The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned ninety-one years old on January 15; he was only thirty-nine when he was assassinated. In 1983, the third Monday in January was officially recognized as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the birthday of the civil rights leader who was shot and killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. You can celebrate his legacy on Monday by participating in the twenty-fifth annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service or attending one of numerous special events taking place around the city all weekend long. Below are some of the highlights.
Friday, January 17
BAMcafé Live 2020: BAMcafé Live Featuring Blak Emoji and Starchild & the New Romantic, curated by Black Rock Coalition, BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 9:00
Saturday, January 18
BAMcafé Live 2020: The 1865 w/ Major Taylor, curated by Black Rock Coalition, BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 9:00
Saturday, January 18
Monday, January 20
BCM Celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Volunteer Projects with Repair the World, Create a Peace Box workshop in ColorLab, Storytelling in the Sensory Room, and the Heart of a King Shadow Puppetry Workshop, $13, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday, January 19
Martin Luther King Day Choral Eucharist, with the Cathedral Choir, volunteer Chorale and Boy and Girl Choristers, and poet in residence emerita Marilyn Nelson, 11:00 am followed by a Spirituals SING led by Alice Parker, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 2:00, free
Soul to Soul, with IMPACT Repertory Theatre, Lisa Fishman, Cantor Magda Fishman, Elmore James, and Tony Perry, conceived and directed by Zalmen Mlotek, Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Pl., $35-$65, 2:00
Monday, January 20
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative March: “Equity Now: Today’s Youth Speak Out for Social Change,” Harriet Tubman Memorial Triangle on 122nd St. at 10:00 am to Manhattan Country School at 150 West 85th St. at 2:00, free
Thirty-Fourth Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with keynote speaker Nikole Hannah-Jones, performances by Son Little and the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir, the art exhibition “Picture the Dream,” and a screening of Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott & Sydney Pollack, 2018), BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave., free, 10:30 am
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including a scavenger hunt in the “Activist New York” exhibit, storytelling, and art workshops, Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave at 103rd St., free with museum admission of $14-$20 (under twenty free), 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Who: Fuminori Nousaku, Mio Tsuneyama, Jing Liu
What: Architectural talk
Where: Japan Society, 333 East 47th St. at First Ave., 212-715-1258
When: Friday, January 17, $15, 5:00
Why: In conjunction with the exhibition “Made in Tokyo: Architecture and Living, 1964/2020,” Japan Society is hosting the talk “Architectural New Wave: From Ruins to the Future of Housing,” featuring Tokyo architects Fuminori Nousaku and Mio Tsuneyama and moderated by SO–IL founder Jing Liu. The discussion will focus on sustainability and adaptive reuse, centering on Fuminori Nousaku Architects’ ongoing project “Holes in the House,” the renovation of a 1980s steel frame warehouse in Nishi, Shinagawa Ward. “Made in Tokyo,” which is curated and designed by Atelier Bow-Wow, continues through January 26, featuring drawings, plans, photography, video, and sculpture that depict the changing urban landscape between the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the upcoming 2020 Games. Among the highlights are Nobuaki Takekawa’s “Cat Olympics: Soccer Field,” Tomoyuki Tanaka’s “Dismantling of Shinjuku Station,” and akihisa hirata’s “nine hours Akasuka, Capsule Hotel.” At 6:00 Friday night, the popular mixer “Escape East @ 333” includes free admission to the galleries with RSVP, a docent-led tour, complimentary snacks, drink specials, and a site-specific installation by Zai Nomura.
