Archive for the 'Culture Vulture' Category

Culture Vulture: Aretha Franklin, Morgan Bassichis, Bi Gan, and Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern

April 15, 2019

Another rich cultural weekend:

Friday night: at the Angelika Film Center saw AMAZING GRACE, the long-lost documentary of Aretha Franklin recording her 1972 gospel album. Sublime!

Saturday night: KLEZMER MUSIC FOR BEGINNERS, performance at the Abrons Arts Center by Morgan Bassichis and Ethan Philbrick. Hilarious, fun, informative, and surprising — klezmer arrangements of Amy Winehouse!

Sunday night: LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, not the O’Neill play but the second film by the extraordinary Chinese director Bi Gan — every bit as trippy and beautiful as his debut, KAILI BLUES, with again a bravura long take. In KAILI BLUES it was a 40-minute shot; in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY, halfway through the movie, the main character needs to kill some time and goes to the local cinema. When he puts on his 3D glasses, it’s a cue for the audience to do the same. What follows is a mind-boggling 59-minute film-within-a-film, shot in one insanely complicated long take (part of which has the camera attached to a drone). David Lynch meets Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Sunday afternoon: after a Gays Against Guns action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where I participated as one of the white-clad non-speaking Human Beings representing Americans killed by gun violence at their places of worship, I strolled through the Museum of Modern Art. In the “New Order: Art and Technology in the Twenty-First Century” exhibition, I was intrigued by a series of holograms created by Louise Bourgeois.

But I was most curious to check out “Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern,” a fun counterpart to “The Young and Evil” show at David Zwirner Gallery, which surveyed the same tight circle of artists and friends.

Who knew Paul Cadmus had designed costumes for the ballet? See-through overalls for a dance called “Filling Station.”

Jared French designed costumes for another ballet, one of which looked to me like “Billy the Kid as a Big Girl.”

Karl Free’s costumes for a cringe-making ballet called “Pocohontas” included this strikingly beefcakey rendition of Captain John Smith.

Kurt Seligmann designed some wild costumes for “The Four Temperaments,” including this one called “Fourth Variation/Choleric.”

My admiration for Pavel Tchelitchew continues to expand with this design for a character known as Nervous System in a ballet called “The Cave of Sleep.”

Elsewhere in the show I admired Paul Klee’s “Actor’s Mask.”

Also this touching painting by Ben Shahn titled “Willis Avenue Bridge.”

 

Culture Vulture: A TASTE OF HARRY Queer/Art salon

April 6, 2019

Last Sunday, March 31, Queer | Art presented a salon called “A Taste of Harry: Selected Readings from the Work of Harry Kondoleon” hosted by Mitchell Lichtenstein at his lovely townhouse in the West Village. Five artists from Queer | Art’s mentorship program – Moe Angelos, Jess Barbagallo, Morgan Bassichis, Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, and Everett Quinton – performed a series of excerpts from Harry’s work for an invited audience of 50 guests that included family and friends, theatrical luminaries (John Guare, David Henry Hwang), and Queer | Art supporters.

The very entertaining program comprised excerpts from plays, poems, and fictional work selected by Harry’s good friends Mitchell, Don Shewey, and Stephen Soba. Mitchell directed the reading, and Don co-facilitated a discussion afterwards with Queer | Art’s managing director Travis Chamberlain. For fans, it was fun to revisit Harry’s work; for others in the room, it was a revelatory introduction to his distinctive voice. Big gratitude to Mitchell and his partner Vincent Sanchez for hosting and providing delicious hors d’oeuvres and beverages, to Travis and his staff for shining a light on an artist who has been gone for 25 years but whose work lives on, and to Ira Sachs for conceiving the mission of Queer | Art – see the mission statement reprinted in the program (below).

Culture Vulture: Walt Whitman, Netta Yerashalmy, R. Crumb, Okwui Okpokwasili, and more

March 22, 2019

[Note: this post contains some NSFW images.]

 

The last 10 days have been unusually dense and rich with cultural experiences. I NY!

