Kate Atkinson's Life After Life is an engrossing novel tracing protagonist Ursula's life in stages, beginning from the moment of her birth. The hook is that Atkinson resets the stage at various points and carries the story with one thread changed so the outcomes vary. Her relationships with her siblings and relatives remain fairly constant, it's the chance happenstance or meeting with a stranger that pivots her life. That or the war, which is treated surprisingly graphically for a novel not specifically about war, particularly London during the siege. Ursula even falls into Hitler's inner circle, offering a fascinating inside view of the lure and repellance of the dictator.
A fairly sturdy doorstop (and a good case for e-readers), Life After Life is paced nicely with numerous chapters and sections, some quite short. Atkinson's prose is smart but practical, not overly British to American ears (though set largely in the UK). The one shortfall for me is the cover, which tends to place it improperly among bodice rippers. Highly recommended.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Thursday, May 16, 2013
|The Spectators. Photo: Ian Douglas|
Tanowitz' choreography is stylistic heir to that of Merce Cunningham, whose work is more balletic than usually given credit for. Now with bare feet, and using Melissa Toogood and Dylan Crossman, dancers from his company's final roster (and in previous years, Rashaun Mitchell), the connection is stronger than ever. Meticulous classical technique is the foundation for the twists and refractions that Tanowitz adds, in the end creating a world of her own. Her company also includes Sarah Haarmann, Pierre Guilbault, Maggie Cloud, and Andrew Champlin, all fine, polished dancers. Cloud, in particular, has a luminosity and precision that accumulate through the piece.
|Maggie Cloud. Photo: Ian Douglas|
Recorded music by Dan Siegler accompanies the first part of the hour-long work, with trumpet lines set in a jazzy framework. The second part is set to Annie Gosfield's composition played live by the FLUX Quartet; it ranges from spacious to cacophonous. Davison Scandrett's lighting articulates Tanowitz's stage design—the wings are exposed and raked with golden light, making any dancers there appear as sculptures. TIny details are tightly spotlit, such as junction or outlet boxes on the upstage wall, or colored tape in geometrical shapes on the floor. Blackouts (and house lights up) rewind the action a couple of times. Dancers are lit drastically from the knees down for a spell. Tanowitz always finds ways to activate every nook of the theater with nominal resources. When the dancers lean or push off against the walls, it enhances this total immersion.
The vocabulary, as mentioned, relates to Cunningham, with square torso and extended leg positions, highly pointed feet, and precise poses. Arms are often held in formal positions, but the hands are flat, open, relaxed, and not curved into soft shell shapes like in ballet. Leaps soar and often are landed on one foot as the arabesque is sustained. Turned out fifth and fourth positions are favorites. Everything clicks and whirrs.
These "spectators" relax to observe one another, and periodically look at us slyly. The exception is Crossman and Toogood's duet (for which they don additional layers over their gem-hued unitards (by Renée Kurz), which is sprinkled with realistic, tender touches—he pushes a strand of hair off her forehead, they kiss, he rests his hand on her back. Cloud, in a closing solo, prances her way downstage on a center line, playing with a lit "T" with her feet. The craftsmanship in every element of The Spectators is superb. Don't miss it.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Notebook on Jonah Bokaer's The Ulysses Syndrome, part of FIAF's World Nomads Tunisia:
|Tsvi & Jonah Bokaer. Photo: Benedicte Longechal.|
- Based on his father Tsvi Bokaer's Le Danseur Errant et La Méditerranée
- Contemplative, quiet, intimate
- Dream-like, at times ritualistic
- Pre-verbal, animalistic movement (crawling, lying) or childlike (step-hopping)
- Some OCD type gestures, like rubbing scalp or grabbing the floor with toes
- Tsvi uses his scarf to blindfold Jonah, who gropes along the perimeter
- This imparts a hostage situation feel to the work, which never entirely eases up
- Seated as if to play jacks, one slides his ring to bump the other's, making a sharp ting; following that, they fist bump
- Jonah stands on one leg and cants his body forward and the other leg hooks back, creating an amazing sculpture
- We sense that this quite private artist has let us into his personal world for a night
- 6 fluorescent pan fixtures are suspended upside down like swings in a circle
- The two "shoot" out each light, "pew," in a humorous showdown