New Museum of Contemporary Art
235 Bowery at Prince St.
Thursday, January 16, $10, 7:00
Exhibition continues through January 26
Debate has raged across the country over public statues honoring figures who are now considered by many to be controversial, from Civil War leaders to doctors and presidents. Here in New York, there have been calls to take down James Earle Fraser’s statue of Theodore Roosevelt because of claims that Roosevelt was a white supremacist, and She Built NYC, organized to erect statues of pioneering women, refused to include Mother Frances Cabrini in their final list of subjects even though she garnered the most nominations in a public vote. (Governor Cuomo intervened; a statue of the saint will go up in Battery Park’s South Cove.) On January 16, the New Museum is hosting the panel discussion “The Plinth and Monumentality,” which will examine monument-making from multiple angles. The conversation, featuring artist and curator Kendal Henry of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, artist and Hunter College associate professor Paul Ramírez Jonas (whose “Half-Truths” ran at the museum last year), architect, designer, and educator J. Meejin Yoon, and moderator Andrew An Westover of the New Museum, is being held in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition “Hans Haacke: All Connected,” a retrospective of the eighty-three-year-old German-born, New York-based artist who has been exploring the sociopolitical links between art and commerce, class, corporations, and the environment through photography, sculpture, and installation for more than half a century.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is Haacke’s 2014 Gift Horse, a large-scale sculpture of the skeleton of a horse mounted on a platform, taking up much of the fourth floor gallery space. An electronic bow around its frontal thighbone transmits a live digital printout of the FTSE 100 ticker of the New York Stock Exchange. Also on view is DER BEVÖLKERUNG [TO THE POPULATION], a provocative public project Haacke proposed for the Bundestag. In a catalog interview, Haacke notes, “I consider how the public might understand a work and whether it would, indeed, promote openness and democratic values or — to put it in French revolutionary terms — liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
AULCIE (Dani Menkin, 2019)
Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Thursday, January 16, 8:30
Festival runs January 15-28
Israeli director Dani Menkin follows up his 2016 documentary, On the Map, about Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv’s unlikely victory in the 1976-77 European Champions Cup, with an inside look into the life of one of its stars in Aulcie, the opening night selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival. After being the last man cut from the New York Knicks in 1976, Newark native Aulcie Perry was recruited to play for Maccabi in Israel, where the 6-10 black man — an unusual sight in the Land of Milk and Honey — quickly became a superstar, helping the team to championships, falling in love with top model Tami Ben Ami, and hanging out in hot clubs, living the high life. But it all came tumbling down in a haze of drugs, and Menkin traces Perry’s attempt to put it all back together, primarily by finding the daughter he has not seen since she was a baby.
The film is set up as Perry’s confession to that daughter, Cierra Musungay. “I always knew one thing: that I wanted to tell you my story, the way it is, with the good and the bad,” he says at the beginning. “So where do I start? People say you start at the beginning. But I wanted to start at the end, or when I thought the end was coming.” He was inspired to track her down after facing a serious health scare. “I think, that only when I almost died, I started to really live. And that’s when I wanted to find you and, maybe in some ways, find myself,” he adds.
Menkin goes back and forth between archival footage, animation by Assaf Zellner, and interviews with Aulcie’s sister Bernadine Lewis, his friends Wayne Tyre and Roy Young, his ex-girlfriend Juanita Jackson, his son Aulcie Perry Jr., and many men from his Maccabi family, including former teammates Earl Williams and Tal Brody, team president Shimon Mizrahi, co-owner Oudi Recanati, coach Zvi Sherf, and manager Shamluk Maharovsky, who was like a father to him. “In Israel, there wasn’t that much prejudice against black players, and he felt at home here,” NBA commentator Simmy Reguer says. “Aulcie came in like a blessing from the gods,” fellow Jersey native and team captain Brody recalls. And Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff explains, “At Maccabi Tel Aviv, Aulcie Perry was Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rolled into one.”
Now sixty-nine, Perry is honest and forthright thorughout, admitting his failings and wanting to make up for lost time. He makes no excuses for his precipitous fall, and he’s not seeking sympathy. He’s a man who made mistakes and wants a chance to set things right. Aulcie is a cautionary tale of redemption with heart and soul, focusing on the need to be part of a family, no matter how different and unexpected it may be. Aulcie is having its New York City premiere January 16 at 8:30 at the Walter Reade Theater, with Perry, Menkin, and producer Nancy Spielberg (brother of Steven) participating in a Q&A. Aulcie might be the opening selection of the New York Jewish Film Festival, but the twenty-ninth annual fest actually kicks off a day earlier with Picture of His Life, a documentary codirected by Menkin and Yonatan Nir about Yom Kippur War veteran and underwater photographer Amos Nachoum, showing on January 15 at 1:00, with Menkin, Spielberg, and Nachoum present. A joint presentation of Film at Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum, the festival continues through January 28 with such other works as Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s centerpiece The Birch Tree Meadow, starring Anouk Aimée and August Diehl, a fiftieth anniversary presentation of Vittorio De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, and Dror Zahavi’s closing night selection, Crescendo, about an attempt to establish an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra.
