Archive for the ‘ Theater ’ Category

Posted: Fri, Nov. 4, 2011, 3:00 AM

By Merilyn Jackson

For the Inquirer

Tui is the Maori name for a black bird with a small white tuft at its throat. When the English came to New Zealand, its native habitat, they named it the parson bird. Honeyeaters, Tuis have two voice boxes and some of their sounds range beyond what we humans can hear. On opening night at Subcircle’s Christ Church fall run, called Seed, Gin MacCallum and Niki Cousineau danced like two wavering voices that hushed us and left us craving to hear and see them.Cousineau and MacCallum choreographed, and New Zealand’s Carol Brown, who has worked with Subcircle and Group Motion here in past years, directed. Jorge Cousineau created a spare and moody set, vaguely reminiscent of the Mutter Museum, with glass-doored specimen cabinets on either side. His video screen runs on a wide band across the stage and slowly morphs through organic, sepia-toned scenes. The Cousineaus run Subcircle and are both recent, and very deserving, independent recipients of Pew Fellowships.

I can’t say how enjoyable it was to see MacCallum dance here again, after her departure from Philadelphia. She’s an artist whose mysterious quality reminds me of a 19th-century poet – frail, romantic, possibly a little shy or neurotic. Paired with Cousineau’s cool rationality, it made for a glorious frisson that lasted throughout the one-hour dance theater piece. Together they wove a spellbinding web of fantasy.

Dressed in a man’s black suit, Cousineau is like a scientist dissecting a bird. From it, she pulls various objects – a red ribbon, a blue feather, twigs – no doubt secreted to decorate the nest. As Cousineau deliberately arranges the objects and notates them, MacCallum interferes like a little magpie, creating disorder.

They veil their heads in black, don pink or red high heels, crawl under the table. MacCallum becomes a specimen lying on the table, ripping the paper sheet to shreds and eating it. Cousineau calmly removes the wad of paper from her mouth and places it in a jar.

Rosie Langabeer’s mournful accordion notes glaze the scene with a dreamlike aura. She later sings unearthly fragments of song: “Mad with honey” is one. In her clangorous percussion section the dancers squat, swoop, lunge to the floor and then, on all fours, behave erratically. They swerve their heads or torsos one way, pull back, teeter. A coat floats down behind Cousineau. She wraps herself inside and flaps the sleeves as it wafts her aloft.

Sometimes you can see the tuis flying about like that, whimsically capricious, intoxicated by fermented nectar.

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

As she traveled with playwright Tadeusz Slobadzianek through the Czech Republic and Poland last summer, Blanka Zizka, founding director of the Wilma Theater, noticed that many of the towns they passed through were full of vivid posters advertising theater, concerts, and other activities. But their destination, Jedwabne – on which Slobadzianek modeled the town in his play Our Class, whose central event is the 1941 massacre of its Jews – impressed her only with the vacuity of its cultural life.

“What I found important,” Zizka says, “was to be able to inhale the same air, to see the landscape, the surprising flatness of it, the misery of the small places, the void of the Jewish presence, the overgrown Jewish graveyards . . . .”

Our Class, now in previews, opens its U.S.-premiere production Wednesday night at the Wilma, with Zizka directing Ryan Craig’s English version.

The play’s first act fictionalizes real events through the eyes of 10 schoolchildren, from the 1920s to the July day in 1941 when Jedwabne’s Jews were forced into a barn that was then burned to the ground. The second half follows the survivors in post-wartime through the turn of this century.

Read more:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

Aw, come on. Fess up. You know you’ve done it when nobody’s looking — stood in front of a mirror and conducted your favorite Mahler or, at least, played air guitar.

In 2007, Xavier Le Roy turned his “conducting” of a recording of Le Sacre du Printemps into a marvelous dance performance. He’s taken this concept to another level with More Mouvements, not so much choreographing on the musicians in the piece, but allowing the music (or the score) to impel the movement, which looks more like pantomime than dance, especially when the instruments have gone missing and/or are hidden with musical doubles playing them behind screens.

Local new music group Bowerbird has pulled off the coup of bringing this piece to the Live Arts Festival this year, performed by eight musicians who include members of the Klangforum Wien. Helmut Lachenmann’s musique concrète pulls sound from each instrument’s entire body; conversely, the musicians’ movements are mostly upper body.

