Theater archives

Fringe Elements


In the diary he began as he was sinking into madness, Vaslav Nijinsky intended to produce arguments as absolute as his lost body, but his sentences, rocking back and forth like a mourner, refuse to comply. “I am a Jew by origin, for I am Christ,” he writes. “Christ is a Jew. A Jew is not Christ . . . ” And on and on inconclusively until a sudden burst of furious clarity—for example, “I have been told that I am mad. I thought I was alive”—frees him for the moment from this syllogizing mania.

Inspired by Joan Acocella’s unexpurgated version of the diary, Richard Colton and Randall Jaynes’s ultimately wrenching Billy Nijinsky (Fringe Festival, August) had a similar rhythm. Crazy, plain Billy (Jaynes) is trapped in his room by the delusion that Nijinsky can be found. He dials the operator and paces, paces and dials. Just as we start feeling stuck and crazy, too, he starts to dance. Jaynes has the perfect body for a madman: thick, thrumming, and out of whack with his head. But when Billy dances with the Specter of Nijinsky (a delicious Edisa Weeks), he straightens up. “I swallow buckets of feathers and fly to you,” Billy cries as the Specter disappears out the window. Then, to show where s/he has taken him, he throws his head back, makes a thin pole of his legs, and stretches out his arms—like a soaring bird, or Christ and the tree he died on. Finally, where suffering and redemption are one, some peace.

While Billy represented less Nijinsky himself than our own ancient hope in the redemptive power of misery, Ada Jung’s Josephine: The Josephine Baker Story, another Fringe solo, was less reflective. The balletico-calisthenic Jung did nothing with the whole dubious phenomenon of the banana-skirted “native.” But then neither did she come close to the startling scat-dancing Baker ought to have been famous for.

“Paradise in a Jar,” a festival of works (Japan Society, July) by junior members of Akaji Maro’s 30-year-old butoh troupe, Dairakudakan, began on a demonically happy note. A clump of bald, grinning babies (played by bald, grinning, powdered-white men) burst from the black curtain at the back of the stage to prance about on baby bow legs while massive clots of confetti fell on them. Over the loudspeakers, someone who sounded a lot like Celine Dion sang “Time to Say Goodbye.” Indeed: Butoh is at a crossroads. It began, decades ago, at the teetering edge of theatrical expression, with bodies that weren’t quite bodies—they were insufficiently assembled, which was one of the form’s central dramas. Scratch the social veneer, and bodies would tremble and devolve. If you begin in such extremity, what is there left to do 40 years later? Camp. In these fun latter-day pieces, gleefully cheesy cheer regularly overtook apocalyptic rumblings. In Kumotaro Mukai’s 2001 Paradise in a Jar Odyssey, for example, an Atlas scenario (man carries world on shoulders) soon degenerated into a randy exercise in creative prop use (“101 things to do with a tea table!”). At Mukai’s river Styx, the boatman weighed men’s dicks, not their lives, in the balance.

Eiko Kanesawa’s Condition of Conviction, on the other hand, addressed the fundamental butoh question—can you take shape, as a persona or even just a person, without betraying the roiling life inside you?—with as sincere an urgency as ever, but with different means than the old-style mushroom-cloud angst. She framed the usual erratic butoh tremblings in the visual and temporal harmonies of dance: A chorus of men and women formed patterns around her imploding person and made her lone struggle more piercing. —Apollinaire Scherr

The New York City flight of The Osprey Migration—part of Jennifer Monson’s multi-year “Bird Brain” site-specific dance and conservation awareness project—wound through town in early September. Monson’s fall sojourn, involving her troupe plus numerous cultural and environmental organizations, is tracking the migration of ospreys from nesting sites in Maine to winter digs in Venezuela. In Soho, the “audience” became mobile witnesses and migrants too, escorting Monson, Javier Cardona, Alejandra Martorell, and Morgan Thorson as they headed west on Spring Street, weaving stretchy, squiggly, highly adaptive ambient movement into the late-afternoon cityscape.

Truck drivers and busloads of tourists gaped. Some cell phone conversations took on a whole new spin. As Cardona slithered his wiry frame along a subway entrance’s handrail, tired commuters gave him wide berth. One guy offered to bust a Jackson Five move. And there was music—from a motorcycle’s roar to opera from a parked limousine’s CD player. The Hudson gleamed orange-gold as runners, strollers, and a cyclist shouldering a green parrot made cameo appearances. At the River Project on Pier 26, we cooled our wings and talked of threatening pesticides, tall glass buildings lit brightly, and human ignorance and indifference. At the following evening’s show in Prospect Park, mallard ducks quacked their opinion, local kids added cartwheels to the mix, and a wildlife ecologist explained why we must care about our impact on other living beings. Follow Monson south to the tropics at —Eva Yaa Asantewaa