In this week's theater section, we have Melody Datz on the upcoming Seattle International Dance Festival:
At noon this coming Saturday, June 15, the Seattle International Dance Festival (SIDF) will kick off its “Art on the Fly” street party in South Lake Union, with free performances (including local b-boy heroes Massive Monkees), open classes, bands, margaritas, and a beer garden. Even I, who will freely throw down dozens of dollars for a three-hour ballet in a chilly theater, am much happier about seeing dance if I can watch it while sitting on the grass with a keg cup in hand.
The two-weekend SIDF, produced by Khambatta Dance Company, melds professional dance culture—including an Inter|National series with performers from Israel, Guinea, and Ghana—with an easygoing summer atmosphere.
Also: Cienna Madrid on the Comedy Womb, Seattle's first feminist comedy night, with a detour into Lindy West blowing up the internet last week by suggesting that comedy might—just might—have a lady problem:
It's a Tuesday night in the basement of the Rendezvous, and, up until a minute ago, the room was packed with the kind of crowd comedians dream of—attentive, polite, and quick to laugh. But that all ends when a young male comedian takes the stage with a set that revolves around domestic violence and date rape jokes. "If a girl asks to jerk me off, I'll crack her in the face," he says.
That's precisely the type of comment that doesn't go over well at this weekly open mic, known as the Comedy Womb. The crowd is stonily silent. He pushes on. "I've never understood date rape," he says, nervously running a hand through his hair. "I'd never date a girl after I raped her."
"Get off the stage," someone shouts, breaking the Comedy Womb's no-heckling rule.
"I guess I'll leave you with that," he says.
"Yes, please do," shouts another audience member.
Also-also: I write about Other Desert Cities at ACT (it'll be in Suggests soon):
Picture the Wyeths in their grand Palm Springs living room on Christmas Eve: Dad is a gentle Republican politico and John McCain doppelganger. Son is a goofball TV producer. Daughter is a lefty writer. Mom is a drolly cruel Reagan-worshipper. “You are never going to meet anyone,” she says to the daughter, “if you continue to dress like a refugee from a library in Kabul.” When the daughter announces that she's written a dangerously revealing memoir about her radical leftist older brother who later killed himself, the living room becomes a battleground. Watching the sparks fly between mom (Pamela Reed) and daughter (Marya Sea Kaminski) is like watching two people angrily welding at each other.
I'm on the floor at Velocity, looking up into Zoe Scofield's armpit and thinking, "Damn. That is a nice armpit. The muscles in that armpit could crush me." My brain is banging against my skull as dancers run back and forth down the length of my body. I love this. Me and just a few other people make up the entire audience for the 3:30 pm showing of zoe|juniper's newest installation, No one to witness or adjust #4, which is a work in progress of sorts, a chamber study for a larger piece. We're on the floor, legs stretched out, heads resting on lavender-scented pillows. The room is warm and on the ceiling a film of gentle, negative silhouettes plays on the ceiling. It's like naptime at some super artsy daycare center for grownups and I want to stay there forever.
How intimate is that? How brave and incredibly loving is it for artists to share their work this way? Any artist is sharing a part of themselves with their audience, but usually it's rehearsed to death and polished and as perfect as possible before we catch a glimpse. It's wacky, but the creative partnership of Zoe Scofeild and Juniper Shuey comes up with some wacky stuff. Scofield, a trained classical dancer, describes herself as someone "who was sort of excused from the ballet company." The woman oozes creative energy, and whether people attending this two-day, 16 "performance" gig liked the work or not, I bet I'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't think it was, at the very least, really interesting. Shuey is a video installation/sculptural performance artist and photographer. This new piece is an experiment to see exactly what happens when the audience becomes part of the installation, viewing the performance from below the dancers, rather than set away in the typical stage/audience configuration. The result is strange, off-putting, and potentially freaky. As typical audience members at typical dance shows, where the audience sits in chairs, we are sequestered in a dark shadow of near-anonymity, able to let our faces betray reactions of confusion, disgust, laughter, whatever. When you're laying on the ground underneath the bodies of the people performing for you, feeling their sweat, smelling their heat fill up a room—not so much. They see every flinch. They respond to you as much as you respond to them. Comfort zones for both parties are banished.
