photo by Ted Kivitt
photo by Ted Kivitt

Alarm Will Sound and Dance Heginbotham turned movement and the music of Aphex Twin, Tyondai Braxton and Edgard Varèse upside down in their collaboration at The Met on Thursday, February 20th for Twinned, the third performance of Alarm Will Sound’s work as Artist in Residence.  The orchestra appeared to fall away into the reflecting pool in the Charles Engelhard Court.  The grand facade loomed above former Mark Morris and Pilobolus dancer John Heginbotham’s three ring circus.  In post-performance conversation, Heginbotham explained that choreographer Mark Morris identified the potential for partnership and made the introduction.  Asked about how the joint performance was built, Heginbotham explained, “this is what they (Alarm Will Sound) do.  They’re not just musicians, they’re performers.”

The audience sat on three sides, and some stood above in the balconies.  Members of the musical troupe scattered themselves among the crowd.  Although green, red, and yellow floor lighting delineated a stage, the performance expanded beyond.  To begin, several musicians posed with their instruments on the floor.  Soon other musicians joined in, near and far – one in the highest balcony.  Sporting white sneakers, Heginbotham’s dancers Lindsey Jones and Courtney Lopes high kicked their way into the arena, their leotards printed in black and white geometric shapes.  Twirling around the statues, Jones and Lopes’ opening act resonated with the prancing kicks and bouncing twirls of baton girls, cheerleaders, and drill team.  Their feet flicked and kicked to open into flat-footed fouettes before descending to the floor in taught winding twists.  Bodies rocked back and forth as their legs swept the floor and cut the air in rond de jambes.  Bent knees, elbows, and dangling wrists accented sharp box steps.  Stepping fast and furious, Weaver Rhodes and Sarah Stanley joined the action.

photo by Amber Star Merkens

Also in black in white, Rhodes and Stanley unified the group for the arrival of John Eirich.  In flowing white, Eirich moved in and out of the group’s running loop.  Eirich engaged with the other four at times, bouncing up and down in tandem.  Alarm Will Sound Conductor Alan Pierson moved his musicians into the ring, masterfully managing the flow of drums, gongs, and bells rotating through the space.

The musicians danced and the dancers made music.  This collaboration drew the dancers into the orchestra with their own percussive duties.  Musicians with trombones and flutes frequently accompanied the dancers in running circles around the statue of Diana.  Heginbotham used a soft bounce that like the crescendo of the musician’s cymbals sent his dancers arms and legs cartwheeling around their own bodies.

All performers found their way to the floor for a meditative pause.  Musicians clutched their instruments to their chests.  For the final act, the dancers assumed jockey outfits.  Former Cunningham dancer Andrea Weber also entered the ring.*  Horseless, they rode themselves into the vortex of numbers (zeros and ones) projected on every surface of the court.  Eyes burst wide open, tongues swiped side to side, faint calls emitted from the dancers mouths and yet they remained aloof, distant.

Twinned seemed to be an other world.  Neither heaven, hell, nor purgatory, but a place where the spirits resided among, rather than within the bodies.  The energetic, pulsating bodies periodically broke into loose, evocative reaches but eventually rebounded into their circus characterized routines.  Were the spirits escaping the body only to be recaptured?  Perhaps, the spirit and body worked together, deliberately continuing to split apart as nuclear fission.  Whether as reaction or decay, unknown, but unnecessary.  The kinetic form combined as greater than the sum of its parts.

The peculiar energy of the night at the museum included Mark Morris, Baryshnikov, Jacob’s Pillow Executive Director Ella Baff, choreographers Catherine Gallant and Brian Brooks, and Peace, former performer with Eiko and Koma, among others in the audience.

*Winston Dynamite Brown is credited as a dancer and appeared for the bows, however, perhaps to the complexity of the space, it was unclear to the observer his role in the evening.

