Must-See Performance Festivals Kick Off 2017
Illustration by Aaron Fernandez
The beginning of the year is always a highlight of the New York theater season, for its array of festivals featuring adventurous international and interdisciplinary work. The Public's Under the Radar, P.S.122's COIL, and American Realness, co-presented by Abrons Arts Center and Gibney Dance, are highlights, and this year's offerings are as diverse as ever.
Participation through a technological filter is a clear theme: Yehuda Duenyas's CVRTAIN (COIL), drops spectators into a virtual-reality world, while Top Secret International (State I), by German theater company Rimini Protokoll (Under the Radar), casts its audience members in the role of secret agents in a quest for classified intelligence.
So is the return of beloved regulars: choreographer Trajal Harrell (American Realness) never disappoints, and neither does Marga Gomez's comedy (Under the Radar). But also make sure to look for artists fresh to the festivals: Celebrated choreographer Meg Stuart, who rarely presents work in the U.S., comes to American Realness from Germany, while Under the Radar offers a series of emerging artists' work through its "Incoming!" program.
Then there are the locations making new appearances in the festivals: beyond theaters and gallery spaces, performance will inhabit the Brooklyn Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum at Pier 86, among other site-specific locations. Time to break out the map and explore. — Miriam Felton-Dansky
UNDER THE RADAR
For Under the Radar, German theater company Rimini Protokoll is presenting Top Secret International (State I), a new site-specific, interactive performance about big data. Helgard Haug, one of the group's artistic co-directors, spoke with the Voice about the piece.
How did the project originate?
It started with concerns about how government and intelligence — but also private people — are dealing with information. All of us are constantly creating and collecting data. We were wondering: What is an appropriate way to look at what intelligence is doing? Should [there] be secrets in a democratic state system? Is [that] a contradiction in itself?
How did you decide to stage the piece in the Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian Wing?
We thought a museum would be great, because it's a place of concentration: People are looking at stories, and we like that everybody's equipped with an audio guide. We thought it could be thrilling to create a second layer on top of this and link the ancient art, which implies all the relevant questions, to the current question of the role of intelligence in a democratic state system. Fortunately, the museum was very open to the idea.
What is the audience's role?
It's a very personal experience. We equip people with headphones and a little notebook. This allows us to locate the visitor. Based on [their location] the visitor will receive different audio files, which are interviews with experts on the topic, covering all positions — from whistleblowers to ambassadors and even the former director of the German intelligence. Movement and certain tasks trigger the next situation.
Top Secret International (State I) runs January 5–8 and 11–15 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway. — M.F.D.
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
In Marga Gomez's twelfth — and, she says, final — solo show, the comedian reveals that both her prolific drive and her entertainment savvy are indebted to her father, Willy Chevalier, a Cuban immigrant polymath famous in the mid-century heydey of New York's Latino variety shows. Staged as a "farewell concert," Latin Standards uses Chevalier's radio hits as a frame for Gomez to interweave her childhood memories with scenes from a comedy night she produced at the now-shuttered San Francisco Latino drag club Esta Noche. The result is an evocative love letter to, variously, her father, El Pico coffee, pre-gentrified New York, drag culture, and all the independent cultural spaces "that are essential to the joy" of marginalized performers and communities. — Jennifer L. Pozner
TIME OF WOMEN
Tisch Shop Theatre, 721 Broadway
The bold and genuinely brave Belarus Free Theatre — formed in resistance to, and operating despite persecution from, a repressive political regime (the troupe's leaders are currently in exile) — tells the stories of three real-life journalists: Iryna Khalip, Natalya Radina, and Nasta Palazhanka. All three women were jailed for their opposition to Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko around the time of his questionable re-election in 2010. Judging from the theater's previous shows, this one promises to be uncompromising in its truth-telling and devastating in its emotional impact. (It's also in Russian with supertitles.) — Zac Thompson
THE BITTER GAME
Calling this compelling play a solo performance is a bit of a misnomer: throughout, "actorvist" Keith A. Wallace is in direct conversation with theatergoers — "improvisational shit-talking," he calls it — to inspire radical empathy about how police violence traumatizes African Americans. In this work, first performed on a San Diego basketball court for the LaHoya Playhouse's immersive theater festival, Wallace and director Deborah Stein directly ask the audience urgent questions of our time: What does it mean to survive while black in America, and what will it take to ensure that black lives actually matter? — J.L.P.