The feel of a dance studio floor and this kind of proximity aren't foreign to me. I used to spend my life in the studio. Granted, I never had dancers tower above me, hands painted bright pink as they created multiple dimensions between my prone body, their bodies, hanging white plaster casts of various body parts suspended in the air, and projections on the ceiling. There was a rhythm to the room, a bouncing of reactions between the audience, Zoe, her dancers, the lights, the music, the swinging paster casts. At one point, looking right up at Zoe, almost right up her nose, I realized how infatuated I could become with her face, her intensity. She looked like Charlotte Gainsbourg in Jane Eyre. Another dancer moved to my left, her right arm gracefully floating up to prompt a corkscrewing of her upper body, torso, and waist. I wanted to watch her midsection move—in my peripheral vision I could tell that it was really cool—but I couldn't tear my eyes from her face, even as she made eye contact with me and then gently looked away, floating out of my line of vision to another part of the room. This is a dangerous proximity if you, like me, have a tendency to get attached to facial expressions, to let the intimate expression of a dancer's physical movements get under your skin. With this piece of art, there's no where to run. There's too much to look at, to get caught up in, to love and to loathe and to long for. It's intense as shit.
There's only two days left in the fundraising campaign to help the Massive Monkees lock down a long-term lease on The Beacon—their temporary studio located in Seattle's International District. These amazing folks aren't just teaching adults and after-school crews of little kids how to breakdance—they're creating community, and turning people into better and more confident humans.
Check out this short video, and please consider donating a dollar or three. Only two days left! Donate, and read so much more right here.
A few weeks ago, we published a short essay by dance critic Melody Datz titled "Swan Lake Is So Goddamned Boring." Some local dance folks freaked out and enjoyed a sustained, satisfying whine. (Who knew that taking aim at a hoary, lucrative, sacred cow would be so provocative?) Angry blog comments, responses to those comments, a flurry of email from experts and amateurs, extended phone calls with dance people—including employees of Pacific Northwest Ballet—you name it. The indignados of Seattle dance never had it so good.
Snail mail, of course, takes longer. This arrived yesterday:
Which contained this:
You're on notice, Melody. An anonymous, snail-mail troll who calls you "Melody Ditzy Dame" says you have no class.
You'd better scrape some up before your next story, young missy. And that's an order.
Yesterday, I was having a conversation with our (newly infamous) dance critic Melody Datz about the common notion that ballerinas get trained to do all kinds of nutty things while danseurs (aka, "boy ballerinas") mostly learn how to lift chicks and hold them in the air—that ballerinas are the branch, leaf, flower, and fruit of ballet, and danseurs are just the root.
"Oh no, no," Melody said and talked about about male dancers she'd known who'd take the pointe shoes out of their friends' bags and go take class.
A few hours later, she sent me evidence in this "pas de dudes" by her latest choreographer-crush Trey McIntyre. Enjoy.
Why, it's wounded members of the dance community! They're strange birds, those certain—not all, just some—members of the dance community. When we don't write about dance, they complain. When we write glowing criticism, they are silent. When we write questioning or negative criticism, they come out of the woodwork to insist that we're idiots and criminals and incompetent monsters.
You can't win. (I just mentioned this phenomenon to books editor Paul Constant, and he said: "Sounds like poetry! If I write something positive about poetry, nobody gives a shit. When I write something negative, suddenly I'm the Hitler of poetry.")
But we're used to that. It's been that way for years.
And it's that way again this week with Melody Datz's lovely, funny, and intelligent piece on Swan Lake at Pacific Northwest Ballet, which she's seen many times over the years, and adores for its athleticism (she's a former bunhead and still impressed by fouettés and such), but recognizes that, to many people, it's dull as dirt and a potential turn-off from all dance forever.
Though she talks about what she likes about this Swan Lake, and interviews a young man about how it was a gateway for him to other kinds of dance, commenters are (predictably) throwing fits.
I'd like to single one out for special mention, however, only because I've seen this sneaky trick a thousand times:
Melody—Headline aside, your attempt at offering us an inflammatory piece does little to establish your credibility as a dance writer new on the scene. I expected better from you. You've relied on crass prose and slang to make tired, cliched points. Leave the sensationalist vocabulary behind, step out of your comfort zone, and start writing something worth reading.
Education Programs Manager
Pacific Northwest Ballet
This is a classic—an employee of an arts institution suggesting that the critic isn't "credible" because she dared to write something negative about some hallowed work of art (and dared to use conversational, grown-up language while doing it).
But this is totally disingenuous.