March 9: My husband Andy sings with the Dessoff Choirs, the prestigious choral group that has been performing continuously for 95 years. The current musical director, wunderkind Malcolm J. Merriweather, brings an ambitious taste in repertoire, a theatrical flair for staging, and impeccable musicianship to the mix. He chose to devote the entire current season to settings of Walt Whitman on the occasion of the great American poet’s bicentennial. Today’s concert at Union Theological Seminary started at 4pm (one of Merriweather’s strokes of genius – it’s a perfect time to assemble an audience without competing with shows observing the traditional 8:00 curtain time), after a fascinating lecture by Whitman scholar Karen Karbiener. I arrived a bit late and didn’t get to hear Malcolm (below) perform Kurt Weill’s settings of two Whitman poems (including “Oh Captain! My Captain!” which she reminded the audience was about Abraham Lincoln) but caught enough of her talk to pique my interest in checking out his pre-Leaves of Grass prose writing.

The concert began with “Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf,” finishing another Malcolm project to perform all of Bach’s motets. Gorgeous. Then came the world premiere of “Whispers of Heavenly Death,” an exquisite short piece for piano (Steven Ryan), chorus, and solo soprano (Tami Petty) composed by Dessoff member Ian Sturges Milliken (who’s 35!), followed by Jeffrey Van’s 1994 “A Procession Winding Around Me,” four Civil War poems accompanied only by guitar (Lars Frandsen) that had many of us in tears with its extraordinary compassion: “My enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead.” (The lines from “Reconciliation” about how “war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost” reminded me of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s epic The Warrior Ant, which counsels that “All wars are lost.”) The score also included a passage requiring several performers to whistle (including my talented husband).  After intermission came Rene Clausen’s very beautiful “Three Whitman Songs” (1992), and the concert concluded with Charles Villiers Stanford’s 1884 “Elegiac Ode,” sort of stuffy and Victorian and not to my taste.

The final concert of the Whitman season will be May 31.

March 10: The annual music issue of the New York Times Magazine always intrigues me with its theme of “The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now.” (A more accurate headline would admit “That Matter to 25-Year-Olds Right Now.”) It’s an opportunity for anyone who doesn’t read Pitchfork religiously to catch up on what’s hot and provocative in contemporary pop/hip-hop. I got a lot out of reading Lizzy Goodman’s profile of emerging pop-country star Kacey Musgraves (with an astonishing photo of her alongside two contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race, below), Nikole Hannah-Jones interviewing Meek Mill, Wesley Morris riffing on a non-hit Lady Gaga number from A Star Is Born, and learning about a few artists brand new to me (Tierra Whack, Rosalía). But the best thing about the feature is listening to the Spotify playlist of all 25 songs, some of which I’ll never need to hear again (“Baby Shark”) and some that will definitely join my music library (James Blake’s “Assume Form,” Sharon Van Etten’s “Comeback Kid,” Robyn’s “Honey,” Julia Holter’s “I Shall Love 2”).

Kasey Musgraves with Monet X. Change and Trinity the Tuck, photo by Devin Yalkin

March 12: I’m super-picky about TV shows. Hardly any appeal to me, and it takes a lot for me to get past the first episode of any series. All-time favorites: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under,  and Looking, the only ones I’ve seen from beginning to end. New favorite: High Maintenance. Recently, enough people have raved about it to lure me into Schitt’s Creek; I’m liking it, but I suspect that I will lose interest halfway through Season 3, as I did with Girls and Orange is The New Black. Tonight I gave Russian Doll a shot. Color me intrigued. I’ll watch more.

March 14: On the strength of Keith Hennessy’s recommendation, I bought a ticket to Netta Yerashalmy’s six-part four-hour performance Paramodernities at New York Live Arts, in which the Israeli-born New York-based Yerushalmy pays tribute to six canonical dance artists: Nijinsky, Martha Graham, Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, and Alvin Ailey.  Waiting for the show to begin, I found myself thinking, “Why am I here? This isn’t really my world. Okay, two intermissions, I can leave whenever I want…” But I stayed to the end and was really glad I did.

