Who: Jody Oberfelder Projects, Frank London Ensemble
What: Live site-specific performance
Where: East River Park Amphitheater
When: Monday, June 21, suggested donation $15, 6:30
Why: The continuing effort to save East River Park includes protecting the bandshell-like amphitheater, which has become an important place of creation during the pandemic. On March 15, choreographer Andrea Miller, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns released the five-minute short Another Dance Film, in which Mearns, following a cautious approach, propels herself around the mostly empty amphitheater. Last week, in conjunction with Pride month, choreographer, dancer, and activist Ani Taj of the Dance Cartel posted Sunday,, in which Taj arises in the space and cuts loose, with an infectious joy that is enhanced by Daniel Kluger’s galvanizing electronic score.
In an interview, Taj told me, “The amphitheater definitely has a draw for many different artists and communities. It’s a versatile public space that gets shared and repurposed in meaningful ways. I’ve loved seeing how many different ways people have used that space through the pandemic, especially since outdoor spaces have become so treasured during this time — on the day we were shooting alone, we saw folx doing workouts, having meetings, performing outdoor comedy shows, impromptu dance parties. . . . The architecture of the amphitheater definitely drew us, since it has a certain geometric framing that seems to invite movement and a camera — and of course being by water and open air, in a time of such confinement, was appealing. But I think the main draw was that energetically, it’s a space that can hold many different expressive and social dynamics, gatherings — and that’s what we wanted to make contact with and honor in this project. An open-air theater, as a container for everything that we were missing, felt right.”
On June 21 at 6:30, the Manhattan-based company Jody Oberfelder Projects will activate the space, hosting a public gathering with a live performance and an audience amid the summer solstice. Amphitheater is choreographed by Oberfelder, whose site-specific work includes 4Chambers on Governors Island, The Brain Piece at New York Live Arts, Object Place (for Astor Place), and On the Move Shortly in London’s St. Pancras Station. Amphitheater will be performed by Emily Giovine, Jade Manns, Daniel Morimoto, Maya Orchin, and Mark Willis, with an original score composed by Grammy-winning klezmer-jazz bandleader Frank London, featuring London on trumpet, Javier Diaz on percussion, Brian Drye on trombone, and Marcus Rojas on tuba. The event will begin with a land acknowledgement by Bessie Award-winning multidisciplinary artist and Guggenheim Fellow Emily Johnson of the Yup'ik Nation, who has been at the forefront of the fight to save East River Park, and a poem by poet, author, arts journalist, filmmaker, activist, and Guggenheim Fellow Eileen Myles.
The work “challenges the pending demolition of this fifty-acre park that transformed Lower Manhattan more than eighty years ago through inscribing the space with our movement inspired from human connections,” Oberfelder explains in a press release. “We believe it is time to be happy again and reconnect with our community through our common joie de vivre, our passion for dance.” Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $15.
Who: Kathryn Allison, Jacqueline B. Arnold, DeMarius R. Copes, Robyn Hurder, Clyde Alves, Ashley Loren, Isabelle McCalla, Alise Morales, Stephanie Park, Demi Remick, Jelani Remy, Daniel Quadrino, Jessica Vosk, Olivia Puckett
What: Live music benefit for the Actors Fund
Where: Watermark Bar, 78 South St., Pier 15
When: Monday, June 21, $40, 8:00
Why: The outdoor Watermark Bar, jutting out on Pier 15 on South St., celebrates the return of live music and theater to New York City with a benefit concert on June 21 at 8:00, raising funds for the Actors Fund, which has done an extraordinary job helping the entertainment community during the Covid-19 crisis. “Stage Door Mixer” will feature performances by Kathryn Allison, Jacqueline B. Arnold, DeMarius R. Copes, Robyn Hurder and Clyde Alves, Ashley Loren, Isabelle McCalla, Alise Morales, Stephanie Park, Demi Remick, Jelani Remy, Daniel Quadrino, and Jessica Vosk, with Olivia Puckett serving as host. In addition, the audience will be treated to a sneak peek screening of Australian dancer and choreographer Reed Luplau’s short film Places, Please, starring Danny Burstein, Krysta Rodriguez, Pixie Aventura, Ben Cook, Deborah S. Craig, Joseph Haro, and Bahiyah Hibah in a story about a therapy session for artists struggling during the pandemic.
