Who: Mary Esther Carter, Richard Savery, A.I. Anne, Janet Biggs
What: Final presentation of “SO⅃OS: a space of limit as possibility”
Where: Fridman Gallery online
When: Thursday, July 30, $5 for access to all twelve performances, 8:00
Why: In July 2019, I experienced multimedia artist Janet Biggs’s workshop presentation of her work-in-progress performance of How the Light Gets In, an extraordinary collaboration at the New Museum exploring the ever-growing relationship between humans and technology, with singer and dancer Mary Esther Carter; machine learning program A.I. Anne; composer and music technologist Richard Savery; drummer Jason Barnes, who lost an arm in an accident so uses a robotic prosthesis; marathon runner Brian Reynolds, a double (below-knee) amputee who is fitted with carbon fiber running prostheses; and violinists Earl Maneein and Mylez Gittens.
The Pennsylvania-born, Brooklyn-based Biggs has traveled to unusual places all over the world for her video installations, including a sulfur mine in the Ijen volcano in East Java (A Step on the Sun), the Taklamakan desert in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (Point of No Return), a coal mine in the Arctic (Brightness All Around), the crystal caverns below the German Merkers salt mine (Can’t Find My Way Home), and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (Vanishing Point). She’s also all set to go to Mars after several simulated adventures.
During the pandemic lockdown, Biggs has been hunkering down at home with her her husband and occasional cinematographer, Bob Cmar, and their cat, Hooper, but that hasn’t kept her from creating bold and inventive new work. On July 30, she will debut the site-specific multimedia performance piece Augmentation and Amplification, concluding the Fridman Gallery’s terrific “SO⅃OS” series, cutting-edge performances made during the coronavirus crisis that incorporate the empty gallery space on Bowery, delving into the feeling of isolation that hovers over us all. (The program also features Daniel Neumann’s Soundcheck, Luke Stewart’s Unity Elements, Abigail Levine’s Fat Chance, Hermes, and Diamanda Galás’s Broken Gargoyles, among others; a five-dollar fee gives you access to all the works.)
In her third conversation with twi-ny, Biggs takes us behind the scenes of her latest innovative, boundary-pushing project.
twi-ny: You’re so used to traveling. What’s it been like being stuck at home?
janet biggs: Working on the performance has been a saving grace for me — to have something to focus on that feels exciting. But it has also had its share of interesting challenges.
twi-ny: How did it come about?
jb: I was asked by experimental sound artist and audio engineer Daniel Neumann if I would be interested in doing a performance for the series he was organizing for Fridman Gallery. The premise was that he would set up the gallery space with audio mics, projectors, and cameras, clean the whole space, and leave. The performer would be given a code to the lock on the gallery so they could safely enter the space by themselves and perform within shelter-in-place guidelines. During the performance, Daniel mixes the sound remotely from his home and livestreams it.
I loved his premise, but I don’t perform. I direct. I said I was eager to figure out a way to direct from home and send both a live performer and an Artificial Intelligence entity into the space. Both Daniel and gallery owner and director Iliya Fridman were excited about my proposal and gave complete support to the idea.
twi-ny: And then you turned to Mary Esther Carter and Richard Savery.
jb: Yes, I reached out to Mary and Richard, both of whom I worked with on the performance you saw at the New Museum. Happily, they were up for the challenge.
twi-ny: Which led you back to A.I. Anne.
jb: Richard has been working on expanding A.I. Anne’s abilities and neural diversity. A.I. Anne was trained on Mary’s voice and named for my aunt, who was autistic and had apraxia. Since the performance last year, A.I. Anne has gained more agency through deep machine learning and semantic knowledge. The entity can now express and respond to emotion. We are also using phenotypic data and first-person accounts of people on the autism spectrum for vocal patterning.
