Faye Driscoll concludes her seven-year “Thank You for Coming” trilogy with Space, a bold and courageous solo work making its New York City debut at New York Live Arts’ Live Artery winter performance festival this week. In March 2014’s Thank You for Coming: Attendance at Danspace, audience members could be as involved as they wanted to be as five dancers merged into one and Driscoll deconstructed and reconstructed the set as well as the relationship between performer and viewer. In November 2016’s Thank You for Coming: Play at BAM, Driscoll channeled passion, rage, intimacy, and an exhilarating frolicsomeness with five dancers and surprise appearances.
Inspired by the death of her mother, Space is about the physical and metaphysical weight we all carry every day as we attempt to shape our lives in a world that is whirling out of our control. The audience enters a blaringly white space on the stage, sitting in two rows of folding chairs; Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin’s set evokes a waiting room between life and rebirth, a kind of bardo.
In each corner is a small platform, and various objects lie on the floor or hanging from the rafters, including small, triangular black sandbags, numerous microphones, boots, cinder blocks, and a lemon. Driscoll, a California native based in Brooklyn, enters the room on a warm, unpretentious note, thanking us for taking time out of our busy schedules to get out of bed, put on clothes, and come to the theater to see her. She moves to the center and sends a rusty, soundless bell into motion, circling around us but not quite hitting anyone, then slowing down like a pendulum, as if we are all running out of time. Over the next seventy-five minutes, Driscoll, barefoot, wearing black jeans and a gray T-shirt, records gasps, sighs, and roars into microphones, stomps around in boots connected to speakers, and lifts cinder blocks. She makes specific requests of the audience to perform an array of critical tasks, from raising and lowering objects via a pulley system to holding her hands to maintain her balance; each interaction with animate or inanimate objects results in Driscoll experimenting with new dance movements, merging reality and performance with relentlessly building intensity.
When she throws clumps of clay, it is as if she is demonstrating that we have only so much control over our life and our bodies and might just have to abandon ourselves to chaos. In fact, elements of the piece itself are unpredictable; the night I went, one of the objects got caught in the lighting above, forcing Driscoll (There Is So Much Mad in Me, You’re Me) to improvise, although there is a looseness as well that allowed her to discuss the situation briefly with one of the tech people. (Kudos must go out to sound engineer Zachary Crumrine, sound designer Andrew Gilbert, and text adviser Amanda K. Davidson, who keep us fully immersed and on our toes in the participatory piece.)
“Space confronts what is simultaneously the most certain and uncertain of human states, our undoing and our final flourishing,” Driscoll explains in the program, which also notes that the work was in process during the death of her mother. “It is a reckoning with the fact that one being’s transition from the state of the living calls forth a concurrent transition in those not dead.” Space ultimately transforms into a darkly funny meditation on death in a strange monologue by Driscoll, who is dripping wet with sweat. Her performance is fierce and ferocious, intimate and heart-rending; she holds nothing back, leaving the audience exhilarated and uncomfortable, frightful and concerned, yet oddly victorious. By the time it’s over, she has engaged four of our five senses (only Driscoll gets to taste) while referring not only to the end of life but of the show we’ve just experienced, as well as the trilogy itself. But rebirth awaits; the audience gets up and goes on with their lives, and Driscoll will go on with hers, including bringing Space to the Walker Art Center in March and the Wexner Center in April.
Writer-director Suguru Yamamoto returns to Japan Society after the success of his Hanchu-Yuei collective’s 2017 production of Girl X with The Unknown Dancer in the Neighborhood, a one-man dance-theater piece featuring dancer-choreographer Wataru Kitao. In the ninety-minute show, which is running January 10-14 as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, the Tokyo-based Yamamoto explores ideas of anonymity, empathy, and death in an abstract urban environment where young people rely on texting to make connections. Kitao, founder of the dance ensemble Baobab, portrays multiple characters of different ages and genders as he moves across a stage with various props, police caution tape, and a back wall onto which text (in Japanese and English), video, and photographs are projected; meanwhile, the lighting shifts from reds, blues, and greens to grays and blacks.