Melia recently shared this spoken word/poetry at an Open Mic night through friends of C3 Manhattan at The Penny Farthing.  Thanks to Danielle Velkoff of Purple Threads Ensemble for organizing and emceeing the diverse roster of artists!

Originally two different works, Melia combined the two as they parallel a search for identity and affirmation.  As she worked to resolve a particular situation, Melia realized that while not directly involved in the issue at hand, she and her peers were hit with the ripple effect of one person’s actions – collateral damage, if you will.

The thing about collateral damage is that it’s what you don’t know.

It’s when you realize you don’t know who you are.
Because if I knew who I was, I’m not sure I would be here with you.

It’s deeper than anyone can see and softer than anyone can feel.
It’s the mysterious thing that owns you.
Because if I knew who I wanted to be, I would be her (me).

It’s as if the truth is hiding in plain sight.
Because if I knew where I was going, I would be there.
And, if I knew what I wanted to do, I would be doing it.

It’s what you don’t know.

Because you don’t know that they can scream any louder.
You don’t know how dark the silence will be.
You don’t know how long everyone can pretend that everything is okay,
until you’re the only one who remembers.

You don’t know how long you’ll have to keep that secret.
You don’t know that being silent means being suffocated until you’re gasping for air.
It’s that even if I knew what I needed, I don’t know how to get it.

It’s what you don’t know.

You don’t know that nothing will change.
And that, if this is who I’m becoming, what about everyone else?

You don’t know that check-mate can be a permanent state of being.
You don’t know that you’ll cry yourself to sleep a hundred times over.
You don’t know that you’ll eventually think it’s all your fault.

It’s what you don’t know.

Nobody knows, not even you, how hard you can try to fix something.
Because if I knew what you needed from me, I would give it.

If I knew what all this could be, I think I’d be home-free;
I would find me; I would know me; I would be me.

It’s what, or whom, I don’t know.

It’s me.
It’s what I don’t know.

Snowstorm Hercules brought some special snow deals for Broadway shows on Friday, January 3rd.  For $50, I enjoyed a fifth row seat to Manhattan Theatre Club’s opening preview performance of Outside Mullingar in the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, directed by Doug Hughes.  Small screen veteran Debra Messing headlined with Brian F. O’Byrne.

Outside Mullingar presents four actors, (Messing and O’Byrne accompanied by Peter Maloney and Dearbhla Molloy), in varied couplings.  The first pairing, O’Byrne and Maloney open the evening as lovingly gruff father-son duo.  They’ve just returned from a funeral for their neighboring mother/daughter pair’s father and husband.  Flighty and fierce, Messing and Molloy stomp through the rain for perfunctory mourning reflections consuming John Lee Beatty’s roving set of rustic, worn farmhouse kitchens and stable.

Reflections on death bring up familial discord and the bickering between Molloy’s Aoife and Maloney’s Tony discloses a secret of economic import.  The men don’t own the access/right of way to their own farm and to their consternation discover that Messing’s Rosemary cajoled her now dead father into buying it as revenge for a young Anthony’s pushing her into the grass.

Despite Rosemary’s simmering anger, she leveraged her ownership of the right of way to convince a manipulative Tony to leave his farm to his son, Anthony.  Rosemary and Anthony’s relationship dynamic remains stuck in an awkward teenage infatuated angst despite their middle-aged status.  Rosemary and Anthony share similarities of undying loyalty to their respective dying farms, talking of exotic travels they wish to take but never do.

I enjoy preview performances as you witness actors gamely finding their way, with Maloney calling for lines a few times, for example.  Messing tackled the Irish accent, holding on to it most of the time, her joy of performing overwhelming everything from smoking a pipe to forcing a Guinness on her neighbor.  O’Byrne reticently pushed through, driving his scenes but allowing the energy of the cast to flow around him.  Messing and O’Byrne’s characters unite in their cynical romanticism, cemented with Rosemary shouting, “in the name of Cinderella’s shoes!” at a waffling Anthony.

For the tiredly bitter and hopeful romantic, check it out.

