Friday, September 27, 2013

America's Cup: Innovation + Technology = Thrills

Gilles Martin-Raget / America’s Cup

With the city's cultural season full speed ahead and accessible by the magical plastic device  called a Metrocard, my brainspace has been occupied by an event far away, and not even on land—the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco.

It is quaintly called "yachting," but these fabrications can't rightly be called boats, or vessels, or machines, or anything familiar. AC72s are what they are: multi-hulled foiling thingies, raced by two teams: Oracle Team USA (owned by Larry Ellison) and Emirates Team New Zealand. 

The drama of the event was non-existent as a two-race penalty for errant tweaks put the Yanks in a hole before things even began, and got worse as the Kiwis went up 8 wins to 1. Then on a day when they could have clinched the cup, the race was called for high wind. The Americans had been improving their boat the whole time, and figured out the precise balance to be much quicker. They won the next 8 races to mark one of the stellar comebacks in sports history.

Okay, great story and all, but the biggest deal seemed to me to be the application of physics and high tech to produce vessels capable of insane speeds—50 mph or so—using wind and aero and hydrodynamics. Essentially, foiling means flying, which is what happens when the boats reach a certain speed. They lift up, like hovercraft, and freed of the drag from the water, fly. They corner on a virtual dime, at least for something with a 13-story flying wing attached to it. They also tip like the dickens, but danger is a big part of the event. (Sadly, a sailor was recently killed after his boat capsized; he was trapped under the structure.)

But the takeaway is not just fast boats, but innovation, and innovation in an ancient arena that had evolved in moderate steps until the last decade. Now, these boats are comparable to Formula One cars, and are perhaps even more impressive by utilizing the natural gifts of wind and water. Perhaps that innovation can be applied to energy production and conservation in ways previously unseen. 

And I never thought I'd look forward anxiously to the announcement of the next "deed of gift," but that day has come. Ahoy, mateys.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Blurred—Make that Erased—Lines

Olivia Ancona. Photo courtesy The Drawing Center
Artists commonly erase lines, a necessary step in the creative experimentation process. To some, it's an end in itself—Rauschenberg erased a De Kooning drawing. Perhaps as a result of not erasing enough lines, I've seen an artist destroy, with an X-Acto knife, several paintings deemed failures. (Painful to watch.)

At the Drawing Center earlier this week, Susan Hefuna and Luca Veggetti expanded on the ideas of negation and memory in a collaboration titled Notationotation. Hefuna used white chalk to make a grand drawing on the wooden floor of the main gallery; it resembled a loose fishing net. (A lovely show of Hefuna's drawings hangs in the back gallery, through Sep 20.) This process was videotaped and shown on the wall during the performance, in addition to footage of a Broadway intersection, where incessant occupation and displacement occurs. 

The human erasers were three articulate, lithe dancers: PeiJu Chien-Pott (a Martha Graham company member), Gabrielle Lamb, and Olivia Ancona.performing movement by Luca Veggetti. Wearing black socks below sleek pleated black pants and grey tank tops, the women slid their feet along the chalk lines as if walking on high lines  Particulars of Veggetti's style repeated: wing-like arms held in tension, feet in forced arches, deep lunges, high extended legs. (And for once, the habitual, trendy socked foot in dance performance—of which Veggetti is a proponent—was completely justified.)

While the dancers' workmanlike concentration and efficiency made for a poetic, if brief performance, the behavior of the crowd held some interest as well. We were allowed to move about at will while the dancers worked. The audience clustered and expanded around each dancer, grudgingly moving a foot or so when a dancer tried to claim a line to erase. Whether it was just New Yorkers being New Yorkers, or human nature, who knows—we became an indispensable, resilient element in the performance. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fall For Dance Among the Trees and Stars

STREB al fresco. Photo: Tammy Shell
Batteries recharged, dance returned to life last Monday with the advent of the 10th Fall For Dance. To celebrate, in addition to the standard five programs at City Center, the Public Theater hosted a veritable all-star FFD program at the Delacorte in Central Park. The weather turned out to be fall-perfect, with a bright harvest moon slicing through wispy clouds, and bats flitting mischievously above the trees, silhouetted in front of the Disney-lit Belvedere castle.

Unlike City Center's fare, which usually features well-known companies mixed with lesser-known ones, and some indigenous styles juxtaposed with ballet or modern, the Delacorte program—free!—consisted of bold-faced, primetime names. 

STREB led off with Human Fountain (inspired by the Bellagio fountain in Vegas) in which the dancers dove off of scaffolding onto a crash mat in various patterns and twisting moves. Their adrenaline was certainly inspiring, but after about 10 minutes, despite knowing they take certain precautions to prevent injury, I couldn't help but think about their brains bouncing around in their skulls, and their spines taking punishment as well. They looked awfully happy in bows, anyway, before continuing their duties as stagehands and striking the mats as the real stagehands dismantled the scaffolding enough to roll it in two parts to the side.

Evidence, right-side up in Upside Down. Photo: Tammy Shell
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence brought Upside Down, alluding to the loss of a soul and its impact on a community, accompanied by Oumou Sangare's music followed by live vocals and drums performing a number by Fela Kuti. (STREB and Evidence benefitted the most from the al fresco setting, as both can feel a bit caged inside.)  The two songs both ended with Cabaug being lifted and carried off solemnly, as if lying in state, but in between, the dancers showed off Brown's irrepressible African-based style in group sections and solos. Annique Roberts (nominated for a Bessie this year) radiated with calm luminosity, as usual.

Maria Kowroski and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Red Angels
New York City Ballet's dancers looked their best in their dark warmup clothes rather than the red spandex costumes for Red Angels, choreographed by Ulysses Dove, with live electric violin accompaniment. The striking cast of Maria Kowroski, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Jennie Somogyi, and Chase Finlay never looked at ease, perhaps to be expected on a chilly evening. Ballet seems like it wants warmth to encourage as much friction with the floor as possible, and elasticity in their hard-working muscles. Nonetheless, they danced and vogued their way through the showy moves well enough.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Esplanade, but another cast.
Paul Taylor's Esplanade closed the program, deservedly—a self-contained, perfectly structured dance that garners applause simply when it begins. Despite its outward reputation as a sunny romp, there are some heartachingly solemn and intimate moments that touch on mortality and the fragility of human connections. Laura Halzack has taken the deceptively challenging role left by the retired Amy Young; it requires a series of rapid hinge-falls, and later, backwards plops into the hands of Michael Trusnovec. Michelle Fleet occupies the central role, running and flitting among the group, warmly bidding us hello and goodbye. It was a fitting cap to a showcase of the city's dance riches, if nothing we weren't already familiar with.