“This is a dance performance and also a play,” the thirty-two-year-old Yamamoto (I Can’t Die without Being Born, Enjoyable Time) says in an Under the Radar promotional video. “The theme is the indifference of people living in a metropolis.” It might have been written about Yamamoto’s experiences in Tokyo, but it should feel right at home here in Gotham, although Yamamoto, who founded Hanchu-Yuei in 2007 and has cited such influences as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Woody Allen, is a bit worried. “I don’t know how such a performance is going to be received by a New York audience, but I hope it will catalyze something interesting.” The January 10 show will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception, while the January 11 show will be followed by an artist Q&A.
If you haven’t been to the Shed yet, the entertainment hub at Hudson Yards, this Saturday offers you a pretty good reason to finally head over. From 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, admission to the two current art exhibits, “Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates” and “Manual Override,” which usually require $10 tickets each, is free. There will also be several special programs as well as food trucks in the McCourt, a photo booth on level six, and music and dance. There will be tours of the wide-ranging Agnes Denes retrospective, which consists of more than 150 works from throughout the career of the eighty-eight-year-old Budapest-born American artist (including newly commissioned pieces), at 2:30 with artists Bahar Behbahani, Tattfoo Tan, Avram Finkelstein, Moko Fukuyama, and Janani Balasubramanian and astrophysicist Dr. Natalie Gosnell, at 3:15 with curatorial assistant Adeze Wilford, at 3:45 with senior curator Emma Enderby, and at 5:00 with John Hatfield and artist Torkwase Dyson. “Manual Override” brings together the work of Morehshin Allahyari, Simon Fujiwara, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sondra Perry, and Martine Syms, which combines social and ethical issues with cutting-edge technology. In addition, DJ Synchro will be spinning in the lobby from 2:00 to 4:00, DJ April Hunt from 4:00 to 6:00, and DJ Bembona from 6:00 to 8:00; Dance Battle: It’s Showtime NYC! vs. the D.R.E.A.M. Ring will get under way in the lobby at 2:15 and 4:30; the two dance teams will be hosting workshops around the building at 3:00 and in the Tisch Skylights at 5:00 and 5:15; and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter J Hoard will perform in the Tisch Skylights at 5:30.
“I think I have always been interested in performance as a ritual of expression, protest, transformation, and basically one gigantic act of mirroring with the performers and audience,” Guggenheim Fellow and Bessie Award-winning choreographer Faye Driscoll explained in a March 2014 twi-ny talk. “I don’t buy this idea that in order to be socially engaged you have to adapt to a certain way of being; I think we are all socially engaged whether we like it or not — or maybe whether we choose to deal with it or not. . . . I am trying through my own formal and aesthetic experiments to expand my perception of this interconnection, and maybe others will feel that or maybe they won’t.” Others have felt that interconnection through her trilogy that began with Thank You for Coming: Attendance in March 2014 at Danspace and was followed by Thank You for Coming: Play in November 2016 at the BAM Fisher.
Driscoll concluded the three-part piece in April 2019 at Montclair State University’s Peak Performances with Thank You for Coming: Space. If you didn’t make it to Jersey, you can catch the work January 8-11 as part of New York Live Arts’ annual Live Artery series, held in conjunction with the APAP conference. Thank You for Coming: Space explores presence and absence, death and grief, taking place in an intimate kinetic installation where it’s just Driscoll and the audience. You do not need to have seen the earlier works in order to join the potent and poignant community that Driscoll creates onstage. Live Artery continues through January 15 with such other shows as Kimberly Bartosik/Daela’s through the mirror of their eyes, Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith’s Body Comes Apart, and Liana Conyers’s #ImFxckingFunny.
