Friday, November 17, 2017

Girish Bhargava, 76

Girish Bhargava, Film Editor Who Captured Dance, Dies at 76
by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, November 17, 2017

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Marjani Forté-Saunders: The story we've always known

Marjani Forté-Saunders
dancing Memoirs of a... Unicorn
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Marjani Forté-Saunders
(photo: Ian Douglas)

Memoirs of a... Unicorn--a breathtaking work by dance soloist Marjani Forté-Saunders--fills the Westbeth underground now known as The Collapsable Hole. The space is rough, roomy, multi-leveled, multi-surfaced and multifaceted. You enter and look around, dreaming of all the talented artists who might dare to try it. But for now, presented by New York Live Arts, Forté-Saunders owns every corner and staircase, every recessed area and side room with intricate, unexpected treasures, every inch of concrete floor and brick wall. With her design team--including dad, Richard Forté--she has turned this basement into mythic space and immersed her audience in Black-centered story.

You reach it, appropriately, through labyrinthine corridors. But instead of confronting a minotaur, you eventually spot the Black unicorn concealed in her lair. Maybe not right away.

The installation opens to the public a half-hour before performance time, and you might wander the space unguided or get distracted by a noisy conversation with your buddies or just sit, stare at your phone and wait for something to happen not realizing that something already is.

At some point, you become aware of the unicorn, her fearsome vulnerability, her defining feature with its awkward, unreasonable length, its prickly yet delicate construction. A structure that will both confine and exalt this strange captive has been built (by Forté-Saunders's father) to endure. By the end, that reassuring durability, coupled with a long-remembered song by Gil Scott-Heron, might move you to tears.

The space, filled with a light haze, balances precariously between dark and light, looks a little dangerous for any number of reasons--among them, the painted spikes of wood affixed to a wall like metal studs. Forté-Saunders is similar--a mix of audacious power and trembling sensitivity, an archive of damage and of ingenuity, a warrior and a mother. Shes's a woman capable of channeling exacting, telling details of masculine personality, energy and movement, neither afraid for her body nor afraid of it. Her speech patterns emerge sly or wrecked and disrupted, her singing voice imperfect yet Sending Its Message. A fedora-clad figure, she can be a little scary and quite a bit seductive. Direct, elusive. Controlled as she loses control. She dredges up memories--some personal, some collective--that sometimes wound or sometimes soothe. She makes you chuckle with her determined yanking of a man's jacket over costume wings, those stiff yet flimsy things jutting out from collar and hem.

In a generous, informative chat with Okwui Okpokwasili, post-show, Forté-Saunders expressed gratitude for having unpolished space in which to tell her complex, miles-deep, centuries-deep story. To my eyes, not one element of the many, many here seemed out of place, and even excess felt like the right move in The Collapsable Hole. Forté-Saunders is a confident, important, extraordinary performer hitting a new high mark in Memoirs of a... Unicorn.

Medi design: Meena Murugesan
Original composition and sound design: Everett Saunders featuring violinist Juliette Jones
Set design: Mimi Lien
Set built by Richard Forté/Build with Forté and August Hunt
Lighting design: Tuce Yasak

Memoirs of a... Unicorn continues tonight through Sunday the 19th with performances at 7:45pm. Doors open at 7:15 for a gallery pre-show. For information and tickets, click here.

The Collapsable Hole
55 Bethune St (enter at Bethune and Washington), Manhattan

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Jillian Sweeney's (un)reality show at University Settlement

Top: Jillian Sweeney dances in her Arrows & Errors
Bottom: from left,
Lindsay Reuter, Tara O'Con, Laurie Berg and Jodi Bender
(photos: Maria Baranova)

Who is "Myrna?" I'm certainly not going to tell, but if you go to see dancer-choreographer Jillian Sweeney's Arrows & Errors at University Settlement, you will not forget her--Myrna, that is. Or, at least, that's what Sweeney tells us, with insistence: You will never forget Myrna. I've got my own idea of who/what Myrna is, and I'm going to hold onto it. Yes, I guess Sweeney's right. Unforgettable.

What are the arts for if not to make something necessary where there was nothing. Even if that something is an illusion. That illusion points to something we could have and gives it a shape we can be energized by, a shape we can use. Why not Myrna, then? It seems artists know that however we manage this, it's okay. They give themselves permission to do it imperfectly, because imperfection works, too. There seems to be human energy in imperfection that just works--especially when people get together.

So, Jodi Bender starts off sitting in a chair on the top edge of an oval of light, an odd kind of spotlight. Her casual aspect is hardly star-like, and it's like the light is aware of her but half-heartedly includes her in its own space. In any case, she's just sitting, serenely gazing out at us. Then she's easily replaced by one or another of Sweeney's other dancers--Laurie BergTara O'Con or Lindsay Reuter. Easy substitutes.

Reuter, seated, introduces a rippling through the body, from tailbone to head, that the others copy, each in her own way. Some get up and carry this sloshing into short walks across the stage from one set of chairs to another. And, by the way, those lines of chairs along either side of the performance space? A few members of the audience sit there, too. So dancers periodically melt into the lineup, becoming almost invisible, or at least unremarkable, and only rise into visibility when it's time for the next task.

I noticed O'Con's and Bender's tiny smirks, completely absent from the other dancers' faces--the blank Reuter, the sullen or quietly skeptical Berg. The differences opened a few dimensions in the work, alternate places where it could live and be received. It seemed to ask me to notice these present but unforced expressions and to watch and see if they might change over time.

Beyond those micro-features, though, were the macro ones--like the way aggressive Sweeney imagined folding chairs--a game of musical chairs under new rules that might find two dancers crowding and pressing into each other and using chairs as supports, props or even costumes. The adaptive play parallels the choreographic process and life itself.

Sweeney goes old school with a collection of old tape recorders and cassette tapes that serve multiple imaginative functions--sonic and visual--throughout the piece. These also evoke the past, our memories of the past, which may or may not still be on Memorex, and they are beat up and outmoded, just like our very human memories. They have energy, though. Just the sight of them can take us places. Like to an old, classic tap dance routine that lights up in some of our heads (the more senior heads, surely) while she's showing us something entirely different.

I'm not sure what it is that makes Sweeney herself so fascinating to watch dance, both borderline amusing and borderline formidable. I'm not sure why, when she carries or drags out a bizarre mix-match of kitschy props (credit Michael DiPietro) they start off somewhat irritating to look at and end up making sense because, you understand, she's got an inner vision of them making sense and they must and they just sort of do or your resistance has been worn down and now you're seeing in them what she's seeing. In any case, as with Myrna, you're suddenly able to see them. Choreography!

Sound consultation: Robert Ramirez
Lighting:Vincent Vigilante
Dramaturgical support: Jeffrey Crano

Arrows & Errors continues with a performances tonight at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

University Settlement
184 Eldridge Street, Manhattan

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