Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis, 91

Jerry Lewis, Mercurial Comedian and Filmmaker, Dies at 91
by Dave Kehr, The New York Times, August 20, 2017

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What's CURRENT: the CURRENT SESSIONS returns to Wild Project

Curated and produced by Alexis Convento, this season's edition of the CURRENT SESSIONS at Wild Project features performers exploring the concept of embodied resistance. I attended last evening's hour-long show, REFUSE, solos by three artists of color--NIC Kay, Samantha CC and Jonathan Gonzalez.

Of these, only Samantha CC kept us staring at the stage and confined to our seats and the building itself the entire time, which seemed appropriate. After all, her gentle, mellifluous singing, in Sanctuary--second work on the bill--invoked the condition of being settled into the physical state, Black and female, sanctuary for an ethereal soul, a home offering stability, place, placement to something that would otherwise easily flap away, a home offering visibility and audibility and, presumably, power. "I know that the body is a temporary home...a temporary home...a temporary home for my soul." Which brings up this thought in me: While you've got it, use it.

From our temporary perches, we watched this quiet exultation issued from a woman who first presented herself panting and costumed in plastic trash bags she clawed and scraped from her limbs to reveal a body stocking, underwear, one breast covered by the doves' feathers. If we passed her outside on an East Village street, she would be the homeless person famous for incoherent mumbles or formidable rants. Here, she is sweet-voiced, lucid, illuminated and illuminating. A New Age medium.

Sanctuary was described as "a multi-media performance speaking to technology's ability to both restrain and liberate." Honestly, I can't say I saw that, but I did see the body's ability to both restrain and liberate--an idea I found more intriguing.

The evening opened with the audience suddenly, inexplicably uprooted from the seats we'd just sunk into. We were directed, instead, to the sidewalk where it took a while to notice an unassuming figure turned from us and leaning with forehead pressed against the building's white-washed brick wall. Standing under the building number, 195, was this dancer in a sleeveless unitard of black with star-like speckles. White strings from several buoyant balloons--translucent milky white save for one Mylar silver pillow balloon--coiled around the dancer's neck. It was NIC Kay beginning Get Well Soon!, a dance that would gradually move them over the sidewalk, out into traffic, across the street to the edges of a dumpster and finally back to the lights of the Wild Project stage.

Described as "a loose meditation on the often used wish of recovery"--and what self-care, recovery and wellness mean in the context of the perennial trauma and threat to Black lives--Get Well Soon! played a serious game with the mind. Kay uses limber flow to sprawl around space and a crunchier, jerking motion to re-position limbs and torso, both strategies rigorously controlled by this skilled performer. Their form is profoundly elegant while bold in assertiveness; their body--crouching, lunging, squatting, splaying--embraces gravity while those well-anchored balloons brightly incline heavenward. The body is like, "I'm doing what I'm doing, regardless." The balloons are heedless of this. They are pretty, a little silly in a way but...yeah, pretty, especially in this mellow summer night on an East Village street. You can't take your eyes off any of this. And you can't help some ambiguity about what you're watching. I can't see this Black body with cords wrapping around the neck and extending up into the air and not think about lynching.

Kay is wicked smart, an exacting performer with a divx quality I will dare call classic glamour. Catch them next chance you get.

I also like Jonathan Gonzalez because I never know what to expect from this guy.
This time, for Ikarus, he showed up in blackface, wearing a shiny Mylar-silver jacket and carrying a huge, scarlet Valentine balloon he ultimately draped around an audience member's neck. A lot of bizarre things happened in Ikarus including a chilling version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"--yippie yi ooh yippie yi yay--and some foolery in which Gonzalez hid out of viewing range and some of us shot out of our seats to try to find him only to be stymied by the theater's lights flipping on and off, and then he returned in a duck mask to dance his ass off and quite well, mind you, having his own divx quality. Can't say what any of this was about but the short version of his description reads "Escape is exactly the distance between a dirt bike and the will to leave." Oh, and something like that happened, too, ending the show with the audience once again up on its feet and gazing from the lobby out onto Third Street.

As always, I have no idea exactly what you'll encounter if you venture over to the CURRENT SESSIONS for the series' last show tonight, since it's a different draw of artists. (The first evening, RESCUE, offered works by Gregory King and Megan Young; Raha Behnam; and Elena Rose Light.) But Alexis Convento has keen eyes and provocative taste. She always takes risks, and it's worth your doing so, too.

The CURRENT SESSIONS: Volume VII: On Resistance concludes this evening with RESTRICT, featuring works by Dalel BacreDorian Nuskind-Oder and Simon Grenier-Poirier, and Tina Wang and Tingying Ma at 8pm. Click here for information and tickets.

Wild Project
195 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A and B), Manhattan

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Dick Gregory, 84

Dick Gregory, 84, Dies; Found Humor in the Civil Rights Struggle
by Clyde Haberman, The New York Times, August 19, 2017

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Antonio Ramos: For love of the body

L-r: Antonio Ramos, Darrin Wright and Alvaro Gonzalez
in Almodóvar Dystopia, premiering next month at Dixon Place
Below: l-r, Wright, Gonzalez, Luke Miller and Ramos
(photos: Peter Yesley)

When I read about Antonio Ramos and The Gangbangers planning a world-premiere Dixon Place commission described as "part Latinx-flavored 'asstravaganza,' part humorous celebration of queer culture, and part an outrageous political statement against the body-negative and repressed nature of the world we live in" and, btw, "the work is performed in the nude," I must admit I thought: 'Great. Queer. Check. POC. Check. Nude and body positive. Check and check. Dixon Place. But, of course." I envisioned the delightfully Tricksterish Ramos bringing coals to Newcastle or...whatever would be the appropriate metaphor in this case. The famously-inclusive, provocative Dixon Place is not exactly enemy territory for any of the communities or sensibilities Ramos represents.