When any journalist evaluates the credibility of a source, the first question to ask is: "What does this person have to gain? Does he or she have any incentive—especially a financial incentive—to spin this information?" Any employee of any arts palace has a financial incentive to be mad at a critic. As "education programs manager," Doug Fullington, by definition, has a professional stake in the public perception of Swan Lake. But he's the one questioning her credibility.
So Doug: If there's anyone who is less credible in the conversation than the critic, it's the person who has a financial stake in what the critic says.
And that's you.
By all means, employees of arts institutions are encouraged to join any critical conversation we have at The Stranger. But we are all aware of where your packchecks come from and how that might influence what you say. So be careful about dubbing yourselves the arbiters of credibility.
Dance critic Melody Datz has a nice introduction to Boise-based choreographer Trey McIntyre in this week's paper. He's performing this weekend at UW Meany Hall:
Trey McIntyre is an intense dude, known for his first-class pedigree, notoriously fiery performances, and eyebrow-raising decision to leave the big cities behind and forge a successful company and career in his current home of Boise, Idaho. In Boise, his company has achieved a kind of celebrity status—Trey McIntyre Project dancers are recognized on the sidewalk, and the company receives money from local government and businesses. This enviable, mutual passion between an artist and his community reflects (and maybe inspires) an earthy quality in TMP's work—ballet roots easily meld with modern, and sometimes wild, movements. This weekend, Seattle gets in on a little of the action.
Everything in McIntyre's work, from his choreography to his methods of delivery (including short surprise performances in public places) are deeply connected to his cultural and environmental context. One of the pieces TMP will perform this week, Arrantza (the Basque word for "fishing"), is partially inspired by Boise's large Basque American population.
Trey's people responded to Melody: "First, thank you for the article onTrey McIntyre Project. We will be using the quote 'Trey McIntyre is an intense dude...' (attributed, of course) for years to come." They also sent along this sweet little bit of dance-comedy starring McIntyre:
Reggie Watts and Amy O'Neal did a similar thing several years ago as a video intro to her show Mockumentary at On the Boards.
This Sunday, Saint Genet and Trench Art Records will host/perform Sorrows: Music from Transports of Delirium, with music by Jeff Huston, Salo (Joy Wants Eternity) Garek Jon Druss (A Story of Rats, Dull Knife), and Brian Lawlor (Los Inquietos Del Norte, Implied Violence).
There will also be a new Saint Genet short film by Wes Hurley ("a pre-dawn fever dream atop the Fischer Flour Mill"), performances, and a chance to buy a limited audio cassette release of music from Saint Genet's 2011 experiments at Lawrimore Project.
Also happening this weekend—the Heavenly Spies' tenth anniversary show at the Triple Door. Check out Paul Constant's adventure at one of their rehearsals:
It's not easy for 18 dancers to simultaneously remove their tops while standing in a row on a small stage. Last week at Fred Wildlife Refuge, during a rehearsal for the Heavenly Spies' 10th anniversary show, choreographer and dancer Fae Phalen suggested that half the women leave their tops on.
"I feel like it would be a better line with all our tits out," another dancer argued. In that case, Phalen said, everyone might have to perform this four-minute closing number "without a bra on." Some of the top-heavier dancers groaned. But bras, Phalen pointed out, make everything more complicated. Rhinestones and lace don't often peacefully coexist, causing weird shapes and catches in the costumes. Plus, Phalen worried that if the dancers strip too enthusiastically, people in the front row might wind up with brassieres in their desserts. But you can't let the bra limply drop either—hooks tend to gravitate toward fishnets. "I've had to do half a dance with a bra hooked to the side of my leg," Phalen warned her crew...
What did they decide? Bras or no bras? Find out this weekend at the Triple Door...
(The Heavenly Spies' Diamonds!, is playing at the Triple Door tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday.)
It's not easy for 18 dancers to simultaneously remove their tops while standing in a row on a small stage. Last week at Fred Wildlife Refuge, during a rehearsal for the Heavenly Spies' 10th anniversary show, choreographer and dancer Fae Phalen suggested that half the women leave their tops on.
"I feel like it would be a better line with all our tits out," another dancer argued. In that case, Phalen said, everyone might have to perform this four-minute closing number "without a bra on." Some of the top-heavier dancers groaned. But bras, Phalen pointed out, make everything more complicated. Rhinestones and lace don't often peacefully coexist, causing weird shapes and catches in the costumes. Plus, Phalen worried that if the dancers strip too enthusiastically, people in the front row might wind up with brassieres in their desserts. But you can't let the bra limply drop either—hooks tend to gravitate toward fishnets. "I've had to do half a dance with a bra hooked to the side of my leg," Phalen warned her crew.