Who: Rhymes with Opera
What: Live, virtual sci-fi opera
Where: Rhymes with Opera online
When: Live on Sunday, June 20, $20, 7:00 (available on demand June 22 - July 6, $10)
Why: In 2013, New York-based ensemble Rhymes with Opera presented a fully staged production of composer Adam Matlock and librettist Brian Slattery’s Red Giant, a futuristic sci-fi chamber opera in which three humans take off into space, heading toward parts unknown to escape from a dying planet engulfed by the sun. RWO has now reimagined the show for virtual viewing in its first digital presentation, streaming live on Sunday, June 20, at 7:00. Sopranos Bonnie Lander and Elisabeth Halliday-Quan and baritone Robert Maril will be performing from three different locations, accompanied by the six-member RWOrchestra, conducted by George Tsz-Kwan Lam. The forty-minute work is directed by Ashley Tata, with video design by Eamonn Farrell and set design by Afsoon Pajoufar. David Crandall voices the radio announcer.
“As a lifelong fan of science fiction and a composer enamored of opera as a medium, it only made sense to combine the two when given the opportunity to work on a piece,” Matlock said in a statement. “Of course, in the beginning the scenario — people trying to escape a planet’s surface that has become uninhabitable due to their sun becoming the titular Red Giant — was pure fantasy. But in the nearly decade since this piece was first written, we’ve seen governments and societies struggle to reach a consensus as to whether or not climate change is really happening in the face of readily observable evidence — and it’s hard not to feel that this story has gained some resonance in the face of that. And of course, even in the face of a true existential crisis, humans will still find time to bicker.” Tickets for the live performance, in which Lander streams in from Baltimore, Halliday-Quan from Rochester, and Maril from New York City, are $20; a recording of the show will be available on demand June 22 - July 6 for $10.
Who: More than 170 dancers, Harvey Fierstein, J. Harrison Ghee, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Robyn Hurder, Peppermint, Jelani Remy
What: Annual benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
Where: Broadway Cares, YouTube
When: Sunday, June 20, free, 9:00
Why: Last year, the annual “Broadway Bares” benefit, in which performers take it off for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, went virtual, and the 2021 edition follows suit with “Twerk from Home.” On June 20 at 9:00, vaxxed and waxed performers will show us what they got from their homes, where they’ve spent so much of the past fifteen months because of the pandemic lockdown, and from across the city now that we are opening up again. Directed by “Bares” creator and Tony winner Jerry Mitchell with codirectors Laya Barak and Nick Kenkel, the free evening features more than a dozen high-concept videos from choreographers Barak, Kenkel, John Alix, Al Blackstone, Frank Boccia, Karla Garcia, Jonathan Lee, Ray Mercer, Dylan Pearce, Jenn Rose, Luis Salgado, Michael Lee Scott, Gabriella Sorretino, Kellen Stancil, Rickey Tripp, and James Alonzo White, with appearances by more than 170 dancers, leading up to a grand finale recorded in Times Square.
Donations are strongly encouraged if you can afford it; 2020’s online event raised more than half a million dollars, which sounds great until you realize that the 2019 in-person benefit took in more than two mil. “Being back with the ‘Broadway Bares’ family to create ‘Twerk from Home’ has been an incredible reminder of how beautiful our theater community is, both inside and out,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Creating one more virtual edition of our beloved celebration in safe environments reinforces our belief that the best way to take care of ourselves is to take care of each other.” In addition, there will be special appearances by Harvey Fierstein, J. Harrison Ghee, Jay Armstrong Johnson (in a revealing opener), Robyn Hurder, Peppermint (in a new song, “Strip”), and Jelani Remy.
Created by director Simon Bouisson and writer Olivier Demangel, Republique, the Interactive Movie is a gripping virtual thriller that plays out in real time over your mobile device as a terrorist attack hits the Paris Metro. Instead of weaving between three stories, the film allows the viewer to choose which part to watch when by scrolling from one to the other; in essence, you are the editor, selecting what to follow as if you are on your phone and the events are happening live, breaking news erupting in the palm of your hand. As the tragedy unfolds, the visuals are accompanied by comments and emojis posted by fictional characters, who question what the characters are doing, cheer them on, and offer advice as the danger increases. Lucie (Lyna Khoudri) and Rio (Rio Vega) are broadcasting their “urbex” on social media when the attack starts, sending them deep underground, searching for a safe way out. Antoine (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge) and Boris (Nicolas Avinée) are a pair of lawyers on a subway platform, getting ready for a night out with friends, when things go haywire. And journalist Rudy (Xavier Lacaille) meets Nora (Noémie Merlant), who is desperately trying to find her husband, Djibril (Radouan Leflahi), who is lost amid the chaos.