Once upon a time, January was considered a relative artistic wasteland, as people suffered from a post-holidays letdown with a dearth of high-quality movies and Broadway shows opening up. But this century continues to fill that void with more and more cutting-edge, experimental, and offbeat music, dance, film, and theater at unique performance festivals around the city. You can catch cabaret at Pangea, opera at Prototype, dance at the 92nd St. Y and New York Live Arts, jazz at JazzFest, Irish theater at Origin’s 1st, avant-garde music and film at New Ear, and a little of everything at Under the Radar. Sadly, the last few years have seen the demise of COIL and American Realness. Below are only some of the highlights of this exciting time to try something that might be outside your comfort zone and take a chance on something new and different to kick off your 2020, especially with the majority of tickets going for about twenty-five bucks.
NEW EAR FESTIVAL
287 Spring St. by Hudson St.
January 6–12, $20, 8:00
Monday, January 6
CT::SWaM ExChange, with Ginny Benson, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Dani Dobkin, Bernd Klug, and a very special guest
Tuesday, January 7
Victoria Keddie exchanges transmissions from Copenhagen, improvised animations and sound by Theodore Darst and Kevin Carey, and a performance by Adelaide Damoah
Wednesday, January 8
Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of the Roots, with Zachary Tye Richardson, Vuyo Sotashe, Onyx Violins, and Brother Paul Daniels II
Thursday, January 9
Model Home, new commission by Brandon Lopez with TAK Ensemble, and Sa’dia Rehman
Friday, January 10
Susie Ibarra and Dreamtime Ensemble, Allard van Hoorn, and the Dream Mapping Project
Saturday, January 11
Violist Joanna Mattrey, percussionist William Hooker’s quartet, and Sophia Petrides
Sunday, January 12
DeForrest Brown Jr., Muyassar Kurdi and MV Carbon, and SHYBOI
UNDER THE RADAR
Public Theater and other venues
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
January 6, 10, 12, 20
Daniel J. Watts’ The Jam: Only Child, with Daniel J. Watts and DJ Duggz, Joe’s Pub, $35
The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, with Michael Chan, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, and Scott Price, LuEsther Hall, Public Theater, $30
Selina Thompson: salt., with Rochelle Rose, Martinson Hall, Public Theater, $30
The Truth Has Changed, by Josh Fox & International WOW Company, Newman Theater, Public Theater, $30
January 11 & 17
Waterboy and the Mighty World by the HawtPlates, Shiva Theater, Public Theater, $25
ORIGIN’S 1st IRISH FESTIVAL
January 7 – February 3
Through January 26
London Assurance, by Dion Boucicault, directed by Charlotte Moore, Irish Repertory Theatre, $50-$70
The 8th, written and directed by Seanie Sugrue, the Secret Theatre, $20
January 22 – February 2
The Scourge, by Michelle Dooley Mahon, directed by Ben Barnes, starring Michelle Dooley Mahon, Irish Repertory Theatre, $50
January 26 – February 1
Appropriate, by Sarah-Jane Scott, directed by Paul Meade, starring Sarah-Jane Scott, New York Irish Center, $26
Round Room: An Open Studio, by Honor Molloy, directed by Britt Berke, music by Susan McKeown, with Labhaoise Magee, Brenda Meaney, Rachel Pickup, Maeve Price, Zoe Watkins, and Aoife Williamson, the Alchemical Studios, $16