But the protestations grew and Phalen relented, adding nude bras covered with rhinestones to the number, straining an already-stretched costume budget. Phalen promised to bring glue guns and a bag of rhinestones to the next practice. Forget diamonds—glue guns, it turns out, are a girl's best friend. Everything from feathers to lace can be slapped onto a costume with a little hot glue, and a few of the dancers have nasty burns to show for their recent costume adjustments.
Considering the frailty of flesh, a 10-year anniversary is a big one for any dance company—and perhaps especially for a burlesque troupe...
The most entertaining thing about all of this?
Pacific Northwest Ballet has just returned from a tour to New York where the company impressed Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times. He liked the dancers well enough, but he loved the PNB orchestra, conducted by Emil de Cou.
Prokofiev’s celebrated score for “Romeo and Juliet” has never sounded better in the theater, in my experience, than at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s two performances on Saturday at City Center... In the balcony scene of Act I, I found myself blinking back tears at the matinee, thanks less to the choreography than to the rapturous sound of the strings and woodwind. When Juliet is contemplating feigned death in Act III, a series of soft, low string staccati made a more intimate effect than I have ever known.
And the music sounded marvelous. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s orchestra has long been superior to those we hear for New York’s resident ballet troupes, and in Emil de Cou it probably has America’s finest ballet conductor.
And I especially enjoyed this sentence about PNB principal James Moore:
Mr. Moore, hunky and wearing an early-Beatles haircut, lost himself in the story with the eagerness of a puppy. Pressing his cheek to Juliet’s hand and then tenderly up the length of her leg, he was the quintessence of young love.
I first fell for Mr. Moore in 2005, when he performed Mopey, a solo by Marco Goecke, in which he also lost himself with puppy-like eagerness. Mopey, and Peter Boal's willingness to program it as part of his anti-fustiness campaign when he first arrived at PNB, was also a major factor in the decision to give the ballet a Stranger Genius Award in 2009—the Genius party portrait was of Mr. Moore performing Mopey.
Congrats to Moore, de Cou, and PNB for a successful tour.
This is what Oscar Pistorius said in an affidavit:
I sleep with my 9mm under my bed. I woke up to close the sliding door and heard a noise in the bathroom.Your legs might help you on the field, but don't expect them to do the same in court.
I was scared and didn’t switch on the light. I got my gun and moved towards the bathroom. I screamed at the intruder because I did not have my legs on, I felt vulnerable. I fired shots through the bathroom door and told Reeva to call police.
On another note, the one thing about this case is that it has introduced America to lots of black police officers.
The magazine will cover March 4 through June 1.
Roger Ebert has a great new page full of photos, videos, and testimony about Jeni Le Gon, the first black woman signed to a major studio, back in the 1930s. She died in December. There's video of her performing at Seattle's Century Ballroom in 2007 at 91 years old, along with clips from her youth.
Ebert quotes from Le Gon's obituary in the London Independent about Le Gon's brush with Ronald Reagan in 1950. She'd have known what kind of president was coming, and was probably unsurprised when Reagan ignored AIDS in its early years.
"She played maids to Maria Montez in Arabian Nights (1942), Ann Miller in Easter Parade (1948) and Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me (1952). Tiring of maid roles, Le Gon faced humiliation in 1950 when she joined a group of black actors to call on Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild. They raised their concerns about the stereotyping of black actors, but Reagan showed no interest: "We tried to get him to intervene for us, but he wasn't the least bit sympathetic. He didn't even lie about it."
I'm pasting two YouTube clips from the two ends of her career here, but you should really visit Ebert's whole page.
I'm not a frequent dance patron, but I attended a three-part show at Meany Hall over the weekend, produced and choreographed by UW faculty, and I have to yell about a dancer named Joanna Farmer.
Christ she's good. The UW senior—one of five performers in a piece titled Dances for Isadora—was strong enough to stand out in a two-hour show packed with great dancers.
