Who: Mikki Shepard, DJ YB, Mamma Normadien, Baba N’goma Woolbright, Charmaine Warren, Abdel R. Salaam, Karen Thornton Daniels, Sabine LaFortune, Coco Killingsworth, Farai Malianga, more
What: BAM’s DanceAfrica
Where: BAM online
When: Through May 29 (and beyond), free (some film screenings require small payment)
Why: One of our favorite ways of ushering in the summer season is by going to BAM’s annual DanceAfrica festival, a weekend of dance, films, a street bazaar, and more celebrating African culture. The forty-second annual event is taking place online, with livestreamed performances, film screenings, archival videos, interviews, classes, and a virtual bazaar. “The spirit of DanceAfrica has no boundaries, and will always find its way to the people,” Baba Abdel R. Salaam said in a statement. Below is the full schedule. And be prepared to shout “Ago!” “Amée!!” from the comfort of wherever you are sheltering in place.
Through May 27
FilmAfrica: Aya of Yop City (Marguerite Abouet & Clément Oubrerie, 2012), Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu, 2012), Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018), Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Chai Vasarhelyi, 2008), pay-what-you-wish to $4.99
Through May 29
“DanceAfrica Visual Art: Omar Victor Diop”
Through June 14
DanceAfrica Virtual Bazaar, with clothing, jewelry, home goods, food, and accessories
Monday, May 25
“DanceAfrica: The Early Years,” with Mikki Shepard, 11:00 am
DanceAfrica Dance Party, with DJ YB, 7:00
Tuesday, May 26
“DanceAfrica: Behind the Scenes,” with Abdel R. Salaam, Charmaine Warren, and Council of Elder members Mamma Normadien and Baba N’goma Woolbright, 6:00
Wednesday, May 27
“DanceAfrica: The Council of Elders,” with Stefanie Hughley and Council of Elder leaders Mamma Lynette White-Mathews and Baba Bill (William) Mathews, 6:00
Thursday, May 28
“Education and DanceAfrica,” with Karen Thornton Daniels, Sabine LaFortune, Coco Killingsworth, and Abdel R. Salaam, 6:00
Opens Thursday, May 28
FilmAfrica: A Screaming Man (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, 2010), Chez Jolie Coiffure (Rosine Mbakam, 2018), I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017), National Diploma (Dieudo Hamadi, 2014), prices TBD
“DanceAfrica: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” with Coco Killingsworth, Charmaine Warren, and Abdel R. Salaam, 6:00
Among the things that many of us are missing the most during the Covid-19 crisis are art and travel. They might not be essential businesses, but they’re key parts of a full and rewarding life. Both serve as respites from the everyday; they entertain and educate us, offering escape from our daily toil. “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” is the titular question of Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen’s ongoing online exhibition, which features new and recent work from major living artists addressing the pandemic and politics. The answer, of course, is how can we not?
Xavier F. Salomon has found his own unique method of thinking about art in the time of coronavirus, adding related travel as well. Salomon, who was born in Rome to an English mother and a Danish father, was raised in Italy and England, and received his BA, MA, and PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, is the Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at the Frick Collection. Every Wednesday and Friday, he takes over the Frick’s YouTube channel with deep dives into art history. On Wednesday’s “Travels with a Curator,” Salomon, who previously worked at the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, and the Met here in New York — quite a resume for a man only just in his forties — gives an illustrated lecture about art and architecture in specific cities; so far he has guided us through Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, and Ca’ d’Oro, Venice.
He is fast becoming an internet superstar for his Friday talks, “Cocktails with a Curator,” my preferred manner of ending the workweek. At 5:00, Salomon pairs a masterpiece from the Frick with a cocktail and spends between fifteen and twenty minutes discussing the Frick gem and the drink, placing them in context of the current pandemic. Seen in the lower-right-hand corner of the screen, the bald, bearded, handsome, and ever-charming Salomon has helped us look deeply into Rembrandt’s Polish Rider with a Szarlotka, Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert with a Manhattan, and Van Dyck’s Sir John Suckling with a Pink Gin. (On May 1, curator Aimee Ng explored Constable’s White Horse with a gin and Dubonnet.)
