Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dancer Kayla Hamilton up close at BAAD!

Dance artist Kayla Hamilton
(photos: Travis Magee)

She moves through the world with a chronic illness that has left her with sight in one eye, loss of peripheral vision, double vision, blurred vision, and difficulty seeing in low light.
 --from publicity for Nearly Sighted by Kayla Hamilton

My experience of Nearly SightedKayla Hamilton's solo performance at BAAD!, actually started before I reached the theater. Coming off the #6 train at Zerega Avenue, I ran into a group of people--including some I knew--heading for the show, all in good spirits. We walked together past the churchyard and, once inside BAAD!, were warmly greeted by more people we knew. While we waited for Hamilton to perform, we watched a wonderful video compilation of interviews and studio scenes with the much-loved choreographers, all Black and women, who contributed work to this evening--Francine E. OttNia LoveChristal BrownCrystal U. Davis and Jaimè Dzandu. Fond co-workers and at least one grateful student of Hamilton spoke up during the post-show discussion. Yes, that kind of evening. More like a family gathering than most anything you'll find at your typical New York dance concert.

Clearly, Nearly Sighted is the place to be. And you're lucky if you can get a ticket. Yes, BAAD! is not the largest venue in town, but even so.

For the suite of dances, which is surprisingly short--maybe 45 minutes at most--Hamilton has woven together material from the choreographers as well as video artists Sammie Amachree and Drake Creative.  Each member of the audience is encouraged to wear an eye patch through most of the performance, giving us a small taste of how Hamilton's vision disability alters her perception of and relationship to her surrounding environment. To work with this, I left my distance glasses off and, given the intimacy of the space, did not need them. I adjusted to the eye patch over time.

If you've ever seen Hamilton dance, you know she brings presence, passion, momentum and juicy fluidity. In her program notes, she calls herself "thick."

"Thick not as in muscular, but thick thick." She adds, "I rarely get to see a thick-bodied disabled person on stage...."

She is a thick spinning top, a thick blossoming flower, a thick burst of fire, a system of thick coursing energy. She is also Black and female all day and embodies Nia Love's words: "It's the way that you stand, the way you sit...the notion that all that you are is all that's right and powerful and good. That's dignity." Her work is a healing gift.

Nearly Sighted was two years in the making. It was fun to talk in our small discussion groups about it and hear Christal Brown tell us none of the choreographers had previous exposure to the finished work. They had no idea how Hamilton would turn their individual material into a this tapestry. The performance, then, was a revelation for everyone.

Nearly Sighted concludes this evening with a performance at 7:30pm. It is sold out, but if you want to try for a last-minute, unclaimed ticket, click here for information.

The Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance
2474 Westchester Avenue (Westchester Square), Bronx

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Cuba Gooding Sr., 72

Cuba Gooding Sr., Soul Singer, Dies at 72
by The Associated Press, The New York Times, April 21, 2017

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Magdalena Abakanowicz, 86

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sculptor of Brooding Forms, Dies at 86
by William Grimes, The New York Times, April 21, 2017

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Shadow dancing: Okwui Okpokwasili at New York Live Arts

Katrina Reid (left) and Okwui Okpokwasili
in Poor People's TV Room
(photo: Paul B. Goode)

Follow me, follow me....

A gentle, haunting refrain concludes Okwui Okpokwasili's Poor People’s TV Room, shown now at New York Live Arts. The sweetness of that final plea cuts to the soul. The artist, with her multitude of tools and methods, draws us closer to a forgotten people and removes some of the false comfort of distance and ignorance.

For this complex, 90-minute piece, Okpokwasili drew impetus from the resistance of Nigerian women against British colonialism and, more recently, their organizing for the return of 300 girls kidnapped by the militant group, Boko Haram. Teaming up again with director/visual designer Peter Born, with whom she shares two Bessie Awards, Okpokwasili reshapes not only the stage space at New York Live Arts but the way in which the meaning of a potentially didactic history can be artfully conveyed through an assured blend of movement, text, song and imagery.

Born's set hacks a wedge of space out of the wide NYLA stage and litters it with things the eye works hard to identify or, if identified as they are used, resolve into an overall coherence. His lighting ranges from withholding to assaulting, mostly making us aware that there's so much we will not see, cannot interpret, might never reach. Like Okpokwasili singing "I am the face beneath the sand...," or a figure draped entirely in jet black cloth somehow twinkling from Born's harsh light, the visual space of the work tantalizes us with the possibility and impossibility of discovery. Or the unreliability of discovery.

For my part, I will long carry the image of a woman--Okpokwasili, it turned out--pressed into the far side of a wide stretch of translucent fabric, rising into elusive visibility like ectoplasm. I struggled with the violent mechanical sounds, which viewers readily feel within their own bodies. And I wondered at the tiny skitter steps of elder Thuli Dumakude, South African-born star of music and stage, and the precise, if arcane, gestures performed by the younger Black American artist Katrina Reid. Both bodies, at the epicenter of violent force, confront and defy the oppressive sound. Or so it seemed to me.

Poor People's TV Room is a robust creation transcending category for real and not just in the academic talk we've come to expect. But it's thrilling to know that an artist of the body, a dancer, envisioned and guided this achievement.


