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.
The appointment is an outreach move, which is direly needed since for years the city office has seemed like a limb with no blood flowing to it. Engstrom is a ninja at connecting and showing up. Go to an event, he's there. He knows and/or has collaborated with pretty much every arts worker in the city, with some sustained focus on social justice through the years. He has been working in Seattle for more than a decade.
Mayor McGinn and Engstrom met back when Engstrom was the founding director of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in Delridge, he said in a phone conversation Thursday evening.
"I feel a very strong overlap with Randy," McGinn said. He described the process:
"We had an interview process. I had a panel composed of Darryl Smith, Michele Scoleri, and Robert Nellams from the center, because they’re good people and Robert was bringing in a little experience as a department head, and then I briefly did an open advertisement. Three finalists were then entertained by a three-person panel from the arts commission to get feedback. And then I interviewed the three finalists, and chose Randy.
I feel a very strong overlap with Randy. His values about the role of arts in our community. And I also really appreciated the way in which he approaches doing the work, which is that, you know, we’ve got a big city government, and there’s a lot of opportunities to partner across city government around the arts, and that’s where he was coming from as a starting place. So it felt like a strong selection. ...I’d met him when he was at Youngstown, he was indeed in a lot of different places, I loved his work with FEEST, I loved the way in which he engaged with youth and his deep concerns about race and social justice, so that’s why I said it’s a very strong values overlap with Randy and me. And his thought processes on the role arts can play in how we get things done in the city—that arts is not a standalone thing; that’s very important to me. That it’s a way of integrating multiple objectives. In city government right now, the way we approach problems is you try to bring in all the departments that touch it and then work collaboratively with the community on how to address it, and I’m just really excited to bring the office of arts and cultural affairs into that, and I value department heads that know how to do that well.
Since relationship-making is a large part of what someone at this level does (and who knows exactly what the hell else they do?), Engstrom seems a smart choice.
He starts Wednesday. The first order of business is stability, he said. (The office's employees got a shock when the previous director left suddenly recently—they didn't know he was going until the day the resignation was announced publicly.) Engstrom said he believes the office does plenty of great work, but hasn't done such a great job of getting the word out about it.
"They just need stable, grounded leadership that has the relationships that can help them be successful," he said in a phone conversation today.
A recurring topic of conversation Saturday night at the Moore (party pics) was the way this year's Genius Awards were being given out—Academy Award-style, with the winners selected in a surprise announcement from the stage while the other nominees squirmed and fidgeted and general awkwardness ensued.
"It's awful!" one former Genius winner told me.
Yes, there was awkwardness for both winners and non-winning finalists. (LIFE IS STRESSFUL.)
But look: In years past, we've announced the winners weeks ahead of time, then published shortlists in the paper on the week of the party. This creates a situation in which absolutely nobody remembers who the shortlisters were. There's been no glory in it. And being shortlisted for Genius has never changed anybody's life.
But being a finalist has.
I wasn't sure where I fell on this whole issue until Amanda Manitach told me last week, "This nomination literally changed my life. No, really." She had been planning, for financial reasons, to stop being an artist. She was going through some changes in her personal life, and they meant that she had to entirely support herself. When the announcement hit, she figured she'd "keep up appearances" as a serious artist until after the ceremony, thinking she wouldn't win, anyway.
But the attention of the nomination itself sent commissions and collectors her way. And for the first time, she has made her living on her art for these last months.
So while I realize it's not easy being a finalist—and I also dislike anything that smacks of similarity with the dimwitted, shittily selected, utterly meaningless Academy Awards—I say: Let's do it again like this next year.
Because triple the people get the glory, even though not everybody goes home with the cash.
San Francisco-based Keith Hennessy describes his project Turbulence (a dance about the economy) as "a bodily response to economic crisis, engaging the frictions between disaster capitalism, debt, precarity, propaganda, torture, war, magic and queer identity." There's video here.
Velocity's his host in Seattle this coming weekend, and the dance center is not just presenting the performance but also staging a weeklong series of events under the title Failure: Conversations Around Art + the Economy. (Has the economy failed art? Has art failed the economy? Is art necessarily an economic failure? Is failed art an economic success or failure?)