On May 8, Salomon will visit with Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile while enjoying a Widow’s Kiss. (The recipes, which include alcohol-free versions, are posted on the YouTube page in advance.) The Frick is my personal favorite museum, a place I go to often to see familiar works that both relax and energize me — including Harbor of Dieppe, which I’ve marveled at on many occasions — so I’m finding these talks, which are prerecorded but stream live (and can be also watched later), absolutely essential in every way. Salomon recently took a break from his art history forays to discuss art and travel in the age of coronavirus.
twi-ny: Last year, before the pandemic, you started examining specific works from current Frick special exhibitions in a Facebook series called “Live from the Frick!” How did that evolve into “Cocktails with a Curator”?
xavier f. salomon: The Frick Collection has had a long tradition of online offerings (exhibition virtual tours, online live streaming of scholarly lectures, and Facebook “Lives,” among many examples). As soon as the lockdown began, we started to think, as a team, as to what we could offer to as varied an audience as possible. The idea of weekly appointments – with “Cocktails” on Fridays and “Travels” on Wednesdays – is designed to take our minds away from our current problems and to “meet” virtually. The idea was to match art with something we may miss from our previous life: things such as going out with friends for a drink, or traveling.
twi-ny: Do you consider yourself a cocktail aficionado? Are you trying new drinks, or are you choosing some of your favorites?
xaf: I do like cocktails very much. I am starting with a number of favorites, but as the series will continue, I am definitely planning to explore new options.
twi-ny: As a Frick regular, I feel that many of the paintings and sculptures in the museum are like old friends and members of the family that I thought I knew so well. I’ve stared at “St. Francis in the Desert” dozens of times, but as I watched your description on “Cocktails,” I felt as if I’d never really seen it. Because you are presenting this with a slightly adjusted context, referencing the pandemic, do you find yourself learning surprising things about works that you thought you knew so well?
xaf: The Frick is a museum of masterpieces. And I always believed that great works of art, first of all, can improve our lives but can also mean a number of different things at different times. One of the most common questions I have been asked in the last few years is: “Are works of art by Old Masters relevant?” The answer is: “YES!!!” And I hope to demonstrate this with this series. One thing that this virus is making apparent to everyone is how fragile human beings are. Artworks are the best that human beings have produced in the last few thousand years, and they can help us understand why and how we live. People a thousand years ago, five hundred years ago, a hundred years ago, were dealing with life as we do, with love, with friendship, with knowledge, with financial issues . . . and with epidemics and death. So I have been working on matching works at the Frick with broad issues we are thinking about today. And – not surprisingly – it is actually quite easy. And I am enjoying thinking about our works in this way.
twi-ny: I’m also appreciative of how fresh your analysis is. In the most recent Frick Collection magazine, you wrote about van Dyck’s “Sir John Suckling,” but your “Cocktails” talk about it explored the painting differently. I gather you would agree that “perspective is everything”?
xaf: Yes, I fully agree. And that is the importance of great works of art. They can be understood in a number of ways and can touch different chords in us. The same work of art meant different things to me when I was a teenager, or ten years ago. . . . We change as we go through life, and a truly great masterpiece can be for us a travel companion or a great friend. We change and they alongside us.
twi-ny: The camerawork is extraordinary, taking us deep inside the paintings. Is that footage already available, or might someone be taking new shots inside the museum?
xaf: The Frick has always had an in-house photographer, and our works have been very well photographed over the years by very talented people. All of the photographs of our works are from our archives. No new photography has been commissioned for these online programs. And many of the photos of locations I have taken myself over the years on my travels.
twi-ny: For the third “Cocktails” presentation, you cleverly changed where you were sitting when giving the talks. What part of the city are you sequestered in, and are you sheltering in place with any humans or animals?
xaf: I have been playing with different corners of my apartment to find an ideal location for the filming. It is a first for me, to film myself in my own apartment. I live in Washington Heights, in Manhattan, an area I like very much. I am, unfortunately, sheltering in place alone, as my partner (in the same situation) is across the Atlantic, in Europe. I would love to have a pet, especially during these times. But I cannot complain, because in my “hermitage” at least I have books.
twi-ny: Most curators exist in the background; the public might read essays by them in catalogs and wall text, or maybe see them if they go to an illustrated lecture at a museum. But you’re becoming a virtual sensation, with fans tuning in not just to hear about a masterpiece but to specifically see you and have a drink together. How does that feel?