- Jonah dips his hands into the river of light that takes the place of the fluorescents, and you can almost feel it like a viscous substance
- A pile of newspaper pages sit at center; later separated and eventually hung on the swinging fixtures
- The soundscore, by Soundwalk Collective, is a hypnotic montage of found sound and utterances
|Jonah, a sculpture. Photo: Benedicte Longechal.|
|Agnes Denes, Wheatfield, 1982.|
It is part of Expo 1 at PS1, an exhibition organized by Klaus Biesenbach on the theme of "ecological challenges" in today's world. It sprawls throughout MoMA PS1 and takes as its theme "dark optimism," perfectly reflected in Rain Room. There are some smaller exhibitions nested within, including a fairly extensive selection of Ansel Adams photographs curated by Roxana Marcoci, and a smart group show—ProBio—put together by Josh Kline; highlights include Dina Chang's creepy Flesh Diamonds, pink flesh-like faceted things with hair; Ian Cheng's strange, intriguing installation of twitchy "live" machines inhabiting a tide pool ecosystem; and a flexible cloth of LEDs that received imagery of a CGI concert, by Shanzhai Biennial. A group of photographs documents Agnes Denes' Wheatfield, which at the time felt far closer to crunchy environmentalism than a last cry before development and terrorism swallowed up lower Manhattan.
Expo 1 also has the requisite ancillary elements of film, education (organized by Triple Canopy), a daily special dish by restaurateur M. Wells, and a "colony" of trailers in one of the courtyards. Meg Webster has installed Pool in the lobby, which basically just looks like a fancy fountain in a skyscraper lobby, and Adrián Villar Rojas has been given a ginormous amount of room for La inocencia de los animals, with a broad grand staircase where classes will meet, and rooms of ruins—columns and giant amphora—all the hue of dusty grey concrete.
Rain Room is situated in an annex in the parking lot next door to MoMA, complete with its own retro-mod, airport-style lounge in the queue area, which I guess is supposed to make the anticipated long wait entertaining. When I viewed Rain Room, people seemed reluctant to walk into the rain; perhaps to encourage this, several dancers had been deployed to move dramatically under the deluge (although it might not have helped that they were drenched. A word of advice—as you enter the rain, extend a hand forward to keep your head dry.) This project seems to work as well in concept as in practice, and whether you choose to participate or simply watch emerges as a key precept.
|Kylian's Indigo Rose. Photo: Paula Lobo|
Jiri Kylian's Indigo Rose (1998) suits Cedar Lake to a tee—articulated lines, hyper-pointed toes, a dramatic flair in every pose. Two pairs danced on the stage bisected by shapes of light, one dim, the other bright. A billowing white wedge of sail cloth framed the dancers; in particular, Matthew Rich, a company veteran, has matured into a riveting, confident performer. Filling out the program was Crystal Pite's Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, a well-paced concatenation of duets and solos by just five dancers, but that feels like three times as many. It has become a staple in an ever-growing repertory that showcases mostly European choreographers, and who benefit from the impressive skills of the dancers.
Friday, May 10, 2013
|Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck in A Place for Us. Photo: Paul Kolnik|
A Place for Us is a tribute to Jerome Robbins, and fittingly, Wheeldon dots his work with nods and quotes from Robbins' oeuvre, including the presence of the pianist and clarinetist (respectively, Nancy McDill and the fantastic, felicitous Richard Stoltzman playing the André Previn/Leonard Bernstein song) downstage left. The dancers begin their work in a square of light across the stage (designed by Penny Jacobus), interacting with one another in intricate ways that exude a depth of familiarity and understanding. One movement is met swiftly with a different step in reaction, like a dialogue, and followed by a parallel step done together. There's an intricacy and plasticity in their shapes; you feel that Wheeldon understands his dancers and their capabilities intensely. He is deft at experimenting in small ways that push the classical idiom slightly each time—repeating spiraling lifts in which Peck slides her shoulders onto Fairchild's back, no hands needed; in another lift, she folds her legs in geometric shapes and braces herself away from his body as he spins her in the air, like a mobile. The curtain falls while Peck is pirouetting, a bold statement about her technical prowess and the assumed continuity of the moment, and about these dancers—this company—moving forward.
