This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

DANCE ON CAMERA — BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB vs. GRAVITY

Jackie

Documentary reveals how Elizabeth Streb and her Extreme Action Company (including Jackie Carlson, seen here) take dance to a whole new level

BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB vs. GRAVITY (Catherine Gund, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, February 1, 3:20
Festival runs January 30 - February 3
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.com
www.borntoflymovie.com

Over the last several years, New Yorkers have gotten the chance to see Elizabeth Streb’s Extreme Action Company perform such dazzling works as Ascension at Gansevoort Plaza, Kiss the Air! at the Park Avenue Armory, and Human Fountain at World Financial Center Plaza as her team of gymnast-dancer-acrobats risk their physical well-being in daring feats of strength, stamina, durability, and grace. In addition, Streb herself walked down the outside wall of the Whitney as part of a tribute to one of her mentors, Trisha Brown. Now Catherine Gund takes viewers behind the scenes in the exhilarating documentary Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, going deep into the mind of the endlessly inventive and adventurous extreme action architect and the courage and fearlessness of her company. Gund follows Streb as she discusses her childhood, her dance studies, the formation of STREB in 1985, and her carefully thought out views on space, line, and movement as her work stretches the limits of what the human body can do. “I think my original belief and desire is to see a human being fly,” Streb says near the beginning of the film, which includes archival footage of early performances, family photos, and a warm scene in which the Rochester-born Streb and her partner, Laura Flanders, host a dinner party in their apartment, cooking for Bill T. Jones, Bjorn Amelan, Anne Bogart, Catharine Stimpson, and A. M. Homes. Gund also speaks with current and past members of the talented, ever-enthusiastic company — associate artistic director Fabio Tavares, Sarah Callan, Jackie Carlson, Leonardo Giron, Felix Hess, Samantha Jakus, Cassandre Joseph, John Kasten, and Daniel Rysak — who talk about their dedication to Streb’s vision while using such words as “challenge,” “velocity,” “endurance,” “magic,” “invincibility,” and “risk” to describe what they do and how they feel about it.

Elizabeth Streb

Elizabeth Streb and her partner, Laura Flanders, prepare for a dinner party in new documentary

Gund focuses on the latter, as virtually every one of Streb’s pieces is fraught with the possibility of serious injury, as evidenced by their titles alone: Fly, Impact, Rebound, Breakthru, and Ricochet, not to mention the use of such materials as spinning I-beams, plastic barricades, dangling harnesses, and a rotating metal ladder. “I have to be able to ask someone to do that and be okay about it. Those aren’t easy requests,” Streb explains. “Knowing where you are is how you survive the work,” adds former STREB dancer Hope Clark. Gund goes with Streb to her doctor, where the choreographer describes what happened to her gnarled feet, and also meets with former dancer DeeAnn Nelson Burton, who had to retire after breaking her back. The film concludes with an inside look at STREB’s spectacular “One Extraordinary Day,” a series of hair-raising site-specific events staged for the 2012 London Olympics at such locations as the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, and the sphere-shaped city hall, photographed by documentary legend Albert Maysles. In her Kickstarter campaign, Gund (Motherland Afghanistan, A Touch of Greatness) said, “Action architect Elizabeth Streb has reinvented the language of movement. [Born to Fly] will rewrite the language of documentary.” That’s a bold declaration, but the film does have a lot of the same spirit that Streb displays in her awe-inspiring work. Born to Fly is screening with Benjamin Epps’s 2014 short, Angsters, on February 1 at 3:20 at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual “Dance on Camera” series and will be followed by a Q&A with Gund and Streb. The festival runs January 30 - February 3 and includes such other movement-related works as Meredith Monk’s Girlchild Diary, followed by a Q&A with Monk and cast member Lanny Harrison; Kenneth Elvebakk’s Ballet Boys, set at the Norwegian Ballet School; Louis Wallecan’s Dancing Is Living: Benjamin Millepied, followed by a Q&A with the director; the U.S. premiere of Don Kent and Christian Dumais-Lvowski’s Jiri Kylian: Forgotten Memories; Isaki Lacuesta’s Perpetual Motion: The History of Dance in Catalonia, followed by a Q&A with choreographer Cesc Gelabert; and a handful of free events as well.