Who needs borders, anyway? 

Phillips: Nervous energy above all.


Several years ago, I painted my office a color called Spalding Gray. Yes, Sherwin Williams actually has such a color– SW 6074— and when I saw it I thought, what better way to make a small commemoration to the monologist/raconteur who had died earlier that year.

I had first seen Spalding in the 1980s in Swimming to Cambodia, his narrative one-man show at the Painted Bride about the making of the film The Killing Fields. Like everyone who ever saw Spalding, I was taken by the vividness of his storytelling and saddened that he most likely died by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry after a long and painful struggle to recover from a car accident.

Thaddeus Phillips— international theater creator, actor, writer and one-man verbal cyclone— follows in Gray’s wake, though I trust that will remain a metaphor. After receiving his B.A. from Colorado College, Phillips studied scene design and puppetry in Eastern Europe, where he may have acquired some of his pitch-perfect accents. He is artistic director of The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, whose original theater is often based on Phillips’s actual travels and laced with references to current events. He premiered his latest work in a string of idiosyncratic successes— 17 Border Crossings— at the Painted Bride earlier this month.

The new South Philly

When he’s in Philadelphia, Phillips happens to live around the corner from me in South Philly with his wife and collaborator, the Colombian-born Tatiana Mallarino. The area south of Washington Avenue has become peopled with the city’s dancers, actors and performing artists who frequently collaborate or otherwise interact with each other, if only by attending each other’s performances for moral support.

Phillips transcends the kind of one-man sit-talking, water-sipping show that Spalding Gray created. He ramps his performances up with physical movement (he’s a pretty good tap dancer, when he’s of a mind), acting, a plethora of authentic-sounding accents in any language he affects, and ingenious stagecraft that includes lighting, the latest high-tech gadgetry and the oldest low-tech slight-of-hand.

As the audience settled in, Phillips worked the crowd like a maitre d’ in a fine restaurant, greeting people, hugging some, guiding some to better seats. Was it all part of the show or just his way of sloughing off some nervous energy before getting down to business? But nervous energy is what seems to drive Phillips.

Less frenetic

He must have been considered a skeptical and irrepressible student. Yet he is not so neurotic as Gray was, and in Border Crossings he slows himself down to a deliberate, less frenetic pace than in earlier works like Lost Soles, Flamingo/Winnebago or ¡El Conquistador!, all of which were hits at recent Live Arts/ Fringe Festivals.

Shakespeare is a frequent source for Phillips. To set the tone for Border Crossings, he recites the lines from Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, which mentions what was the first passport: a letter of passage signed by the king. Traveling in the last decade has become a trial, but even more so with the itinerary Phillips took on. He really did travel (and study) in the Czech Republic, and then on to Slovenia, Israel, Jordon, Cuba and Colombia, not necessarily in that order.
His retelling of how he experienced the border guards and how the culture of baksheesh varies from country to country is authentic. It reveals how freedom and free access to common goods and money informs value.

Israel $50, Jordan $2

In Eastern Europe, for instance, a pack or a carton of cigarettes gets you through customs. At the Israeli border, a $50 bill gets you by, while a short while later in Jordan only $2 suffices, except that you might have to submit to multiple shakedowns by the same guards at different border stages.

For each of the 17 crossings, Phillips updates the old vaudeville card and easel mode of announcing a change of scene by flicking on an iPad to indicate the number of the next crossing. A simple bar of fluorescent lights across the stage, designed by Maria Shaplin and operated by Bob Adamski, performs multiple duties from a rickety train to, hilariously, a ski lift, but I won’t give away how.

In this work, Phillips becomes his most frenetic, drawing the Amazon across the stage with chalk to illustrate the confluence of Colombia, Brazil and Peru. In this curly little delta there are no border guards and you can cross from country to country freely.

Costly stupidity

With dizzying incisiveness, Phillips shows us the irony, costliness, stupidity and inconsistency of crossing borders. In the end Phillips is talking to Pablo in Juarez, where Pablo asserts we are all aliens and then manages, finally, to sneak across the border to the U.S. Phillips is already at work on a new piece, Whale Optics, which he’ll workshop at the Live Arts lab on Fifth Street on April 18 and 23. For more details, click here.

