Saturday, September 23, 2017

Women and trauma: Munyaneza's "Unwanted" comes to New York

Above: Holland Andrews (left) and Dorothée Munyaneza
perform the New York premiere of Unwanted
at Baryshnikov Arts Center.
Below: Munyaneza
(photos: Maria Baranova)

When women rise to speak difficult truths, we are told to sit down and shut up. When Black women rise to speak difficult truths, we are told to sit down and shut up. When Black African women....

Now here comes Dorothée Munyaneza (Compagnie Kadidi) who, as a child, escaped conflict-torn Rwanda, speaking of what men do to women and girls in war, same as it ever was. This woman will not comply. She will tell terrible stories told and entrusted to her by Tutsi women survivors and their children. In Unwanted, she joins American singer Holland Andrews, raising lacerating banshee voices against genocide and rape, raising angelic voices to embrace all in need of comforting.

The two figures emerged like shamans from the grim darkness of the theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center where Unwanted had its New York premiere over, sadly, just two evenings. Audience members had reached BAC, walking streets with views of the imposing towers of a newly glittery midtown West. Taking the elevator up to BAC's third floor and entering the theater felt like being sealed deep in a cave with healers intent on confronting you with everything you try best not to see. And sounds--Andrews' looping electronic artistry--came to you from all directions and temporal dimensions.

Many observers, it seems, are surprised to find the multi-talented Munyaneza so grounded and assured in her physical presence, so sophisticated in her aesthetic vision. Unwanted is only her second work of choreography; she was the talk of last year's Under the Radar festival for her first, Samedi Détente. But she is clearly an artist who knows her mission, mind and powers. There's more to come from this one, and in singer-musician Andrews--who cites Aretha Franklin, Björk and Diamanda Galás among her dearest influences--she has a fierce partner of equal authority and efficacy.

Choreography, in this case, covers all the ways the body reacts and responds in an environment of impossibility and possibility. Munyaneza's head and torso sharply recoiling from the words she has just hurled into a microphone as if receiving an answering blow. Or her body flattening itself against the portrait of a woman affixed to a tall slab of corrugated tin, like the metal sheeting of a humble roof. Or her fingers feverishly clawing that same painted image into shards of paper waste, needing to destroy every patch, every trace, before she can rest. Or the performers' bodies mobilizing their entire force, lashing phallic clubs against the ground or rhythmically, violently pounding them into vessels. It is, yes, also the breath traveling from its home in the chest to receiving air, carrying histories of violation, humiliation, refusal and isolation. Channeling stories of women who tell themselves they are alive and look around, each day, for something to laugh about. It is in the story of that laughter which, surrounded by unquestionable sadness, still declares "I am here. I stand my ground."

Music: Holland Andrews, Alain Mahé, Dorothée Munyaneza
Visual design: Bruce Clarke
Set design: Vincent Gadras
Lighting Design: Christian Dubet
Costume Design: Stéphanie Coudert

Unwanted is closed. For information on other Baryshnikov Arts Center fall season events, click here.

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Pete Turner, 83

Pete Turner, Whose Color Photography Could Alter Reality, Dies at 83
by Richard Sandomir, The New York Times, September 22, 2017

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Myrna Lamb, 87

Myrna Lamb, Feminist Playwright in an Unwelcoming Era, Dies at 87
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, September 22, 2017

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Marian Horosko, 92

Marian Horosko, Dancer and Advocate for the Art, Dies at 92
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, September 22, 2017

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Ritha Devi, 92

Ritha Devi, Indian Classical Dancer and Teacher, Dies at 92
by Amisha Padnani, The New York Times, September 22, 2017

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Invoke and provoke: Ben Pryor's new series at Gibney Dance

Jess Pretty in FIVE
at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
(photo: Scott Shaw)

Invocation Proclamation Manifesto--described by Gibney Dance Center's new programmer, Ben Pryor, as "a three-week micro-festival of short works from choreographers and performance makers wrestling with the urgency of being a body at risk in 45’s America"--launched last night in the notoriously micro-confines of Gibney's Studio A.

First off, aside from Studio A's size and the tiny capacity audience of 30 folks lounging on puffy body pillows, nothing much seemed "micro" here. I wanted to give Diego Montoya (decor designer) and Asami Morita (lighting designer) a standing ovation for the lavish magic they worked with a Mylar fringe curtain, deliciously variable colors of light and a disco ball--a gently dazzling backdrop and atmosphere spanning all three dances. That all seemed hyuggge and bold to me in such an intimate setting, a visual metaphor for the way American artists do a lot with a little. Publicity for the series quoted Justin Vivian Bond's call for Glamour As Resistance!--no argument from me, Mx. Bond--and Montoya and Morita went to work. Jonathan Johnson's pop music tapestry for the final piece, Untitled (Duet in A), and the unidentified, impressive score Jess Pretty used for her solo, FIVE, were also opulent ingredients.