Unlike so many performers who seem to string together techniques (a foot to the left, an arm to the right, elbow bent, hand cocked downward, etc.), Farmer moved as a unified force. She deployed her appendages in the way a well-knit band makes a singular sound, as if the individual instruments are impossible to pick out. The effect was communicating comprehensible ideas, which is great for lunkheads like me who often miss the subtext of modern choreography. Farmer is cohesive and grand and forthright, but precise. A sort of Captain Janeway of motion. Farmer actually managed to—no joke—exit stage left by rolling across the floor without looking contrived. She's marvelous to watch.
Dances for Isaoroa was originally conceived by José Limon as a tribute to the seminal modern dance icon Isadora Duncan, made up of five solos that represent the stages of her life (concluding with getting her scarf got caught in the tire of a convertible and having her neck broken). Farmer performed the second piece, a frenzied piece, titled Maenad.
I have much to think about and say in response, but since the performances only last through tomorrow, here's the extreme shorthand:
1. Any time Catherine Cabeen moves her limbs and allows an audience, you should run, not walk. As a dancer, she is undeniably extraordinary. It does not matter what the movement is. She will not let go of your eyes as long as she is onstage. The tiniest roll of her shoulder, a knee slowly turning out, the release of a hip joint—every motion means.
2. The choreography of Fire! feels murky. The overall structure is inchoate in such a way that I was conceptually and narratively lost in the second half. Into the Void, which premiered at On the Boards in 2011—the first in the triptych of pieces commissioned by OtB that Cabeen plans to devote to the visual artists de Saint Phalle (Fire!), Yves Klein (Into the Void), and Jean Tinguely (to come in 2015)—had none of this lack of clarity, and was thrilling to me both in its physical and intellectual aspects. My response to the individual movements in Fire! (some feeling overly literal) was also mixed. You can rent Into the Void for your own comparison.
The OtB blog is always a good source of audience responses while a show is running. I wonder how Cabeen would compare her own experience of the two pieces, and I wonder what the Tinguely piece will bring.
Saw Book of Mormon at the Paramount last night and loved it so fucking much.
Goldy covers a bunch of reasons the show adds up to something freakily brilliant in his rave review, so I'll focus on a component of the show I hadn't heard hyped previously, and that I wasn't expected to be blown away by: the choreography, which repeatedly made me laugh so hard I cried.
The Book of Mormon's choreography is by Casey Nicholaw, who co-directed the show (both on Broadway and in this touring production) with Trey Parker. (Nicholaw and Parker won the 2011 Tony for Best Direction, while Nicholaw was nominated for Best Choreography and lost to Anything Goes' Kathleen Marshall.) I can't really hold forth on the quality of The Book of Mormon's choreography as dance, but as comedy, it was astounding.
Prime example: "All-American Prophet," in which the story of Joseph Smith is re-told truthfully and respectfully, by a stageful of people doing the most hilarious group dancing I've ever seen. (If you want to economically underscore the ridiculousness of someone's argument, have them make it while doing an aggressively energetic "funky strut" dance.)
My guy Jake saw the show with me, and had an even more profound experience than I did. (He's an ex-Mormon, and for him, seeing last night's show was like watching the smartest people in the world spend two and half hours intricately mocking the worst bully of his childhood, to the rapturous applause of the masses. He was beside himself with amazement and joy.)
Thank you, all the components of the universe that lined up to make The Book of Mormon possible. It was a dream night.
If you want more celebrity bullshit posts, post 'em. And please note that the two Seahawks posts were by regular actual employees of The Stranger, and one of them was so disdainful as to actually constitute a Golden Globes post.
And the Seahawks game was more important: There's a Golden Globes every year. The Seahawks do not make the post-season every year.
When it comes to the role of women over the last 100 years, why are women so much more powerful in dance than in visual art?
"In dance, women are not just makers but spectacles," Catherine Cabeen said yesterday. "Perhaps this is why they've been allowed to be the exception. ...I've always known that I was using my body as a visual spectacle."
John Rockwell, the renowned critic, once called Cabeen "a goddess," so, yeah. And put crassly but probably truly, men may have little interest in looking at women's paintings, but they like looking at women's bodies. Cabeen is spending 2011 through 2015 making three dances about art. (The first was Into the Void, inspired by Yves Klein; the next will be based on Jean Tinguely.)
Cabeen brought her principles to life while she talked yesterday, giving a presentation in a UW dance studio. The dancers in her company performed behind her as she spoke. Two dancers across from each other were connected by a long, thick strand of gray yarn. One sat on the floor working the yarn onto a large red circular knitting loom while the other wore the knitted yarn around her body on the other side of the stage. As the standing woman turned and turned, the gray knitted garment—like a body sock—was being unraveled and reknit again on the loom by the seated woman, who tugged at it as she went. I couldn't help noticing that the turning woman was very beautiful, and the way she turned while arching her body was a way of showcasing herself, like a dessert in a moving bakery case. She was both captive and captivating.