London-born comedian and disability activist Jess Thom returns to the BRIC House Ballroom with a spectacular sixty-minute presentation, a brilliantly conceived evening that reimagines the theatrical experience, for both actor and audience. In May 2016, Thom, who has Tourette Syndrome, held the New York premiere of her Edinburgh Fringe hit Backstage in Biscuit Land at the Brooklyn arts institution, delivering a “one-woman show for two” that humorously looks at her life and how she deals with Tourette’s, a neurological disorder that causes her to uncontrollably shout out words and phrases, such as “biscuit,” “hedgehog,” “sausage,” “I love cats,” and “Fuck a goat.” (Only ten percent of those with Tourette’s have copralalia, involving foul language.) She also uses a wheelchair, as her disability comprises various physical tics, such as banging her chest whenever she says “biscuit,” that make it too dangerous for her to walk on her feet.
Back at BRIC for the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, Thom is performing Samuel Beckett’s 1972 monologue Not I in a relaxed, inclusive environment. As you enter the small, intimate black-box space, Thom is in her wheelchair, greeting each audience member and inviting them to sit either on cushions, benches, or folding chairs. She is friendly and outgoing, and she doesn’t pause or change moods when the tics come up. She even plays off them; for example, when she says, “I love cats,” she quickly adds something like, “Well, I don’t really even like cats,” and when she proclaims, “Fuck a goat,” she responds by assuring everyone that no one will be having sex with an animal. Meanwhile, to her right, ASL performer Lindsey D. Snyder signs everything Thom says, including the verbal tics. Reaching the whole audience matters to Thom: The seating in Not I is inspired by how she was rudely treated when she attended a 2011 show by stand-up comic Mark Thomas, when theater staff confined her to a sound booth because other members of the audience objected to her gesticulations and vocal outbursts.
Once everyone is settled, she explains the plans for the evening and describes how a friend had told her that she should consider staging her own version of Not I, because it relates so organically to her life. The play, which has been performed by such actresses as Jessica Tandy, Beckett muse Billie Whitelaw, Julianne Moore, and Lisa Dwan and gets its title because it is told in the third person by the protagonist, is an ellipses-filled diatribe of incomplete thoughts and tangents that generally runs between nine and fifteen minutes; it is not a race, but the performer is expected to go through the 2,268 words as fast as possible. “I am not unduly concerned with intelligibility. I hope the piece may work on the nerves of the audience, not its intellect,” Beckett wrote in a 1972 letter to Tandy prior to the play’s world premiere at Lincoln Center. Dressed all in black, wearing a balaclava and a hoodie, Thom, in her wheelchair, is lifted eight feet in the air (the set is designed by Ben Pacey), and she is lit so only the bottom half of her face can be seen. Usually, only the actress’s mouth can be seen, as if it exists by itself, but changes had to be made because of Thom’s Tourette’s. As she power-drives through the piece, she occasionally gets caught in a series of “biscuit” moments but then forges ahead. She is moving through the dialogue so fast, and so unpredictably, that Snyder, also dressed in black and taking the place of the Auditor, the second character in the play, is practically dancing on the floor. (Beckett’s movement directions for the Auditor note, “This consists in simple sideways raising of arms from sides and their falling back, in a gesture of helpless compassion.”)
The audience is not meant to understand every word and plot detail as a woman, identified as “Mouth” in the script, relates several stories involving shopping in a supermarket, going to court, sitting on a mound in Croker’s Acres, and searching for cowslips in a field, bringing up such concepts as shame, torment, sin, pleasure, and guilt. This protagonist has suffered an unnamed trauma that has led to her becoming an outcast from society and virtually unable to communicate with others via speech. It’s clear why Thom’s friend suggested Not I for her, perhaps most evident from the following excerpt:
“what? . . tongue? . . yes . . . lips . . . cheeks . . . jaws . . . tongue . . . never still a second . . . mouth on fire . . . stream of words . . . in her ear . . . practically in her ear . . . not catching the half . . . not the quarter . . . no idea what she’s saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she’s saying! . . and can’t stop . . . no stopping it . . . she who but a moment before . . . but a moment! . . could not make a sound . . . no sound of any kind . . . now can’t stop . . . imagine! . . can’t stop the stream . . . and the whole brain begging . . . something begging in the brain . . . begging the mouth to stop . . . pause a moment . . . if only for a moment . . . and no response . . . as if it hadn’t heard . . . or couldn’t . . . couldn’t pause a second . . . like maddened . . . all that together . . . straining to hear . . . piece it together . . . and the brain . . . raving away on its own . . . trying to make sense of it . . . or make it stop . . .”
