MOUNTAINTOP (Bernard Shakey, 2019)
IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St., 212-924-7771, 7:30
Landmark at 57 West, 657 West 57th St. at Twelfth Ave., 646-233-1615, 7:30
Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg, 136 Metropolitan Ave., 9:45
One night only: Tuesday, October 22
Neil Young invites viewers behind the scenes of the making of his latest album, Colorado, in the documentary Mountaintop, playing in theaters one night only on October 22 in advance of the October 25 release of the record, the first he’s done with his longtime band Crazy Horse since 2012’s Psychedelic Pill. Directed by Young’s filmmaking alter ego, Bernard Shakey, Mountaintop takes place over the course of eleven days in the Studio in the Clouds in the San Juan Mountains outside Telluride, about nine thousand feet above sea level, where four old white guys come together to make some grand rockin’ music about love and climate change. “You might say I’m an old white guy / I’m an old white guy / You might say that,” Young sings on “She Showed Me Love,” about the attempted murder of Mother Nature. The seventy-three-year-old Canadian legend is joined by seventy-five-year-old bassist Billy Talbot and seventy-six-year-old drummer Ralph Molina — the two surviving original Crazy Horse members, who first played with Young on 1969’s Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere — and sixty-eight-year-old guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren, who was eighteen when he played guitar and piano on Young’s 1970 solo record, After the Gold Rush. (Coincidentally, Lofgren’s other boss, seventy-year-old Bruce Springsteen, is releasing his documentary about his latest album, Western Stars, on Friday.) Early on, the band says they are having an “oxygen party” to keep them going, passing around tanks like bongs. “It’s old guys; young souls still alive in old souls and the music they make together,” Young writes on his website about the film. It’s hard not to laugh when you see the size of the type on the lyric sheets these old guys are using.
“Right now it’s a piece of fucking gold. It’s original fucking greatness,” Young says of the big-sounding “Rainbow of Colors.” After the calmer “House of Love,” on which Young plays piano and harmonica and Lofgren tap-dances, he says, “It doesn’t have to be good; just be great. You know, just feel good.” Young lives up to his billing as the Godfather of Grunge on the punk-infused “Help Me Lose My Mind”; Lofgren refers to Young’s singing on the track as “reckless narration with pitch,” which gets a chuckle out of Young, who is serious and ornery most of the time, understandably unhappy with the monitors (ironically, mostly on the song “Shut It Down”) and other details of the recording process, and he lets his longtime producer and engineer, John Hanlon, know it again and again. Hanlon, a coffee addict who is suffering from poison oak on his hand, has a meltdown at one point, screaming, “This is the most fucked-up studio I’ve ever fucking worked in in my life. . . I’m about ready to leave this fucking project, okay?” He demands that all cameras be removed from the studio and that the scene of him yelling and cursing not appear in the film, but. . . .
Young, who as Shakey has directed or codirected Rust Never Sleeps, The Monsanto Years, Human Highway, Journey through the Past, and Greendale, and cinematographer C. K. Vollick leave the studio to show time-lapse shots of the snowy mountains, bright stars, and rolling clouds outside, primarily on “Green Is Blue,” a piano ballad about climate change. There are also snippets of Young performing at one of his solo acoustic concerts, where he surrounds himself with a circle of guitars. He employs split screens, a fish-eye lens (think the cover of Ragged Glory), a handheld camera, and one mounted on the floor to mix things up. Lofgren plays the pump organ and an accordion, Young plays the vibes and a glass harmonica, and the four men gather to sing lofty background harmonies. Amid all the technical problems — “I love singing in a wet sock,” Young says about the sound — he and Crazy Horse prove they still have it after half a century, particularly when they turn it up on the majestic “Milky Way,” which borrows generously from “Cowgirl in the Sands,” and the hard-rocking “She Showed Me Love.” “We’re gonna do it / Just like we did back then,” Lofgren, Molina, and Talbot sing on “I Do.” Mountaintop is an irresistible fly-on-the-wall doc about the creative process, about collaboration and genius, about all the little things that can go wrong — and delightfully right — in the making of great art, in this case by a bunch of old white guys trying to save the planet, one song at a time.