It starts tonight at Liberty with Body Book Club (bodies and books! My two favorite things!), a roundtable chatting about Cassie Peterson's essay But, What Is Queer Art?: A Paradoxical Manifesto. Body Book Club II, responding to the legendary art curator Harald Szeemann's statements in Failure as a Poetic Dimension, will involve actually using your body, moving in response to his words. That's the one I'm most interested in.
There's more, too, including a talk with Hennessy and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?, on Thursday, and the performances Friday and Saturday, followed by a coffee-and-bageling-about-economy-and-community with Seattle dancers. All info here.
Next Saturday night at the Moore Theatre, we're all going to be doing this:
Well, some of us will, anyway. Join. Watch. It's time again for the best party of the year.
And this year, none of us editors will know who the Geniuses will be until we hear them announced from the stage at the 10th annual Genius Awards—just like you.
A 50-piece rock orchestra will be playing. Velocity resident dancer Kate Wallich will perform for you. And past Genius artists Lynn Shelton, Jeffry Mitchell, Susanna Welbourne, Sarah Rudinoff, and Jim Woodring will tear open the envelopes and hand out the awards.
What should you wear? Wear that thing you're dying to put up on your body, whatever it is. I will personally compliment every hot one of you.
Tickets are $12 (regular) or $50 (VIP: free booze, more hours/booty dance, and the money goes back toward funding the awards!). Buy here.
Dave Segal reviews an afternoon metal show, Christopher Frizzelle talks shit about Gotye, Timothy Rysdyke films part of THEESatisfaction's set, and I go on the search for Bumbershoot's cutest dog. Read, watch, and/or see it all right here!
The first thing you'll notice about the campy dance duo Cherdonna and Lou is their incredible heads. Cherdonna's announces itself first, with riotous blasts of blush and lipstick, and the theater of her eyes extending up, Divine-like, past her natural brows to make a glittery show of most of her forehead. Above the eyescape sits the classic Cherdonna Shinatra hairdo: a jet of dark hair-sprayed bangs rubbing up against a huge, swooping blond hairpiece. Compared to Cherdonna, Lou looks possibly sedate, even when wedged in an American-flag bodysuit, his pompadour bubbling upward, a thin line of facial hair lining his upper lip and running along his jaw, natural in all respects until you realize it's made of deep-blue glitter.
Cherdonna and Lou burst onto the Seattle dance scene in 2009, when dancers and friends Jody Kuehner and Ricki Mason came together to make a dance to Olivia Newton-John's "Xanadu" for a Velocity fund-raiser. After the piece's rapturous reception, Kuehner and Mason made things official with a name. "I knew I wanted to be Lou Henry Hoover, after the first lady," says Mason. "I told Jody, 'Pick a name that sounds good with Lou'...."
Read the whole thing here.
Next week, Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs—in response to a mayoral request for something to support both the arts and job creation—rolls out a new grant program called Arts Mean Business.
Organizations will be able to apply for "funds to pay new or existing employees to try experimental programs," writes office spokeswoman Calandra Childers.
Like anything else, the success of the program will depend on how well it's given—what does the city think experimental means? We'll find out when the first recipients are awarded at the end of the year. For now, get your applications in when the system hits next week here; deadline is September 10.
I was going to post this last week before sudden events turned the city—and our newsroom—upside-down. Better late than etc.
Remember the tempest surrounding Spectrum Dance Theater and Storefronts Seattle after Spectrum's public performance of The Miraculous Mandarin in the International District?
Last week, Andy Fife of Shunpike announced that the organizations had kissed and made up (at least publicly). They announced they would work together to find another venue to present The Miraculous Mandarin, a short Bela Bartok ballet about crime and tragedy that has a history of censorship, at some unnamed date in the future.
The full press release is below the jump.
How did a piece of public dance-art become such a big goddamned deal? It went a little something like this.
I just got off the phone with Susie Purves, the executive director of Spectrum, who says she's had to talk the city of Seattle down about people at Survival Research Labs covering the viaduct with fire, but is deeply surprised at the way this Spectrum/Storefronts thing has gone down, saying Spectrum did its due diligence with Storefronts and the local development organizations and The Miraculous Mandarin was exactly what Spectrum said it would be. (Don't you wish you'd stood in the rain with me to see it the other night? Probably 50 people saw it, and probably eight times that many people are now talking about it.)