Each of the six sections responded to the legendary dance/choreographer differently. None was exactly a reproduction; each was an homage to the subject, or better yet an essay, given that Yerashalmy enlisted a dance critic/scholar as key collaborator for each section, which I loved as a critic/scholar/word-person myself. Their contributions really helped expand the frame of the work and felt deeply collegial. I think it’s especially valuable in dance to have a bridge of words between the audience and work that is (usually) non-verbal.

Not overly reverent, Yerashalmy “queered” each investigation. For instance, in the first section, she originally planned to perform Nijinsky’s 1913 Le Sacre du Printemps but decided instead to have Marc Crousillat perform in her costume (a red smock) while she lounged onstage watching; meanwhile, her life partner David Kishik, a philosophy professor at Emerson College, sat at a table playing cassette tapes of his scholarly remarks about Nijinsky read by someone without an accent (Michael Cecconi). The next piece looked at Martha Graham through the lens of “Trauma, Interdiction, and Agency in ‘The House of Pelvic Truth.’” The response to Fosse’s work on the 1969 film Sweet Charity struck me as the weakest, trafficking in shallow readings of Fosse, but its cast of four dancers included Joyce Edwards, a fiery and funny presence I want to see more of.

The evening built from there. The section on Merce Cunningham had the two dancers (Crousillat and Brittany Engel-Adams) chatting extemporaneously with the charming critic Claudia LaRocco, with a five-minute interlude by a guest artist, in this case Bill T. Jones himself, who read from snippets from his published journals relating to Merce, including a story about John Cage showing him around their loft and pointing to a closed door: “That’s where Mercy sleeps.”

In “The Choreography of Rehabilitation: Disability and Race in Balanchine’s Agon,” NYU professor Mara Mills (on video) told an elaborate and riveting story about Balanchine’s relationship with Tanaquil Le Clercq, his fourth wife. When Le Clercq was fifteen years old, Balanchine asked her to perform with him at a benefit for The March of Dimes; he played a character named Polio, and Le Clercq was his victim who became paralyzed and fell to the floor until children tossed dimes at her character, prompting her to get up and dance again. Twelve years later, Le Clercq contracted polio while on tour with Balanchine’s company in Europe and was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life. Balanchine suspended his career and spent a year with her at a rehab center in the South (whites-only, incidentally) learning exercises to try to restore her mobility. When he returned to work, he used those exercises to create the 1957 piece Agon, the first ballet to feature a black male dancer in a leading role (Arthur Mitchell, who would go on to found the Dance Theater of Harlem). This section also included text by Georgina Kleege, a blind author who appeared onstage with a support cane, which she put down in order to do some simple choreography with two other dancers. (The Saturday night performance would feature audio description of the entire event for visually impaired audience members.)

The final section focused on Ailey’s 1960 Revelations. Duke University professor Thomas DeFrantz spoke very frankly and powerfully about how Alvin Ailey made space in Revelations for black gay male experience/existence, likening it to his savvy grandmother’s making it safe for young Tommy to be openly gay in his Indiana family. In this section, as in two previous sections, seating was set up onstage and the audience invited down to sit there. The evening ended with the dancers (three black men, one black woman, and Yerashalmy) dancing up the aisles through the audience, followed by DeFrantz (above, toting his laptop) chanting over and over again: “DON’T YOU WANT TO BE FREE? DON’T YOU WANT TO BE FREE?”

March 16: In the afternoon Andy and I fled the St. Patrick’s Day parade madness in midtown to the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, where we looked at two terrific exhibitions. “Drawing for Print: Mind Fucks, Kultur Klashes, Pulp Fiction & Pulp Fact by the Illustrious R. Crumb,” curated by Robert Storr, displayed rare sketchbooks and tearsheets from the prolific artist’s early years – underground comix at their most sexually and racially provocative.

“The Young and Evil,” a group exhibition curated by Jarrett Earnest, focuses on a fascinating cohort of artists whose social, sexual, and professional pathways were intricately intertwined, as this diagram cleverly illustrates.