Martha Clarke’s Chéri brought me to the Signature Theatre for the first time – what a delightful place!  Smiling, energetic ushers greeted me each step of the way, right up to the bar for a quick pre-show snack.  I enjoyed my hummus pita pack with a glass of Malbec on a big cushy chair accompanied by the gentle strains of a saxophone played by live musicians.

The lush texture of Clarke’s style of work drew me to see Chéri, a love triangle of sorts, between a mother, her son, and her son’s childhood nurse turned lover.  Clarke built the work based on the novel of the same name by Colette.  Clarke placed a pianist on stage to accompany Herman Cornejo, Alessandra Ferri, and Amy Irving in sensual, spiteful melodrama.  Cornejo received a Bessie Award earlier in 2013 and based on this majestically somber portrayal of a spoiled man-child warrants another.  Cornejo stumbled as a man in love into breathtaking pirouettes as he weighed his options (remain unmarried with the woman he loved, marry a woman arranged by his mother, or try to exist in both relationships).  Chéri and Lea (Ferri) make love over and over, relishing each other unabashedly as they slide up and down, over and around each other.  Cornejo twirled Ferri around his shoulders; they pulled and pushed each other against the wall, the mirror; plopped on to the bed, bounced on the table, and lolled across the floor in spurts of passion.

As Charlotte the mother, Irving acted as narrator, periodically interacting and acknowledging the torrid affair taking place around her.  Charlotte counted Lea as employee and friend but inserted her motherly wishes by forcing her son into a marriage to a much younger, wealthier (unseen) woman.  Fresh from his honeymoon, Chéri rushed to resume his affections towards an angrily brittle Lea.  Their final dance together fluctuated between tender affection and frighteningly forceful wrestling.  Unresolved, alone and tormented by visions of his lover in the mirror, Chéri completed his life with a revolver.  Surrounded by the faded opulence crumbled from war, Cheri’s spirit mirrored the gilded edges glimmering in the dark under the glow of candlelit hallways.

This weekend I pursued a personal interest of mine: writing.  I’ve wanted to develop all the ideas constantly swirling in my head for plays and ballets but felt I didn’t have the skills or capacity to work it out.  I know how to produce performances but I’m interested in working more conceptually on a story/narrative.  I took a writing seminar last Spring but it was so freeform, it felt more like a loosely assembled support group.  I wanted practice on the constructs of assembling and extrapolating ideas into a cohesive presentation.

I attended a friend’s performance at The Barrow Group space awhile ago.  I researched it post-performance and learned about all their educational offerings.  This fall I finally decided to take advantage of a weekend writing workshop with Arlene Hutton.  Nervous, of course, but excited and desperate to find a way to get some of these ideas out on paper.  Ms. Hutton was a delight – casual but focused – leading us through fun but practical exercises.  She had a delightful way of keeping us on task but still injecting humorous asides about her experiences in “the business.”  We were a group of twelve, including actors, writers, dancers, and teachers.  The immediacy of each exercise caused us to “tap into our sub-conscious” Hutton said.  With no time to think or plan, what came just came out.  But that “stuff” comes from somewhere deep inside of us, and needs a process to transform into a story.

Arlene encouraged us to be patient with ourselves; “A new play is like a teenager; it just needs time to mature and figure things out.”

The two-day sessions stirred up the ideas long simmering beneath the surface and now I feel I’m pointed in a direction with some sense of how to move forward.  Stay tuned for a few “stories” to come!

Well, I managed to “get lucky” and won the online lottery through The Public Theater for New York City Center’s Fall for Dance

Delacorte Theater
Delacorte Theater

It was also my city-taste of Jacob’s Pillow outdoor stage since I couldn’t make it there during the summer.  The Delacorte placed dancers in luxurious oasis.  The bare stage created the illusion of dancers entering from the trees, with the mist rising off the water behind them drifting up to Belvedere Castle in the background.

