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Tis a Gift to Be Not-Simple

Early Shaker Spirituals, Wooster Group, REDCAT, January 2015, Directed by Kate Valk — I went to REDCAT the other night to see Frances and Liz and company sing Shaker spirituals but I decided not to write about it. I was intrigued for about half of the evening, but then things became a little less intriguing, so I left with a smile and a sigh and a tired kind of near-miss feeling about the evening, and it was this near-miss feeling that eventually gave rise to my decision not to write about the production. Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation, if you haven’t seen it, begins with four women in Shaker costumes entering from the wings. Grouping themselves on stage, they begin to sing along to tracks from a Rounder … [Read more...]

Oncogenes and Irony in Western Society

Gob Squad: Western Society, U.S. Premier, REDCAT — On Instagram, my daughter watches six second clips of her favorite boy band – little video memes showing the young musicians' daily shenanigans — “O…M…G... Ashton slept shirtless last night!” — intercut with brief snippets of the band thrashing Green Day covers in concert. The other night she showed me a new episode of American Horror in which slasher movie motifs succeeded each other with such rapidity it felt as if I were watching a movie trailer stretched to fill a 54 minute series slot. The representational hooks of consumer culture are getting shorter and sharper, I notice — the number of neurological receptors required to create a convincing image of a stable world are … [Read more...]

Attaining the Singular

Okwui Okpokwasili and Bronx Gothic — One of the pleasures of watching a dance-theater performance like Okwui Okpokwasili’s Bronx Gothic  is how the odd half-truth of words on stage collides and clashes with the blunt truth of the breathing, moving, mortal bodies they come out of. For the first twenty minutes of Bronx Gothic Okpokwasili’s body, shaking expressively in the far corner of the space, speaks to us with remarkable candor about childhood and sex, love and domination, and about the nature of dreaming. Okpokwasili wears a loose fitting brown tunic, so you can see the taut muscles of her back shift and twitch, the sweat gathering as she keeps at it, exorcizing demons. We react to her dancing with desire, fear, hope, joy, lust, … [Read more...]

Rhizome Central

Clare Graham, MorYork Gallery and The New Craft Paradigm — To enter MorYork gallery in Highland Park you follow a curve of finished concrete beneath an understated, vaguely neo-deco pediment. The functional, just-so quality of this entrance amplifies the aesthetic shock you encounter stepping into what is either an Aladdin’s cave full of techno-primitive wonder, or a poetic cargo ship adrift on a sea of dreams — possibly both at once. The high-ceilinged space is so full, floor to ceiling, with handcrafted wonders that the eye is never sure where to settle, and therefore stumbles along bejeweled surfaces and up curving forms fashioned in startling ways from the familiar products of mass production. Lacquered cabinets open to reveal … [Read more...]

Shame and Connection

Affective Encounters on the Path — When we fall in love (even for five minutes) it means we have met someone who resonates with some aspect of our mind from which we have been alienated – in the lover’s presence we feel complete, and the feeling is strongest when it is mutual. Even then, however, there are, famously, no guarantees. As often as not the resonance gives way to something else. The bond begins to shift and change, quite often dissolve. We feel then as if some part of our being has again been torn away, like a ripped-off limb or a stolen organ, but none of this is actually the case. As the lover recedes we simply lose contact again with that aspect of ourselves they were able to embody, and the challenge is precisely to take … [Read more...]

The Cassandra Syndrome

Cry, Trojans!, The Wooster Group, Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, REDCAT,  February 27 - March 9, 2014 — The first responses to The Wooster Group’s Cry, Trojans!  I heard were strong, but then opinion began to curdle, finally setting into an unpleasant gel seeded with the landmines of identity politics. Arriving at REDCAT I was not sure what to expect - all the way back to LSD – Just the High Points in the late 1980s, I've enjoyed Wooster productions, but I typically don’t take issue when someone doesn't respond to the challenges of their work. Taking my seat in bleachers flanking the stage, I got a close up view of Scott Shepard, Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk and the other Woosters fully embodying their gestures and utterances, while … [Read more...]

Broken Windows

Personalizing the Politics of Wealth — Expressing astonishment, a friend who recently moved from New York to Mexico to sidestep rising rents, sent me a link to a Mother Jones article on the booming job market in “wealth counselors.” These are the psychologists who help the extremely wealthy cope with the unique suffering that attends being burdened by buckets of cashola. This note arrived the same week the Wall Street Journal printed an Op-Ed by billionaire Tom Perkins comparing the Occupy Wall Street protests to Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. Subjected to immediate and sustained ridicule, Perkins doubled down, defending the comparison, as did the Journal’s Op-Ed editors. More recently, Ben Carson, the arch-conservative celebrity … [Read more...]

In the Palm of the Hand

Cormac McCarthy’s Killing Machines — A friend tells me about the formatting - how with his script for The Counselor, the novelist Cormac McCarthy isn't even bothering with standard screenplay conventions anymore. Obtaining a copy I see that, sure enough, McCarthy has stripped away all the awkward visual notations that make screenplays so tedious to read. He opts instead for a minimalist layout, with a central column for dialogue, and block-like paragraphs for scene descriptions delivered with a minimum of camera notation. On the page the script looks almost like a Doric column - stark and Classical – which is appropriate given the tale’s astringent stoicism. The Counselor is also perhaps the first screenplay written about a new device … [Read more...]

Lyrical Austerity

The Haptic Imagery of Jeffrey Atherton — Of all our senses, vision is the most potent at convincing us that we live in a stable world composed of solid entities existing separate and apart from each other, permanent, defined and continuous in time. Our capacity to distinguish figure from ground, to map the interplay of shadow and light as they announce the dimensionality of forms, and our sensitivity to the spatial effects of color all contribute strongly to this enchantment. Photographs help us weave the chaos of our sense impressions into an ordered, common sense totality complete with causal laws, social conventions and caring, parental leaders who work hard each day to enhance the common good. Our infantile longing to inhabit a … [Read more...]

Incoming! Travis Preston Gives It To Us Straight

Prometheus Bound, World Premiere, A new translation by Joel Agee, Directed by Travis Preston CalArts Center for New Performance, Presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa — Pinned high on a gigantic metal wheel, Aeschylus’ ragged Prometheus has, for the past eighty minutes, been spitting out toxic denunciations of all-mighty Zeus and his dictates. Hermes himself just arrived with the Big Chief's final ultimatum, only to be met with more curses and maledictions from the unrepentant Giver-of-Fire. Finally, Prometheus pauses and looks out, seeing in the far distance the glow of Zeus’ destructive bolt on its way toward him like a heat-seeking missile. Lower down on the steel armature, the flock of women who have gathered in … [Read more...]