New York Live Arts
219 West 19th St.
Saturday, January 11
Kathy Westwater: Rambler, Worlds Worlds a Part, $10, 2:00
Kimberly Bartosik/Daela: Through the Mirror of Their Eyes, 5:00
Saturday, January 11, 9:00
Sunday, January 12, 12 noon
Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith: Body Comes Apart, $15
Sean Dorsey: Boys in Trouble, $15
Monday, January 13
Yanira Castro/a canary torsi: Last Audience, free with RSVP, 4:0
WINTER JAZZFEST NYC
Wednesday, January 8
GilleS Peterson (DJ Set), Lefto, Kassa Overall, Niblu, $20-$25, doors 8:00
Thursday, January 9
Lee Fields & the Expressions with Adeline, Brooklyn Bowl, $25, doors 7:00
Friday, January 10 & Saturday, January 11
Manhattan Marathon, multiple venues, $50-$75 one night, $95-$125 both nights
Saturday, January 11
James ‘Blood’ Ulmer Odyssey, Harriet Tubman, Sultan Room, $25-$30, doors 7:00
Thursday, January 16
Seu Jorge with Rogê, Anat Cohen & Choro Aventuroso, the Town Hall, $55-$85, 8:00
Friday, January 17
Brooklyn Marathon, multiple venues, $30-$55
January 9, 12, 15–17
Blood Moon, by Ellen McLaughlin and composer Garrett Fisher, Baruch Performing Arts Center, $35-$75
Magdalene, chamber opera cocreated by performer Danielle Birrittella and director Zoe Aja Moore, with poetry by Marie Howe, HERE, $35-$75
Iron & Coal, rock opera by Jeremy Schonfeld, featuring Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Contemporaneous, MasterVoices, Rinde Eckert, and Daniel Rowan, Gerald W. Lynch Theater, $35-$75
January 14–15, 17–19
Ellen West, by poet Frank Bidart and composer Ricky Ian Gordon, Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, $35-$75
Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro, by Gregory Maqoma, featuring Vuyani Dance Theatre, Joyce Theater, $10-$75
REV. 23, libretto by Cerise Lim Jacobs, composed by Julian Wachner, featuring Novus NY, Gerald W. Lynch Theater, $35-$75
92Y HARKNESS DANCE CENTER ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE: ShAIRed SHOW AND MORE!
92nd St. Y
1395 Lexington Ave.
January 10-12, $15 in advance, $25 at the door
Friday, January 10
King by Kyle Marshall Choreography, through the mirror of their eyes by Kimberly Bartosik (work-in progress excerpt), Quarry by Ivy Baldwin Dance, Good Rhythm Wonderful Life by Kazunori Kumagai, noon
Sunday, January 12
Good Rhythm Wonderful Life by Kazunori Kumagai, 3:00
through the mirror of their eyes by Kimberly Bartosik (work-in progress excerpt), 4:0
Of you from here by Catherine Tharin, 4:45
Quarry by Ivy Baldwin Dance, 5:30
A.D. by Kyle Marshall Choreography, 6:15
DECADOSE (excerpts) by cullen+them, 7:15
178 Second Ave.
Tuesday, January 7, 14, 21
Barbara Bleier & Austin Pendleton, Bits and Pieces, $20-$25 plus $20 food/beverage minimum, 7:00
Friday, January 10
Vicki Kristina Barcelona, the songs of Tom Waits, $15-$20 plus $20 food/beverage minimum, 7:00
Hannah Reimann: Both Sides Now: The Music of Joni Mitchell 1966 – 1974, $20-$25 plus $20 food/beverage minimum, 9:30
Thursday, January 16, 7:00, and Friday, January 17, 9:30
Raquel Cion: Me and Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie, $20-$25 plus $20 food/beverage minimum
Friday, January 17
Susanne Mack: Where I Belong, $20-$25 plus $20 food/beverage minimum, 7:00
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s monthlong 2019–20 annual winter season at City Center is titled “Ailey Revealed,” offering a potpourri of works that celebrate the company’s past, present, and future. Every year I attend one of the “All New” programs, and the one I saw on December 20 was, pun intended, a revelation. The evening began with choreographer Donald Byrd’s fifth work for the company, Greenwood, a stirring interpretation of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which is also the starting point of the sensational HBO series Watchmen. In the late spring of 1921, there was some kind of incident between white elevator operator Sarah Page (danced here by Danica Paulos) and black shoeshiner Dick Rowland (Chalvar Monteiro), a pair of teenagers who might have known each other and even had a relationship. For still unknown reasons, she screamed and he was arrested, imprisoned, and nearly lynched. When the black community marched to the jail to protest, the white community, already uneasy at the success of black businesses in Tulsa’s Greenwood district, known as “Black Wall Street,” used the situation as an excuse to rampage through the district, kill hundreds of black citizens, and destroy millions of dollars’ worth of property.
