This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Touch takes place on the sidewalk, with Madison Square Park in the background (photo by Maria Baranova)

Blessed Unrest; NYC Open Culture Program
Saturday, May 8, 7:00, and Sunday, May 9, 3:00 & 5:00
Admission: free with RSVP (suggested donation $25)
East 26th Street (between 5th and Madison Avenue, NYC)

The Manhattan-based Blessed Unrest company explores our deep-seated need for physical and emotional connection in Touch, a dance-theater piece performed guerrilla-style just outside Madison Square Park. Part of the city’s Open Culture Program, the forty-five-minute work takes place on the sidewalk near the southwest corner of East Twenty-Sixth St. and Broadway, the park right behind them. Wearing masks, Michael Gene Jacobs, Tatyana Kot, Ariel Polanco, and Anna Wulfekuhle nimbly move across a long bench and interact with a lamppost, a circular bike rack, and a low railing around a tree as overlapping stories are broadcast from two small, portable speakers. The narratives, based on personal stories of isolation shared by the performers and edited and expanded by Keith Hamilton Cobb (American Moor) and Teddy Jefferson (One Inch Leather, The Insomniac), involve Oedipus, a horse, and a mysterious neighbor. The socially distanced audience, also wearing masks, stand or sit in the street, which is blocked off to vehicular traffic but not to pedestrians and bicyclists, who sometimes walk or pedal right through the performance, lending an unpredictable quality to the proceedings.

Performers make use of a bench, a bike rack, a lamppost, and more in site-specific Touch (photo by Maria Baranova)

“When we finished working on our 2015 show Body: Anatomies of Being, which was also built around personal testimonials from the performers, we felt strongly that the idea of touch hadn’t been explored fully in the final work,” director Jessica Burr (The Snow Queen, Eurydice’s Dream), who founded the company in 1999, said in a statement. “It seemed particularly fitting to revisit this subject now, as the months of detachment and related touch deprivation began to take a toll on all of us. When workshopping this piece remotely, each in our own isolated bubble, we spoke about research on mirror neurons and the emotional brain. That research suggests that our witnessing of the authentic corporeal experiences of others can stimulate the very same visceral response in our own brains, as though the experience were ours. It’s the forging of literal compassion through neural growth in our audiences.”

Touch, which features music composition, arrangement, and sound design by Adrian Bridges and costumes by Sohn Plenefisch, continues May 8 and 9; admission is free with RSVP. (There is a suggested donation of $25.) Be sure to also take a walk through Madison Square Park, where Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest, consisting of forty-nine bare trees representing impending environmental calamity, is on view through mid-November.

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