We want to explore neural diversity and inclusion in creative collaborations between humans and machines. Our challenge was how to get A.I. Anne in the gallery so she could perform live. A.I. is a disembodied virtual entity. Richard lives in Atlanta. While A.I. Anne is autonomous, Richard needed to be able to receive a single audio channel of Mary’s voice from the gallery and then send back a single channel audio response from A.I. Anne. With strong wifi and the right software, our tests from Atlanta to the gallery have been successful, so keep your fingers crossed for Thursday.
twi-ny: What was it like collaborating long distance?
jb: I’ve been having rehearsals with Mary and Richard for the last couple weeks via Zoom. We have been able to work out the choreography remotely and even developed some new camera angles due to the constraints of cellphone cameras and apartment sizes. The percussive soundtrack that Mary will dance to was generated by EEG sonification, the process of turning data into sound. Richard developed a process where he could use his brainwaves to control a drumset, creating a kind of brain-beat.
And lastly, I’ve been editing video images. Some will be projected on walls in the gallery and some will be a video overlay, run by the streaming software so that we essentially will have multiple layers of images and live action. If all goes well, I think this will be a pretty exciting performance.
twi-ny: Is that all? You don’t exactly make things easy for yourself.
jb: I’ve been to the gallery myself to see the layout and make some staging/lighting decisions. I will send Daniel a floor plan marked with my staging decisions and a tech-script. Daniel will set up the space (projector angles, lighting, camera and microphone placements) during the day on Thursday and then completely clean the space. Thursday evening, Mary will enter the space alone. Richard will run A.I. Anne from his computer in Atlanta. Daniel will mix the sound and images remotely into a livestream Vimeo channel that the audience can access from their homes. And I’ll be watching from home, holding my breath that everything works!
Who: Kes, Lila Downs, Junglepussy, Madison McFerrin, Shantell Martin, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo, Yemi Alade, Buscabulla, Glendalys Medina, the Tallest Man on Earth, Common, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins, Michelle Buteau
What: BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
Where: BRIC Facebook, YouTube
When: Saturday, July 25, and Sunday, July 26, free, 8:00
Why: Every summer I make sure to return to the borough of my birth, in the park where my parents used to push me around in a stroller, to revel in the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, a months-long party of music, dance, art, food, and camaraderie. Of course, with New York City in pandemic lockdown, the in-person festival has been canceled; however, you can get a taste of what you’re missing when Celebrate Brooklyn! goes virtual this weekend. A wide-ranging collection of international performers will be taking part, with Kes, Lila Downs, Junglepussy, Madison McFerrin with Shantell Martin, and ?uestlove (DJ set) on Saturday night and Angelique Kidjo, Yemi Alade, Buscabulla with visual artist Glendalys Medina, the Tallest Man on Earth, and Common joined by Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins on Sunday evening. The event will be hosted live on Facebook, YouTube, and Brooklyn cable channels by comedian and actress Michelle Buteau. In addition, there will be an all-star finale celebrating the greatest borough in the world. The festival is free, but donations will be accepted for the BRIC Creative Future Relief Fund here.
Who: Diamanda Galás
What: Livestreamed broadcast from empty gallery
Where: Fridman Gallery
When: Thursday, July 23, $5, 8:00
Why: Fridman Gallery and CT::SWaM (Contemporary Temporary:: Sound Works and Music) continue their SO⅃OS livestreamed performance series on July 23 with experimental musician, lecturer, activist, and visual artist Diamanda Galás. The San Diego-born Galás, who has released such albums as Plague Mass, Defixiones: Orders from the Dead, Vena Cava, Schrei X, and The Refugee, will present Broken Gargoyles, an audiovisual installation recorded in the empty Fridman Gallery on Bowery and offsite and mixed remotely, featuring music, script, video, and photography by Galás and two expressionist poems by Georg Heym, “Das Fieberspital” and “Die Dämonen der Städte”; Galás willl read an excerpt from the latter. (You can see a clip from her 2013 performance of the poem here.) A work in progress made with artist and sound engineer Daniel Neumann, video artist Carlton Bright, and artist Robert Knoke, Broken Gargoyles takes its name from the phrase used in WWI to describe facially disfigured soldiers and includes a war-era photo by Ernst Freidrich. Tickets are five dollars to watch the livestream or any time thereafter; you can also still catch earlier SO⅃OS installments by such artists as Neumann, Luke Stewart, Mendi and Keith Obadike, and Marina Rosenfeld / Ben Vida (solos). The series concludes July 30 with the multidisciplinary Augmentation and Amplification with Janet Biggs, Mary Esther Carter, Richard Savery, and A.I. Anne.
