Category Archives: Uncategorized

25 Nov

Context Notes: Neil Greenberg

The Meaning of “Meaning”: Neil Greenberg
by Paul David Young

When I met Neil Greenberg in the auditorium of New York Live Arts, he was munching on a salad. Barefoot and in track pants, he was from the start quite affable and welcomed my presence at his first time to try out This in the space in which it would be performed. He had unexpectedly been given an early opportunity to explore the piece in the theater at Live Arts for one day and generously invited me to join them.

I was immediately impressed by the openness and warmth of the rehearsal. In conversation with his lighting designer, Joe Levasseur, who was proposing to install a slew of lights across a wall, Greenberg embraced the experiment on the spot. “Try it. Let’s see,” he said. Later, when choreographer Juliette Mapp arrived to observe, it was hugs all around and murmurs of appreciation.

For this day, the lighting was left to the imagination. Two pairs of chairs represented the locations of clusters of lights that would occupy the stage and illuminate it. For the rehearsal, plain white lights shone uniformly over the entire space. Theatrical lighting gives form and color to the shapes and movements of dancers’ bodies; without it, I could not know what would eventually be seen and how we would see it. The dancers wore their own clothes, depriving me of an understanding of how the costumes would affect my understanding of This. It was like looking inside a machine as it is being built, in order to guess how it will function.

As I watched the run-through, my mind kept wandering back to Greenberg’s Artist Statement, in which he talked about “potencies, the ‘meanings’ (quotation marks original) of the dancing itself.” At times the dancers seemed to be operating in separate worlds, performing their own sequences, and yet my eye and my mind wanted to put them together. Perhaps that’s what he meant by “meaning.” I found myself becoming so involved in watching the particulars of the individual dancers and the uniqueness of their movements, that I often missed the entrances and exits. Likewise, I somehow neglected to mark the presence and absence of music or sound. What I saw at first appeared to me more strange than facilely beautiful, and then it seemed to become more beautiful the longer I looked. I distrusted myself and questioned whether I was seeing the inner harmonies of the choreography, or my mind was imposing a structure on a set of phenomena that were occurring simultaneously. Which was the “meaning”?

I talked with Greenberg on the phone the next morning. He explained that in This, he was “allowing things to grow. I have a tendency to build continuities in certain ways. Things reappearing, connective tissue. In this dance I’ve been daring to not do that as much, to accept the materials as they are, in and of themselves. This is not to say I don’t experience continuity in this dance – I do. I don’t experience it as haphazard. Part of the challenge is how that’s going to play out for viewers.”

I couldn’t resist wading into deep waters. What did he mean by “meaning”? “I’m really talking about experience,” he said, and added, “The meaning of it is the sensuous surfaces, to quote Susan Sontag.” He was referring to Sontag’s famous essay, “Against Interpretation,” in which she argues against the assumption that art needs to be interpreted or decoded for the public to have an experience of it. Like Sontag, Greenberg was steering away from interpretation and instead saying to himself, “let’s really get into ‘this.’ Hence the title.”

Some of the “this” in This is the process that Greenberg used to arrive at the choreography. He and the other dancers improvised on camera according to rules and ideas that he established, including for the first time duet improvisations. After a meticulous editing and ordering process, selected parts of the filmed improvisations were learned for performance. In a later studio rehearsal I attended, though they already knew the movements and sequences, the dancers returned to reviewing the video under Greenberg’s direction and sought to mine it for as yet undiscovered details, a practice Greenberg somewhat jokingly referred to as “forensic movement science.” He is after the “facts.” He wants to show “this, this person, this constructed performance moment.” The individual parts of This “resist interpretation, but also interpretation plays through them.” Greenberg said he had come to acknowledge recently that “part of any ‘this’ includes its referents, and the associations each viewer will bring to it. I think I previously was trying to be too ‘black and white’ about it, looking for things without referents, which is nearly impossible, maybe completely impossible.”

As I watched the rehearsal, I was reminded of how Merce Cunningham had constructed his dances, the independence of movements, dancers, sound, light, and stage design. Indeed, Greenberg spent his formative years dancing with Cunningham. “In this piece I’m daring to get a little closer to Cunningham-like for me.” He made plain, though, that his methods differ significantly. “Chance mechanisms are not a device I’m using here. There’s a different kind of choosing and placing going on.”

