Live: The Vis-à-Vis Project Tries To Recapture Brooklyn’s DIY Spirit


Vis-à-vis Benefit w/ Bermuda Bonnie, I’m Turning Into, New Atlantic Youth, PORCHES, Roadwork Dance Company
The Big Snow Buffalo Lodge
Wednesday, March 28

Better than: Having a Kickstarter.

Upon walking into the Big Snow Buffalo Lodge—a DiY space opened last October on the ragged border between Williamsburg and Bushwick—last night, guests were promptly presented with an info sheet on last night’s benefit for the Vis-à-Vis Project. Smartly and cleanly designed, it ran down the facts about the “new collaborative arts festival that supports and presents artists in the DIY communities of Brooklyn.”

This organizational savvy—pretty, well-written fliers immediately pressed into your hands the moment you enter the door—was pretty representative of the event, which incorporated dance performances, film, free food (wings, pie, potato salad and much more), and sets by several bands. It was an impressive first event by the VAV crew, a bunch of recent college grads looking to make their mark on a DiY scene which has lost some of its direction in recent years, along with many of its flagship venues.

As the night’s first two bands—Bermuda Bonnie, working in the solo-female-surrounded-by-drum-machines vein, and aggressively melodic DiY scene stalwarts I’m Turning Into—performed, three gingham-and-Doc-Martens-clad dancers from the Road Work dance crew did impressionistic, playful dances in the basement. This performance was then transmitted upstairs, and projected behind the bands onto a screen the size you might find in a smallish movie theater. It was something of a revelation; the dances and the dancers became immeasurably more compelling, their attempted professional seriousness occasionally giving way to the mild self-consciousness of someone making a YouTube video in their bedroom. It even distracted the bands themselves, who couldn’t help but notice no one in the crowd was actually looking at them directly. “What are they doing behind me?” Bermuda Bonnie asked at one point, craning her neck around to look and sounding slightly worried. “Anything controversial?”

The dance projection was also one of the most classically DiY elements of the night. “There’s not enough space upstairs for dancers,” explained festival organizer (and recently graduated dance student) Rachel Pazdan. “So, I was like, ‘How can I put some dance in this?'”

All the money raised last night goes toward the aforementioned arts festival; VaV hopes to put on the New York-focused combination of talkback sessions (or “lectures”) and performances this summer. (Brooklyn Brewery has already signed on as a sponsor.) VAV is headed by Rachel Pazdan, a 22-year-old aspiring arts whiz who already has gigs at BAM and Columbia Artist Management under her belt. She’s brought the kind of spreadsheet savvy it takes to get ahead in that world to VAV. Didn’t she ever think about starting small?

“I’m ambitious!” Pazdan says, laughing. “I mean, I was kind of thinking about that before,” she says upon reflection. “Maybe I should just curate one really cool show. But I also ran a cabaret show at [SUNY] Purchase for a year, so I kind of know how all of that works, and I felt comfortable with it. And I just had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do with this festival. So, it’s like, “I should just do this!”

If last night was any indicator, she was right. The bands played on schedule, there were no video glitches with the projection, and the crowd was the perfect size for the space; the only hiccup involved a fork shortage (for the free lasagna), and even that was fairly solved quickly. If not for the unflappable friendliness of everyone in attendance (and the fact that I woke up smelling like cigarettes), the show could have passed for a particularly adventurous night of programming at the Mercury Lounge. But instead, it was a bunch of crazy, ambitious friends putting on a show, trying out some ideas they could never try out anywhere else. In a time where so many seem to be trying to work within the system, it was nice to be with a bunch of people working outside it.

Critical bias: I’m very nostalgic for my days bumming around Silent Barn.

Overheard: “Do you like my new stage prop? It’s a princess riding a unicorn over a rainbow hanging in mid-air. It replaces Stoner Garfield.”

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