Thuli Dumakude, Okwui Okpokwasili, Katrina Reid and Nehemoyia Young

Poor People's TV Room continues with performances April 21-22 and April 26-29, all at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

NY premieres by Kathy Westwater at Brooklyn Studios for Dance

Scene from the world premiere of
Kathy Westwater's Anywhere at Temple University
Dancers Alex Romania with Ilona Bito and Hadar Ahuvia
(photo: Bill Hebert)

After seeing Kathy Westwater's New York premieres of Anywhere and Extemporaneousness at Brooklyn Studios for Dance, I went looking for synonyms of the word entropy. I found deterioration, degeneration, crumbling, decline, degradation, decomposition, breaking down, collapse. I know she has made work and performed at Staten Island's former Fresh Kills Landfill--see Chambered, an installation of Anja Hitzenberger's photos from this project, also at BSD through April 30--and, like many of us, surely has societal and planetary fate on her mind. And, just maybe, there's something in there that's about the need to yank a structure from its pedestal and start over.

While there's nothing of this overtly expressed in Extemporaneousness and Anywhere--performed by separate casts that do not overlap--they both inhabit a space where bodies appear to continuously struggle, and lose that struggle, against gravity and time. Their periodic impact on the floor emphasizes weight, consequence and maybe desperation.

In both works, I found the dynamics unchanging--bodies jutting, squiggling, folding, twisting, drooping, buckling, sagging, staggering, slumping, tumbling either alone or in interactions across the wide studio space. I'm thinking it was Wilson Pickett who sang "Put your hand on your hip and let your backbone slip." Westwater is big on letting the backbone slip--literally and over and over--though Soul Man Pickett might take issue with this interpretation.

At the start of Anywhere, the cast labors to unfurl Seung-Jae Lee's gleaming and monumental set. That set is an eyeful--less whimsical in nature than its ingenious structure might first lead you to believe. In its own way, it's beautiful, but it looms with almost hypnotic, magnetizing control over the community of dancers in front of it. It was fascinating to play with the possible intentions here--as with the difference between those cute, high-tech headphones we were all issued and the analog boombox that shows up late in the piece. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling weary from the aesthetic sameness and the unconvincing lengthiness of the piece.

Kathy Westwater Dance performers:

Extemporaneousness: Laurel Atwell, Belinda He, Mercedes Searer, EmmaGrace Skove-EpsKay Ottinger and Rainey White

Anywhere: Hadar AhuviaIlona BitoAmanda HuntAlex Romania, and Kathy Westwater

Kathy Westwater Dance continues through April 22 with performances at 8pm. On Saturday, April 22, stay for a post-performance talk with Aaron Mattocks. On Saturday, April 29, Westwater will also hold a roundtable discussion--On Monuments & the Monumental, from 2-4:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Brooklyn Studios for Dance
210 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

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Memories: FAB x MR DANCE BLOCK SALON Spring '17

Abrons Arts Center -- March 28, 2017
facilitated by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

All photos 

Fourth Arts Block (FABnyc) paired up Movement Research for their first collaborative Dance Block Salon. The organizations invited artists from their respective communities to show work in an atmosphere of non-judgmental sharing, radical support and community building. 

I was honored and thrilled to be asked to facilitate the evening and guide the feedback sessions.

Artists showing work included Rina EspirituJenny Boissiere & DancersCain Coleman of ColemanCollective and Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson.

Staff, presenting artists and dancers
gather in Abrons's studio G05 before the salon.

Introducing the evening:
Nadia Tykulsker, FABnyc Director of Programs (above)
Lindsey Dietz Marchant, Movement Research Managing Director (below)

Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Above: Jenny Boissiere talks about her work.
Below: Cain Coleman performs.

Choreographer Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson,
above and below

Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson's troupe performs.
Above: Rina Espiritu listens to audience feedback.
Below: Dance artist Heather Robles hugs Espiritu after feedback session.

Small, intimate feedback groups for each choreographer
encouraged easygoing participation.

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FAB RESPONSE salons offer artists feedback: April 26, May 3

Alice Klugherz showed a solo work-in-progress
at the first FABnyc RESPONSE salon on April 12.
(photo: Deloris Onwuka)
Malcolm Betts presenting at RESPONSE
(photo: Deloris Onwuka)
Malcolm Betts with music/movement collaborator Andy Kobilka
(photo: Deloris Onwuka)

Please join me and FABnyc for our second RESPONSE salon and give your feedback to artists showing informal 10-minute presentations of works in various stages of development. You need not be an artist to attend.

We next get together on Wednesday, April 26 (2-4pm) at Arts on Site, 12 St. Mark’s Place in the East Village near Cooper Union. (Info and registration here)

Our final salon in the series will be held on Wednesday, May 3 (2-4pm) at Arts on Site. (Info and registration here)

Come join our friendly circle! We’re looking forward to seeing you!



Please note that the Arts on Site studio is up four flights of stairs with elevator access limited to the building's upper-floor residents. I have requested a change in venue if the RESPONSE series continues past the current May 3 end date.
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