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
Thursday, October 24, $30, 7:30
Japan Society gears up for Halloween with the spooky presentation Kwaidan — Call of Salvation Heard from the Depths of Fear. On October 24 at 7:30, popular Japanese film and television actor Shirō Sano (Zutto Anata ga Suki data, Karaoke) will read five tales of the supernatural he selected by Lafcadio Hearn, aka Yakumo Koizumi (1850-1904), with live music played by guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto, of BOW WOW and VOW WOW fame. (Sano and Yamamoto both hail from Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture.) Japanese film fans will be familiar with Hearn’s oeuvre from Masaki Kobayashi’s 1965 horror anthology, Kwaidan, which consists of the Hearn tales “The Black Hair,” “The Woman of the Snow,” “Hoichi the Earless,” and “In a Cup of Tea.” The performance will be preceded by a short lecture by Hearn’s great-grandson, Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum director and folklorist Bon Koizumi, and a reception with the artists will follow the show, which is part of Japan Society’s Emperor Series, celebrating Emperor Naruhito’s ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1.
The Griffin Theater in the Bloomberg Building
545 West 30th St. at Eleventh Ave.
Through October 25, $42-$92
In May 2018, William Forsythe presented a site-specific work as part of “A Prelude to the Shed,” a preview of what New Yorkers could expect from the new arts center at Hudson Yards. The free collaboration, Tino Sehgal: This variation and William Forsythe: Pas de Deux Cent Douze, put visitors right in the middle of the action as near-total darkness evolved into a cappella singing and an energetic duet as the walls of a temporary facility opened to the street. Choreographer and visual artist Forsythe, the former head of Ballet Frankfurt who has worked independently after ending the Forsythe Company in 2015, is back at Hudson Yards with A Quiet Evening of Dance, a lovely evening-length piece continuing through October 25 at the Shed’s Griffin Theater. Consisting of new and reimagined repertory works, the hundred-minute performance is divided into two main sections, taking place on an empty stage at floor level, putting the ten dancers on equal footing with the audience.
The first half consists of four parts, focusing primarily on duets that are almost like a primer for Forsythe’s choreographic language, which relies heavily on the deconstruction of classical ballet, emphasizing the movement of the arms and hands and upper body. “Prologue,” featuring Parvaneh Scharafali and Ander Zabala, and “Catalogue,” with Jill Johnson and Brit Rodemund, are set in near silence, the only sounds coming from bird tweeting and the dancers’ breathing — some breathe significantly harder than others, like different sounds that emerge from tennis players in the midst of a match, though not as forceful and urgent — and their feet, which glide across the black floor in sneakers covered in wooly socks whose colors sometimes are similar to the wrist-to-biceps gloves they wear that give yet more weight to their arm movement. (The playful costumes are by Dorothee Merg.) Johnson and Rodemund’s duet also has them exploring their entire bodies in a thrilling kind of anatomy lesson. “Epilogue” follows, a series of duets in which Scharafali, Zabala, Johnson, Rodemund, Brigel Gjoka, Riley Watts, Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, Jake Tribus, and Roderick George (whom I saw perform a sizzling solo last year when his Pas de Deux Cent Douze partner was unable to dance with him) rotate onstage to Morton Feldman’s soft “Nature Pieces from Piano No. 1,” each dancer establishing their unique personalities: Scharafali with her casual elegance (with her hands at times in her pockets), Johnson with her stoic presence, Watts with his emotional facial gestures, Yasit with his body-twisting (though repetitive) contortions. Gjoka and Watts, moving in rare unison, conclude with “Dialogue (DUO2015)” before intermission.
A co-commission with Sadler’s Wells, where it debuted in October 2018, A Quiet Evening of Dance continues after intermission with “Seventeen / Twenty One,” which is not quite as quiet though just as winning as the dancers, now on a white floor, use the language they explored earlier in a more complexly structured work, set to Jean-Phillippe Rameau’s Baroque “Hippolyte et Aricle: Ritrounelle” from Une Symphonie Imaginaire. The title links the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries — Rameau was born in 1683 — as all ten dancers whirl about the stage, ranging from solos to duets to trios and then everyone coming together for a grand finale.