Having already waded into the deep waters of the meaning of “meaning,” I recklessly forged ahead and asked him what made his work special. His answer was consistent with what we had talked about with respect to This. It was specific, peculiar to him and his history. “I’m very interested in looking at the thing itself. Why? From growing up gay in the ’60s in Minnesota and not at first having a strong awareness of how wrong that was in the world, and then coming to see that painfully clearly. Somehow I think this part of my personal history figures in my investment in how to experience myself and other people in a way that doesn’t fit with the label that’s been given the thing. I want the experience to be of the thing in its specificity and its label-resistant complexity. What is this thing? Not just how it’s being translated or interpreted by the world.”

read more

10 Oct

Context Notes: Cynthia Oliver

Language As Step, or Language Stepping to the Step: The Body as Storymaker in the Work of Cynthia Oliver
By Jess Barbagallo

“Words set to rhythm are like gravy on meat: The sum is greater than the parts.”
-Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance

Cynthia Oliver is a self-described storyteller, her need to “new narrativize” energizing and tangible. Born in the Bronx, raised in St. Croix, and currently a professor of dance at the University of Illinois, Oliver holds multiple subject positions with a grace and clarity that has sustained her career as a performer, choreographer, educator and scholar for over twenty years.

A trademark theatricality oozes from her body, and those she makes works upon. Scrolling through still images of her work, I am struck by her smile, her eyes, that charismatic-indefinable-unteachable that every great performer possesses; there is as much dance happening above her shoulders as below them. And you know it from your comfortable seat when you feel this face in motion: the seductive force of a dynamic presence calling you to come hither.

The warmth of a genuine invitation is notable sometimes for its rarity, and its energy has the potential to unseat you. In because she was, a manic 2003 solo, Oliver channels a village of conspiratorial island women in alternating gestures of “sizing up” and spastic glee. Gossip and chatter are no idle matters here. Motions of fast talking, giggling and pacing seem to come from a place of deep engagement with her core, a physio-spiritual merger that almost makes my own spine tingle and undulate in fan-induced mimicry.

Closer Than Skin, a trio work made in 2006 with Leslie Cuyjet and Maria Earle, features another breathtaking solo by Oliver, but this is no repeat exercise in levity. A haunting soundtrack of manipulated voices drives her body as mysterious violence threatens to consume her, dramatic and urgent. Her unwavering focus remains on the audience as her feet patter paranoia quick across the floor – what does she see out there? Is the violence just beyond the room? Or inside the room, inside her…suddenly Oliver takes her face by the thumb and guides it to her shoulder, proceeds to shake the upset from her head and this gesture sets her reeling, as she becomes an avatar for recoil and release. And what of this torrent of language, echo-ey, metallic, haunting, the one element her quaking body cannot seem to shake?

Oliver has long been an advocate for the importance of the spoken word and its place in her oeuvre. Describing her work, in a 2009 interview with Gia Kourlas, Oliver, loquacious, laughs and says: “I can’t keep my mouth shut…I’ve always been interested in the way language can dance.” A key oil in her choreographer’s palette, the sounds of words seem to carry as much weight as their content. They start a fire, they kick something off, they grease the machine.

Consider 2009’s Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso. Six women give voice to breath and begin a movement phrase, imploring percussion with a simple dialogic exchange, illustrated across their bodies as though one arm was speaking to another. The call is “Eh!” and the response “Wha wha?” These kernels compose the first loop of a sound cycle that will amplify and evolve throughout the course of the dance. With the snap of their unison fingers and an invigorated slap of thighs, the rite has begun. Dressed in orange, yellow, pink, blue, and gold, against a backdrop of cerulean sky and clouds, they move in synchronized pattern across the bare floor. Expression begins in the hips and moves into the shoulders in contained gestures of throwing and lifting, opening the chest until each body becomes a fully expressive vessel. It’s so joyful, you want to know the steps, the uninhibited rocking of your own pelvis. And when they do finish their sequence, the dancers—residue of movement still present in hips that can’t quite let go of the beat—proclaim: “Rigidigidim de bamba de! Rigidigidim de bamba de! Rigidigidim!” It’s uplifting, exultant, and wonderfully infectious.

read more

25 Sep

Context Notes: Ivana Müller

Ivana Müller’s Irregular Embraces:
On touching the transparent, the banal, the common, the opaque
By Jess Barbagallo

“Of tedium, as if the irregular monotony of life weren’t enough, so that on top of that I needed the obligatory monotony of a definite feeling.”
-Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet


First, a ticking can be heard. Not unlike a sound effect one could associate with a photo booth camera timed to shoot, or more ominously, a bomb. Eleven ticks. She begins, a disembodied voice clearing its throat, winsome:

I will take this opportunity to stage myself. I will do it as an answer to a commission that a festival gave me some months ago. Robert, the festival’s artistic director, asked if I could make a sixty minute solo in English in which I would have to be physically present onstage. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that after thinking about it for some time, I decided to accept the commission.