"I can control how I present myself," Cabeen said while this went on, "but I can't control your gaze. I can't control how you see me." Her presentation was called "Hair Trigger: Femininity, Objectification, and Violence," and this is the loaded portrait she used to illustrate it on her web site (a shot of her, by Alan Kimara Dixon):
"Very early, I got the message that men had the power, and I wanted it." That's Niki de Saint Phalle talking. She was an artist who described her mother, aunts, and grandmother as "guardians of the hearth"—whereas she wanted to be a full citizen of the whole world, not just domestic life. Eventually, she rose to stardom and made a series called Shooting Paintings. These paintings, packed with balloons of color under their surfaces, literally exploded and bled when she shot them with actual guns. She started wearing a white catsuit while she did it. Cabeen thought this was hot. She started creating a full dance piece inspired by de Saint Phalle, commissioned by On the Boards (it runs all next weekend). It's called Fire!
"Hair Trigger" was the story of how Cabeen's thinking shifted from finding this sexy to finding it complicated. De Saint Phalle's rage was in part motivated by years of sexual abuse. Her shooting only lasted two years, anyway. She eventually created giant sculptures of rotund, rainbow-colored women. She also created the monumental Tarot Garden in Italy, the world's largest sculpture park devoted to the art of a woman. The garden ended up being more inspiring to Cabeen than the Shooting Paintings. When Cabeen visited, she was taken with the fact that the place was crawling with schoolchildren and she started climbing the sculptures herself. It was wondrous and innocent and beautiful and redemptive—a place far from violence and rage—when suddenly, she slipped and fell. One of the sculptures cut her from elbow to wrist. She wasn't seriously hurt, but she felt the violence right there alongside the innocence. Fire! is about both sides now, she said.
I'm looking forward to seeing the results. Here's a roll of fragments from the last installment, Into the Void:
First of all, the answer should be yes because it's fucking delightful! Not to quote myself or anything but:
It opens with a gift to the audience: Hostess DeLaCreme announces that for one night, straights become honorary homosexuals. "The gift of gay is the greatest gift I have to give," she trills as a cast stocked with Dickensian waifs, Twink Jesus, bare-naked Candy, and a triumphantly hairless Gingerbread Man break into refrains of "It's the most wonderful time to be queer."
The cast makes good on its gift by forcing audience members to embrace Christmas with a level of passion and camp that's otherwise missing in Seattle's theater scene. (I've sat through six Christmas shows this season, and only Homo joins my perennial favorite, Dina Martina, in my cold little heart.)
Now that you're ready to buy your tickets based solely on the power of my enthusiasm, please note that we totally fucked up the showtime in this week's print edition of Suggests. Homo is playing at Odd Fellows West Hall at 7pm and 10pm on December 21, 22, 23, and 24 (not 8pm). We regret the error. Get your tickets here!
I don't see enough of any one art form to feel okay about compiling a year-end "Best of" list, so instead I'll just be highlighting a few things I saw and loved in 2012.
The best experience I had in a theater this year (other than Bret Fetzer's middle-of-the-night Annex wedding) occurred at On the Boards. The show: Kidd Pivot's The Tempest Replica, a dance/theater mashup best described by the OtB website:
The theatrical greatness of Shakespeare meets the virtuosity and stage wizardry of Crystal Pite as she and her company return to OtB, their Seattle home-away-from-home. The Tempest Replica marries theater and dance in a game of revenge and forgiveness, reality and imagination, all based on motifs from The Tempest....Pite infuses the stage with skilled movement, original music, text, and rich visual design.
The precision and virtuosity on display in the stagecraft and movement was astounding, and I've never seen dancers give better performances (or actors dance better—but I'm pretty sure it's the former). Watching the show felt like watching something bracingly new. It was a great experience, and one that got even better after I read the New York Times review of The Tempest Replica's NYC run.
Those of us who love Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” may well be enraged by the mauling it receives at the hands of the choreographer Crystal Pite and her company Kidd Pivot in “The Tempest Replica,” playing through Sunday at the Joyce. The ovation it received on Wednesday night shows that an audience exists for this kind of thing. Shakespeare will survive, of course. What’s infuriating here is that “Replica” is poor as storytelling, flawed as mime, horrid as dance.