FRED MOTEN ON CHRIS OFILI: BLUETS, BLACK + BLUE, IN LOVELY BLLUE

Chris Ofili’s “Blue Rider” paintings is the centerpiece of solo exhibition at the New Museum (© Chris Ofili; photo by Maris Hutchinson/EPW)

Chris Ofili’s “Blue Rider” paintings highlight solo exhibition at the New Museum (© Chris Ofili; photo by Maris Hutchinson/EPW)

CHRIS OFILI: NIGHT AND DAY
New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Thursday, January 29, $10 (includes half-price gallery admission), 7:00
Exhibition continues through Sunday February 1, $16 (pay-what-you-wish Thursday 7:00 - 9:00)
212-219-1222
www.newmuseum.org

Tonight at 7:00, with the revelatory midcareer-redefining exhibit “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” about to begin its final weekend at the New Museum, writer and professor Fred Moten will be at the downtown institution for a special presentation, “Fred Moten on Chris Ofili: Bluets, Black + Blue, in Lovely Blue.” Moten, author of the 2014 National Book Award finalist The Feel Trio, will be discussing Ofili’s influences, historical references, and multidisciplinary trajectories, with a particular focus on the artist’s “Blue Rider” paintings. In 2004, Ofili, who was born in Manchester and moved from London to Trinidad in 2005, began a series of striking large-scale oil-on-linen works, some with charcoal and/or acrylic as well, with varying shades of deep blue over a silver background. At first glance, the paintings appear to be virtually all dark blue, nearly black, with no figuration apparent. Nine of the works are hanging together in a dark room on the third floor of the museum; visitors will benefit from allowing time for their eyes to adjust to the lack of light, moving around and viewing the canvases from different angles to let the paintings’ magic and mystery slowly reveal themselves. When we were there, a woman got angry when people just walked in and out, thinking that there was not much to see; she got down on her hands and knees, examining every detail of the works, imploring others to do the same. The paintings have quite a collection of stories to tell, incorporating elements of slavery, mythology, blues music, the Bible, and modern life. “Ofili’s work suggests a way of seeing where the centrality of the color is taken for granted,” artist Glenn Ligon writes in his catalog essay, “Blue Black.” He continues, “‘Iscariot Blues’ (2006), ‘Blue Riders’ (2006), ‘Blue Steps (fall from grace)’ (2011), ‘Blue Smoke (Pipe Dreams)’ (2011), and ‘Blue Devils’ (2014) use blue as a kind of dark matter, a force not easily quantified but which holds the universes [Ofili] creates on canvas together. Blue is a bitch.” Ofili might be best known for the controversy surrounding his use of elephant dung in “The Holy Virgin Mary” when it was shown as part of the 1999 Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Sensation” and publicly decried by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, so it’s fascinating that there have been no such issues about “Blue Devils,” which is based on symbolic figures during Trinidadian Carnival in Paramin but is essentially about police brutality affiliated with Britain’s “stop and search” program; the powerful piece also evokes the tragedies of Stephen Lawrence, Trayvon Martin, and other black men and women who either died at the hands of the police or had their cases botched by law enforcement.

 (© Chris Ofili; photo by Maris Hutchinson/EPW)

New Museum survey shows Chris Ofili’s wide range of work (© Chris Ofili; photo by Maris Hutchinson/EPW)

“In choosing ‘Blue Devils’ (2014) as the title of his ominous, dark new painting, Chris Ofili has disturbingly and deliciously subverted that famous Trinidadian Carnival reference, transposing it to the streets of London, Manchester, or New York,” writes lawyer Matthew Ryder in his catalog essay, “Blue Devils.” Ryder, who handles police brutality cases, further explains, “Through this piece, Ofili adds his voice at a timely point to the long-running debate concerning the relationship of black men with the police, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, since it has gained unusual intensity in recent months. . . . ‘Blue Devils,’ with its twisted, interlocked figures barely discernible beneath the deep, overlapping shades of blue, evokes a misconduct occurring in a state of near invisibility. It also captures something much harder to express — the peculiar way that such confrontations between black men and the police are simultaneously intensely crude and unusually subtle.” The nine “Blue Rider” works are harrowing and emotional, but this first major solo museum show for Ofili, which has been extended through February 1 and is curated by Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and Margot Norton, also displays Ofili’s wide range, including his “Afromuse” and “Afro Margin” series, his recent paintings inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and “The Holy Virgin Mary,” one of a roomful of pieces by Ofili that consist of acrylic, oil, polyester resin, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on linen, many precipitously set on the floor at an angle, with myriad details that require up-close examination, and not just because of their provocative titles: “No Woman, No Cry,” “Foxy Roxy,” “Pimpin’ ain’t easy.” There are also drawings, sculptures, watercolors — but it all leads back to these dark, sociopolitically daring, sensational works. As Ligon concludes, “To approach black through blue, to be in its vicinity but not quite get there, blackness an event horizon, blackness with a ‘u’ instead of an ‘e,’ a ‘state of mind’ not a ‘state,’ something always under construction, subject to revision, is what Ofili’s canvases suggest. In them, he proposes new ways to see blackness, new pathways to travel. For Ofili, blue black is the new black.” It should be fascinating to hear Moten’s take on the subject as well. (The event is sold out, but there will be a standby line beginning at 6:00. You can also watch the event on Livestream. For a conversation between Ofili and Gioni, go here.)