I felt the dense complexity of the duet contrasted to an early work by Wheeldon which opened the gala: Soirée Musicale, to Barber, done last century (!) in 1998 for a School of American Ballet Workshop. While ambitious for a young choreographer, the ballroom effervescence, canons of movement, and debonair air felt like a sure formula for success. It did feature a good number of younger dancers, led by new principal (and youngster) Chase Finlay, in addition to Brittany Pollack, a newly promoted soloist. You can see Wheeldon's intuitive knack for gentle characterization within an essentially abstract structure, and his playfulness with quick tempos and facile dancers.
The rest of the gala program underscored this season's theme of American music: "Cool" from the West Side Story Suite, by Robbins to Bernstein; Glass Pieces by Robbins to Philip Glass; and a segment of Stars and Stripes, by Balanchine to Hershy Kay.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
|Duchamp would be proud. Facsimile of CBGB's bathroom ca. 1975, now at the Met Museum.|
|John Lydon, 1976. Courtesy Met Museum. |
Photo: Ray Stevenson/Rex USA
|Junya Watanabe, fall/winter 2006—7, courtesy |
Met Museum. Photo: Catwalking
In any case, apart from some opening references to the roots of punk, where original items can be seen along with their high fashion inspirations (see John Lydon's sweater) curator Andrew Bolton's show pretty much sticks to its theme: street-inspired couture with a whole lot of black with shiny silver stuff—studs, safety pins, zippers. Substitute sequins and rhinestones for hardware and you're halfway there. A variety of dishwater dirty T-shirts treated with scissors and silkscreened or imprinted with defiant slogans or images. Leather. Handknit sweaters. Pleather. Slashes. Slits. Asymmetry. Off-the-shoulder. Patched togetherness. Painted fabric. Spiky hair in pink or black. A general sense, sometimes false, of outré.
Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, Zandra Rhodes, and Katharine Hamnett are amply represented, and there are forays into street style by elegant houses such as Dior, Chanel, and Calvin Klein, and by less expected names such as Ann Demeulemeester and Miuccia Prada. Videos consume walls but are difficult to see at a close distance. Dark lighting and lots of shiny surfaces amplify the "house of horrors" feel. A series of DIY rooms underscore the ad hoc nature of the style, touching on "hardware," "bricolage," "graffiti/agitprop," and "destroy." And of course, music sets the tone, by The Ramones, Richard Hell, John Gosling, The Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Debby Harry, and others. The show acknowledges these roots, but the dissonance between rebellion and couture is even louder than the music.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Even amid these spiritual elements, Petronio must rely on bodies. Three trios in white tunics in cones of light (costumes by H. Petal and Tara Subkoff, lighting by Ken Tabachnik) move in tandem in the choreographer's distinct lexicon: a step forward on releve, palms extended down and out; stiff slashing legs, vertically launched spins, spearing leaps. The costume palette shifts darker, arriving at black briefs with brown scarfy bits. One woman aids another; two men, supplicant-like, balance on one hand and foot while hanging onto one another. A woman is partnered by three men to create Rodinesque tableaux in between brusque tumbles. The musical dynamic builds as the chorus loudly clacks wooden blocks. Scarves discarded and more skin bared, the movement becomes bolder, more risky. A rope drops down; it splits in two to frame—trapeze-like—a guy who circles his pelvis before the curtain drops in a false ending.
|Nicholas Sciscione. Photo: Julieta Cervantes|
When it rises again, the dancers have changed to red sarongs and black tablecloth dresses. Sections repeat from the opening, but it's far more chaotic, urgent, and dramatic. Even if rings a bit forced at this point, it's what Petronio does best—traveling phrases that exploit the drama of skilled dancers moving really fast. An end solo features Nicholas Sciscione, reborn in beige briefs, squirming and aimless and with any luck, soon on his feet to speed across the stage in grown-up Petronio style. Like Lazarus Did runs through this weekend at the Joyce.