Trajal Harrell, Pam Tanowitz and other APAP Showcases Turn New York Into One Big Runway

Look around. People bolting snacks and coffee wave at others across the lobby. They say things like, “I haven’t seen you since the festival in Dublin, or, wait, was it in Monaco that we had pasta together? How are things going in Minneapolis?”

These are not jet-setters; they’re the game, weary people in town for theAssociation of Performing Arts Presenters’ annual conference, and they’re stoking up for what may be the third showcase they’ve attended today. They’re here, of course, to discuss funding for the arts and audience building. Every dance company in town—and some from overseas—tries to be seen during APAP week, hoping that these people aren’t just window-shopping. At least 11 New York dance venues host showcases, with most companies offering excerpts on shared programs.

Trajal Harrell in his "Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (S)"
Miana Grafals
Trajal Harrell in his "Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (S)"

Details

Trajal Harrell
The New Museum of Contemporary Art
January 7 through 8

Pam Tanowitz
Dance Theater Workshop
January 10 through 11

APAP week showcases and performances
Various venues
January 7 through 11

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Choreographers and dancers catch up on what their peers are doing; critics look in on what they missed and what they hope not to miss in the future. Also what they’re thrilled to see again. David Parker’s Bang, brilliantly performed by Jeffrey Kazin and Nic Petry, turns the slam of body against body against the floor into a revelation not just of sophisticated percussive virtuosity, but of a two-man relationship. This was on a percussion marathon at Symphony Space, where other standouts were Joseph Webb’s powerful tapping and beguiling hosting of Thank You Gregory, a tribute to Gregory Hines staged by Tony Waag; the beautifully serene and precise leaps by Irish step dancer Timothy Kochka in Darrah Carr’s RhythMOTION and Step Dance Suite; and an excerpt from Buckets and Tap Shoes by the Minneapolis-based musician-dancers Andy and Rick Ausland, who are as sharp with their laid-back patter as they are with their feet.

Sometimes excerpts leave you in the dark as to what the whole work is or will be. This can be fine if it whets your appetite to see more. I’m not likely to miss David Dorfman’s Prophets of Funk—Dance to the Music of Funk, when it finally becomes a full-evening work in two years (Dorfman in league with Sly and the Family Stone? Irresistible). A 17-minute excerpt from Julian Barnett’s solo with mirrors, Echologue (like Dorfman’s work, shown on one of three showcases at Danspace), makes me want to see the whole piece.

Lucky for me, I was able to take in two pieces in their entirety and fully staged: Trajal Harrell’sTwenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (S), which premiered at Danspace last October, and Pam Tanowitz’s Be in the Gray With Me, first shown at Dance Theater Workshop in June.

Only seconds after Harrell’s performance at the New Museum begins, I decide to forgive him for referring to “the autofictional potentiality of the performer” in his program note. OK, the concept behind the piece is brainy, but it emerges far more clearly and entrancingly in the elegant solo he created for himself. He’s not, by the way, the first choreographer to be intrigued by Judson Dance Theater’s radical work in the ’60s (or by the relics and myths trailing it, since he’s too young to have seen it); in 1992, another formidably smart and witty choreographer, Doug Elkins, premiered a dance titled Where Was Yvonne Rainer When I Had Saturday Night Fever?Harrell’s question to himself as he began work on Twenty Looks was “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns in Judson Church?”

He doesn’t want to answer that question literally. Rather—like Rainer and her colleagues (Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, David Gordon et al.)—he queries the nature of performance. It’s worth remembering, too, that, although Rainer’s famous 1965 manifesto said “NO” to spectacle, glamour, and virtuosity, she later investigated them in her 1968 The Mind Is a Muscle—by having her performers, with their everyday, no-big-deal manners, share the stage, in one scene, with a showy professional juggler. In Continuous Project–Altered Daily two years later, she included readings of film notables’ memories, as well as juxtaposing process to performance (the raw meets the cooked).

Twenty Looks begins before it “begins.” Harrell is laying out his changes of wardrobe on six chairs and greeting the spectators as they find seats on three sides of the New Museum’s black-box theater. It’s he who hands out the programs that list what those 20 looks are and educate us via short essays on “The Voguing Dance Tradition” and “The Postmodern Dance Tradition” in English, French, and Dutch. The black runway laid out on the floor has a temporary air—as if it’s more for a photo shoot than for either a fashion show or the Harlem ball scene that reinvented those designer presentations. The strip of marly is clothespinned up to a low fence at the back and ends in a roll at the feet of one bank of spectators.

Throughout the piece, Harrell juggles such dualities as reality vs. performance, what’s might be considered entertaining and what boring, and “hot” material siphoned through cool presentation. Is watching him efficiently but unhurriedly change his attire downtime, or a suspenseful part of the show?

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