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 19, $39-$159
Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing four terrific shows first off Broadway and then on, then on the Great White Way. In each case, nothing was lost in the transition to the bigger stage; in fact, three of them received Tony nominations for Best Play — Indecent, Pulitzer Prize recipient Sweat, and The Humans — with The Humans winning the award. (Unfortunately, the sadly overlooked Significant Other had only a short stint on Broadway.)
So at first I was surprised to hear that Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play, which initially ran at New York Theatre Workshop last season, was heading to the Golden Theatre for a Broadway engagement, not least because of its graphic sexual content as well as its central subject matter involving a trio of dangerous sexual interactions defined by race, gender, and power on a plantation in the Antebellum South as well as today: black slave Kaneisha (Joaquina Kalukango) and her white overseer, Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan); Alana MacGregor (Annie McNamara), the plantation owner’s wife, and her “mulatto” house servant, Phillip (Sullivan Jones); and Dustin (James Cusati-Moyer), a white indentured servant, and Gary (Ato Blankson-Wood), his black boss. Clint Ramos’s set has been expanded, with two levels of mirrored doors that open up to reveal characters and bring on and off various pieces of furniture; the MacGregor plantation is represented by a long horizontal image of the main house on the mezzanine facade that is reflected in the mirrors across the back of the stage so the audience can see itself. At NYTW, the mirrors made it feel like we were all on the plantation, making us complicit in America’s original sin of slavery.
But at the Golden, the mirrors feel more gimmicky, less insightful and condemnatory. The two-hour intermissionless play is divided into three sections, each of which now struck me as being too long and repetitive, continuing well past their expiration date. And the shock value of the brutal sex scenes and, especially, the second-act twist seemed much more tame. The cast, which is the same except for Kalukango replacing Parris — Irene Sofia Lucio and Chalia La Tour are also back as politically correct comic facilitators Patricia and Teá, respectively — is again uniformly strong, with Cusati-Moyer standing out as a white man claiming he’s not white. So what happened? Only small tweaks were made to the script and direction. Perhaps it’s the spate of works by black playwrights about the black experience in America; since Slave Play debuted at NYTW, I’ve seen Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer-winning Fairview, Thomas Bradshaw’s Southern Promises,
Jordan E. Cooper’s 2019 Ain’t No Mo’, Suzan-Lori Parks’s White Noise, Tori Sampson’s If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, and Harris’s own “Daddy.”
There’s no denying that it’s a boon to the artform that so many diverse voices are now being heard onstage, both on and off Broadway, dealing with issues that must be faced in a society still teeming with institutional and systemic racism; what used to be the exception (August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange, Adrienne Kennedy) is quickly becoming the norm (see also Lydia R. Diamond, Dominique Morriseau, Danai Gurira, Dael Orlandersmith, and Katori Hall, among others). But maybe the shock I experienced when I first saw Slave Play has worn off a bit as the subject matter becomes more commonplace in American theater. Maybe the Golden is too large a venue for the intimacy Harris is exploring in the show. Maybe the flaws in Slave Play are more evident in this bigger production, particularly when seen for the second time. Or maybe the novelty of the play has just dissipated as more nuanced ones come along. I’m not sure any of that matters from a critical standpoint, as the producers just announced that it’s off to a solid financial start, even extending the run two weeks.
Sarah Sze has long been creating intricate, fragile ecosystems that feel like a complex construction made of giant toothpicks (and just about anything else she can find) that could come tumbling down with a mere touch. These installations have grown more detailed over time, incorporating high-tech electronic elements while expanding the breadth of its range. Her latest immersive exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar in Chelsea begins outside the gallery and continues in the hallways, large main space, back room, and upstairs, on the walls and the floors and the ceilings. There’s something everywhere, transforming parts of the gallery into her studio, revealing her extraordinary process. Originally a painter who now considers herself a sculptor, the Boston-born, New York-based artist centers the show with Crescent (Timekeeper), an exquisite work consisting of dozens of objects, from ladders, boxes, and rocks to plants, lamps, and bottles. Videos are projected onto torn pieces of paper, including a flying eagle, prowling wolves, the swirling ocean, and a burning fire, enhanced by sound as well, each open in its own internet browser, leaving it up to the viewer to make a narrative.