When we go to live theater and watch someone stumble over lines or hesitate and stammer as if they’ve lost their place, our hearts tend to sink and we don’t want the actor to be embarrassed. But when Thom, tearing through the words at a frenetic pace, suddenly goes into “biscuit” mode, not only are we rooting for her, we are with her every second, willing her on to get to the finish line with glory. It’s exhilarating when she storms back into Beckett’s language. But it’s important to note that we are not rooting for her because of or in spite of her disability (a word, by the way, that she freely uses); we are helping carry her to the end in a communal act that goes far beyond mere kindness.
The Beckett section is followed by Sophie Robinson’s short documentary Me, My Mouth, and I, which goes behind the scenes of the creation of Thom’s performance, and then Thom — who is also known as Touretteshero for her work with children and for her same-named organization that seeks to “change the world one tic at a time” — offers the audience the chance to talk to their neighbors about their thoughts on the play and ask her questions. The evening, which is passionately directed by her longtime collaborator Matthew Pountney, concludes with Thom signing copies of her 2012 book, Welcome to Biscuitland, in which Stephen Fry writes in the foreword, “Jess is a true hero, with or without her Touretteshero costume. Jess fuck biscuit Thom, I biscuit fuck fuck biscuit salute biscuit you.” And so will you.
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
In the introduction to his most recent book, The Empire and the Five Kings: America’s Abdication and the Fate of the World, published in February 2019, controversial and provocative Algerian-born French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy writes, “When I review the reasons why, at this stage of my life, I poured so much energy into the cause of the Kurds and Kurdistan, this is what comes to mind. The justice of the fight, of course. . . .
“Next, there is the debt they are owed. The indelible debt that the world owes to the only armed force that, when ISIS appeared and the region was frozen stiff with terror, dared fight it face-to-face. It was because I was aware of this debt that I, with a small band of friends, came to the region between July and December 2015 to shoot a documentary film, Peshmerga, along the six-hundred-mile front that the Kurds were holding, alone, against the fanatics of the Islamic State. It was because I was aware that these men and women — the Peshmerga includes battalions of women — were the first line of defense not only of Kurdistan but of the world, that I left Europe again in November 2016, on the first day of the fight for Mosul, to make a second documentary, The Battle of Mosul, about the liberation of the most important city of the Caliphate. And it was for the same reasons that I personally promoted these films wherever anyone was willing to show them, that I brought the first of them to the very symbolic great hall of the United Nations building in New York and to the hallowed dome of Congress in Washington, and that I lived those two years in step with the Peshmerga and their aspirations. These fighters were sentinels against barbarism, the world’s outposts and shields. The film crew and I deemed it essential to be the witnesses of that.”
What Lévy and his brave crew were witnesses to can be seen at the Quad, which will be hosting the series “Bernard-Henri Lévy x 4,” with the seventy-one-year-old Lévy, popularly known as BHL, making four appearances at the Thirteenth St. theater this weekend. The festival begins with the weeklong theatrical release of 2016’s Peshmerga and 2017’s The Battle of Mosul, shown as a double feature; the 7:00 screenings on January 10 and 11 will be followed by Q&As with Lévy, the first moderated by Adam Gopnik, the latter by Ben Cohen. In addition, on January 11, Lévy will introduce the 2:15 screening of 1994’s Bosnia-set Bosna! and the 4:45 screening of 2012’s The Oath of Tobruk, about the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Peshmerga and The Battle of Mosul are remarkable inside looks at war; Lévy, who has also directed the romance Day and Night and written such books as Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, In the Footsteps of Tocqueville, and In the Spirit of Judaism, embeds himself with the Peshmerga, troops dedicated to ridding the world of ISIS, aka Daesh; the name Peshmerga translates as “Those who stand in the face of death,” and that’s just what happens throughout the two films. Lévy rides with the Kurdish military, joining the somewhat ragtag but dedicated group of fighters as they investigate villages, journey into tunnels, and get shot at in bunkers. Along the way from Kirkuk to Erbil and Mosul, he encounters such brave men and women as General Kemal Kirkuki, General Maghdid Harki, Mike Barzani, Dr. Jacques Bérès, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Iraqi general Fazeel Barwari, counterterrorism leader Abdulwahab al-Saadi, and Helly Luv, the Kurdish Madonna who makes anti-Daesh music videos. “Daesh is the enemy of the whole world,” one soldier says, explaining why they do what they do — and are extremely successful at it. Lévy risks his life and that of his crew, which includes cinematographers Ala Hoshyar Tayyeb, Olivier Jacquin, and Camille Lotteau, one of whom gets caught in an explosion. He thankfully chooses not to show the killing of one general, who gets shot in the head while using sandbags for cover, something Lévy will never forget.