Spalding Gray may have had a paint named after him, but Phillips’s work is so heady and criss-crossed with twists and turns that they ought to at least name a screwdriver after him.♦

Originally published by Broad Street Review, 4/11/2011

Posted on Sat, May. 7, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Artistic director/choreographer Roni Koresh sometimes cherry-picks the best-received sections from his earlier dances, gathers them into a sequence, then gives the whole a title and a vague raison d’etre, as he has with his new Through the Skin.”Don’t intellectualize this dance, feel it viscerally,” he said before Thursday’s performance at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, which launched Koresh Dance Company’s 20th year.

Like Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin (with whom he worked last year), Koresh in recent seasons has found this formula – linking choreographic nuggets that otherwise wouldn’t make a golden coronet on their own – to be a good way to showcase minor work among the company’s showpieces.

His Sense of Human and Somewhere in Between, both from 2010, had 14 sections each, and he said Through the Skin grew out of his plundering of those two works. Showman though he is, however, he might have found a better way of setting it.

Why not program the full-company, two-part chair dance “Alarm” and “Ease” sections from Somewhere in Between as an excerpt in the first half of the show? The company of 10 dances the first section with stunning precision to Hugues Le Bars’ pulsing music, then repeats similar choreography at a slower pace to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 4. It’s long enough and strong enough to be a stand-alone piece. But as one of the 16 sections of Through the Skin it broke the momentum Koresh had going with much of the newer work.

Nonetheless, there were moments aplenty to savor, and the best of it was the overall change from Koresh’s signature quicksilver tempo to one slow enough to see his movement phrases more clearly. The whole was loosely laced together by Karl Mullen’s hypnotically voiced-over poem that states “We let the world in, through the skin.”

Koresh now has four virile men in the company, but some of the women’s sections stood out. In “Clash of the Humdrum,” Shannon Bramham, Jessica Daley, and the company’s sole remaining original member, Melissa Rector, all but spike the stage with triangled bends. In “Bang, Bang and Banging,” Leo Abraham’s music has Alexis Viator and Asya Zlatina aggressively jumping, skipping, and hopping around each other as if they were in a boxing ring.

Rector’s brief solo with Micah Geyer had the push- and-pull that something titled “Sin and Forgive Me” should. And when Joe Cotler shoved Fang-Ju Chou Gant’s leg down from arabesque like a lever, it soon flew up into one of those 6 o’clock extensions for which Koresh women are justly famous.

Posted on Tue, Apr. 19, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Heaven, Rennie Harris Puremovement’s new hip-hop work for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts at the Perelman Friday night, premiered hellishly late when the stagehand could not work the fog machine that was to have put us all on cloud nine.

Long white panels hung from fluorescent rods (James Clotfelter was lighting and scenic designer) and eventually were raised above the dancers’ heads to act as projection screens. After the show, Clotfelter lamented that his lighting on the fog would have made it look so cloudlike.

This kind of mishap can throw a show off, and it did just a tad, with a fitful start and such faint animation by Spencer Sheridan that I later wondered if there had also been a problem with the projections. Nonetheless, Harris’ company, four men and 10 women, built itself up to a forceful performance, heralded by a wobbly arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, one of the festival’s touchstones.

Posted on Fri, Apr. 15, 2011

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Alexander Iziliaev

Tara Keating and Matthew Prescott

Weather-wise, spring is returning to Philadelphia in fits and starts. But inside the Wilma Theater Wednesday night the stage bloomed with potted flowers, campy song, loopy dance, and ballooning boobies. In Proliferation of the Imagination, a featured event of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, those balloons actually popped – because the production is, after all, based on Guillaume Apollinaire’s 1917 play The Mammaries of Tirésias. And this first-ever collaboration between the Wilma Theater and BalletX, its resident dance company, milks the show to a mirthful froth.

Walter Bilderback, the Wilma’s dramaturg and literary director, and choreographer Matthew Neenan, who codirects BalletX with Christine Cox, pulled together a crack team of actors, dancers, musicians, stage and costume designers to pull off this contemporary version of Apollinaire’s gender-bending, proto-feminist, antiwar play after which he coined the term surréalisme.

