible on smaller and out of the way things, because, you know, the city is going to be taken over by Performa 15, which is coming up November 1, and this year has the humble theme of the Renaissance. And yes, the Crossing the Line festival is great (Miguel Gutierrez’s complete trilogy at New York Live Arts, and

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  • Naked Truths

    AT SOME POINT in Mike Taylor’s mockumentary DANCENOISE: The Phenomenon (1992), Richard Foreman holds forth, pointing out that you never know whether people are “really picking up on the salient points” of DANCENOISE or simply having “their own fantasies.”

    It’s a marvelously deft and deadpan note in the satirical hagiography, which celebrates as iconic and omnipresent a performance duo (Anne Iobst and Lucy Sexton) that was decidedly fringe. On Sunday afternoon at the Whitney Museum of American Art the film took on an added meta-dimension: The occasion for the Taylor screening was “Don’t Look Back,”

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  • Sickness and Health

    FOR THREE DAYS IN LATE JUNE, Eiko Otake emerged on Fulton and Broadway. She looked wan and frail: Her face, arms, hands, and feet were painted chalk-white, a yellow kimono clung loosely to her thin frame. She seemed dressed up in disease, like a stain and a plague against the city’s latest picture of health, Fulton Center. The gleaming new subway complex is an efficient symbol of vigorous capital and regrowth after 9/11.

    Carrying a bouquet of dried weeds, Eiko made eye contact with viewers gathered for A Body in a Station, 2014–, and then took in the rest of the midday scene as if she were looking

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  • Flight of the Mosquito

    MAKE WAY FOR AKI SASAMOTO. Like her monologues, the artist’s body ricochets through the three-story townhouse that is Luxembourg & Dayan. She squeezes through narrow spaces, hangs from sculptures, and gallops across the building’s length. Occasionally Sasamoto pauses to accommodate shuffling gallery patrons; in other moments, she barrels through them.

    Narrative is here also a thing to be gnarled and made nimble: Are you following along? Perched on the stairs, she begins with a lively discussion about mosquitos. Her affable, self-deprecating charisma—the bedside manner of a stand-up comedian—turns

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  • Identity Play

    IF THERE IS A HEAVEN, there will be a theater. And if there is a theater, it will be Oakland’s Paramount, a marvel of kitschy and sublime Art Deco grandeur. And if there is a ballet for you to watch, while you fill out the necessary forms (there will always be necessary forms) and your martini is shaken or stirred, I wouldn’t mind at all if it’s Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Apres-midi d’un Faune.

    I’d never seen this ballet live until a few weeks ago, when I arrived, with no small amount of trepidation, at the Paramount for the Oakland Ballet’s fiftieth anniversary gala. Galas generally make me want to

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  • Sleeper Hit

    THE FLOOR, like the walls, is bright white. Rectangular floodlights line its perimeter on three sides, angled upward in the manner of expectant faces. This eagerness is mirrored by the audience; tickets sold out quickly and seats filled up fast.

    None of this surprises me. Neither am I surprised that we are given a reading assignment of sorts (typeface Cambria, the default for Microsoft Office), handed out alongside the “official” programs. I read dutifully.

    We are here to see Yvonne Rainer, after all. She holds court in a chair on stage right: wiry glasses, hair in a modest French twist, striped

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