She pauses. Her body enters.

And by this to put myself in a position that could have some serious consequences for my future life.

If there was ever a rhythm to transparency, Ivana Müller has discovered a way to keep it. And if it was ever a secret, poetic logic dictates that she would tell.

I transcribed these opening lines from 60 Minutes of Opportunism, a solo Ivana Müller made in 2010, because they touch me, and I don’t know why. An impish-looking woman (quick mental shorthand compares her to Björk, her presence triggers the phrase “elphin secrets”) walks to the center of a black box wearing a daypack – her word, daypack – and a plain plaid shirt. A body without a voice, her abjection appears cheerful – how odd – and her premise, predicated on the principle of unwavering compliance, clear: Ask and ye shall receive. Or, with a bit of leaking pride, I followed the shit out of these directions.

Her methodical honesty, evident across a broad range of performative gestures, is the kind of generative and structuring force that comes out from behind the piece to give itself up, and, of course, steals the show. In the instance of 60 Minutes … Inner Monologue plays the hijacker, a spectral voice that keeps spilling Müller’s guts. Telling us that she has not performed since 2002. That she, the choreographer, is more accustomed to sitting where we sit. As she smokes a cigarette, telling us she has quit smoking. Saying she will dance and making us imagine instead. But the proceedings are full of pleasure, for our imagination makes her smile. She takes the ghost of her own voice and runs with spectral suggestion. She puts a black sheet over her body and is joined by a chorus of anonymous bodies in black sheets. Goofy ghosts.

So this is not a solo.

So she does not “dance.”


But she does choreograph. Following the dictum of compliance, her pieces become assignments in the hands of the most earnest student, the one who has discovered that, when treated as serious games, rules and restrictions can elicit serious fun. That student is probably, also, a smartass. Precepts of play appear to me as a core element of Müller’s practice, and she employs them again and again across a diverse array of works. Finally Together On Time, a performative dialogue staged in 2011 with collaborator Bojana Kunst, explores the trials and travails of collaborating in virtual times; we receive a very funny comedy of errors as the women share a script-in-hand account that could be described as a litany of happy failures, culminating in one more as Müller gets beamed in, via video projection, to a performance that is, in itself, a rumination on missed opportunities. (And the aesthetics – so gratifying! Müller’s form framed by a white projection screen and Kunst live against a stage black, the symmetry evokes all manner of sliding doors possibilities. When they pause or err in this technologically mediated realm, the audience is made privy to still image associations and possibilities, as performance veneers are chipped away to reveal buoyant vulnerabilities reminiscent of a Rineke Djikstra album.)


Then there’s In Common (2012), a game for ten player-performers who endlessly divide themselves into various tribes according to self-proclaimed “statuses” of material ownership, skill and life experience. Competitions without reward structure the piece as participants “race” to a finish line demarcated by a long piece of tape stretched across the downstage of a black box floor, proclaiming titles of distinction to advance their positions in space. It’s a who’s who of inanities that could as easily be overheard at a dinner party’s pissing contest. But to be fair, the piece does more than critique the alleged “inherent” absurdities of capitalism and bourgeois classification. Müller directs our attention toward the complex joys of naming and following, the imperfection of political systems as the meat of culture rather than exclusively their ugly gristle.


In these recent creations, Partituur and We Are Still Watching, co-commissioned by FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival, Müller amplifies the stakes of philosophical inquiry by offering frameworks that completely embed “audiences” in the completion of the work, casting pedestrian children and adults as cold-readers in interactive games, housed within the confines of the traditional theater space. Müller provides the text, but her reconfigured spectators bring the show; if responsibility were an object to be kept aloft, each participant bears the weight of her own experience.