Playwrights Downtown, 440 Lafayette Street
Recently, Under the Radar has begun complementing its lineup of major artists with a series showcasing the work of young, emerging ones. This year's Incoming! works tackle themes from Chekhov to hip-hop. Trans performer Becca Blackwell presents They, Themself and Schmerm, a standup-style solo piece about growing up trans, while collaborative ensemble New Saloon stages a new version of Minor Character, a poignant re-envisioning of Uncle Vanya featuring multiple translations and performers in each role. Shasta Geaux Pop, a collaboration between director Charlotte Brathwaite and performer Ayesha Jordan, explores hip-hop and celebrity culture. See these artists before they're celebrities themselves. — M.F.D.
For the 2017 edition of COIL, longtime P.S.122 artist and Emmy Award–winning experiential director Yehuda Duenyas is presenting CVRTAIN, a virtual reality experience that puts audience members in the starring role. It's a mysterious piece, so he gave the Voice a little insight into what to expect.
Where did the idea for 'CVRTAIN' come from?
I was an actor for many years, but also once worked as a theatrical fireproofer. Once, on a break at 3 a.m. from fireproofing, I stood center stage in the empty Radio City Music Hall. It was so magical and beautiful, seeing all the empty seats and grand architecture stare silently back as I stood daydreaming, trying to fill the room with presence. CVRTAIN grows out of those experiences.
Tell us about the setup for the piece.
CVRTAIN puts you on a grand, 360-degree, 3-D virtual reality stage, a personalized stage for one. You then have to move and bow to get a VR audience to respond. It's a game you play with the gestures of the theater. I like combining technology with emotional states, and I'm trying to see if feelings of adoration and love can be communicated in a digital environment.
What's the connection to your last large-scale artistic project, 2012's 'The Ascent?'
In The Ascent, the participant uses their mind state to control machines that allow them to levitate through bioreactive light and sound. Both are about celebrating the participant and seeking to generate an ecstatic state. Both [pieces] allow you to be both audience and also participant. A lot of my work leverages new technologies to create experiences that delight and connect us to one another.
CVRTAIN runs January 3–15 at 151 Gallery, 132 West 18th Street. — Joseph Cermatori
La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street
If you thought becoming an artist would save you from the onslaught of robots, think again. Australians Anthony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe cede the noise-making aspects of their act to Macindoe's 64 identical, metronome-like percussion instruments, which incorporate pencils tapping on hard surfaces, arrayed in a circle. Things heat up. The pair perform Hamilton's compulsive choreography, described as "visual haikus," to the complex ticking of the Tribble-like mechanical devices. Bosco Shaw designs the lights, Paula Levis the simple T-shirts, trousers, and sneakers. — Elizabeth Zimmer
Baryshnikov Arts Center,
450 West 37th Street
Molly Lieber, from Pittsburgh, and Eleanor Smith, from Raleigh, started dancing together a decade ago; this is their fifth evening-length work based in their longtime practice of improvisation in a feminist landscape. "We support each other, drag each other around; it has the physicality of a sport," says Lieber, who recently won a Bessie for performance. James Lo contributes a sound score involving pop songs, the sublime Claire Fleury provides costumes, Thomas Dunn's doing the lights, and Liliana Dirks-Goodman designs the set. — E.Z.
PIECE FOR PERSON AND GHETTO BLASTER
Australian performer Nicola Gunn was inspired to create this dance-theater piece after spotting a man throwing rocks at a duck along a canal in Belgium. Unsatisfied with her initial reaction (sputtering outrage) to this what-would-you-do moral quandary, Gunn has made it the premise of a digressive comic monologue touching on every conceivable issue raised by the strange encounter, including compassion, animal rights, cultural differences, and the absurdity of the everyday. She accompanies her tale with nonstop choreography (by Jo Lloyd) that's by turns jerky, athletic, and fluid, in keeping with the story's oddities and Gunn's restless intellect. — Z.T.