Who: Dance Theatre of Harlem
What: Livestreamed performances and discussions
Where: Dance Theatre of Harlem YouTube channel
When: July 16-18, free
Why: Dance Theatre of Harlem is continuing its fiftieth anniversary, dubbed “50 Forward,” with virtual presentations this summer. DTH on Demand launched last month with Arthur Mitchell and Frederic Franklin’s adaptation of Creole Giselle, Grand Moultrie’s Vessels, Robert Garland’s Return, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Balamouk. The next iteration is under way, featuring an extended look at last year’s Works & Process performance at the Guggenheim and exciting programs built around Nacho Duato’s Coming Together. Last week the troupe livestreamed “Inside Works & Process: The Four Temperaments,” a panel discussion with George Balanchine Trust répétiteur Deborah Wingert, New York City Ballet solo pianist Susan Walters, and DTH company artist Daphne Lee; “Tones II — A Reflection on Arthur Mitchell,” a talk with company artists Derek Brockington, Choong Hoon Lee, Amanda Smith and former DTH ballerina and board member China White, former ballerinas Gayle McKinney and Brenda Garrett-Glassman, and former principal dancer Donald Williams; and the online premiere of the full-length Guggenheim Rotunda performance from September 30, 2019, consisting of Nyman String Quartet No.2 (choreographed by Robert Garland, with music by Michael Nyman), the first three of The Four Temperaments (choreographed by George Balanchine, with music by Paul Hindemith), and Tones II (choreographed by Mitchell, with a score by Tania León).
This week DTH delves into Duato’s powerful piece, which was commissioned in 1991 for Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid and was inspired by a letter Attica prisoner Sam Melville wrote on May 16, 1971. The letter reads today as if it were composed during the coronavirus pandemic: “I think the combination of age and a greater coming together is responsible for the speed of the passing time. It’s six months now and I can tell you truthfully few periods in my life have passed so quickly. I am in excellent physical and emotional health. There are doubtless subtle surprises ahead, but I feel secure and ready. As lovers will contrast their emotions in times of crisis, so am I dealing with my environment. In the indifferent brutality, incessant noise, the experimental chemistry of food, the ravings of lost hysterical men, I can act with clarity and meaning. I am deliberate — sometimes even calculating — seldom employing histrionics except as a test of the reactions of others. I read much, exercise, talk to guards and inmates, feeling for the inevitable direction of my life.” Melville was shot and killed during the Attica uprising four months later. On July 16 at 8:00, company artist Crystal Serrano and professor and former dancer Eva Lopez Crevillen will take viewers “Inside Coming Together: Staging the Ballet”; on July 17 at 8:00, “The Greater Coming Together” explores the minimalist score by Frederic Rzewski; and on July 18 at 8:00, the full work will have its virtual premiere, hosted by company artist Lindsey Donnell and including a live interactive chat on YouTube with company artist Dylan Santos. DTH has also been holding live open classes and artist talks regularly on its Instagram and Facebook pages.
Who: Baryshnikov Arts Center
What: Free virtual series
Where: Baryshnikov Arts Center online
When: Thursdays at 5:00, free (available through the following Tuesday at 5:00)
Why: Baryshnikov Arts Center is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary virtually, streaming a wide range of archival performances that display its diversity, from dance and music to theater and poetry. Its second series of “PlayBAC: Performances from the Archive” begins July 16-21 with Trisha Brown Dance Company’s Opal Loop / Cloud Installation #72503, filmed ten years ago in the Howard Gilman Performance Space, where Leah Morrison, Nicholas Strafaccia, Laurel J. Tentindo, and Samuel von Wentz move quietly around a smokey stage, with costumes by Judith Shea, lighting by Beverly Emmons, and visual presentation by Fujiko Nakaya creating a mystical atmosphere. The look back continues with Aszure Barton’s Over/Come July 23-28 (with members of Hell’s Kitchen Dance), the Quodlibet Ensemble July 30 - August 4, Company SBB / Stefanie Batten Bland’s A Place of Sun August 6-11, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith reading Catalan poetry August 13-18, and doug elkins choreography, etc.’s Scott, Queen of Marys August 20-25, featuring Javier Ninja. The videos will be introduced by founding artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov and several of the artists. The first series consisted of works by Rocío Molina, the Latvian National Choir, Rashaun Mitchell, Merasi: Master Musicians of Rajasthan, Vertigo Dance Company, and singer/songwriter Somi, but you cannot see them anymore because they are available for only a limited time, so don’t miss this opportunity to see this second collection of cutting-edge presentations, for free.