The details of the plot are based on interviews the filmmakers did with psychologists and victim-support charities, focusing on not only the intense action but the reaction of the characters as the situation grows more dire. The claustrophobic nature of the seventy-minute film is palpable as people run through dark tunnels and ominous corridors and wonder what is behind the next closed door while you watch on your small phone, unable to help in any way, trapped along with them. The experience is particularly potent after a year of quarantine, when so much of the world was unable to see friends and family or go to the movies, instead relegated to home screens and personal devices. Bouisson (Jour de vote, Tokyo Reverse) and Demangel (111, Atlantique) keep everything moving swiftly, but there’s no need to panic if you’re a completist or you think you missed something important; at the end of the film, you are given access to scenes that can fill in any holes or that you want to check out again.
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St.
Exhibit continues Thursday - Monday through August 8, $18-$25
Palimpsest: Thursday, June 17, free with RSVP, 8:00 (available on demand June 18-20)
Pride Celebration with Julie Mehretu: Friday, June 25, free with RSVP, 7:00
Over the years, I’ve seen many works by Julie Mehretu, but her eponymously titled midcareer retrospective at the Whitney is still a revelation. Running through August 8, the show consists of approximately thirty paintings and forty works on paper and prints from 1996 to the present by the Ethiopian-born artist, who moved with her family to Michigan when she was seven in 1977 and is now based in Harlem. Her large canvases are palimpsests of architectural urban maps, news clippings, allegorical references, economic charts, art history, and abstract lines and shapes, coming together to form a tantalizing whole that is both visually dazzling and empowered with meaning. “Mehretu analyzes and reimagines divergent cultural narratives through her own artistic methodology; an extraordinary thinker and observer, she produces work that is full of empathy, innovation, complexity, and contradiction,” LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan writes in the forward to the catalog.
As captivating as her works are from a distance, the exhibition rewards visitors who spend time with them at close range, their face as near as permissible to the smooth surfaces to take in every detail. “Few artistic encounters are more thrilling than standing close to one of her large canvases, enveloped in its fullness, color, forms, and symbolic content,” Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg writes in his catalog introduction. “One is easily swept up, into, and away by the works’ informational overload and force field of visually magnetic strokes, lines, routes, and trajectories. Viewers can, and do, lose their bearings in the attempt to read, comprehend, locate themselves, and make meaning from the confrontation.”
Such ink-on-acrylic canvases as Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson, Haka (and Riot), (A Painting in Four Parts) Part 1, Transcending: The New International, and Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation are prime examples of the virtuosity of her technique, from her delicate brushwork to her attention to the smallest of elements, as she explores such issues as migration, colonialism, white supremacy, and racial injustice. Meanwhile, ink-on-paper drawings such as her “Inkcity” series delve into the psychology behind her vision. “I was really interested in mining myself and who I was and what made me,” Mehretu says in a Whitney video. “My interest is not in trying to dictate or determine or explain or try to give any information to anyone in that way. There aren’t any directives or any proposals in these paintings. These paintings are really experiential paintings that are informed by the time, by me, by this moment, by trying to digest that.”
The centerpiece is Ghosthymn (after the Raft), a large-scale canvas that has its own space opposite a window looking out at the Hudson River, David Hammons’s Day’s End, and the recently opened pier park known as Little Island. Created specifically for the Whitney show, the work references Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa as well as New York City’s past. “The insistence on new work and the idea of how that’s important . . . there was this time of suspension with the pandemic,” Mehretu says in the video. “There’s a wall that faces the river, and I was really interested in that wall and the relationship to the river and the relationship to the exterior. As you look out — I look at it every day from my studio [in Chelsea] — you sense the nineteenth-century-ness of this city even though so much of the architecture has changed. The Hudson River is the reason the city exists. There’s a sensibility in different periods of life, of the history of the making of this place, and the kind of immigrant nature of this place.” From a distance, bursts of red, yellow, and green battle it out with ghostly whites, but up close you’re likely to be surprised by what Mehretu uses to create some of her smaller images.
Mehretu was intimately involved with the survey, which began at LACMA before coming to New York City; she is extremely generous on the audio guide when talking about her process, a must-listen. You can also find out more when the museum premieres the documentary Julie Mehretu: Palimpsest from June 17 to 20, introduced by exhibition cocurator Rujeko Hockley and Checkerboard Film Foundation president Edgar Howard. And on June 24 at 7:00, Mehretu will be at the Whitney for a special in-person Pride celebration with DJ Reborn and refreshments, during which the ravishing exhibition will be open.
While billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk battle it out to see who can rocket to Mars first, New York socialite couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg have their feet firmly planted on the Earth. Ten years ago, the Diller-von Fürstenberg Family Foundation contributed $20 million to the construction of the High Line, a converted elevated railway that has become one of the most glorious parks in the world. And in 2015, they cemented their local legacy by donating $113 million to Little Island, a lovely new paradise built on the remnants of a ramshackle pier at West Thirteenth St., in the shadow of the Whitney and just down the street from David Hammons’s Day’s End, a 325-foot-long brushed-steel outline of an abandoned warehouse on Pier 52 where Gordon-Matta Clark carved holes in the walls in 1975, a ghostly homage to what — and who — is no longer there. (The Diller-von Fürstenberg Family Foundation was one of many donors who helped fund Hammons’s permanent installation.)
Little Island is a warm and welcoming oasis rising more than 60 feet above the Hudson River, shaped like a large leaf, leading visitors from the land into water. It is bursting with more than 350 species of flowers, trees, and shrubs, a 687-seat amphitheater for live performances known as the Amph, the Play Ground plaza where you can get food and drink (sandwiches, salads, fried stuff, vegan options), and stage and lawn space called the Glade. More than 66,000 bulbs and 114 trees have been planted, taking into account the changing seasons and even the differences in light between morning, afternoon, and night. It all sits upon 132 concrete pillars of varying heights that resemble high heels or slightly warped tulip glasses.
There are several sloping paths that take you through the greenery and up to lifted corners that offer spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and Jersey City across the river. Little Island was designed by Thomas Heatherwick of London-based Heatherwick Studio, with landscape design by Signe Nielsen of the New York City firm MNLA, offering unique surprises and sweet touches as you make your way across the stunning environment, including rusted cylindrical metal posts that evoke the pier’s eroding wooden piles, a small wooden stage, interactive dance chimes and an instrument sculpture (“Instrument for All”) by Alfons van Leggelo, and a pair of black-and-white optical spinners.
In the middle of the Play Ground, an abstract-shaped floor plaque pronounces, “In this year of 2021 we dedicate Little Island to the people of New York and to visitors from around the world — for their everlasting enjoyment, for gamboling and cavorting, playing and ramping, repose and reflection — and with the hope that it fulfills that ambition with as much joy as it has brought to those that built it.”
That joy continues with free year-round multidisciplinary programming that kicks off this month with such series as “Free Music in the Amph,” “Sunset Sounds,” “Little Library,” “Live! at Lunch,” “Late Night in the Play Ground,” “Weekend Wind Down,” “Savory Talks,” “New Victory LabWorks,” and “Creative Break: Music,” “Creative Break: Visual Art,” and “Creative Break: Dance.” Admission is first-come, first-served; however, entry to Little Island, which is open daily from 6:00 am to 1:00 am, requires advance reservations between noon and midnight. There will also be paid ticketed performances such as “Broadway Our Way” and “An Evening with American Ballet Theatre,” both of which sold out quickly, and free shows that must be reserved in advance, such as “Tina and Friends: BYOB (Bring Your Own Beautiful),” a Pride Month celebration on June 26 at 8:00 with award-winning playwright and director Tina Landau. Landau, tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel, actor, singer, and music director Michael McElroy, and PigPen Theatre Co. are Little Island’s inaugural artists-in-residence; they will be curating and participating in numerous events in the next several months. Below is a list of upcoming ticketed shows.
Saturday, June 26, 8:00
Tina and Friends: BYOB (Bring Your Own Beautiful), with Tina Landau, the Amph, free tickets available June 16 at 2:00
Saturday, July 10, 2:00
Little Orchestra Society’s Things That Go Bang, the Amph, $25-$65
Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25
Little Island Storytelling Festival, with Mahogany L Browne, Sarah Kay, Jon Sands, Shaina Taub, Broken Box Mine, Daniel Nayeri, Phil Kaye and the Westerlies, Michael Thurber, and others, the Amph, some shows require advance tickets available June 22
Friday, September 17, Saturday, September 18, and Sunday, September 19, 8:00
Little Island Dance Festival, with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Barkha Patel, Michela Marino Lerman, Tomoe Carr, Danni Gee, Andre Imanishi, and others, the Amph, tickets on sale June 22