Mary McCool plays Therese/Tirésias, who refuses to bear children and grows a beard, while Luigi Sottile plays The Husband, in black-and-white-striped bustle skirt and heels. BalletX member Tara Keating, looking oh-so-sexy in a bowler hat and pinstriped leggings, shadows him. And dancer Matthew Prescott, in curls, ruffles, and bustier to match The Husband’s, shadows Therese as she becomes more and more masculine.

All of this seems to be taking place in Zanzibar.



Notes on WHO WALKS

from AJ Sabatini ©

In his Philosophical Investigations I, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes:In his Philosophical Investigations I, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes:

“Imagine this case: I tell someone that I walked a certain route, going by a map which I had prepared beforehand. Thereupon I shew him the map, and it consists of lines on a piece of paper; but I cannot tell him the any rule for interpreting the map.  Yet I did follow the drawing with all the characteristic tokens of reading a map. I might call such a drawing a ‘private’ map; or the phenomenon that I have described “following a private map.” (But this expression would, of course, be easy to misunderstand.) Could I now say: “I read off my having then meant to do such-and-such, as if from a map, although there is no map?  But that means nothing but: I am now inclined to say “I read the intention of acting thus in certain states of mind which I remember.” # 653…page 168

Although you probably don’t need Wittgenstein to tell you, neither thinking nor language is exact enough to capture what goes on in our lives. Who Walks is the second part of a play I wrote called, Certain Explanations: Magical Walking. That was a solo performance that centered on a character’s encounter with a woman who talked about walking and the occult.  She was never seen in the play and it was possible that she was a figure in his imagination. This reminded me of Sigmund Freud’s essay on Wilhelm Jensen’s novella, Gradiva, which explores similar delusionary events.  In Gradiva, a young man visits the ruins of Pompeii and sees a statue of a woman. She appears to be walking (perhaps, just as the volcano was about to erupt) and he dreams and fantasizes that she is still alive and wants to speak to him. Wittgenstein, unsurprisingly, was dismissive of Freud. He called psychoanalyses “a powerful mythology” but, nevertheless, had interesting things to say about Freud’s methods, like:  “One may discover certain things about oneself by this sort of free association, but it does not explain why the dream occurred.” For me, as he does with maps and trees, Wittgenstein is always concerned with issues of certainty and explanations. After reading him, or Freud for that matter, there is nothing you want to do more than take a walk. (Freud has his acts of walking, too, but that is another story.)

There are trees, there are leaves, there are the changing seasons. Through our lives, we come to know certain trees – ones from childhood that we climbed, a tree we see every day outside a window, a tree we sit under in a city park or with a lover.  Even so, the trees of our neighborhoods, those along the ways we walk or drive through are just there (and never figured in maps). The number of tress in the world might as well be infinite. Trees live and die, burn, are cut down; most of them can live hundreds of years. (Wittgenstein wrote about trees quite a bit. I like these lines: “What an odd question: ‘Can we imagine an endless row of trees?’! If we speak of an ‘endless row of trees’, we will surely still link what we mean with the experiences we call ‘seeing a row of trees’, ‘counting a row of trees’, ‘measuring a row of trees’ etc. ‘Can we imagine an endless row of trees?’! Certainly, once we have laid down what we are to understand by this; that is once we have brought this concept into relation with all these things, with the experiences which define for us the concept of a row of trees.”)

As a philosopher, Wittgenstein is suggestive; as a writer, his ideas and use of language can be startling.  For me, ideas are like trees:  some are always in the same place and they grow and change as thoughts, like leaves take shape and fall way. A few ideas develop and are deeply rooted. Squirrels and birds take residence and write novels. Insect tribes trace their own alphabets and develop ecosystems with the lives they lead inside. They write elaborating texts on the skin and bones of the tree. Bark is the cover of a book, branches spiral into libraries, leaves, leaves. leaves. The trees flourish or just stay there, necessary, decorative; some are hidden by other trees, depending upon which way you walk. In forests, trees have friends and family.

There is also the wind, a character in every outdoor performance. It is motion and indifferent to what a tree looks like after it passes. The trees of my imagination catch poems and songs from the breezes, bend in the gales and twist when a sheet of wind leaves surprises in the leaves. “There was a time when the trees were people and the people trees,” I once wrote, not having the slightest notion what that meant. Around that time I came to understand how trees can walk, and I like the sound and idea of that sentence, but I do not understand it anymore. Sometimes, the words just work together without out knowing why.