(photo: Scott Shaw)

The choreographers--all of whom performed their works, two solos and a duet--took on the other mission of "casting off, tearing down, and blowing up that which holds us back, denies the truth, and champions regression." So, about that description of these piece as "short works." I didn't time them, but I didn't get the impression of anything micro or mini or short. All three seemed to be big chunks of provocation and not only more than long enough but also capable of continuing to resonate beyond their formal end. Elena Rose Light even concluded her solo, NEUTRALDANCINGBODYMYASS, by having a helper pass out a little white booklet (Tarot inside joke...sorry, I had to drop that for my Tarot peeps) that we could study at our leisure and informing us of the date and location of the next session of her MADATDANCE critical investigation of whiteness in Western body culture and dance training. It's tempting to go.

Her solo invoked, for me, the nightmare of getting stuck in someone's idea of how your body should look and move, and it's coded with dance history and aesthetics that dance artists will recognize. Basically, she shows us the jaw-locked, closed-mouth tension and fakeness of someone directed by authority figures and laboring to fit in and, even if you are not a dancer, you'll get it. We're all under this particular gun, just in different ways. The experience of the Western dancer--in its insularity and insecurity--here stands in for the experience of anyone who just wants to breathe.

Jess Pretty clearly wants out from under, too. A relationship gone bad? A religion of promises that might or might not be kept? I enjoy the way she silkily strides, flows and then swirls and curlicues through the limited space of Studio A in the initial moments of FIVE. She seems to claim the breath and have the self-possession that eluded Light even though one exhortative song--and this could just be my interpretation--appears to signal trouble in the past or even ahead.

She changes up when she coyly hides herself behind the Mylar curtain, advancing sideways across the space in ways we can track only by watching the slow advance of her white sneakers at the base of the curtain. She gradually abandons them. As she emerges, shoeless, one of the things she does next strikes me as particularly vulnerable. Still moving to that shouting gospel voice, she swings her arms around as if jumping rope. In the game but at an eager, younger age.

I know Pretty is thinking beyond this being a subtle character piece, but I actually like its elusiveness and how it offers a personal journey as a metaphor for tackling and surviving and towering over a wider oppression.

Carlo Antonio Villanueva and Miriam Gabriel,
choreographic and performing partners, in Untitled (Duet in A)
(photo: Scott Shaw) 

Time to confess that I have never--no, not ever--watched any televised dance competition shows, but I think Miriam Gabriel and Carlo Antonio Villanueva created my fantasy of one in Untitled (Duet in A). Described as focusing "within and against the hyperstimulation of a volatile pop landscape," it appears to be a long, intricate, meaningless dance routine that the partners dutifully and skillfully perform, side by side, before gradually increasing the groundedness, determination and looseness of their attack. It might not mean anything more to them--or us or, at least, me--at that point, but they have grown more alive and more themselves and more relatable than ever before.

This first week of Pryor's interesting three-week series continues through Saturday with performances at 8pm. Space is extremely limited. For information and ticketing for this and upcoming weeks, click here.

Week Two:
Kenya (Robinson), Alexandra Tatarsky
and Eli Tamondong
September 28-30, 8pm

Week Three:
Angie Pittman, Kristopher K.Q. Pourzal
and Ashley R.T. Yergens
October 5-7, 8pm

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (entrance at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Native feminist troupe Spiderwoman is 40! Party!!!

Spiderwoman Theater's Gloria Miguel (Kuna/Rappahannock)
with daughter Monique Mojica
(photo: Nicky Paraiso)
Spiderwoman's Muriel Miguel (Kuna/Rappahannock) at left
with Oneida-Oswegan songwriter Lacey Hill
who performed at the celebration.
(photo: Star Black)

On Tuesday evening, La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre hosted a warm, down-to-earth gathering of family, friends, colleagues and fans of Spiderwoman Theater in tribute to the renowned troupe's 40-year milestone. Founded by three intrepid sisters of Kuna and Rappahannock lineage--Gloria Miguel, Muriel Miguel and the late Lisa Mayo--Spiderwoman is fundamental to the development of New York's avantgarde and feminist theater movements. With forthright, woke politics of resistance and bawdy, boisterous humor, the Spiderwomen have long been revered role models for generations of artists on the downtown scene like Taylor Mac, Peggy ShawLois Weaver, Alessandra Belloni and Carmelita Tropicana who participated in the celebration and benefit.

The fun evening was capped by a dance party presided over by First Nations electronic group A Tribe Called Red.

Musicians Ian Campeau, Tim 2oolman and Bear Witness of
A Tribe Called Red working the after-party
(photo: Star Black)
SiverCloud Singers
(photo: Star Black)
On screen, Spiderwoman's Lisa Mayo (1924-2013)
remembered at La MaMa
(photo: Star Black)
Laura Ortman of the all-Native Coast Orchestra
and Brooklyn's Stars and Fleas
(photo: Star Black)
Above: choreographer Elizabeth Streb
with Carey Lovelace (Loose Change Productions),
co-producer of the Spiderwoman benefit
Below: Zach Morris and Tom Pearson, co-artistic directors of
award-winning Third Rail Projects theater troupe
(photos: Star Black)

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