There are no barriers to prevent you from getting too close to the delicate piece; there’s a guard situated on the other side of the room, but Sze trusts us to not wreak havoc. She also shows us what she’s doing; the hallway is filled with her notes, some of the materials she uses (tape, paint, push pins, photographs, videos), while behind Crescent (Timekeeper) is a stack of slowly turning projectors, casting light and shadows everywhere. The back room is a cluttered studio setting with boxes, painted canvases with images stuck on, water bottles, paper towels, and other general detritus — the process has become the work.
Upstairs is a room of four gorgeous painting collages, streaks of white paint on the floor forming a half-moon around one, as if beaming in through the skylight. Be sure to get close to the works to experience their startling depth. In the smaller, dark room, Sze lays bare her process of projecting tiny images onto a wall, revealing how she first designs them on a computer, then projects them through a sculptural form and onto the far wall. It’s utterly ingenious and wholly captivating.
Sze’s works are particularly suited to our image-saturated urban life, and especially here in New York City: Her Triple Point (Pendulum) is part of MoMA’s “Surrounds: 11 Installations” exhibition opening next week, her Blueprint for a Landscape can be seen all over the 96th St. stop on the Second Ave. subway, and her birdhouse Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat) was on the High Line in 2012. And in 2006, her partially submersive Corner Plot welcomed people to the Scholars’ Gate entrance to Central Park.
In her 2018 essay “The Tattered Ruins of the Map: On Sarah Sze’s Centrifuge,” Sze’s friend, award-winning writer Zadie Smith, writes, “Like so much of Sarah Sze’s work, Centrifuge is a complex constellation of elements, in which all constituents present themselves simultaneously. . . . After the rupture, after the apocalypse, amid the ruin of cables and wires, someone might ask: what was the purpose of all of those images within and through which we lived?” This is true of her current Chelsea show, as Sze merges disparate components and artistic disciplines, both analog and digital, to forge a deep dive into the nature of time, space, and memory in a chaotic age.
“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m just looking for guidance in how to be a blind artist,” filmmaker Rodney Evans says in Vision Portraits, his remarkable new documentary playing October 18-20 at BAM. Evans follows three artists as they deal with severe visual impairment but refuse to give up on their dreams as he seeks experimental treatment for his retinitis pigmentosa. Manhattan photographer John Dugdale lost most of his eyesight from CMV retinitis when he was thirty-two but is using his supposed disability to his advantage, taking stunning photos bathed in blue, inspired by the aurora borealis he sees when he closes his eyes. “Proving to myself that I could still function in a way that was not expected of a blind person was really gonna be the thing,” he says. “It’s fun to live in this bliss.” Bronx dancer Kayla Hamilton was born with no vision in one eye and developed iritis and glaucoma in the other, but she is shown working on a new piece called Nearly Sighted that incorporates the audience into her story. “How can I use my art form as a way of sharing what it is that I’m experiencing?” she asks.
Canadian writer Ryan Knighton lost his eyesight on his eighteenth birthday due to retinitis pigmentosa, but he teaches at a college and presents short stories about his condition at literary gatherings. “I had that moment where I had a point of view now, like, I realized blindness is a point of view on the world; it’s not something I should avoid, it’s something I should look from, and I should make it my writerly point of view,” Knighton explains. Meanwhile, Evans heads to the Restore Vision Clinic in Berlin to see if Dr. Anton Fedorov can stop or reverse his visual impairment, which is getting worse.
Vision Portraits is an intimate, honest look at eyesight and art and how people adapt to what could have been devastating situations. Evans, who wrote and directed the narrative features Brother to Brother and The Happy Sad, also includes animated segments that attempt to replicate what the subjects see, from slivers of light to star-laden alternate universes. BAM is hosting several postscreening Q&As, with Evans, moderated by Kirsten Johnson, Friday at 7:30; with Evans, moderated by Imani Barbarin, Saturday at 5:00; with Evans, moderated by Jourdain Searles, Saturday at 8:30; and with Kjerstin Rossi, Mark Tumas, Hannah Buck, and Hamilton, moderated by Charmaine Warren, Sunday at 4:30.