Elizabeth Streb’s Action Engineers opened the evening falling, spinning, leaping, and flipping in the night sky with Human Fountain.  They stormed the stage like soldiers but with the fanfare of the circus.

Ronald K. Brown performed with his dancers in an uplifting rendition of Upside Down.  Live musicians, a singer, and DJ took the stage for the latter part of the work to bring Fela Kuti’s music fully to life.  I usually connect emotionally with Brown’s works but something wasn’t quite resonating with me this time.  Brown’s dancers were joyous even in their exacting attention to the subtleties of Brown’s movement vocabulary.

With zero “wings”, we saw New York City Ballet dancers Chase Finlay, Jennie Somogyi, Maria Kowroski and Andrian Danchig-Waring warm-up for Ulysses Dove’s “sensual hell” (as my roommate deemed it) Red Angels.  By far my favorite piece of the evening, with the gentle undulations overlaid with a tinny staccato.  Mary Rowell rocked out solo on her violin.

Paul Taylor’s dancers know how to close out a show!  Esplanade fit delightfully on the Delacorte stage.  In their peachy-toned costumes, Taylor’s dancers appeared to have wandered on stage from a day playing in the park.  Michael Trusnovec performed some tricky partnering (when his partner steps all over his body, and he rises from beneath her to turn and lift her) with aplomb.

A beautiful evening and so incredible to be underneath the stars with dancers reaching to the heavens!

“Bon soir, my name is Josephine,” said a smoky-eyed girl as I entered the hall at Danspace Saturday night to see the latest show joining the immersive theater cadre, French Amour directed by Brice Mousset.

“Can you help me with these buttons, beautiful?” said a sweaty young man.

As I fumbled with the buttons on his vest, I heard, “he is nothing but trouble.”

As a personal note, immersive theater gives me incredibly anxiety. I love performing but I like to know in advance what’s happening and what I’m supposed to do. That unknown combined with people I don’t know touching me, makes me a little crazy. Despite numerous invitations I have not been to see Sleep No More or Then She Fell even though I know members of both casts. How did I end up at “French Amour”? Invited by a friend I didn’t even look up the show; shortly before, she sent me the review to read. At that point I was committed, so I went and had a great time.

Ooh la la
Ooh la la

Mousset makes use of the entire area. He sends dancers up and down the risers, leaning into the windows, tumbling across the stage through the audience.

To start, it felt like entering a speakeasy and/or cabaret. Everyone a bit aloof, mysterious, sizing each other up. When grabbing a drink at the bar (which required stepping on to the dance floor) you might be engaged by a flirty individual to dance. The floor filled with people laughing, talking, dancing, and kissing. Suddenly, the lights shifted focus and we all rushed to circle the floor for the first “number.”

Mousset presented his dancers in vignettes as duets and trios, with a few group numbers throughout. Accompanied by jazzy soulful songs (hello Etta James), his dancers wrestle through love’s entanglements. It’s sex, lies, and…dance. The performers constantly shift the audience’ focus by pushing, pulling, and twisting. One episode winds into the next and suddenly you find you’ve moved all over taking it in. I bumped into friends throughout the evening, and we all seemed to have the same strange expression that mixed uncertainty with happiness.

Mousset’s dancers are young, ambitious, and a little gritty. They powered confidently through a performance that held them on the precipice of vulnerability. The production has room to grow and it will be incredible to take in this expanding style of performance theater.

Learn more here.

Around this time in 2001 I was nervously rehearsing my lines for a performance and even when I heard the news on the radio thought, “this must be a joke or something, no one would do that.”

And then my family and I waited hours to hear from my aunt working at the Pentagon.

And then the show went on.

Because it was about a father wrongly imprisoned and his fight for his family.

It was about fighting injustice.

It was about a mother bravely taking care of her family on her own.

Our director said performing was our way of honoring the brave men and women who fought for everything on this day in an effort to spare lives.

It was for now childless mothers and fathers and parent-less children.