xaf: I am not sure I would describe myself as a “virtual sensation.” But I also don’t believe that curators or art historians should live in the “background.” Art is for everyone, and if people want to know more about museums or works of art, curators need to be accessible. It is not about spending our lives in ivory towers and being buried in our libraries or our museums. As much as many of us (myself included) don’t necessarily dislike that idea, there is the fundamental fact that we need to put our knowledge and studies somewhere out there and have it available for the general public. I am not looking for fans, but I have to confess that it feels very rewarding to know that, with a very small contribution, I have somewhat enhanced people’s lives at a particularly difficult time.
twi-ny: You appear to love what you do, and you can be very funny, but on camera you never break character as a serious art historian. What does it take to make you burst out laughing?
xaf: I love, adore, what I do. I live for it. I could not imagine doing anything else with my life. I don’t know why, but I always feel awkward when laughing in public. But many things make me laugh out loud, and, it is usually female comedians. Women have such a wonderful sense of humor! But, maybe, you are right, I should be less serious on my online programs. . . .
twi-ny: What artworks might be coming up, or would you prefer to keep them a secret until closer to showtime? If you take requests, I have a few.
xaf: The answer is that I know a few works (Turner, Velázquez, Holbein, Bronzino) and places (the Monastery of the Temptation in Jericho, Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, the towns of Osuna in Spain and Valenciennes in France) that will come up, but I am still not sure about the exact timing and I do not have a full list. I keep thinking and choosing as I go along. And, yes, suggestions are well received!!! I was surprised to see that people have written to me with suggestions for specific cocktails (and I apologize for all those people who really expected me to offer a Bellini with a Bellini painting — come on, guys!!! — I need to be a bit more original than that . . .), but no one so far has suggested a work of art or a place. Please send me your ideas! [ed. note: How about Goya’s The Forge, Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl, El Greco’s Purification of the Temple, or Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds?]
Who: Cynthia Nixon, Bobby Cannavale, Derek McLane, Edie Falco, Erica Schmidt, Donja R. Love, Scott Elliott
What: Weekly discussions about the draw and power of theater
Where: The New Group Facebook page
When: Wednesdays at 4:00, May 6 - June 10, free with advance RSVP, followed by limited Zoom Q&A for $100 donation
Why: Theater companies have been coming up with unique ways to stay in touch with their audiences now that all live, in-person staged productions have been postponed or canceled for the near future. The New Group is joining the online gatherings with “Why We Do It,” a weekly conversation series hosted by company founding artistic director Scott Elliott. Every Wednesday at 4:00, Elliott will speak live online with a member of the New Group family, beginning May 6 with Cynthia Nixon, who has directed Steve and Rasheeda Speaking for the troupe. The impressive lineup continues May 13 with Bobby Cannavale (Hurlybury), May 20 with set designer extraordinaire and board chairman Derek McLane, May 27 with Edie Falco (The True), June 3 with playwright and director Erica Schmidt (Cyrano, All the Fine Boys), and June 10 with playwright Donja R. Love (one in two). All conversations are free, but advance registration is necessary. Each talk will be followed by a smaller “Drinks with” Zoom Q&A with the main guest, limited to twenty participants who make a $100 tax-deductible donation and will get a recipe for an original drink from mixologist Sammi Katz.
Who: Xavier F. Salomon
What: Happy-hour discussion of great works of art in the Frick Collection
Where: Frick YouTube channel
When: Fridays at 5:00, free
Why: One of my very favorite places in New York City is the Frick Collection, a kind of home away from home for me, where I go when I need to take a break from the rest of the world and relax among spectacular works of art — many of which I consider close friends — and sit peacefully in the enchanting garden with its lush fountain. But I’m now able to get a much-needed taste of the Frick — which opened in 1935, sixteen years after the death of Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick — with the fab program “Cocktails with a Curator.” Every Friday at 5:00, Frick chief curator Xavier F. Salomon enjoys a specifically chosen drink (recipe included for cocktail and mocktail) with viewers as he describes one of the museum’s treasures. On April 10, Salomon discussed Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert while sipping a Manhattan, followed on April 17 with a look at Rembrandt’s Polish Rider while enjoying a Szarlotka. On April 24, Salomon will delve into Anthony van Dyck’s Sir John Suckling with Pink Gin in hand. Speaking live from his New York City apartment, Salomon is seen in the lower right hand corner of the screen as the camera roams around the artwork, offering stunning detail; Salomon is wonderfully calm and straightforward as he explores the piece and relates its story to what is happening today during the pandemic.