These conceptual “diversions” are multi-faceted, open-ended. They simultaneously possess the ability to function as reusable energy basins, and to catalyze an increased awareness of the body’s delicious wonderment in states of waiting. And certainly, from this distance, they have the potential to generate metaphors – practical, pedagogical and independently lovely. In the generosity of the negative, quiet and unknown space holding a base text, we might discover other texts yet to be written, performances and connections to be made.

I was reminded of this simple phenomena – call it the incomplete – watching footage from Partituur (version francaise). Part voyeur, part anthropologist – it is inescapable, to become a part – I see a group of children and a few adults wearing headphones in a room with a red floor, a white tape circle and more white lines to demarcate mysteriously arbitrary zones. The participants are unsure, but attentive. A voice begins to prompt them and soon enough their toes are at the tape. They make shapes, they follow directions, they listen. The bulk of the action is interstitial. And what to make of this now … a minor catalogue of fidgets, adjustments, spasms, rests. Sometimes several children will run in laughter, then there are those who stand still. I guess it’s a complex of uneven engagements. Their minds are opaque to me. When I sink into a thinking deeply, I see these figures. They are actually wells.

read more

16 Sep


You’ve thoroughly read the cultural previews published by The New York Times, New York Magazine, and Time Out, and snapped up tickets for all of the downtown shows before they sell out. But is your vocab up to snuff? In preparation for the fall performance blitz, brush up on the necessary lingo with our handy cheat sheet to guarantee (even a neophyte) instant insider status:

1. Modern dance: developed in the early 1900s as a rebellion against ballet (Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham), and rebelled against in turn–fifty years later–by the post-modernists.

2. Post-modern: a panacea label for all work that is unconventional, regardless of its origin. Common traits: all of the terms below. For dance and performance generally, the hallmark of the evolution of post-modernism was the Judson Dance Theatre in the 1960s-70s.

3. Pedestrian movement: every day, functional actions, such as walking, running, lying down, crawling, or sitting. Also known as “task-oriented movement”. [Litmus test: could a non-trained person do this in the living room?]

4. Performance art: combines aspects of theater, dance, music, poetry, political or social activism and visual art (think Fluxus or Marina Abramovic). Aims to be provocative and frequently structured as a performance installation (see below). Really came into being during the 1960s.

5. Performance installation: crossover into the visual arts world, usually takes place someplace other than a traditional theater, and lasts for many hours. Inexplicably involves nudity 95% of the time.

6. Experimental: challenging the status quo. Useful in describing any performance that revels in shock-value or lacks recognizable elements or artistic cohesion (note: no relation to the orderly scientific process learned in high school science).

7. Contemporary: typically a mash-up of classical and modern, with a few post-modern flourishes. Overused by ballet companies and European groups in an effort to distance themselves from “classical”.

8. Fourth wall: the invisible barrier between stage and audience that allows performers to pretend the audience doesn’t exist. “Breaking the fourth wall” is a trope in post-modern performance, used with varying degrees of success.

9. Non-narrative: no clear story, or at least not one you can follow.

10. Multi-disciplinary: a blanket term for performances that include video, visual art, or interactive technology along with dance or theater. Often misused or aspirational.

11. Performative: the act of performing. The genius of this term is that any action can be declared “performative,” simply by naming it as such, regardless of setting. A term beloved by the post-modern crowd.  [Yes, drinking coffee can be performative as long as you call it that.]

12. Movement score: a loose structure for improvisational movement, guided by specific images or ideas that are unlikely to be apparent to the audience.

13. Intention: the idea or motivation behind an action. Crucial in transforming a pedestrian action into a performative one (kind of like taking communion).

14. Kinesthetic: focused on the body and physical movement. Redundant when used to describe dance for obvious reasons, but it sounds fancy.

15. Innovative:  new ideas; original or creative. A positive sounding catch-all for anything you don’t understand. What was once “avant-garde” morphed into “cutting-edge,” and is now trumpeted as “innovative.”

Did we miss a vocab word? Tell us in the comments section.

read more

18 Aug


Dancers possess beauty and strength, qualities luxury retailers are eager to affiliate with their products.

High end watch maker Movado has a history of using artists to promote their brand (take a peek at this ad from 1962!), with ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov as a “Movado Ambassador” in the 2000s.

Last year, Lexus worked with ballerina Tamara Rojo on a luxury car commercial, harnessing the classic associations of grace and power.