Shakespeare jerks never have any fun. Thanks for the great memories, OtB.
Without affecting its existing programs, the City of Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs shuffled around some money this year (including making administrative cuts) in order to give a one-time-only round of grants that directly pays employees at arts organizations. The funded jobs had to be "positions that can generate extra revenue to carry out the mission of the organization," and those ended up ranging from teacher trainers to print-shop managers to executive directors to jazz competition contest overseers to social justice training coordinators to raisers-of-money.
The contracts total $260,000, and you can see a full list of recipients with breakdowns at the Arts Mean Business website.
Many of the orgs are familiar names—On the Boards, Gage Academy, Pratt, Pottery Northwest—but five have never before been funded by OACA. Those include the Duwamish Tribe, where $9,200 will pay for a manager of rentals for the longhouse, and ROCKit Community Arts in Beacon Hill, which with the city's $10,000 will leverage its first full-time staff position.
A grant of $11,894 to Arts Corps may help to wipe some of the egg off the city's face after the levy debacle in March.
Since it's a one-time thing involving a buzzword in a mayoral election year—job creation!—who knows what this means long-term. It's good news this morning.
Last week, I had a quick window to interview iconic choreographer Mark Morris, who is coming to On the Boards this weekend. I was told he does not like to talk about his work, particularly new work. I was told I should not air my speculations that Mikhail Baryshnikov would be performing with his company this weekend.
So I decided to ask him about an issue that he—a choreographer who left Seattle in the 1970s, rose to international stardom, and returns to his hometown every year—is uniquely qualified to talk about: how the relationship between Seattle (and other cities at the periphery) and New York (the center) has changed in the past 30-plus years.
Normally, that is a very dull question—all this local hand-wringing about what we mean, and how we measure up, and whether we're good enough out here in the podunk hinterlands.
But Morris, who fled these hinterlands and has been back and forth in the years since, might be one of the few people who is both qualified and able to say something interesting about it.
So what did he say? He began with: "Hmm. I don't know how to answer that. Seattle's thing is like all middle-sized cities. The goal is to have a 'world class'—that horrible term—ballet, symphony, etc."
He moved on to: "Everyone knows that people in Seattle are very proud of Seattle—and that’s not a compliment."
He ended somewhere around: "I may sound cunty, but I’m doing it fondly."
And now that I've had that conversation about Seattle and the center and the periphery with Mark Morris, who confirmed the dullness of the question, I never need to have it again.
As you were.
Amy O'Neal has been making a big new piece of dance for some time now, she's calling it The Most Innovative, Daring, and Original Piece of Dance/Performance You Will See This Decade, she's going to perform it at Velocity starting next week, and last week I went to an open rehearsal for it—which was far more open than I thought it would be, and if that sounds dirty, I mean it to.
The overall piece as I understand it is intended as an essay and an entertainment.
To make it, she focused on what actually held her obsessive attention. Cheap things. Obvious things. Seemingly cheap and obvious things, anyway.
Themes, areas covered, and accoutrements used will include but I hope not be limited to: Janet Jackson, ass-popping (booty dance), a stripper's pole, ballet (addressing the popular perception that dancers are either ballerinas or strippers), Ciara's Ride video, a short doc film of quick interviews about ass conducted on Seattle streets, hip hop (from the point of view of a white woman teaching hip hop dance classes), race (obv), gender (obv), five-inch heels made entirely of transparent material, hip pain, objectification, chair dance, appropriation, respect.
Nobody has seen it yet, so I don't want to get all promisey. But I'm excited to see it, and I think you should consider going too. Info.
A few weeks ago, O'Neal taught the moves to Ciara's Ride video to a bunch of people over the course of a three-hour class at a Velocity studio. I was one of those people. If she ever does this again, become one of those people. Or just do any of this on your own and see how your body reacts:
Yesterday's hunch was confirmed this morning by the Mark Morris Dance Group: Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris will collaborate again, this weekend, at On the Boards. (Tickets are already sold out.)
I asked Jessica Massart of On the Boards how they planned to sneak Baryshnikov into the theater. Secret underground tunnel? "Ha!" she wrote back. "Helicopter? High security zip line? Disguise him in a big hat?"
