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Death and the Avant-Garde in Our Neoliberal Nightmare

The Ontology of Tantrum — On the eve of George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 I happened to attend a performance of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis at UCLA and, oddly enough, it was the perfect work of art to draw me back from the brink. I thought of this again after finding myself on the edge of an even deeper abyss following the debacle of November 6, 2016, when two recent productions served a similar purpose. I’m talking about Marissa Chibas’s The Second Woman at Bootleg, and Letter to a Man by Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Both productions managed to cast new light on our increasingly dire situation in the US, reminding me in very different ways of the ferocity with which our right wing elite has been waging … [Read more...]

The Body at the Center

Christian Rizzo / ICI—CCN MONTPELLIER: d’après une histoire vraie — September 15th was the first of four nights of a ballet featuring eight male dancers accompanied solely by two drummers for a 70 minute performance.  Curiosity about how this melange of 16 bare feet and two piles of percussion instruments could entertain an audience for over an hour is what drew some of us to REDCAT. We were not disappointed after the house lights went down and were soon transfixed by what we saw and heard. When the lights came back up, the two-minute standing ovation for the performers was enthusiastic and well-deserved. The choreographer, director and designer of the production is Christian Rizzo, a man with a truly … [Read more...]

Dancing with Kafka

Der Bau - Isabelle Schad | Laurent Goldring from Théâtre Auditorium Poitiers — The exceptional is what one comes to expect from the programing at REDCAT. Some original presentations during a recent fortnight have included TeatroCinema's ingeniously staged Historia de Amor and an evening of often bleak, always beautiful films by the late director Chantal Akerman. April 17th proved again the daring temperament with a performance by Berlin based choreographer Isabelle Schad and French artist Laurent Goldring. Isabelle Schad has re-imagined an unfinished novella by Franz Kafka, entitled Der Bau (The Burrow). When the lights came up, the only things visible on stage were four or five bunched-up pieces … [Read more...]

LA Theater and the Kool-Aid of Simplicity

Notes from a Stealth Revolution— Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to produce close to forty full runs of new theater in Los Angeles, many of which I also participated in as a director and playwright. I have moved several of these productions to stages in New York, Edinburgh, Atlanta, Prague and Berlin, and been thrilled and inspired by the results. A good part of my ability to work in this way has to do with the strong and largely unmediated collaborative relationships that can be forged in Los Angeles with actors and designers, and also with the comparatively low cost of working in an arena that everyone understands to be, quite simple, not a part of the commodity economy. It seems possible, however, that in 2015 all this … [Read more...]

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...]

Shakespeare’s Sonnets: BAM Next Wave

“I don’t want to know why I do anything, I just do it and look at it and then do something else.”   —Robert Wilson In a darkened theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a lone bard, standing beneath a spotlight wearing Elizabethan garb and exaggerated, Kabuki-like makeup, delivers the opening lines to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. In charismatic German she sets the tone, as all prologues should, for the evening yet to unfold. A production directed by the notoriously stylistic Robert Wilson, scored by the singer/songwriter/composer Rufus Wainwright and performed by the Berliner Ensemble, famously founded by Bertolt Brecht in 1949, Shakespeare’s Sonnets was imported from Europe this fall as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Five years … [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...]

Last Dance: Tanaquil Le Clercq

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (2013), directed by Nancy Buirski — For balletomanes everywhere and people fond of late-1940's British movies; for Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale readers and "glorious Technicolor" aficionados; for girls and boys who hope to dance on stage at Covent Garden or Lincoln Center when they grow up; for members of Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook fan clubs; for those who appreciate Brian Easdale film scores and Jack Cardiff cinematography; for hopeless romantics who become emotionally involved in rich, overripe stories of doomed love; for Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, who dusted off the overlooked work of fellow film director Michael Powell, late in his life, and helped to restore his most … [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...]