It was for those who were spared such loss.

It was a refusal to let evil hearts and minds instill fear and hatred in our spirits.

I jumbled my lines for my “big” scene that night. But the emotion was real. My older brother (community play, folks, it takes a village!) was on stage with me that night and saved the day, entering the stage early once he realized I had no idea what I was saying. That’s what big brothers are for…

Today is my best friend’s birthday. She has fought for me and with me in some of my biggest challenges in life. When I try to understand loyalty, I think about her. In the melancholy of today, there is also a cause for joy in celebrating her.

Be brave. Fight injustice. Hold close to those around you. This kind of fight is only successful when a community unites, looking heavenward.

Photo by Tim Summers

Alice Gosti requests the honour of your presence for an evening of dining.  Dress comfortably, things might get messy.

My first encounter with Gosti involved spaghetti-slinging and the slurping of wine.  No, we weren’t out to dinner together.  Well, I guess we were.  She sat on stage (with two other dancers nestled at a table inside four clear, plastic walls within which they flung spaghetti, wine, and tomatoes among their dancing) and I sat in the third row for the final performances at the Joyce SoHo with the winners and finalists of the 2012 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Dance.  Filled with tension, Gosti’s work rippled like a pot boiling over on the stove, erupting and then abating, tableaus punctuated with athletic bursts.

I could see this kind of dinner party trending.  Cathartic, to say the least.  We’ve all probably suffered from an agonizing dinner or party, or two.

Recently, I spoke with Gosti about the latest developments of the Spaghetti Co., and she pulled me deeper into her artistic vision.  Gosti shared that the project is paused for the moment, “at one point we had dreams for the final chapter to happen in a house, a real empty house. Full of only the things we needed to perform. The idea was that we were going to spend one or two months treating the house as a residency space. Then, we would welcome small crowds in the house with us, as part of an itinerant performance that would have included not only movement but also live music, video and visual art.

Unfortunately, we received no funding for it and needed to move on. But I still dream of it and know that the right house will pop-up at some point in my life. I just need to keep talking about it and spreading the word.”

So, hold onto those dinner invitations.  Think of it as a “save the date” for a “save the date.”

However, from the creative spaghetti process, Gosti began building a new work: I always wanted to give you a pink elephant.  With this new work, she says “the themes of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ are central. What appears before your eyes is a dusty tri-dimensional family portrait. Time is passing, dust accumulating, tumbleweeds are rolling by. Ashes to ashes. The three characters happen to be in the same room. There is no intrinsic relationship between them, but they are each telling you their family stories.”

Gosti’s work is of the jump-in-and-get-caught-up-as-you-go nature.  Gosti creates experiences, driven by her highly reflective nature, and invites her audience to be immersed in her world.  The allure of modern and contemporary dance (for me) are markers of identity (in the increasingly jumbled negotiation of gender roles, evolving sexuality, structure of the family unit, and devolving of the American Dream) and the socio-cultural conflicts that often emerge in our highly diverse society.  Choreographers like Gosti are the brave ones in our society – they choose to define themselves, and in their creative process, create new worlds rather than be defined/confined by others.

Gosti’s dual heritage and her navigation of that factors significantly into her identity as both an individual and an artist, through which she filters her work.  Born to artist parents, an American mother and Italian father, Gosti spent her early years in Italy returning to the U.S. for college.  This international life drives her fascination with planes:

“I have loved planes and airports since I can remember. As a child I liked them because they would bring me where my mom wanted to be. My mother is American so airplanes would bring me here, to visit my grandmother and uncles. Which made my mom really happy. But leaving was always sad. Still the joy of seeing people at the airport is what I remember the most, compared to the goodbyes. That feeling of anticipation and excitement, when your heart skips beats, perhaps similar to the feeling you have on first dates. I used to say I wanted to work as a custodian in an airport so I could get to see all those raw emotions – the endless goodbyes, the kisses, the eyes watering, the funny signs, the balloons, the luggage, the tired waiting eyes. In airports there is no time and no space, just those that want to get somewhere as fast as possible and those that do not want to leave. In college I moved to Seattle, I was looking to understand where I wanted to live, if I wanted to be American or Italian. In that research I understood, how I was both and neither. I was traveling back and forth once a year, hosting visitors once or twice a year. The feeling of abandoning and being abandoned were the norm, together with a general sense of non-belonging anywhere I went. Airports and airplanes stayed magical places – portals.  I guess what I come to realize while I am writing this, is that at this point airport, airplanes and my art have become my home, more than any “real” place or location.”

See her ideas on making work about planes here.

Photo courtesy of Alice Gosti

This is what is powerful about Gosti’s work; her exploration of her own tumultuous identity allows her to construct her theory of identity.  She resides in no-man’s land, which she chooses to embrace.  Remember Tom Hanks’ desperate lot in The Terminal? His lack of identity (due to passport issues) held him hostage.  Gosti liberated herself by resituating the idea of “home.”

There are no simple answers with Gosti – although she herself is frank, open, and passionate.  In her bio, for instance, she described herself as a space transformer and lover of planes.  Gosti isn’t afraid to tackle gigantic interests which include the process of manipulating perception of space and time, the concept of home and belonging, and among others, sustaining a career.  Regarding issues and ideas central to her work, Gosti stated: “the idea of architecting experiences has been central to my work in the past four years. It is necessary for me to see dance, movement and performance with the same eyes that I use when I experience all the other forms of art. Expecting from my art form the same levels of criticism, questioning and depth of when I read a new book, watch a movie or go to a gallery opening.”

Perhaps this is how the inherent tension in Gosti’s work rides the spectrum of extremities.  Her focus is on experience rather than solely on choreography and she builds a roller coaster narrative that pulls the viewer through the movement.  Another work, I always wanted to give you a pink elephant exudes such tension.

And what is a space transformer??  Or as I asked her, “about your position as a space transformer, what does that mean to you, how do you see that role evolving, what does it mean for the world?”

“Originally it is a phrase that I have borrowed from Yoko Ono, she used to have business cards that said that and when a friend give one to me, a couple years back, I realised that that was what I was and am and that I had finally found how to call myself.

I am a space transformer because when I create I consider and transform all space. Not only the stage or the space where the performance is taking place, but also the space in which the audience/viewers are located. Their space, their conditions, how they move is really important to how they perceive what is happening. I am a space transformer because I mold an experience, considering all the possible elements that shape it – temperature, taste, sources and direction of sound in space, smell, textures and I don’t limit myself to the stage or the performance space. For most of my artistic career, dance has been my main medium of expression. However, it was when I discovered film that I recognized the power art has over an experience. Directors and actors shape a viewer’s experience, dig deep in the subconscious, and raise questions. I want my work to do the same. I want to engage the audience in the experiences created, by evoking their senses, memories, and emotions. This is an idea central to my daily practice and process.

 The space transformer or the architect of space are questioning roles, not fixed characters, they see all space in its multidimensional sense, they ask questions by doing, by experimenting. They do not look for definite answers, rather they look for more questions.”

This idea of architecting a space challenges (or raises questions) about the concept of site-specific work.  This is how Gosti’s architecting and transforming space translates as this approach allows Gosti’s work to remain dynamic even if the location changes – unlike most site-specific works. The Spaghetti Co. did not begin as a site-specific work but she began envisioning it in that way.  The focus remains on the dance and experience, not the place.  The place is simple – an old house.  The house wouldn’t restrict the experience to that site, rather it would liberate it for a different kind of encounter with the Spaghetti Co.  In fact, there are old houses and apartments in every city and town, wherever you wander in America or Italy.  Perhaps the Spaghetti Co. would reside somewhere between a food truck and traveling circus.  Gosti will have to tell us where.

She and Tom Hanks should have a conversation about airports.  Over dinner.