Since May 2001, twi-ny has been recommending cool things to do throughout the five boroughs, popular and under-the-radar events that draw people out of their homes to experience film, theater, dance, art, literature, music, food, comedy, and more as part of a live audience in the most vibrant community on Earth.
With the spread of Covid-19 and the closing of all cultural institutions, sports venues, bars, and restaurants (for dining in), we feel it is our duty to prioritize the health and well-being of our loyal readers. So, for the next several weeks at least, we won’t be covering any public events in which men, women, and children must congregate in groups, a more unlikely scenario day by day anyway.
That said, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
Some parks are still open, great places to breathe in fresh air, feel the sunshine, and watch the changing of winter into spring. We will occasionally be pointing out various statues, sculptures, and installations, but check them out only if you are already going outside and will happen to be nearby.
You don’t have to shut yourself away completely for the next weeks and months — for now, you can still go grocery shopping and pick up takeout — but do think of others as you go about your daily life, which is going to be very different for a while. We want each and every one of you to take care of yourselves and your families, follow the guidelines for social distancing, and consider the health and well-being of those around you.
We look forward to seeing you indoors and at festivals and major outdoor events as soon as possible, once New York, America, and the rest of the planet are ready to get back to business. Until then, you can find us every so often under the sun, moon, clouds, and stars, finding respite in this amazing city now in crisis.
383 Troutman St., Bushwick
Wednesday - Sunday through October 31, $95 - $265
Company XIV founder and artistic director Austin McCormick outdoes himself with his latest baroque burlesque sensation, the decadently delightful Seven Sins. It’s so tailor-made for the extremely talented troupe that the only question is, what took them so long?
The company has previously staged outré cabaret adaptations of such fairy tales as Pinocchio, Cinderella, Snow White, and Queen of Hearts in addition to Paris! and the seasonal favorite Nutcracker Rouge. They now turn their attention to the original fairy tale itself, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Serving as host for the evening is the Devil (a fab Amy Jo Jackson), all glammed out in horns, sequins, and heels. Shortly after Adam (portrayed alternately by Scott Schneider or Cemiyon Barber; I saw the former) arrives on Earth, he is joined by Eve (Danielle Gordon or Emily Stockwell; I saw Gordon) through a bit of magic, leading to a lovely duet that incorporates contemporary dance and classical ballet to Dean Martin’s rendition of “If You Were the Only Girl in the World.” Temptation threatens in the form of a long snake carried aloft by several performers; Adam and Eve are offered a glittering red apple, feel shame in their (near-)nakedness, and cover their naughty bits with fig leaves to Paul Anka singing “Adam and Eve.”
In the next two acts, they encounter Vanity, Wrath, Lust, Jealousy, Sloth, Greed, and ultimately Gluttony, each sin getting its own scene involving dance, acrobatics, and/or song, all bursting with an intense sexuality and a wicked sense of humor. The music includes original songs by Lexxe along with classical instrumentals, opera, and tunes by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Nancy Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Florence and the Machine, Cardi B, the Beatles, and others. Pretty Lamé lets loose with a pair of gorgeous arias, while the awe-inspiring Marcy Richardson struts her stuff in an aerial cage and on a swinging pole and Troy Lingelbach and Nolan McKew dangle over the audience on a double lyra.
There are multiple ways to see the show, which is staged in Théâtre XIV in Bushwick, where the sexy baroque motif extends to the two bars and every nook and cranny. There are bar chairs, petite chairs, couches, small tables, and deluxe tables where patrons are served food and drink by the performers within the narrative. The set and costumes are by the awesomely inventive Zane Pihlström, with sensual lighting by Jeanette Yew and mischievous makeup by Sarah Cimino. Conceived, choreographed, and directed by McCormick, who also curated the special cocktail menu, Seven Sins encompasses all the best parts of Company XIV, immersing the audience in a lush and lascivious fantasy world where anything can happen. It does lose a bit of its momentum with two intermissions — the total running time is about two hours and fifteen minutes — and there are no bawdy vaudeville-like acts during the breaks, as there have been at previous shows of theirs. But let him/her/them who is without sin cast the first stone. And don’t be surprised if you experience all seven sins yourself during this fantabulous evening.
