Matters of Life


The Brooklyn Arts Exchange (popularly known as BAX, and originally the Gowanus Art Exchange) celebrates its 10th anniversary with a gala Friday evening at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Featured will be dance, theater, performance, and video artists who’ve appeared at BAX over the past decade, all invited because of their deep connections with the operation. Says founding director Marya Warshaw, “From the beginning we’ve been involved in presenting and developing new work by individual artists and groups, and educating children and adults.” In 1998 BAX moved from Gowanus to the southern end of Park Slope and changed its name to broadcast its focus on the whole borough rather than just the neighborhood. “We’re arts and artists in progress, in performance, development, and education. We’re very much about the process, which makes us different. Artists in residence are an important part of what defines us.”

A highlight of Friday’s gala is likely to be the excerpt from Dean Moss’s American Deluxe, which transfixed its audience (or were we just frozen stiff?) at the unheated Smack Mellon space in DUMBO early in March. Moss supplements his solid dance ideas with video and recorded text; I found these a tad inaccessible, but was riveted by Kacie Chang and Hirome Naruse sighing sympathetically as they hurled oblongs of heavy cardboard at Jason Marchant in “killing the dog,” the second part of a five-section meditation on violence. Later the women jumped on Marchant, hard; then he and one of them built a house of cardboard around the other. Moss thinks like a painter, a writer, a composer, which results in genuinely innovative movement.

Another multidisciplinary gambler is maximalist Karim Noack, a classically trained Colombian artist whose Six Months to Live, early last month, confounded my expectations, coming to life as a dazzling (if sometimes exasperating) evening of dance theater. She spared no expense or ounce of energy in bringing to the stage her own story, that of a six-year cancer survivor who fights the medical establishment and seems to be buoyed by her community and its music. A first-rate 14-piece Latin band set the tone for the evening, and 14 modern dancers and another 11 rueda performers (some of them also musicians) filled the vast La Mama Annex with Latin movement—variations for predatory physicians (imagine a toreador in blue scrubs, waving a cape at a tumor), for her friends and fellow patients, and for a corps of “reapers” who happen to be black—cast in the forms and rhythms of samba and flamenco, among much else. The text, eloquently rendered by a cast of five actors including writer Guy Urquhart, segued from nursery rhymes to Hamlet to rants against the system in two seconds flat.

Arlene Croce would probably hate it. You could, I suppose, call it “victim art,” and it’s certainly agitprop, but it’s a hell of a lot more effective and moving than much of the rinsed contemporary work to which I am endlessly subjected. Someone should find Noack an Off-Broadway house and let Six Months run for a year.