Tuesday, January 22, 2013

departures from the staid

Ian Svenonius

Some thoughts on artists and events by Ellen Chenoweth: 
Inspired by Kate’s writing and with a number of performances and experiences rattling around in my brain, I wanted to capture a few of them.

1. I’ve been noticing a welcome willingness to upset traditional formats.  Jack Ferver in a work titled Mon Ma Mes, taking place at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York as part of APAP, opened the show by admitting that he had actually forgotten about this performance, was running late because he had been teching for another show, and was therefore going to open the evening with a Q&A session rather than dancing to allow himself some time to get into the mood.  It was deliciously unclear how much of this text delivery was real, and how much was just messing around with the audience, likewise later stories involving crushes. 

The writer Junot Diaz must be drinking from the same water.  A couple of months ago, I saw Diaz deliver an electric reading / performance / lecture at ARC’s Facing Race conference.  Diaz came onto the stage and announced that he was incredibly nervous, and was therefore going to take questions from the audience as a way of warming up and dealing with the nerves.  This straying from the traditional format sent a crackle of excitement through the assembled audience of 800 or so. 

2.  Ferver’s Q&A session was a stacked deck though. 
He had a collaborator weave her way through the audience, while he would pick an audience member, and then have the collaborator pass the selected audience member a question to read.  Since Ferver had (presumably) written the questions, he was then free to make fun of them, or give a cheeky or serious answer (or more often, both) in a way that an artist would be hard-pressed to do with real audience questions.

As I watched this brilliant tweak to the rote-and-boring, I was also reminded of seeing DC musician Ian Svenonius’ reading / performance art show at Politics and Prose a couple of weeks ago.  Svenonius told the assembled group in the bookstore that we would be settling in for a nice, long traditional reading from his new book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock 'n' Roll Group: a how-to guide.  I was nestling into my seat when he asked for volunteers from the audience.  Brave participants came up to the front, where they were given a script and participated in a séance that brought back various musicians from the dead in an amusing set of scenes.  I should have known better to expect the expected from Svenonius, but I’m happy to see this upsetting of the usual expectations, this departure from the staid and predictable.

3. OK, clearly the Jack Ferver performance made a large impression because I keep coming back to it, but even at APAP, where you’re likely to have a number of starstruck moments if you’re an arts-lover, this show was notable for the other artists in the room.  Contemporary dance darlings Michelle Boule and Miguel Gutierrez were there, but so were ballet stars David Hallberg and Megan LeCrone.  (“What can’t ballet dancers do?” Ferver asked, after both Hallberg and LeCrone performed gracious and unplanned cameos in his work.)

I would love to see this level of support among the dance and arts community in DC.  I want to see Suzanne Farrell at a performance of DC choreographer Erica Rebollar.  I want to see Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman at a tiny DIY venue where audience members are sitting on the floor instead of paying for expensive tickets at the Kennedy Center.  I want to see Brooklyn Mack or Maki Onuki from the Washington Ballet come take class with contemporary dance-maker Jill Sigman when she’s a guest artist at the Dance Exchange in a couple of weeks. 

Why not take it even farther and encourage more cross-genre pollination in DC?  I want talented local sculptor Mia Feuer to come see Jodi Melnick at the American Dance Institute, or conceptual artist Wilmer Wilson to come see Kyle Abraham at Dance Place.  And when I go see 40 Under 40 at the Renwick Gallery, or “this is not a museum” at the Corcoran’s student gallery (http://pinklineproject.com/event/31665), I would love to bump into some dance friends!  I know time is limited and we have rehearsal and the metro is expensive and there’s no place that tells you every arts thing that’s going on in the city, etc. etc., but I think we can do better…

If Wendy Whelan can dance with Brian Brooks, and David Hallberg can dance with Jack Ferver and Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company can merge with Dance Theater Workshop, then why not?

4. One of the few places where I’m starting to see this happen already is with Eames Armstrong’s Soapbox series at Hillyer.  I admire Eames for her voracious appetite for performance art, her smart blog (http://dcperformanceart.tumblr.com/), and her organizing ability.  I wasn’t able to attend but I was happy to see that Emma Crane Jaster’s recent appearance at Soapbox included some members of the contemporary dance community in DC and that attendance was high.  Let’s have more of this happy crossover in 2013.

5. I’ve heard griping about the dance critics for the biggest newspapers for years, but what feels new now is that the gripes are turning into real alternatives, and seem to have reached a critical mass.

D. Foy objected to the New York Times coverage of a recent Deborah Hay performance, so he not only published a letter of critique on his blog, he wrote his own review complete with tight word-count, to model his own suggestions. (http://dfoyble.com/?p=1021).  I love that he didn’t just let it rest in a place of complaint, but put forward his own vision.

For myself, I still read the coverage in the Washington Post and the New York Times, but for the meatiest and most insightful reviews and thought pieces, I’ll turn to places like Culturebot and ThINKing Dance.  It’s comforting to me that even if the mainstream outlets insist on the old way of doing things, there are new ideas and new methods that are rising to the surface.

6.  I didn’t get to see the performance at APAP, but I heard raves from trusted friends about the Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart collaboration that will come to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (http://claricesmithcenter.umd.edu/events/2013/bill-t-jonesarnie-zane-dance-co-siti-co-rite) in a few weeks and am excited to see these two visionaries together. 

I did get to witness a 30 minute excerpt from Kyle Abraham’s work Pavement, graciously introduced by Bill T. Jones and Carla Peterson at New York Live Arts, where Abraham is in residence.  Recently commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and hotter than a firecracker at the moment, I was glad to see that the work lived up to the hype.  Glorious dancers and inventive movement kept me riveted, and I’m looking forward to seeing the full-length work at Dance Place in April. (http://www.danceplace.org/dance-performances/kyle-abrahamabraham-in-motion-2/)

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