The McKittrick Hotel
530 West 27th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Wednesday - Monday through April 19, $85
A few months ago, I finally gave in and saw The Perfect Crime, the mystery that’s been running in Manhattan since 1987 and features Catherine Russell; having racked up more than thirteen thousand performances in the same role, she’s now in the Guinness Book of World Records. Yet there was nothing special about it that made me understand its longevity. So it was with both trepidation and curiosity that I went to the New York premiere of The Woman in Black, which has been playing in London’s West End continuously since 1989. The two-act, 130-minute show is being staged in the McKittrick Hotel’s Club Car, the previous home of the National Theatre of Scotland’s fun, immersive drama The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, among other presentations.
Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill’s Gothic novel and directed by Robin Herford, The Woman in Black gets off to a slow start, establishing a play-within-a-play format that could use a jump to get things going. A finicky old man named Arthur Kipps (David Acton) has hired an actor (Ben Porter) to punch up a ghost story he has written, based on events that happened to him. “I recalled that the way to banish an old ghost that continues its hauntings is to exorcise it,” Kipps says. “Well, then. Mine should be exorcised. I should tell my tale. I should set it down on paper, with every care and in every detail. I would write my own ghost story, and then, that my family might know and that I might be forever purged of it, relive it through the telling. The first part, the writing, I have done. Now comes the telling. I pray for God’s protection on us all.”
The first act introduces the audience to the setup: The old man has no sense of drama and repeatedly proclaims that he is not a performer, which is why he needs the Actor. (As in the script, Porter will heretofore be called Kipps, and Acton will be Actor.) In reciting the tale, the actor takes on the persona of Kipps as a young man, while Kipps juggles all the other roles, including a lawyer, a dapper gentleman with a dog, a landlord, a legal agent, and a carriage driver. Michael Holt’s set is spare, with a chair, a large wicker basket, and a curtain in the back that later reveals covered furniture behind it. Anshuman Bhatia’s lighting and Sebastian Frost’s sound play key parts in giving the show a bigger feel. Guests sit in chairs lined up in long rows; the bar features such cocktails as Woman in Black Punch, the Old McKittrick, and Mr Kipps. You can also have “Pie & a Pint”: a beer and a pub platter, pie & mash, or duck shepherd’s pie. A full dinner is available before the show.
The story that Kipps wants the Actor to tell is about himself as a young lawyer, as he travels to the end of nowhere, Eel Marsh House, for the funeral of a longtime client of his firm, the very much not-beloved Mrs Alice Drablow; in addition, he is to go through her papers to make sure her accounts are in order. As Kipps and the Actor play out the scenes, the latter often interrupts, concerned about how certain elements will be brought to life onstage. “There are so many things we cannot represent. How do we represent the dog, the sea, the causeway? How the pony and trap?” he asks. Kipps responds, “With imagination, Mr Kipps. Ours, and our audience’s.” He also notes that the unseen Mr Bunce will be using sound effects to further enhance the telling. The closer Kipps gets to Eel Marsh House, the creepier people act when they learn where he is going. And beware the Woman in Black, who’s liable to make you jump out of your skin.
The first act’s meta-discussion of stagecraft is repetitive and stodgy, but the show finally finds its groove in the second act, once Kipps arrives at his destination and dives into his research — and wonders what’s behind the locked door. After a bumpy beginning, the Actor settles into his responsibilities portraying numerous characters quite well while experiencing those long-gone days all over again. “I have a horror of it,” he tells Kipps. “Watching you, it is as if I relive it all, moment by moment . . . though you, of course, will never suffer as I did — I must always tell myself that.” Such is the nature of theater, which merely attempts to re-create and capture a sense of reality. There are plenty of scares as the denouement approaches; we were fortunate to have a screamer next to us, which was a bonus. Acton and Porter, who have performed the play in the West End, have an amiable camaraderie; Herford likes to keep things fresh, so he changes the cast in London every nine months (which is a far cry from the situation in The Perfect Crime). The Woman in Black is scheduled to run through March 8, but shows have a habit of extending at the McKittrick; Sleep No More has been playing there since 2011. [Ed. note: The Woman in Black has now been extended through April 19.] Of course, it looks like nothing will ever top The Mousetrap, the Agatha Christie show that has been running in the West End since 1952. Perhaps most important, The Woman in Black feels right at home in the Club Car, providing plenty of chills and thrills once the exposition gets out of the way.