Van Diep of Spectrum sent an email clarifying the dance company's position. Shorter version: Spectrum says it did everything it was supposed to do, informed all the people they were supposed to inform, and they don't understand why people are flipping out. The full press release is below the jump.
Corollary: Purves told me a Spectrum staff member was dedicated, during the show, to finding people with children and let them know what was going on so they could take their kids elsewhere if they wanted to. She also said that Mandarin had consumed around one quarter of Spectrum's resources for this year, that they had expected to make no real money from it (free performance, funded by grants, and all that), and are sorely disappointed that they went to all that trouble and expense only to get shut down after the first performance.
And so you don't get the wrong idea: The show involved some sexual grinding (which is what people are exercised about) and a suffocation-murder (which, oddly enough, people aren't exercised about). There was implied nudity but no actual nudity that I could see. And the press release, for your edification and entertainment:
1. Last Thursday, I saw a dance performance by Spectrum at Hing Hay Park in the International District. The idea was to stand or sit in the park and watch the show through the second-story windows of a building. The park is well-known for its drug dealing and prostitution. The performance, The Miraculous Mandarin, is a longtime-banned ballet by Bela Bartok, updated by Donald Byrd to be about drug dealers and a woman—maybe a prostitute, maybe not—caught between them. You can read about how Hing Hay's dealers and sex workers reacted to Mandarin here.
2. The Storefronts Seattle program—which convinces local landlords to loan their currently vacant properties as venues for public art, and which presented Miraculous Mandarin—cancelled the rest of the performances, saying the simulated sex was too graphic for the public arena. (It did have graphic simulated sex.)
3. Matthew Richter (formerly of The Stranger and ConWorks) said that he had explicitly discussed Mandarin with representatives of Spectrum, insisting that it had to be PG (or tamer), or that the whole Storefronts program would risk being shuttered. Storefronts depends on landlords agreeing to loan their spaces, and many of them are economically and culturally conservative. No more landlord buy-in, no more program. Richter and Storefronts also worried on their blog that they had been misled about the content of Mandarin.
4. On the phone this morning, Spectrum choreographer Donald Byrd described the situation as a misunderstanding that blew up into a controversy. He strenuously objected to the idea that he was trying to pull a fast one on Storefronts. "I'm not an adolescent!" he said. "I'm 62 years old! I don't operate like that. I'm not trying to shock anyone. I don't have anything to prove.... The thought that I would put energy into deceiving anyone? This will sound condescending and nasty, I guess, but nobody is important enough to me to deceive them. There's a lot of effort in that—and I'm lazy!"
Spectrum Dance Theater just sent out a press release saying its performances of The Miraculous Mandarin no longer have a home due to a sponsorship cancellation over the content of the show. I have a call in to Matthew Richter, but haven't been able to get his side of the story yet. As soon as I do, I will update here. Yes, this is the performance Brendan liked so much last night. I was looking forward to seeing it myself.
SEATTLE -Storefronts Seattle Program Director Matthew Richter withdrew program sponsorship of Spectrum Dance Theater's performances of The Miraculous Mandarin in the Bush Hotel. Richter cited dramatic sexual depictions and implied nudity as the reason for the withdrawal.
Without support from Storefronts Seattle, Spectrum Dance Theater must vacate the Bush Hotel. Performances for the remainder of the run are cancelled until further notice. Spectrum is seeking alternate venues.
The Miraculous Mandarin was to be presented in six performances May 17-19 & May 24-26, free of charge, in the windows of the Bush Hotel overlooking Hing Hay Park in the Chinatown-International District.
People who made seat reservations will be contacted about the cancellations and potential relocation of the performances. The related tour of the historic Freeman Hotel at the Wing Luke Museum on Saturday, May 19, will take place as planned.