Trisha Brown Dance Company, Opal Loop / Cloud Installation #72503 (1980), Howard Gilman Performance Space, filmed April 10, 2010
Aszure Barton, Over/Come (2005), Studio Showing, Rudolf Nureyev Studio, filmed June 16, 2005
July 30 - August 4
Quodlibet Ensemble: Music by Biber, Martynov + Sharlat, Jerome Robbins Theater, filmed December 5, 2018
Company SBB / Stefanie Batten Bland, A Place of Sun (2012), world premiere, Jerome Robbins Theater, filmed May 17, 2012
Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith: A Reading of Catalan poetry, Howard Gilman Performance Space, filmed March 23, 2007
doug elkins choreography, etc., Scott, Queen of Marys (1994), Howard Gilman Performance Space, filmed December 7, 2012
Who: Special guests
What: Livestream film premiere of Kaye Ballard — The Show Goes On! with bonuses before and after screening
Where: Facebook Live
When: Tuesday, July 14, free, 8:00
Why: In January 2019, the one and only Kaye Ballard passed away at the age of ninety-three. If you don’t know anything about her, you need to, and you can do so on July 14 when the documentary Kaye Ballard — The Show Goes On! makes its virtual premiere for free on Facebook Live. Ballard was a beloved singer, actress, and comedian perhaps best known for her many guest appearances on talk shows, game shows, and variety programs, from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (and Jack Paar) and The Mike Douglas Show to Hollywood Squares and The Perry Como Show; she also appeared on such sitcoms as The Mothers-in-Law, The Doris Day Show, and What a Dummy in addition to a bunch of films, burlesque and vaudeville, and more than two dozen stage shows, going back to 1946.
In Kaye Ballard — The Show Goes On!, director Dan Wingate speaks with Ann Margret, Jerry Stiller, Carol Burnett, Harold Prince, Carol Channing, Michael Feinstein, Rex Reed, Joy Behar, Peter Marshall, and Ballard herself, who is seen in new interviews, classic archival footage, and clips from her 2017 one-woman show about her life. “I don’t know where I got it, I don’t know why it happened, but I think I’m lucky because I always knew what I wanted to do,” she says in the film. And now you can consider yourself lucky to discover the great Kaye Ballard either for the first time or all over again; the advance screening (the virtual release is set for July 17) will be preceded by a special introduction and followed by a surprise bonus.
Who: David Byrne, David Mitchell
What: Online discussion and Q&A
Where: 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center
When: Tuesday, July 14, $35, 6:00
Why: In his Broadway show American Utopia, Scotland-born former Talking Heads American lead singer David Byrne adapted songs from throughout his career into a stunningly conceived stage musical with a mobile, untethered band, choreography by Annie-B Parson, and a narrative delving into the nature of the human brain and our experience on this planet, featuring such songs as “Here,” “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” “Bullet,” and “Road to Nowhere.” In his brand-new novel, Utopia Avenue, English author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green) follows the life and times of a fictional British psychedelic band; the first chapter is titled “Abandon Hope.” On July 14 at 6:00, Byrne and Mitchell will discuss their latest work and the state of the world in a livestreamed discussion from wherever they are sheltering in place; the event is hosted by the 92nd St. Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and the Community Bookstore in Park Slope. Tickets are $35 but come with a signed copy of Utopia Avenue; the first one hundred purchasers will get the opportunity to briefly chat virtually one-on-one with Mitchell.