Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Yorkers Unite

On Thursday, September 27th I was at Dixon Place to see Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie's, "A Single Ride." The performance was inspired by Asherie's love-hate relationship with New York's subway system.

With a heavy choreographic focus on break dancing, the dancers were able to successfully convey what a single ride on the subway can be. The group integrated different scenarios and then amplified each of those situations through developed phrase work. These arrangements included instances of falling asleep/being tired on the platform; Seeing a crazy person on one's ride (hilariously executed by one of the dancers chewing on a styrofoam cup -- the other dancers could barely hold back laughter); Being in too-close proximity to fellow riders, i.e. up in someones arm pit; Losing your wallet or purse; Triple checking your purse - ah the forgotten minds of jaded New Yorkers; Making a connection with a fellow rider, whether through humor, attraction, or both; And impatiently waiting for a train, loudly guffawing and heavily breathing, making annoyance obvious and amusing.

Though the costume changes were endless, I enjoyed the consistent breaking and hip hop choreography within an urban underground landscape. It matched without being cheesy. The phrase work reminded me of how modern dancers build a phrase through improvisation or varied inspiration, BUT I didn't have to be a part of the internal process to fully comprehend. Since I ride the subway everyday, multiple times a day, I could relate to the dancers. That was refreshing.

What's great about Dixon Place is that you can project onto the entire back wall. It is large and clear. Throughout "A Single Ride" a montage of different subway lines, colors, green-screened dancers, and vortex-like images appeared, creating a backdrop. A mapped reference. Even though Asherie is aware the audience is (very) familiar with the NYC metro landscape, the projections were trippy additives that helped the theme's progression.

I have to say there was a camaraderie in the audience of New Yorkers, laughing amongst each other, glancing over to their neighbor and smirking at mutually shared memories. Everyone watching knows what it's like to have that positive, negative or just plain inexplicable experience on the subway. It reminded me of when I see breakers on the subway with their headphones on, popping and marking movement with their neck, arms, shoulders and legs. You just know in an instant that they are a dancer. "A Single Ride" doesn't take itself too seriously. "Do you believe that I fell asleep and ended up all the way in Rockaway?!" Yeah, we get it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


On Saturday, September 29th I'll be performing at BUSHWIG, Bushwick's first drag festival with Krystal Something-Something and Amy Campbell. Be prepared for lots of wigs, glitter, lip syncing and voguing.

Secret Project Robot
210 Kent Ave
Brooklyn, NY

For more info & a full list of performers, visit the Facebook invite here:

Friday, September 21, 2012

FaceTime Without Care

On Thursday, September 19th I took the 7 train one stop into Long Island City to see Brian Rogers' Hot Box at The Chocolate Factory. To keep us anticipating, in conjunction with Mr. Rogers' vague yet insistent promotional campaign for Hot Box, there was an ominous bog seeping through the cracks of the theater into the lobby. The house opened at 8:07pm - fog whispered among us and atmospheric music guided the mysterious tone. A little like walking into a haunted house.

A woven lace scrim spliced the theater into two halves. Those halves were again spliced into two sections by large screens hung from the rafters, one screen in each half. This intentional segmentation created four groupings where audience members were hidden from one another. Oh...we were in a hot box too. It was evident from the get-go that Hot Box was slated to be an intimate experience we had to tackle alone.

I was excited. I had never been in a seating arrangement such as this, nor had I ever been seated so close to a screen in a professional space that I could essentially touch with my fingertips. I was curious to see Brian Rogers and Madeline Best up close, inquisitive as to how much full-body dancing could or would be done in such a fragmented space. 

Circular light patterns flickered on and off from the screens, teasing us and building tension alongside low-frequency soundscapes. I felt as if I was entering the brain waves of the performers before they even emerged. This "tension building" went on for frankly way too long, and pretty soon I was bored. Eventually, Brian and Madeline broadcasted their faces as they stood in front of two cameras, one camera on each half of the space in a semi-exposed backstage area. Only one of these two "backstage areas" was visible from my seat. I found myself peeking to watch Best and Rogers pose for the perfect glimpse, however, it's my guess that the intention was for the audience to watch the screen. I felt as is I was watching a dramatic TV show on AMC. A show that wouldn't get renewed for season 2. 

Each camera was programmed on a slider to waver back and forth at various speeds, whimsically catching the glances and interior developments of Rogers and Best. Cutting their faces off at awkward angles made it seem artsy and "thoughtful." The light structure in these backstage areas was seldom bright, thus instigating a moody environment on which the emotions were dependent. Rogers and Best's facial dispositions slightly wavered in expression, but mostly circled around despondency. And their bereaved faces and upper torsos were the only body parts projected onto the screens, for almost an hour. 

Rogers' eyes would focus on the lens and oftentimes he looked like a child, sad and lost, silently begging for something. He seemed claustrophobic and apprehensive. Their stares of turmoil did not morph into limbs with a similar Trisha Brown-like intentional carelessness. Nor did their abstractness juxtapose their emotions with jarring, expansive choreography. With visual and technical elements spatially designed to impress, the performance lacked ingenuity and any sort of streamlined beginning, middle and end. Not that an opaque piece of work has to have any of those three stages, but Hot Box sort of just lingered in the same space for 55 minutes, morphing into itself over and over again. 

Unfortunately, my previous self-reflecting moments of anticipation, curiosity and wonderment were the highlights of the performance. Not what I was witnessing but what was in my head. My enthusiasm languidly faded through observation, torturous in disappointment. Hot Box failed to do much of anything but stare back and you with exhausted eyes in a not-so-chaotic environment. 