Modern dance brings a sense of creativity and individuality to the mix, which Pilobolus Dance Theatre has leveraged with an entire “creative services” division that’s done commercials for a number of global giants, from Bloomingdale’s to Hyundai.

In a similar vein, Puma’s 2008 campaign with the Bill T.  Jones/Arnie Zane Company made an exuberant pitch for upscale sport shoes. [Not surprisingly, creativity took a back seat to consistency when it came to filming the commercial: Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong remembers the multi-day shoot, edited into a tight 30 second ad, requiring “many, many, many, many takes” from different angles.]

Fashion label Rag & Bone is the latest to tap the heady potential of dance, with a video for its 2014 fall/winter line featuring choreographer and dancer Kyle Abraham. Unlike most ads that focus on the athletic side of dance (jump! kick! turn!–cue ABT ballerina Misty Copeland in Under Armor’s new campaign), Rag & Bones’ atmospheric montage cuts between the dancers and the Brooklyn cityscape for a softer sell.


read more

21 Jul


The 30th Annual Bessie Awards nominees were announced last week, and several New York Live Arts productions from the past season got a nod.

Outstanding Production

John Jasperse – Within Between

Outstanding Revival

Donna Uchizono - State of Heads

Outstanding performer

Julia Hausermann in Disabled Theater by Jerome Bel and Theater HORA

Rebecca Serrell-Cyr in Fire Underground by Donna Uchizono

Stuart Singer in Within Between by John Jasperse

Outstanding Visual Design

Thomas Dunn for New Work for the Desert by Beth Gill

The 2014 Outstanding Emerging Choreographer Award was presented at the press conference to two female choreographers: Jen Rosenblit (2009 Fresh Tracks Artist, 2011 Studio Series Artist, 2012 mainstage artist) was recognized for a Natural dance, performed at The Kitchen, for “a confident voice investigating the fluidity of identity, the pulse of time, and the nature of what it is to dance;” Jessica Lang was recognized for the elegant works created for her newly formed company of dancers at the Joyce Theater in her transition from freelance choreographer to artistic director.

The 30th Annual Bessie Awards will be held Monday, October 20, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Read about all the nominees>

read more

01 May

New York Live Arts 2014 Gala

Last Tuesday, April 22 we held our 2014 Gala at the Madrin Oriental in New York City. The evening featured performances by Clare Danes and Bill T. Jones, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and more.


Read more about the Gala, the guests, their outfits and Claire Danes Red Carpet Fashion Award Nomination at the links below

New York Magazine
Getty Images
Just Jared
Red Carpet Fashion Awards
Gossip Center

read more

24 Mar

Reading List & Links from “Bill Chats: When did the avant-garde become black?”

Black Dance Magazine –

Dances That Describe Themselves by Susan Leigh Foster – University Press of New England

I Want to be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom by Danielle Goldman – University of Michigan Press

Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance by Thomas F. DeFrantz – University of Wisconsin Press

How to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America by Rebekah J. Kowal – Wesleyan University Press

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists & Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin – Basic Civitas Press

African American Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond by John Perpener – University of Illinois Press

Butting Out: Reading Resistive Choreographies Through Works by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Chandralekha by Ananya Chatterjea – Wesleyan

Geography: Art/race/exile by Ralph Lemon – Wesleyan

Not So Black and White by Alexis Wilson – Tree Spirit Publishing

Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance by Jennifer Dunning – Da Capo Press

Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina by Brenda Dixon Gottschild – Palgrave Macmillan

Marion Cuyjet and Her Judimar School of Dance by Melanye White Dixon – Edwin Mellen

Black Performance Theory by Thomas F. DeFrantz and A
nita Gonzalez

Dance Magazine “Finding the Power” By Charmaine Warren –

Parallels, Danspace Project Platform 2012




read more

13 Mar

Context Notes – Beth Gill

The descent beckons
                  as the ascent beckoned.
                                  Memory is a kind
of accomplishment,
                  a sort of renewal
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
                   inhabited by hordes
                                      heretofore unrealized,
of new kinds—
                  since their movements
                                    are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).

—William Carlos Williams, excerpt from The Desert Music


January 10, 2014 [notebook entry]
Specificity of body shapes, angles. Silence. Jennifer’s arms lifted behind her back like a cactus. Simplicity. Purity. Sculptural. Pictoral. Geometric.