Based on the ballet by composer Bela Bartók, which was repeatedly banned throughout the 20th century, The Miraculous Mandarin is a work that is for a mature audience, and is not intended for children. The performances were to take place from 8:30-9:20pm in Hing Hay Park, located in the Seattle's Chinatown-International District. An audience talkback with artistic director Donald Byrd and the performers was to take place following each performance.
Say what you will about choreographer Donald Byrd—and he's been lauded and heavily criticized by myself and Jen Graves and others at The Stranger over the years. But tonight he achieved something I've never, ever seen before with his free and outdoor performance of Miraculous Mandarin, a Bela Bartok ballet that Byrd has updated to be about modern-day drug dealers and a woman caught in the middle of their cash and dope and violence.
Byrd—and his Spectrum Dance Theater—performed it in a vacant space in a building in the International District, with viewers standing outside in the rain in Hing Hay park, watching it through the windows. We can discuss the choreography at another time, but right now I want to talk about audience reaction. Hing Hay is a hub of drug-dealing and sex work (neither of which I'm opposed to on principle—it's just a fact). I hung back by the corner, away from the folding chairs, to see how the dealers and the sex workers would deal with this intrusion on their marketplace.
The dealers (four or five African-American men, one Latino) were initially mesmerized by the African-American woman dancer doing sexy moves with the male dancers behind the second-floor windows, but they soon got down to business—there were too many people, too many disruptions, and after a brief meeting, they agreed to go sling their product on a corner across the street for the next few hours.
The lady sex workers were a different story. They were still soliciting, but some were torn between the performance (about a battle between dealers and how a lady is caught in the middle) and their business. I overheard one conversation between an older black woman and a middle-aged white woman that went like this:
Our man in Java sent us this video of soldiers dancing in a military parade to honor the Sultan of Yogyakarta's 100th birthday. (He's been dead since 1989.)
Back in 1989 our man in Java was living in Java—now he's just visiting—and he attended that Sultan's funeral. "I was one of the two foreigners," he writes. "The other one was the well-liked ambassador to Indonesia at the time and later warmonger—Paul Wolfowitz."
Abraham's breakout work from a few years ago, performed as a character named "Pookie Jenkins," about sums it up: He walks onstage shirtless, carrying a 40-ounce bottle of booze and wearing that pink tutu. Some women wearing jeans and T-shirts flip him some shit for the way he's dressed, but Pookie is all confidence. A song by Dizzee Rascal—"People gonna respect me/I better make you respect me"—blasts from the speakers while Abraham begins a fast and energetic solo, his spine and limbs undulating with an unusual balance of grace and power. From any dance-vocabulary angle—modern dance, b-boying—it's a solo that demands respect.
Critics talk about hiphop theater and hiphop dance-theater, but artists like Abraham are making that critical frame obsolete, demonstrating that hiphop is an influence, not a cage. In a phone interview about his new piece (Live! The Realest MC, coming to On the Boards this week), he said: "Movementwise, I'm drawing from everything and not really thinking about it. Not 'this is a hiphop phrase' and 'this is a [Merce] Cunningham phrase.'"
We may have ourselves a new ritual—Saturday night’s sparkling arts fundraiser at the panoramic-tacular Space Needle was such a success that folks are talking about making it an annual thing. A thousand marvelously attired humans showed up, ten thousand dollars were netted for the Genius Awards alone—that’s two entire awards—plus funds were raised for the arts-supporting Shunpike, and, well, hundreds of actual Seattle residents enjoyed the Needle for a change. The most commonly heard exclamation? “I haven’t been here in forever, and it’s amazing!”
It felt like reclaiming something very cool that you barely realized was yours. Good on you, Space Needle, for weaving a big old web of non-tourists. The Needle is, it must be acknowledged, a great, great, great, great, great fucking place for a party. Unfathomably infinite water for contemplative purposes, check. Moon and sky for the same, check. Peeks into the windows of other buildings and down streets you’ve never seen from this angle at night, check. And the Space Needle donated the space, the staff, and all of the food for this event, folks: Thank you to the Space Needle from the arts community. (Another thank you goes to party sponsor Alaska Airlines Visa, and one to Amazon, which has recommitted to funding the Literature Genius this year.) However: I did have a chance to look down on the construction site for Chihuly Garden & Glass, set to open in May, where the art, alas, looks to me to be just as exciting as I thought it would be.