The only background info I read before attending the performance was that the performers, in preparation before every show, would get drunk. Not to plug my own experience here, but this is my blog so whatever. BacKspace Performance Ensemble has been doing that for over two years (our "residency" was at popular Brooklyn bar, Sugarland). And when BacKspace did that, we weren't actively investigating a process. However I'm 100% positive each performance BacKspace did while inebriated was affected. So when Rogers and Best exploit this tactic to the press, they should show something for it. Scream, agonize, reflect in your hot box distress. Move bigger because your mind is muddled. Do something different than you would sober.

Was I tortured in my own hot box? Yes indeed.  


Read an interview with Gia Kourlas (Time Out NY), Rogers and Best here: 

Hot Box runs through Sept 22; The Chocolate Factory, sold out

Friday, September 14, 2012

High Brow Meets High Brow

On Thursday, September 13th I went to The Kitchen, buzzed on Aragon Guatemalan coffee from CafĂ© Grumpy. I was back from Burning Man and ready to skip into theater spaces with high hopes. The performance on the bill was Elad Lassry’s, sold out, Untitled (Presence).

Before the show began, viewers were invited to roam the gallery space on the second floor. Equipped with austere yet simple photos of Elad’s subjects in naturalistic settings, I couldn’t grasp if or what the photos were trying to tell me. Omnipresent glares gave away little to nothing. The gallery was bleak enough to make me wonder if the subjects were going to reflect their digital demeanor on stage.

[cut to 8:30pm]

Untitled (Presence) opens with a set of structurally blocked props creating a visually appealing look. The structures are movable (via wheels on the bottom), oversized like a set for a children’s TV show, and bloat the space with a colorful frame. Light brown complements baby pink; sea foam green offsets yellow. The mood was tranquil yet stark. 1980s color blocking.

As stated in the program, Elad’s work brings forth “the question of when the photographic image obtains presence.” Once the audience had a moment to take in the blank canvas, dancers emerged adding more color and depth to the overall image. The male dancers were clad in uniform yellow top and pants, the females were wearing the same outfit in blue. Their ensembles were form-fitting, crisp and had a formal air to the stitching. As they walked stiffly in silence, the overhead lights turned quickly on for a moment and then off. The dancers would pose, regal yet deadpan, and the light pattern repeated. Observing this opening sequence was like watching a photo being taken and then spark to life within the camera. Think Harry Potter. The objects of the photographer moved purposely within the contextual image. I felt as if Elad was taking the audience through a simple, vague image, making it vulnerable to us for a brief moment, and then letting it dissipate like sand through our fingers.

 (And by “vague” I mean that the snapshots of Elad’s world brought forth questions I tend to ask myself when I see photos at any varying array of exhibits. Who are these people? Why am I watching this? Do I want to know more?)

What intrigued me about this program initially was that Elad was using ballet dancers from two of the most well-known ballet companies in the world, NYCB and ABT. Being presented at The Kitchen suggested that these primas would be outside their comfort zone. I was excited for a change in port de bras and flicks of accentuated toes. However, after a few minutes it was quite obvious that the ballerinas would only be dancing classical movement (whether that was demanded from the choreographer or not, I do not know); the choreography was just ballet-simplified. The movement was more basic than warm-up class. I've labeled it, “Ballet Hand Placements 101.” The leap and spring behind grand jetes and petit allegro combinations were gone -- what was revealed was the stagnant yet important classicism of refined arms and delicate fingers. Level 1. The simplicity of something like the wrist rotating allowed the viewer to catch the gracefulness of a ballerina that is often lost within a corps.

That being said, choreographically this piece was a bit of a letdown, however, I sense that it was not meant to be the next great Taylor piece. Untitled (Presence) is an installation, a moment into a moment where we get to see photos expand and saturate the space. So that changes things.

As this realization became more and more prevalent, I could appreciate the rigidness of the male ballet dancers’ walks and the nonchalant faces of the females as they faced front without a care in the world. When a foursome of men moved in unison for eight counts, the females would follow suit, repeating the exact pattern. This cutesy game went back and forth and would abruptly finish. Whether it was two female dancers moving in sync or in groups of four, the choreography was always matching something or someone. The lack of individuality made the whole experience very high brow: Ballet dancers executing simple movement and not giving a shit whether you liked it or not. Not to mention the audience: gallery hopping, fancy Manhattanites packed like sardines and drooling at the mouth.

By manually shifting the space via wheeling the blocked props, their landscape expanded and revealed more options for sundry photographic opportunities. Our perception shifted with the performers, making way for new suggestions. There was one ballerina who gave us a little more insight into a realm outside of Elad’s creation. While pushing one the props shaped like an “&” symbol, the wheels slipped out from underneath her. Her reflexes were quick and she caught the prop without hesitation, however she smirked and broke the barrier just enough to make a difference. As Untitled (Presence) was entirely in silence and the symmetry of color and choreography worked in harmony, it was difficult not to notice when the performers’ eyes flickered to the right -- making sure they were still in unison -- or when somebody was a millisecond behind everybody else.

That vulnerability of this installation is what made it unique for me. Its exactness left plenty of room to discern non-exactness. Elad allowed those moments of anti-accuracy to happen by generating an uninviting canvas set within a curious space, permitting the audience to decide what we thought when someone or something was out-of-place in a model frame. Elad quotes to Art in America magazine, "[The dancers'] movement in space keeps reestablishing that focus." "The human eye has to make choices, and distinguish the human subjects from the props."  

Untitled (Presence) runs through October 20; $10 tkts,