Like a game of musical chairs, or the tea-party scene from Alice in Wonderland, many curators in the downtown performance community have moved one place. But the flood of new and reprised, very challenging work keeps right on coming, especially during January’s festival season. The artists involved have largely rejected “tights and lights” performances of classic modern dance, embracing instead projects in which the movers talk (often autobiographically); the playwrights, choreographers, and actors use space in unusual ways; and hot-button issues of the moment — race, gender, sexuality, class, politics — take a central place.
The newly renamed Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) is a major driver behind the superabundance of activity through the end of the month. Now in its sixty-first year, the Washington, D.C.–based organization expects 3,600 attendees at its annual gathering at the New York Hilton January 12–16, not to mention pre- and post-conference workshops and more than a thousand showcase performances all over the city. This year’s conference theme, “trans.ACT,” evokes multiple meanings of the words trans (“transformation, transcendence, transdisciplinary, transition, and the importance of transgender artists in our field and communities,” according to a recent announcement) and act (“action, activism, activate, actualize“).
APAP is, in turn, part of JanArtsNYC, a promotional partnership among a flock of multidisciplinary festivals, conferences, and international marketplaces supported by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Because Manhattan will be crawling with presenters (read: potential buyers of arts projects) from all over the world, local spaces are bringing back “greatest hits” from recent seasons. At New York Live Arts, for instance, a clutch of choreographers, among them RoseAnne Spradlin, will be remounting work that deserves a wider audience. But for new output, or at least pieces new to New York, those fascinated by the difficult should check out the following offerings, just four out of a dozen filling arts spaces this month.
Under the Radar, founded by veteran curator (and PS122 founder) Mark Russell in 2004 and operating in the embrace of the Public Theater, opened January 4 at La MaMa with Split Britches’ eighty-minute production of Unexploded Ordnances, which continues through January 21. A Dr. Strangelove-like exploration of aging, anxiety, and doomsday created in collaboration with elders and artists in the U.K. and U.S. by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, the Obie-winning theater-makers combine their political concerns with satire, humor, and songs. Also showing up among this festival’s twenty-six shows is New York’s Nature Theater of Oklahoma with its production of Pursuit of Happiness, a Wild West–inspired myth made in collaboration with six members of the Slovenian dance company EnKnapGroup. Explore the entire roster, continuing through January 15, at publictheater.org.
American Dance Platform begins a third iteration at the Joyce on January 9. Consisting of two performances of each of four split bills, it’s curated by Christine Tschida of Northrop, a major presenter at the University of Minnesota. The geographically and ethnically diverse festival starts off with Caleb Teicher & Company, local contemporary swing, jazz, and tap dancers, sharing a program with Los Angeles’ BODYTRAFFIC. Next up is Jessica Lang Dance, a Long Island City–based ballet company honored in 2016 with a Bessie award, alongside southern California’s Backhausdance, making its Joyce debut. The third bill pairs PHILADANCO!, Philly’s veteran African-American contemporary dance troupe, with traditional hula by Hālau O Kekuhi, based in Hilo, Hawaii. Closing out the roster are Chicago’s Ensemble Español Spanish Theater and the percussive Trinity Irish Dance Company, operating between Milwaukee and Chicago. Go to joyce.org for complete details.
American Realness, directed since 2010 by Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor, moved house last year when Pryor took over the job of director of performance and residency festivals at Gibney Dance downtown; his predecessor in that position, Craig Peterson, became the director of Abrons Arts Center. The 2018 version of Realness, running January 9–16, is branching out to spaces in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, with a majority of the works appearing at Abrons’ multivenue home on the Lower East Side (check out Mariana Valencia’s Album) or at Gibney’s space near City Hall. Outliers include the local premiere of Michelle Ellsworth’s The Rehearsal Artist at Brooklyn’s Invisible Dog Arts Center; Everything Fits in the Room, featuring Simone Aughterlony and Jen Rosenblit with Miguel Gutierrez and Colin Self, at Brooklyn’s Industria; Moriah Evans’s Figuring, a world premiere, at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City; and Keyon Gaskin’s a swatch of lavender at Participant Inc. on East Houston Street. Find schedules and complete information at AmericanRealness.
Coil, a festival founded thirteen years ago by Vallejo Gantner at PS122 and for the past six years a nomadic undertaking, starts January 10, the first event in its newly renovated facility, now under the stewardship of its first female curator. German-born Jenny Schlenzka, appointed a year ago, assumed the executive artistic directorship early in 2017, though the bulk of this year’s Coil events were set up by departing director Gantner. “He wanted to get away from the [APAP] showcase atmosphere and do something more substantial,” Schlenzka told me. Most recently associate curator at MoMA PS1, she also played a major role in bringing dance into the Museum of Modern Art as the assistant curator for performance. “I loved working with choreographers in the context of the museum,” she said, “bringing something alive into a context that’s all about objects. We were pushing against rules, regulations, traditions, the entire time. I really enjoyed that.” She was offered the PS122 job the Friday after the 2016 election; she wanted to “do something important for the larger community and the artistic community.” But what really won her heart were the new spaces. The renovated building, in which PS122 has been producing innovative work since 1980, includes a new two-hundred-seat theater with twenty-five-foot ceilings and a smaller performance space; it has been renovated, with help from New York City, to bring the building up to code. The larger theater is now on the fourth floor, and completely accessible via elevator.
Seattle-based Heather Kravas’s hour-long visions of beauty will be the first show in the new theater. “Punk in attitude, feminist in spirit and deliberately anti-spectacle,” according to press information, it should be a difficult performance, testing traditional notions of dance. The dancers will “demonstrate how bodies both trap and free us.” Also part of Coil are creations by Australian artists Angela Goh and Atlanta Eke; a musical by Dane Terry; and new works by New Yorkers Dean Moss (Petra) and David Thomson (he his own mythical beast). The festival runs through February 4. For full details, visit ps122.org.