TITUS ANDRONICUS

Titus (Brendan Averett) has some family business to clean up in New York Shakespeare Exchange production of TITUS ANDRONICUS (photo by Kalle Westerling)

Titus (Brendan Averett), Lavinia (Kate Lydic), and Marcus (Terence MacSweeny) have some family business to clean up in New York Shakespeare Exchange production of TITUS ANDRONICUS (photo by Kalle Westerling)

HERE Main Stage Theater
145 Sixth Ave.
Through February 8, $18
www.here.org
shakespeareexchange.org

During its brief five-year existence, the New York Shakespeare Exchange has already put its unique spin on such Bard works as Pericles, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and the sonnets in such experimental productions as The One Man (Two Man (Not Quite)) Hamlet, The Life and Death of King John, and “The Sonnet Project,” in addition to the ShakesBEER pub crawl. The company now turns its attentions to one of Shakespeare’s most violent tragedies, Titus Andronicus, a bloody tale of power and lust. The show begins with a fantastical dance of stabbings as the actors kill one another on the circuslike set that features a glittering light-up bull’s-eye in the back. But soon the story gets under way, as Roman general Titus Andronicus (Brendan Averett) returns a hero from the wars and is acclaimed as emperor, an honor he instead bestows on Saturninus (Vince Gatton), son of the recently deceased emperor. Saturninus at first chooses Lavinia (Kate Lydic), Titus’s daughter, to be his queen, but she runs off with her true love, Bassianus (Adam Kezele), Saturninus’s younger brother. The new emperor then decides to marry Tamora, the captured queen of the Goths, whose sons, Demetrius (Nathaniel P. Claridad) and Chiron (Ethan Itzkow), and lover, Aaron (Warren Jackson), are cooking up some vicious plans of their own. Jealousy, revenge, deceit, and dishonor follow, involving rape, murder, behandings, and beheadings.

(photo by Kalle Westerling)

The Clown (Kerry Kastin) has a special prize to present in stripped-down production of TITUS ANDRONICUS (photo by Kalle Westerling)

Helmed by New York Shakespeare Exchange founding artistic director Ross Williams, Titus Andronicus can be a bit rocky, with actors stepping on one another’s lines and some minor gaffes with the set — perhaps they should have gotten a few performances under their belt before inviting critics — but Averett (The Killer, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a strong, determined, yet vulnerable Titus, Terence MacSweeny is a stand-out as his stalwart brother Marcus, and Egolf is a fine foil as femme fatale Tamora. (A few of the other actors don’t fare so well.) Kerry Kastin is a kind of singular Greek chorus all by herself as the Clown, playing multiple roles and continually coming back from the dead. One of the play’s most intriguing conceits is the use of a feed chute through which corn tumbles whenever someone is killed — which happens a lot, the rat-a-tat sound taking the place of spurting blood. But don’t worry; there’s blood to be spilled as well. Part of the SubletSeries@HERE, Titus Andronicus could use a little more seasoning, but it’s nonetheless an involving, stripped-down version of a famously difficult, rarely presented play.

