Performances You Should See: American Realness

I’m spending the next month and a half locked in the library, studying for an upcoming exam, and won’t be getting to see nearly as much dance  as I would like. However, there are an overwhelming amount of opportunities to see interesting dance in the city right now, thanks to the presenters’ festival APAP and other concurrent festivals, so I’m going to offer some brief suggestions on what YOU might want to see.

Among them, the American Realness Festival (which started yesterday and runs through Jan. 20) offers a chance to see a number of fantastic contemporary dance and performances which you may have missed the first time around. As an added bonus, the majority of the performances are held at the charmingly historical Abrons Art Center (what can I say, I’m a sucker for shutters!)

Turbulence (a dance about the economy)Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

Turbulence (a dance about the economy)
Photo Credit: Ian Douglas

Below are some of the offerings that I had a chance too see last year, and would highly recommend checking out in the coming days (full schedule here). Click on the performance titles for what I thought about the pieces the first time around:

Keith Hennessy, Turbulence (a dance about the economy) (dates/info here)

Turbulence (a dance about the economy) blew my mind when I saw it in October. Drawing inspiration from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, Judith Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, and a myriad of other unlikely dance sources, Turbulence reinserts bodies into our discourse about the economy, while simultaneously investigating its own economies. It was a wild ride, but an inviting one. I’m sure your experience of Turbulence will be entirely different from the one I had, and that’s exactly why you should go.

Faye Driscoll, You’re Me (dates/info here)

Another must-see. One of my favorite performances of 2012, and one I wish I could see again. Driscoll seems to hit on something manifestly contemporary with this messy blend of awkwardness and exuberance.

Maria Hassabi’s SHOW (dates/info here)

I saw this as part of the River to River Festival downtown this summer. The performance then “was truly part of the life of the street,” and I’d be interested to see how this translates into an indoor space.

Trajal Harrell, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M2M) (dates/info here)

This is the final offering in choreographer Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church project, which asks the question “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” While the first half of the piece is tedious (and intentionally so), the sometimes ecstatic second half leaves us with a number of unanswered questions and possibilities, as Harrell masterfully imagines new ways of thinking about and following up on these two lineages.

Also on offer is another work in the series, in the (L) “size,” in which Harrell presents an “all-male version of Sophocles’s Greek tragic drama Antigone.

So, go! See some dance! I’m jealous already!

Dancing on Wall Street: Maria Hassabi’s “SHOW” at the River to River Festival

This is the first in a series of reflections on dance outdoors–look for more to come!

The abundance of opportunities to see dance outside is one of the great pleasures of summer in New York. The River to River Festival (continuing through July 15) does not simply transpose the experience of seeing dance in a theatre to an outdoor venue, but asks choreographers to imagine or re-imagine their works in a delightful variety of unlikely spaces around Lower Manhattan. Placing dance in these contexts brings the works into direct contact with the city: offhand comments from unwitting passersby, the sounds of traffic, and commentary from a tour guide on a Circle Line cruise are not simply distractions, but become part of the experience.

Maria Hassabi & Hristoula Harakas in “SHOW”
photo credit: Julieta Cervantes

I got off the subway at Wall Street on a sunny Thursday afternoon, looking around for some evidence of where Maria Hassabi’s “SHOW” might be happening. The streets and sidewalks were filled with the crush of workers and tourists that is the Financial District, and then suddenly, two women, their gazes locked, sunk down to the sidewalk in a low, intertwined crouch. These two slight performers, dwarfed by the buildings around them, seemed to draw in and focus the dispersed energy of the street as the performance materialized.

Hassabi and dancer Hristoula Harakas were clad in skinny gray jeans and gray sleeveless tops. The outfits accentuated the grayness of the space around them: cobblestone, concrete, and somber buildings. With painstaking control, they moved in and out of positions—standing, lying down, crouching—at a glacial pace, their taut, muscular limbs visibly engaged. The two remained in close, even tense, engagement with each other, never straying more than inches apart, even as their gazes eventually turned outwards.

Staring out at the audience has become a contemporary dance cliché, but in this setting, it took on a stronger valence: there were potential audience members on all sides of the dancers, complicating the power dynamic between performer and audience. The audience was not a single entity that could be directly addressed.

Maria Hassabi & Hristoula Harakas in “SHOW”
photo credit: Julieta Cervantes

The backdrop for the piece made for a strange juxtaposition: this intimate, focused dance took place on the cobblestone street in front of the New York Stock Exchange, which was draped with a gigantic American flag. I couldn’t help but think of Occupy Wall Street (the imagery of which included, after all, a dancer atop Wall Street’s bull) as these dancers literally occupied this symbolic stretch of sidewalk. I overheard a bit of conversation between businessmen in which one asked another, “What’s the yield?” as he swerved to avoid the performers.

This performance was truly part of the life of the street. Not until a few minutes in did I realize that some of what I took to be background street noise was actually coming from the speakers on either side of the performers. There were a few people who sat and watched the performance in its entirety, but most stopped only for a few minutes, intrigued. There is real value in this casual availability of performance: the piece presented in this way demands little of its audience (inviting us to merely pause and look for a moment), but tempts them with the promise of so much more if they do choose to engage, however briefly. This format also offers the potential for a spontaneous sense of community around a performance: I had pleasant conversations with a few audience members during the piece, something that never happens in the dark, isolated silence of a theatre.

After a final standing pose, the two dancers turned and walked off down the street, as if merging into the flow of pedestrian traffic. They had emerged out of this hubbub, and concluded by returning to it. The yield? Impossible to quantify, but I left feeling stirred by this fleeting materialization of a performance within the gray chaos.