The way Jennifer exists alone (mostly), as does Marilyn–they are a pair in their own isolation. Kayvon and Christiana as duet partners, dancing together but differently than the others (aesthetically even, or energetically), and Stuart and Heather as a single unit, like shadows of each other. The surprise and break of Stuart and Heather’s unison into same-sex duets with Kayvon and Marilyn is so exciting because of the duration of their unison. It is a break that allows us to begin to see them separately, in relief against these new partnerships. The energy shift feels dramatic and ushers in a new and very different kind of relationship, far downstage, both on their knees with their crotches forward. Kayvon’s foot finds Stuart’s rear, while Heather’s neck and chest stretch up and over Marilyn’s doubled-over back. Heather’s neck and the underneath of her jaw. Sensuality. I see animals and sex. An almost slow-motion copulation.

The way everyone is so evocative of landscape, of space and existence and plant and animal without a kind of literalness, but that inside the space there exists a place, and relationships, that are so carefully chosen and thoughtfully mapped out.  The build of dynamics and pacing is both restrained and considered. I see Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. It makes me think about how our field is needing to remember its history but also embrace its fluid future, a new wave of formal considerations, members of our own generation who are creating things informed by the past but very much on the forefront of our present. I feel that Beth is a choreographer of our time. I can only imagine with her sound and visual design collaborations how effective and quietly profound and stunning this dance can be. [end of entry]


February 3, 2014
For perhaps as long as the desert and art have co-existed, artists and writers have been inspired by its beautiful, spare landscape, its light and color. Gill has discussed at length the experience of working alone within the desert environment for two months, seeing an almost foreign geographic terrain, thinking about its vastness, its emptiness, the way open space framed what she saw and how she saw it, her capacity to see depth, and the experience of seeing that depth collapse into an almost 2D old-time film studio backdrop. Her interest in the visual and psychological ways that we perceive has been a thread throughout her work, as has a starkly imprinted formalism, symmetry, geography of the body and the body in relation to specifically demarcated and designed spaces. When I spoke with Gill, she told me that while she was working in the desert, she was filled with the memory of seeing Trisha Brown’s Newark (Niweweorce). (It is perhaps subconsciously present in Gill’s own title: New Work. Newark.) Gill talked with me about homage, about having an intense love for another artist (in this case Brown, though she also mentioned being inspired by visual artist James Turrell), wanting to immerse herself in the memory and feelings of her experience of that other dance, the expectations of historic reference, her responsibility for changing or transforming that memory. How she loves dance for its durational aspect – the way it can completely erase or alter the experience of time, or its ability to reveal the experience of time passing, reflecting our own human experience of the fleetingness of time, of mortality.

Watching that studio run through back in January, I couldn’t stop thinking about time passing, and lineage. I was seeing moments, refracted, of things that reminded me of other things, of the past. Watching the Cunningham company for the last time at the Park Avenue Armory was in my head while Christiana and Kayvon were performing their duet; the last time I saw the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, just after it was announced that Brown would no longer choreograph, was there while Stuart and Heather danced in impossibly perfect unison. The past was very alive in the present. I was thinking about the spaces these titans of modernity fill in our history, the incredible impact each has had on our field, but also the voids, the spaces their absences have left. As I watched Gill’s work, it became clear to me that while we have these people (Cunningham, Brown, et al) and each their oeuvre to look back on and to revive, the thing that inevitably must occur is that new choreographers will emerge to fill these empty spaces. We won’t ever have a new Trisha Brown dance. But there is a generation of dancemakers who are making work in the 21st century and using these legacies as inspiration to make compellingly original dances of their own. Pam Tanowitz immediately comes to mind, the way she seems to be in some kind of constant conversation with, and simultaneously in homage to, the Cunningham heritage (not to mention the ballet lineage). And as I watched New Work for the Desert unfold, I realized that what I was seeing was a rich experience that clearly drew on a deep love and appreciation for Brown’s aesthetic, but was pushing beyond the past into strikingly new territory.  Perhaps it is a New Work for the Desert. But it is also a new work for the new millennium. A new work for now. A new work for Newark. History and originality as foreground and background, admirably blurred. A new landscape imprinted with the power of a memory. As William Carlos Williams wrote: “…a kind of accomplishment / a sort of renewal / even / an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places / inhabited by hordes / heretofore unrealized, / of new kinds—…”