The work's title, Almodóvar Dystopia, references Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar with whom Ramos feels creative kinship. Award-winning playwright/director/actor David Drake is onboard as dramaturg, and Ramos is joined in performance by Luke Miller, Darrin Wright, Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy, Angie PittmanSarah White-Ayóand Awilda Rodriguez Lora--a diverse cast who "cull exaggerated personae from their personal backgrounds, exploring the challenges, anxieties, and neuroses entailed in the process of dance-making."

I asked Ramos, the self-identified "Queer-Puerto-Rican-Cha-Cha-Heels-Shaman," to share more about the mission and vulnerability behind the new work and how he hopes to relate to his audiences. Here are some excerpts from his remarks.
I wish an audience that is not used to seeing this kind of work would come to see it. I really want people to understand the importance of body respect and that, in my work, all bodies are beautiful. Right now, in society, there’s this whole thing about how the body should look and how the body should be. That’s affecting us on so many levels, even in the queer community. We call each other names, and I have a problem with that.

I’m actually doing a lot of work on genitals in Almodóvar Dystopia, about how society views genitals as disgusting, taboo, that we constantly have to cover them. It’s an issue I deal with myself: why, if we are made beautiful, we have to cover, and we treat people like they are perverts. To me, that’s the perversity–finding the nude body disgusting and sinful.

It has also been hard for me to find dancers who have that sense of freedom and to deal with photographers who have strict limits on what they can show in their photographs. They don’t have to be rude about it, though. If you’re a photographer, you should find a way to work with the nudity. Their discomfort can be funny, but it’s also offensive to me. Again, it’s the issue of how we deal with genitals in this country. For me, the body is sacred. This is the real thing. We’re real people who sweat. We’re real people who shit and fart.
I am grateful for my dancers' courage, for being vulnerable and naked with me, and for believing in the work.
When you look at Almodóvar’s work, I think he’s always been interested in Hollywood and how to copy Hollywood. I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in his process and how that process of creating is very similar to mine. It’s almost like the meta of the meta of the meta. Kind of doing a play that is being recorded or making a film of and, at the same time, you see the inside of the film, and you see the actors showing you the process of making the film. I do that a lot--show you how the work is done. I have a collage of images--things happening right now, things happening to me, things happening in the world, in Latin America. I’m excited to work with David Drake as my dramaturg. He has been really great.

I’m using elements I haven’t used before, like green screen and livestream. My video designer Alex Romania has helped me with that. Live music. I wanted to make it like you’re in the studio making a film, making a dance and trying to make sense of this mess we live in.

I feel like I have to get my voice out there, and this is my practice to deal with how we are treating one another.

In terms of shamanism, it is my spiritual practice, and I’m trying to do it within my dance. It is my way of living, my way of breaking through. It’s not a dogma, not a religion, not a rule, but more things that come through nature. I feel related to that. A lot of the source material comes from my journey, connecting with nature. Some of this is connected to my mother’s illness and death.
I’ve always been interested in herbalism. I’m a massage therapist. I like energy work. I’m very involved with all that. This sustains the work and my practice as a shaman, as a healer. And I go in nature, I get undressed, and I do my little video in the sea, in the mountains. And somehow that material gets filtrated into the dance, and the dancers learn from these improvisations. The process keeps changing, but the process also keeps creating and setting things from that process.
I don't want to give too much away about the piece, but I always have food in my pieces, and it's a symbol of unity and family, getting people together--the warmth of the food, the sweetness of it. It's part of my Latin culture.
In Almodóvar Dystopia, it's a gift to the audience. I'm grateful to the audience for taking this journey with me. Regardless if you see me as dirty, nasty, queer, perverse, there's always the sweetness. 
I hope people laugh and have fun!
Antonio Ramos is a dancer, choreographer, and licenced massage therapist / Feldenkrais practitioner from Puerto Rico whose recent work has been presented at American Realness, The Center for Performance Research, JACK, and Museo del Barrio. He is currently a resident artist at Gibney Dance and Danspace Project. Ramos is the artistic director and choreographer for Antonio Ramos & the Gangbangers. As a performer, Antonio has danced with choreographers Mark Dendy, Neil Greenberg, Jeremy Nelson, Stephen Petronio, Merian Soto, Kevin Wynn, Ori Flomin, Donna Uchizono and Larissa Velez-Jackson/YACKEZ, among others.

 The Gangbangers find inspiration in pop music, queer identities,  shiny objects, all forms of dance, and the fabulous way a wig can enhance how one presents themselves to others.

Catch Almodóvar Dystopia at Dixon Place on Fridays and Saturdays, September 15-30 at 7:30pm. For information and ticketing, click here.

Dixon Place
161A Chrystie Street, Manhattan

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