Set to original compositions by Israeli ambient music composer Emmanuel Witzthum (joined on two pieces by British musician Craig Tattersall) as well as two southern black folk songs, Greenwood is a fierce and powerful thirty-five-minute work. The elevator scene is repeated slightly differently several times, as if in differing recollections and retellings, each followed by Monteiro trying to escape (running in place) as two black couples, Clifton Brown and Jacquelin Harris and Solomon Dumas and Ghrai DeVore-Stokes, react alongside them and Ku Klux Klan members wreak havoc. The three couples are in conventional 1920s attire, the men in suits, the women in brightly colored long dresses, while the Klan (Jeroboam Bozeman, Patrick Coker, Samantha Figgins, James Gilmer, Michael Jackson Jr., Yannick Lebrun, and Miranda Quinn) is dressed in silver outfits and masks. (The superb costumes are by Doris Black; Watchmen fans are likely to think of “Mirror Guy” from the cable show.) Throughout the piece, Courtney Celeste Spears, in more traditional African apparel, walks slowly around the stage, solemnly bearing witness to the tragedy. A long opening in the back serves as an entrance and exit, Jack Mehler’s lighting changing colors as smoke emerges, as if hell awaits. Byrd refers to his recent work as a kind of “theater of disruption”; Greenwood more than captures that philosophy.
Following intermission is a new production of Lar Lubovitch’s sensual 1990 duet Fandango. The seventeen-minute work is performed by Paulos and Brown to Ravel’s “Bolero,” both in black costumes. They longingly explore each other’s body, much of the time moving on the floor. It’s like a sweet palette cleanser after the brute force of Greenwood and a tender lead-in to the company premiere of Camille A. Brown’s City of Rain, a reimagined version of the Tony winner’s 2010 work about the loss of her friend Greg “Blyes” Boomer, who died of a paralyzing illness the previous year.
Set to Jonathan Melville Pratt’s “Two Way Dream” for strings, percussion, voice, synthesizers, and laptop, City of Rain features ten dancers (Jeroboam Bozeman, Patrick Coker, Solomon Dumas, Jacquelin Harris, Yannick Lebrun, Danica Paulos, Belén Indhira Pereyra, Miranda Quinn, Jessica Amber Pinkett, and Courtney Celeste Spears) moving in unison, rolling around on the floor, breaking off into smaller groups, and reaching toward the sky for seventeen minutes, in costumes by Mayte Natalio and with lighting by Burke Wilmore. Brown (The Groove to Nobody’s Business, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine) melds different styles in the emotionally gripping piece.
The evening concludes in a big way with the company premiere of Aszure Barton’s 2009 BUSK, in which the daring Canadian-born choreographer explores what she calls the “multitasking [and] the wisdom of the body.” Updated for this presentation and staged by Jonathan Alsberry, BUSK, which is named for the Spanish word “buscar,” meaning “to look for, is performed by thirteen dancers dressed in dark monks’ robes with hoods, designed by Michelle Jank. Nicole Pearce’s lighting and set includes a small stoop and a disco ball. The spectacular piece is packed with stunning moments and punctuated with surprise and delight: The dancers occasionally make funny faces, sit in a center circle and bow their heads, and wave white-gloved hands. A soloist has fun with a hat. An impressive chest is bared. The score consists of eight wide-ranging songs, by Camille Saint-Saëns, Moondog, Daniel Belanger, and others, that add to the unpredictability of the twenty-minute work. Barton’s previous Ailey piece was 2013’s Lift. Let’s hope it’s not another six years before the next one.
The City Center season, which wishes a fond farewell to longtime dancer and associate artistic director Masazumi Chaya, who has been with the company since 1970, continues through January 5. There will be all-new programs on December 28, January 1, and January 4 (with a mix from the above as well as a new production of Judith Jamison’s Divining and/or the world premiere of Jamar Roberts’s Ode). In addition, “Ailey Classics” takes place December 28 and January 3, “3 Visionaries” on December 24, and the season finale on January 5.