The films feature gripping scores by Nicolas Ker, Jean-Fabien Dijoud, Henri Graetz, and Jeff D., with sound by Jean-Daniel Bécache and editing by Camille Lotteau that make you feel like you’re part of the action, the threat of snipers, booby-trapped vehicles, and IEDs ever present. “Good God, how ugly, dirty, and foul war is!” Lévy cries out, but he also sees reason for hope. “The spirit of Bashiqa, the timeless alliance between Yezidis, Muslims, and Christians, promptly flourishes again,” he says at one point while also showing villagers’ respect for the history of the region’s now-departed Jewish population.
“We witnessed the astonishing spectacle of the world’s leading power consenting to the defeat and humiliation of its staunchest ally in the region,” he continues in the book’s introduction. “We saw the same President Trump, who had just declared Iran to be enemy number one in the complicated Middle East, voice no objection as Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, the elite unit of the Iranian revolutionary Guards responsible for Iran’s external operations, came and went, parading around the field of battle like a conqueror and posing for photographers. . . . The Kurds perceived this nonintervention as a terrifying enigma.” It should be fascinating to hear what he has to say about Trump and Soleimani now. Lévy also notes of the fighters who lined up to vote at the ballot box, “Like them, I was thinking that this affair bore an unmistakable odor of betrayal. Like them, I was shocked by the mixture of amateurism, fecklessness, and absence of vision of the U.S. and European administrations.”
Performance Space New York
150 First Ave. at Ninth St.
January 11-12, day pass $35, weekend pass $55
The second annual “Knowledge of Wounds,” celebrating indigenous cultures through readings, discussions, performances, and ritual gatherings, takes place January 11-12 at Performance Space New York in the East Village. Organized by S. J Norman (Koori, Wiradjuri descent) and Joseph M. Pierce (Cherokee Nation), the event explores ideas of threshold spaces, displacement, settler colonialism, borders, and community. Below is the full schedule; tickets are $35 for one day and $55 for both days.
Saturday, January 11
Morning physical session with devynn emory and Joshua.P, noon
Opening Blessing & Group Prayers with the Fire, 1:00
Kinstillatory Action, with Emily Johnson, 2:30
Bodies in Resistance, 4:00
Active rest with devynn emory and Joshua.P, 5:30
Story time with Joe Cross and Donna Couteau, 6:00
Shadow Songs and Root Mirrors, with Laura Ortman, Demian DinéYazhi’ and Kevin Holden, and Elisa Harkins, 8:30
Ixkin: Kaxb’ichil, Xamal, Ootzaqib’al / ThreeStones: Wound, Fire, Knowledge — Tohil Fidel Brito, in collaboration with María Regina Firmino-Castillo and with the participation of Amaru Márquez Ambía, 10:30
Sunday, January 12
Morning physical session with devynn emory and Joshua.P, noon
Opening blessing and fire ritual blessing with Javier Stell-Frésquez, 1:00
Making Love to the Land, 2:30
La utopía de la mariposa, María Regina Firmino-Castillo, 4:30
Ancestral Skin, with Holly Mitiquq Nordlum, 6:00
Sustenance with Chef Quentin Glabus of I-Collective, 8:00
Night offering and fire ritual with devynn emory and Joshua.P, 9:30