Alphabets, trees, words, walking, Wallace Stevens, Wittgenstein, memories lost, found, lost again, maps, books, magic, stones, statues – which might as well be trees – these are dances and sites on the streets and paths of my wanderings over the years. There are other pieces in the puzzles of my concentration and certain explanations that are usually neither certain, nor explanations. Music is always present. Walking can be ordinary or magical.

I wish I knew more and had other words, other things to say – about love, for instance – but it is impossible to remember every leaf, trees from forests, the arcane geometries of branches. Walt Whitman told of finding an oak growing in Louisiana. He “broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss, And,” singing, “brought it away— and I have placed it in sight in my room.”  Some of us do the same with bit of paper or stones. “Ideas too sometimes fall from the tree,” Wittgenstein wrote, predictably.

By the way, some of the lines in the text are from Wittgenstein’s writings. He would probably think this entire project is nonsense. Freud would have other explanations, for certain.

Mar 3rd, 2011 by Steve Des Georges

“Who Walks,” just like the Mounds Bar and Almond Joy, is “indescribably delicious.” Indescribable, because it is difficult to pay proper homage in only a few words to the ArtSpace West dance and theatre performance created by Arthur Sabatini, an associate professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Delicious, because it emcompasses so many art forms in a single setting.

Mark your calendar for this Saturday (March 5), 7:30 p.m., in ArtSpace West on the second floor of the West campus University Center Building (UCB), and see for yourself.

“Who Walks” is a continuation of Arthur (AJ) Sabatini’s 2008 play, “Certain Explanations: Magical Walking,” which debuted at Second Stage West on ASU’s West campus. The performance takes up the original “Magical Walking” story scripted by Sabatini. This latest offering features dance, music, conversation and video in a tale of a mysterious woman in a cape, who resembles an ancient statue and moves in the thoughts of a man writing at his desk. Crowds appear and walk as if in a memory coming alive. Sabatini’s creation is a multi-media collaboration with Philly-based composer Peter Price, dancer Megan Bridge and Phoenix videographer Robert Kilman.

For the rest of the story and more information, click here.

Posted on Mon, Dec. 6, 2010

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

At the Painted Bride over the weekend, Charles O. Anderson’s Dance Theater X took us to the past and the future to show us what our world could look like in 20 years.World Headquarters features photographic projections, which Anderson designed with Bill Hebert and Troy Dwyer, of President Obama’s first days in office, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Nazi death camps. They show us that with just a few more cataclysmic events, our planet could take the few of us left back to our more primitive selves. The World Headquarters of the title has fallen, as represented by the images of the World Trade Center towers falling, and society has broken down.

Hailing from Richmond, Va., Anderson earned a master of fine arts from Temple University and is now an associate professor of dance at Muhlenberg College, where he also heads the African American studies program. For World Headquarters, he was inspired by the late science fiction writer Octavia Butler, but also drew on Essex Hemphill, Sam Shoemaker, and Walter Benjamin for what was a bit too much text that he wrote with Dwyer.

Anderson virtually turned the Painted Bride into a makeshift encampment. He had a section of seating removed and replaced with scrounged objects from children’s books to walkie-talkie, from teepee to TV. The dancers visited this set from time to time but danced mostly on the stage, which held additional seating to accommodate the large audience.

As Professor Bankole Olamina, Anderson led the eight ragtag survivors of “The Pox” in dances ritualistic and mournful. Anderson’s robust dancing hangs from his powerful, undulating shoulders and ripples electrically through his body’s bent knees, essed torso, and imploringly released fingers. Raising the staff he wields, he is clearly the Moses of this tribe.

In the beginning, he leads them in the piece’s most poignant dance. All wear mesh hoods and, with bodies bent over in grief, propel themselves forward as best they can.

It was good to see Michael Velez dancing locally again. He’s late of Koresh Dance Company and working in San Francisco. As Zebulon Pierce, he represents the progenitor of what could be the next generation of these survivors. Shavon Norris and Karama Butler stood out even in the group dancing, but all performed this work they helped create with conviction and skill. In this parable of parables, Butler, as Olamina’s daughter, states: “God is change.”


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