I have a hunch that living legend Mikhail Baryshnikov will perform this weekend in the intimate, 300-seat theater at On the Boards. (This is all my own guesswork—staff at On the Boards refused to confirm or deny anything. In fact, they seemed a little chagrined I was even asking.) If I'm right, this is a very big deal.
It's big enough news that the Mark Morris Dance Group is bringing four pieces—including one world premiere—to On the Boards. Morris, who is originally from Seattle but moved to NYC in the mid-70s and became an international dance and choreography phenomenon, normally brings his company to venues with thousands of seats. This weekend's performances sold out long ago.
"We’d never dance in theaters that small," Morris said over the phone last week. "It’s crazy, but we wanted to do something more chamber-sized." (That was the mildest thing he said. For his endearingly sharp and catty observations about Seattle, NYC, and American arts culture in general—including the capstone quote, "I may sound cunty, but I'm doing it fondly"—see an interview with him in this week's upcoming paper.)
The (possible) appearance of Baryshnikov makes it even bigger news.
Here's why I think he'll be there: First, there have been rumors bubbling over the past few days about a "special guest" in the world premiere. The usually forthcoming staff at OtB have been steely and tight-lipped about those rumors. That is unusual and indicates something extra-special.
And there is a clue to this "special guest" mystery in the Morris program—the premiere is titled "A Wooden Tree" (with music and words by Jewish-Scottish musician, poet, and humorist Ivor Cutler); the company Morris and Baryshnikov co-founded in 1990 is called White Oak. Baryshnikov and Morris have worked together extensively throughout the years. One source in the arts world said there would be extra security at OtB this weekend.
Who else could it be?
For those of you who already have tickets, this would be a happy surprise. (For a few of you, this would be like the second coming of Jesus Christ.) For those of you who don't have tickets—sorry. The MMDG program was sold out weeks ago. There isn't even a wait list. But if my hunch is correct, I bet there will be scalpers.
Say what you will about Mark Morris—some adore him, some grumble about him, and he's keenly aware of both constituencies—but if I'm right about Baryshnikov, this will be a rare opportunity to see a world master, an international legend, perform the choreography of another international legend up close and personal.
The careers of both Morris and Baryshnikov have transcended the ballet/modern divide. Morris (the shape-shifter and gender-bender with a classical vocabulary) challenges human bodies, and his career has been a deep inquiry into what they can achieve. Baryshnikov (the fine-tuned master who has been compared to Nureyev and Nijinsky) has a body that has been developed to the far limits of human potential, not to mention a fathoms-deep well of life experience.
To whet your appetite for my wild speculation, one of my favorite critical descriptions of Baryshnikov—Joan Acocella in 1998 describing a performance he gave at the Latvian state ballet—is below the jump.
Wednesday night at UW, a formidable crew of dancers and choreographers from all across Africa—all women—sat down on a panel to describe what they make and how it's received by audiences in all kinds of places including Botswana, Tunisia, Paris, Chicago, and, last week, New York (reviews here and here).
Has any other dance tour in history had this global a reach?
They are a tour called Voices of Strength. They represent Mali, Mozambique, Morocco, South Africa, Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti; they also represent a rising tide of contemporary dancemaking in Africa (PDF to read more about it).
This is their first time in the United States, and they're in Seattle at the Moore tonight and Saturday, with different pieces presented each night (tickets; credit goes largely to local powerhouse Vivian Phillips on behalf of STG for getting them here).
They talked about European critics deriding them for not being formal enough, dancey enough, balletic enough. But these women don't care. One after the next made her case for a performance style that mixes dance, theater, and politics.
They face an uphill battle in perception on many levels. One is reflected in the question Phillips was asked before she came to the panel discussion on Wednesday. Someone asked her, out of the blue, "Are the performances sexually explicit?" Phillips didn't know what to say. "You mean because they're black women from Africa?" she wondered. Or more than wondered.
Two sentiments stuck with me from the panel. One, when Bouchra Ouizguen of Morocco declared, "I don't need to take modern to traditional or traditional to modern. We are all of this in our bodies."
Second, when Kettly Noël from Mali/Haiti described being a child and watching a beautiful woman move, knowing she wanted to be like her. "She had beautiful underwear!" she blurted. As a baby, she said, the only thing that would calm her so her mother could work was when her brother made music on his body.
Noël is in this video. She's not the dancer with the white doll who appears first. That's South African Nelisiwe Xaba. They created Correspondances, and perform it tonight at the Moore. See you there.
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