CATCH COIL III
Invisible Dog Art Center, 51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn
In what has become a COIL tradition, New York's most delightful, most adventurous, and (best of all) messiest series of short performances and works-in-progress comes to the Invisible Dog. This year's roundup promises to be as gleefully interdisciplinary as usual: There's Aorta Films, a queer feminist porn collective, but also Kristin Worrall, an actor-slash-baker staging a form of live cooking show. Other artists slated to present work include experimental jazz saxophonist Travis Laplante, Jennifer Kidwell (co-creator of the recent, celebrated Underground Railroad Game) with Thomas Graves of the Rude Mechs, and performance duo Chelsea & Magda, staging a meditation on shame. — M.F.D.
Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor — Ben for short — founded American Realness six years ago, when he realized the dance world didn't have a pipeline to the international community of curators. "Hundreds of curators [were] coming into town" for APAP, the annual performing arts conference, says the Long Island native, "and [we weren't] throwing the right kind of party."
So he threw his own, drawing upon studies at Marymount Manhattan College in queer theory, critical race theory, and dance and musical theater techniques. He threw together the first edition in two months, at Abrons Arts Center, and ended up with seven engagements — $100,000 worth of bookings — for Miguel Gutierrez, his first client. The next year Abrons offered him two of its three theaters; this year's edition includes fifty-three performances of sixteen productions in ten venues over eight days.
While planning the lineup, Pryor accepted the position of director of performance and residencies at Gibney Dance, the remarkable conglomerate of real estate and cultural support assembled by choreographer Gina Gibney. He succeeds Craig Peterson, longtime program manager at Gibney, who took the top job at Abrons. As the city's arts aspirants move to Brooklyn, the center of gravity of its experimental performance scene has shifted south, abetting the flourishing programs at Abrons and Gibney, both of whose offices are below 23rd Street.
What will Pryor make of his new gig? "I'm wrapping my head around it now. Our interest is to start a guest curator series. I'm another gay white man in a position of power in the arts, aware of how many people are not given that power. I want to open up space for other voices." — Elizabeth Zimmer
Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street
One of the first American postmodernists to decamp for Europe, Stuart and her Damaged Goods company found in Brussels and Berlin support unavailable in New York. She fell in love with choreographing before she studied technique; the much-awarded dancemaker has craft to spare. This collection of her solos, supported by Flemish and German funders, ranges from the 1995 XXX for Arlene and Colleagues to the 2000 soft wear and the 2010 Signs of Affection, plus excerpts from full-length works. — E.Z.
Abrons Arts Center
Rawls, a choreographer and curator, expands on a 2013 work for The Planet Eaters: Seconds, a 55-minute reconfiguration of Balkan folklore set in an imaginary place between the U.S., Serbia, and an international space station. The piece combines dance, singing, rap-like storytelling, and arresting costume design by Sasa Kovacevic, and Rawls performs it in a duet with musician Chris Kuklis that Rawls calls "an intimate exchange of rhythms." — E.Z.
Abrons Arts Center
The celebrated New Yorker returns to American Realness with an installment of Twenty Looks, or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church. Staging a speculative performance history, Harrell combines the minimalist moves of Judson Church's postmodern choreographers with exuberant voguing drawn from the aesthetics of Harlem drag balls. What if, Harrell asks, the two dance cultures — separated by a hundred blocks and a cultural divide — had merged? The results, showing here in the "Small" version (other sizes include Large and Made to Measure), are not to be missed. — M.F.D.
BIG DANCE THEATER
Gibney Dance, 280 Broadway
Part of the festival's "Process" track, the cryptic title of 17c refers to the 17th-century diaries of Samuel Pepys, a rowdy creative type who celebrated himself while leaving out the voices of the women in his life. The hour-long piece stars a bewigged Aaron Mattocks as Pepys, reading dance-focused material from the journals while offering some Baroque-ish steps. Paul Lazar, who's acted in movies for thirty years, directs along with Annie-B Parson, a consummate collaborator with many people and in many forms, who also choreographs. — E.Z.
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