—Aaron Mattocks

read more

23 Jan

Context Notes: niv Acosta/Tess Dworman

“I am not that assemblage of limbs we call the human body; I am not a subtle penetrating air distributed throughout all these members; I am not a wind, a fire, a vapor, a breath or anything at all that I can imagine. I am supposing all these things to be nothing. Yet I find, while so doing, that I am still assured that I am a something.” -René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy

“Denzel surrounds me.” -niv Acosta, denzel mini petite bathtub happymeal

To place Tess Dworman and niv Acosta on a Venn diagram of contemporary performance would be to see two separate, gathering storms of creativity, but with virtually no crossover. However, in 2012 both collaborated on one of Acosta’s performance projects, called excerpt hearts, an “under rehearsed cover band” exploring “an abstracted stereotype of our lesbian past lives” in Ralph Lemon’s all day event, The End, part of Danspace Project’s Parallels Platform; but for all intents and purposes their own choreographic strains are pleasurably dissimilar. However, in each runs a dynamic strain of self-reckoning, an attempt to explicate the ways that we see and experience ourselves both inside of and because of our bodies. What histories, what dilemmas, these bodies present (and represent) is a central question to both, albeit in very distinctly different constructions. The presence of each as a performer in her and his own work continues to be a central (and heretofore essential) element.

Seen comparatively with Acosta’s deeply personal i shot denzel, Tess Dworman’s macromen is an anti-personal micro-scale study of the body, with its complex and mysterious stories. One regularly witnesses the bizarre body in juxtaposition with the trained body, a world of highly ordered strangeness that brings to mind the stream of consciousness crafts of both Ivy Baldwin and Tere O’Connor (with whom Dworman has performed). Herein lies a cultivated virtuosity coupled with an often quotidian manner. (To me, Dworman’s earlier trials & variations & variations is like an early John Waters movie–a close-up, intentional, almost perverse aesthetic of oddity). Idiosyncratic movement is executed with complete matter of factness, set against classical shapes and relationships. The pas de trois structure allows for an abstract and unique exploration of a classic form, with moments of unexpected pleasure in unison and opposition. The work develops inexplicably, with events or physical states beginning and ending with arbitrary abandon (delivered nonetheless with a captivating pre-determinism), but the continued emphasis on the micro-functionings of the three bodies both as separate entities and often as one meta-unit is fascinating, compelling us toward itself with its theatrics and internal dynamicism. What can the body (and three bodies as one) do? What can it tell us? How much does it contain? How much can it be? How much can we be?

niv Acosta’s i shot denzel is the sixth, and perhaps final, episode in the denzel series, which he has been building and performing since 2009. Acosta works regularly with notions of impossibility, failure, and confinement in relationship to his queer-identified black trans-masculine body/identity/experience. The role and psychological projection of the American black male and black masculinity, as represented (almost like a poster on a bedroom wall) by the actor Denzel Washington is, again and again, an opportunity for a confessional, autobiographical grappling with Acosta’s basic quest: his fluid, indefinable self. That this self is a political and physiological crossroads of race, blackness, gender, queerness, sex and class makes this a powerful framework to explore the many ways that he, and we, might seek to answer that question. And of course, in the culmination of that quest, Acosta has perhaps inevitably arrived at patricide. We cannot survive under the same roofs as our fathers. As both a creative and metaphoric method for annihilating the overarching stereotypes and embodiment of what is and isn’t a Black Man, the patterned ways of seeing that are used to constantly define his existence, the very images and experiences he has simultaneously emulated and rejected, Acosta must destroy the archetype in order to fulfill his own destiny, to make room for his own undeniable being, seen/taken/accepted on his own terms. Distilling the previous denzel editions down to a final solo state, Acosta goes to battle like Oedipus with these kings, using Stravinsky’s sacrificial Le sacre du printemps as his soundtrack. Then, with a live brass band to back him, one wonders that he isn’t giving Denzel, and denzel, a New Orleans style funeral parade. A phoenix will rise from these ashes. Die, die, die.

–Aaron Mattocks

read more

  • The Live Arts Blog has the latest information on New York Live Arts events, artists and issues affecting the body based performing arts field. Current contributors include New York Live Arts Staff, Jess Barbagallo and Paul David Young.

stay connected

Sign up for our mailing »

NYLA on twitter

  • NYLA Twitter