The VIP level was crawling with Geniuses and geniuses. Folks HIT IT fashion-wise (why Seattle, we grow and learn!). A short annotated slide show by Lead Pencil Studio was full of beautifully illustrated lies and fantasies about the Space Needle. One half of the Cody Rivers Show went into antebellum character and wore a shit-brown knitted beard that kept messing with his upper lip. Poet Heather McHugh spontaneously auctioned off a vacation at her island home. Lynn Shelton spoke sweetly of collaboration; Lesley Hazleton spoke, and all were mesmerized, because THAT VOICE. The Satori Group did performances for a single audience member at a time. And glasses of green absinthe—distilled in Seattle at Gnostalgic Spirits (dangerously yum)—kept emptying and emptying, causing widespread addling and upping the gayness.
Several stories higher, the general admission level was decked out in dancing fools and crinkly silver spheres reminiscent of Warhol balloons with the helium sucked out—you imagined a back room somewhere bouncing with leprechaun voices.
Anti-authoritarian Genius Gary Hill was spotted immediately brushing with authority: He was accosted by an irritated security guard for carrying a paper cup of tea out onto the observation deck. The Man is never far from Gary Hill (whose intense, deep, and hilarious exhibition of large-scale installations opened the night before at the Henry Art Gallery).
Pictures or it didn’t happen, you say? Click on the image above for the full slide show; a few are right here on the jump.
See you there next year!
We suggested it this week:
“This Land Is Your Land,” by Seattle choreographer Mark Haim, was a hit at the NW New Works Festival in 2010. The piece for 13 dancers had everything you’d want: bright colors, fashion-runway costumes, nudity, wry comedy, and country music. Its choreography was radically minimal: The dancers just walked, but Haim says more with walking than most choreographers can with a whole truckload of elaborate gestures. Tonight’s show, X2, will feature an extended version of “Land,” plus a new collaboration with design team Lilienthal|Zamora. (On the Boards, 100 W Roy St, www.ontheboards.org, 8 pm, $20.)
The photo above is from act two, "This Land Is Your Land." I regret to say that it has less punch than the original, distilled version seen at NWNW in 2010. It's more elaborated, and there are still sharp, bright moments, but it feels a little looser and more sprawling than the original. Still, it's worth seeing.
The photo below is a sketch of the set design for the first piece, which is much moodier and has some stunning light and set design by Lilienthal|Zamora (I'd link to their actual site, but it seems to be down at the moment):
I don't want to spoil any surprises, but the way L|Z realized the sketch above is a marvel—and required trucking in some very large set pieces from Whidbey Island. Their use of tight, carefully controlled lighting changes to make the set itself feel kinetic is kick-ass. They tame light and bend it to their will like a contortionist tames the body.
Last night at the Youngstown meeting, Mayor McGinn said the recent defunding of Arts Corps was an "unintended consequence" of changes in implementing the Education and Families Levy, West Seattle Blog reports:
Arts Corps executive director Elizabeth Whitford said that process required agencies to “show (they) have access to attendance and academic data … Something went wrong in that process and there needs to be a public acknowledgment of that.” The 2004 Families and Education Levy, Whitford said, supported Arts Corps classes, including some taken by the Vicious Puppies Crew breakdancers whose performance had preceded the mayor’s appearance. “African-American and Latino youth re half as likely to have an arts education as their white peers,” she said. “(The levy) has worsened that.”
In the end, after program participants past and present spoke, the mayor said “there is more than one pot of money in city government” for programs like the ones Arts Corps offers, so he is “making a commitment” for his office to find something to help ensure the 800 participants don’t go unserved.
Says Whitford in an email this morning, "That's obviously a relief for us and the 800 Arts Corps students impacted. That said, it is not a structural or systemic solution, so it leaves our fellow arts education and youth development organizations still in the cold, as well as questions around future implementation. I said as much in my response, and I'm very interested in continuing to bring light to the larger issues at hand, as well as to stand in support of any other key actions/messages on behalf of high quality organizations providing key supports for youth and their success in school that were unwisely cut out of this family and education levy."