ZERO HOUR: TOKYO ROSE’S LAST TAPE

TOKYO ROSE

Miwa Yanagi’s ZERO HOUR: TOKYO ROSE’S LAST TAPE will have its North American premiere at Japan Society this week

Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
January 29-31, $35, 7:30
212-715-1258
www.japansociety.org
www.yanagimiwa.net

We’ve been fans of Japanese multidisciplinary artist Miwa Yanagi since her summer 2007 exhibit at the Chelsea Art Museum, consisting of three photographic series that featured highly cinematic compositions and videos. So it comes as no surprise that the Kobe-born Yanagi is also now creating theatrical works and performance art projects. The North American premiere of Yanagi’s latest piece, Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape, will take place January 29-31 at Japan Society as part of the institution’s “Stories from the War” series, being held in recognition of the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Conceived, written, and directed by Yanagi, who also designed the sets and costumes, Zero Hour follows one of the many women known as Tokyo Rose, who broadcast propaganda for the Japanese Imperial Army. The production, which will be performed in English and Japanese (with English subtitles) by Yohei Matsukado, Hinako Arao, Megumi Matsumoto, Ami Kobayashi, Sogo Nishimura, Aki, and Sachi Masuda, with video projection by Tadashi Mitani, lighting design by Akane Ikebe, sound design by Yasutaka Kobayakawa, and choreography by Megumi Matsumoto. The January 29 show will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception. “Stories from the War” continues through August with Michiko Godai in Yokohama Rosa April 25-26, New and Traditional Noh: Holy Mother in Nagasaki and Kiyotsune May 14-16, Meet the Author lectures by Julie Otsuka and Hayden Herrera, and the Globus Film Series “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara.”

NEW YORK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL CLOSING NIGHT: FELIX AND MEIRA

FELIX AND MEIRA

Meira (Hadas Yaron) takes a long, hard look at her life in Maxime Giroux’s FELIX AND MEIRA

FELIX AND MEIRA (FÉLIX ET MEIRA) (Maxime Giroux, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Thursday, January 29, 3:30 & 9:00
Festival runs through January 29
212-875-5050
www.filmlinc.com

The 2015 New York Jewish Film Festival comes to a close on January 29 with Maxime Giroux’s somber, reflective Félix and Meira. Named Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film stars Israeli actress Hadas Yaron as Meira, a young married woman who is feeling trapped by the constraints of the Hasidic world in which she lives in Montreal’s Mile End district. Her husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky), is a devout man who follows the tenets of his religion; he and Meira sleep in separate beds, and he seems more intent on ritualistically washing his hands in the bedroom than touching his wife. One morning, while pushing her daughter in a stroller, she is approached by Félix (Martin Dubreuil), a conflicted man whose father just died so he is seeking advice about God and death. Meira tells him to leave them alone, but soon Félix and Meira are meeting in secret, and when Shulem finds out about it, he ships Meira off to Brooklyn. Félix goes after her, wanting to take their relationship to the next level as Meira considers her responsibilities to her husband, her daughter, and herself.

FELIX AND MEIRA

Félix (Martin Dubreuil) and Meira (Hadas Yaron) are both looking for something more in Canadian drama set in Hasidic world

Félix and Meira is a subtle, slow-moving tale that avoids genre clichés, keeping the details tantalizingly vague and mysterious. There’s not a lot of humor in the film; instead, there’s an ominous, moody cloud hanging over everything, the story bordering just on the edge of passion without ever exploding. Yaron (Fill the Void) plays Meira with a dark foreboding, while Dubreuil (Bunker, Ressac) and Twersky (Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, Where Is Joel Baum?) work well as adversaries who want Meira in their life, albeit for different reasons. Cowriter and director Giroux (Demain, Jo pour Jonathan) doesn’t force any issues, maintaining a low-key approach that is intensified by an overall palette of blacks, whites, and grays. Félix and Meira is the closing-night selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, screening on January 29 at 3:30 and 9:00 at the Walter Reade Theater, with each show followed by a Q&A with Giroux and members of the cast.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: DAVID GARRETT AND THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST

Who: David Garrett, world’s fastest violinist
What: Celebration of the U.S. theatrical release of The Devil’s Violinist (Bernard Rose, 2013) and the accompanying soundtrack album, Garrett vs. Paganini (Decca/Universal), matinee screening followed by a Q&A and live performance by David Garrett
Where: Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th St., 212-255-2243
When: Sunday, February 1, free ticket giveaway below, 3:25
Why: German-born crossover musician David Garrett has been playing violin since the age of four; he makes his film debut in The Devil’s Violinist, starring as nineteenth-century Italian violin virtuoso, composer, and womanizer Niccolò Paganini, with Jared Harris as Urbani, Joely Richardson as Ethel Langham, and Christian McKay as John Watson, written and directed by Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved, The Kreutzer Sonata), opening at the Quad and on VOD January 30; the album, which also features Andrea Bocelli and Nicole Scherzinger, releases January 27.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: International superstar David Garrett will be at the Quad on Sunday, February 1, for a special Q&A and live performance following the 3:25 screening of The Devil’s Violinist, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free, along with CDs of the Garrett vs. Paganini album. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and the name of your favorite classical composer to contest@twi-ny.com by Thursday, January 29, at 3:00 to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS

(photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Jack Singer (Rob McClure) thinks he can’t lose in HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Nederlander Theatre
208 West 41st St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 31, $69-$152
www.honeymoonbroadway.com

Perhaps what happens in Hollywood should stay in Hollywood. Musical adaptations of Hollywood dramas continue to flood Broadway, despite the lack of success experienced by such recent fare as The Bridges of Madison County, Big Fish, and Rocky. And now, before we can even think about Doctor Zhivago, An American in Paris, and Finding Neverland, we’ve been pummeled by Honeymoon in Vegas, which arrives on the East Coast smothered in glitz and glamor but ultimately coming up snake eyes. Writer-director Andrew Bergman, who has written and directed The Freshman and Striptease and written or cowritten The In-Laws and Fletch, has transformed his 1992 film into a Broadway musical that draws to an inside straight and falls desperately short. Rob McClure (Chaplin) stars as Jack Singer, a wimpy New Yorker in love with the beautiful Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley); she is ready to get married, but he is terrified by a deathbed curse delivered by his mother, Bea (Nancy Opel), who has forbade him from ever taking a bride, claiming that no woman can love him like she did. Bea, ten years dead by this point, keeps popping up at crucial junctures, like in the middle of Tiffany’s when he’s about to buy a ring for Betsy. Betsy gives Jack an ultimatum, so he suddenly tells Betsy that they should fly immediately to Las Vegas and get married, no matter what his mother demanded. Off they go to Sin City, where Jack, a natural gambler, gets suckered into a poker game organized by the smooth-talking Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), a high-rolling mobster who thinks Betsy is a dead ringer for his late wife. When Jack can’t pay the fifty-eight grand he loses in the game, Tommy says he’ll call it even if he can borrow Betsy for the weekend. Furious at what Jack did, Betsy agrees to the deal, leaving Jack to either fight for her or give her up forever. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Jack just let her walk away, so he is soon off to Hawaii to win back his true love.

(photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) woos another man’s girlfriend (Brynn O’Malley) in musical version of 1992 film (photo © 2014 Carol Rosegg)

Bergman’s 1992 film featured established stars Nicolas Cage as Jack, James Caan as Tommy, Sarah Jessica Parker as Betsy, and Anne Bancroft as Jack’s mother. O’Malley, as the blond Betsty, is the breakout star of the Broadway musical, showing a natural talent for romantic comedy while also displaying a fine voice in such numbers as “Anywhere But Here” and “I’ve Been Thinking.” McClure does an admirable job as Jack, his highlight coming early on in “I Love Betsy.” The eminently likable Danza blows hot and cold, delivering on the mournful ballad “Out of the Sun” and the clever “Come to an Agreement,” but he stands around too much when he’s not involved in the immediate action, and a tap-dancing number was wholly unnecessary. The less said about Opel (Urinetown, Cinderella) in the thankless role of the mother the better. And yes, the Flying Elvises are in the building, but prepare to cringe. Brian C. Hemesath’s costumes are flashy, particularly in the Vegas nightclub scenes, while Denis Jones’s choreography is relatively flat and lifeless. The music and lyrics, by popular and critical darling Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade, The Last Five Years), are, for the most part, surprisingly standard and uninteresting. (“Jump jump / jumpity jump”?) Another surprise was that there was no standing ovation at the end, since audiences seem to jump jump jumpity jump to their feet after most splashy musicals these days, no matter the quality. But maybe they could tell too that this Honeymoon in Vegas is in need of a Haitian divorce.

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