So yes, the entire January shit-show thing is coming back and whatnot, and personally I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. There’s tons and tons of mainstage, head-lining shows to see that are new (or largely new) to New York audiences. But for better or worse, the entire reason the entire January festival season thing is a shit-show is precisely because it’s a showcase of work from New York and around the world–for audiences from around the world. So, in the interest of serving what few readers this blog occasionally has, I thought I’d throw out some really strong pieces that should not be missed this January, based on my knowledgeable critical opinion, which may or may not be of interest to you. The list is preliminary and by no means exhaustive, but what follows is a group of artists whose work I’ve followed with engagement and interest, and I’d be remiss not calling them out.
Temporary Distortion’s My Voice Has An Echo In It (COIL Festival)
Kenneth Collins is a relentless sort of artist. He had something good (commercially, if that’s the right word) going with his trilogy of film deconstructions: Welcome to Nowhere (on road movies), Americana Kamikaze (Japanese horror), and Newyorkland (cop films and TV shows). However, as I reported in a lengthy feature on Collins in Chance magazine earlier this year, the entire progression left him cold. From a beginning as an artist interested in arresting but largely static situations, the engagement with film tropes kept inviting in the terror of narrative, until–despite commissions and opportunities–he felt he had to turn his back on it all. A couple years of false starts and deep artistic exploration later, he and his company return with My Voice Has an Echo In It, a durational installation performance piece which takes his Minimalist-sculpture-inspired box aesthetics to new heights. It’s not to be missed.
zoe | juniper’s BeginAgain (COIL Festival)
Similar to Temporary Distortion, my engagement with this piece began critically and journalistically. For two years, I followed the company’s development of the piece, as choreographer Zoe Scofield and designer/visual artist Juniper Shuey attempted to further the aesthetic considerations that had informed their work for years. Juniper’s design has always been beautiful and arresting, but Zoe’s choreography–to be blunt–has been divisive amongst choreographers I know. The dominance of conceptualism in contemporary dance makes Zoe’s highly technically accomplished work a little outside the mainstream as it resolutely refuses to move toward either contemporary ballet or deconstructive conceptual performance. Instead, in this piece, Zoe and Juniper attempted to design a development process that would challenge them to collapse their aesthetic concerns further, subtly shifting the site of spectacle from the dancer’s body (the balletic quality Zoe was so known for) while at the same preserving and furthering Juniper’s exploration of design/installation as a means of lyrical and fluid expression, rather than a conceptual/deconstructive environment or, worse, a “set.” Those who might be tempted to write off the company’s return to Baryshnikov as part of PS 122’s COIL–based on the fact they were here in May with the Joyce Theater (off-site at 3LD)–should be aware that the earlier New York appearance was a reconceptualized “installation/performance” considerably different from the stage version I saw opening weekend in Seattle in March. So even if (or particularly if) you caught the 3LD version, come back. It won’t disappoint.
Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble’s The Art of Luv (Part 1) (Under the Radar)
Ah, the ROKE! Consistently challenging and irreverent, Royal Osiris (the brainchild of theater artist Tei Blow and visual artist Sean McElroy) defies description. Nominally based on characters with a dramaturgically solid (if narratively irrelevant) backstory, Royal Osiris defies traditional categories, as much deconstructive performance art as immersive theater. Blow and McElroy create performances through archaeological excavations of media that ranges from relationship advice shilling to New Age spirituality shilling to…karaoke. But the “shilling” is the important part. Below what at what first blush seems a wormhole of odd-ball YouTube videos (most of which are actually too rare to appear on YouTube) is an indictment of the nightmarish way the ever-increasing prevalence of media self-help, buoyed by a surprisingly solid foundation in business management theory, warps our perceptions of love and self-worth. Also operative in the above is the statement “at first blush”–at first blush, Royal Osiris may not seem to be your thing. Give it a second blush (whatever that euphemism actually means); let them surprise you.
Tony Torn/Dan Safer/Julie Atlas Muz’s Ubu Sings Ubu (No festival, at the Slipper Room for two nights only!)
When Ubu Sings Ubu premiered at Abrons this past April, well…I think it more or less did well, but it sort of avoided the popular (or rather, scene-y) downtown performance consciousness. For a few reasons. Despite having been a member of Reza Abdoh’s company for a series of seminal works, Torn was sort of an unknown in the contemporary. Couple that with Dan Safer, who I think sometimes suffers (unfairly) from the sense that if you’ve seen one Witness Relocation show, you’ve seen them all. And then there was the play itself–Alfred Jarry’s seminal Ubu Roi, a play everyone knows, many people did shit versions of in college, and no one can think of good production of. Oh, and the amazing Julie Atlas Muz? Ubu Sings Ubu opened less than two weeks following the closing of the surprise hit that was her turn in Beauty and the Beast. All of which is really sad, because in this piece, the artists, all bringing their distinctive voices to the production, realized the most effective and original version of Jarry’s oft-neglected text imaginable. Paired with the music of proto-punk outift Pere Ubu, Torn and Muz bring ear-bleeding ferocity to Jarry’s tale of the brutish and ignorant would-be king of Poland. Dan Safer will do some full-body wrestling as the bear. It will stink to high-heaven of kielbasa. And the video/animation design by Kaz Phillips Safer is wonderful.