Some fantastic drawings and paintings by Paul Cadmus, his lover Jared French, and Pavel Tchelitchew; beautiful portraits by George Platt Lynes (who lived for many years in a thruple with writer Glenway Wecott and publisher Monroe Wheeler); work by artists new to me (Margaret Hoening French, Bernard Perlin, George Tooker, Jensen Yow); and an astonishing vitrine of explicit erotic art work by various members of this crew commissioned by pioneering sex researcher Alfred A. Kinsey and rarely seen outside of the Kinsey Institute in Indiana. The title of the show comes from an extremely edgy-for-its-time 1933 gay novel co-written by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler (the latter also famous for his pre-Vito Russo study Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies).

Cadmus by Platt Lynes

Cadmus for Kinsey

Tchelitchew, GOD OF RAIN

Tchelitchew erotica

From Chelsea we headed over to the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side to catch Adaku’s Revolt, the latest performance piece by Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born. Although it was commissioned for the French Institute Alliance Française’s Tilt Kids Festival, the show was every bit as sophisticated, dense, and imagistic as their terrific previous pieces (Bronx Gothic and Poor People’s TV Room). Adaku’s Revolt tells a story about a young black girl (played by AJ Wilmore) who resists “normative standards of beauty” – i.e., having her hair straightened with the dreaded hot comb. But the narrative is decidedly non-linear, utilizing physical rigor, dance, music, text, and imagery in unpredictable combinations, adding up to a very satisfying and original hour-long piece of theater with five excellent performances (including Okpokwasili) and imaginative staging and design by Born. We enjoyed discussing it over a delicious North African meal at Nomad in the East Village.

 

 

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Bleach and Barshaa in Bushwick, Miro and Matisse at MOMA

February 24, 2019

Friday night my friend Dave and I ventured deep into Bushwick to see a show with no publicity that I learned about from the TodayTix app: Dan Ireland-Reeves’ play Bleach. It propelled me to the Wilson Ave. stop on the L train, farther into Bushwick than I’d ever visited before, and into a performance space called Tyler’s Basement, next-door to a tiny shop selling CBD products made from hemp.

Tyler’s Basement is named for the one and only character in the play, which is performed immersive-style — meaning that the audience (limited to 10 people) sits on chairs and sofas in the studio apartment occupied by Tyler, who’s in bed under the covers as we arrive. When the lights go down, he wakes up, gets up out of bed naked, and proceeds to pull on tighty-whities while launching into the tale of his life as a sex worker, an escort, a gay hustler, an existence haunted by a recent outcall that turned scary. When we checked in at the all-purpose box office, kitchen, and stage manager’s booth, friendly Jake Lemmenes asked us to turn our cel phones off and inquired as to whether we consented to being touched by the performer. The audience — 9 gay guys and one woman — gave our consent, and indeed 4 or 5 of us had some close personal contact with Eamon Yates, who performed the role this night. (He alternates with Brendan George to do 14 shows per week.) Although the plot and the story stayed pretty predictable, Zack Carey did a reasonably good job of staging the play, managing locations and the passage of time with surprisingly sophisticated lighting cues (also run by Jake Lemmenes). The show runs through March 10.

While we were in the neighborhood, we made sure to scope out a local eatery and found ourselves at Barchaa, a Peruvian fusion joint that just opened last summer. Doing pretty well, judging from the full house on a winter Friday night . We were the only gringos in the house and enjoyed grilled octopus and quinotto (risotto made from quinoa) along with cocktails, greeted warmly by the owner Kelvin, who said the staff is a mixture of Dominicans, Venezuelans, and Colombians.

On my commute, I listened to Marlon James being interviewed by Gia Tolentino on the New Yorker Radio Hour — good stuff!

“The Hunter (Catalan Landscape”)

Saturday afternoon, after our respective workouts (he at Training Lab boot camp, I at the West Side Y), my husband Andy and I roused ourselves from weekend afternoon sloth and spent an hour wandering through the Museum of Modern Art, checking out the members’ preview of a delightful show (“Birth of the World”) of works by Joan Miró as well as “The Long Run” (a show focusing on late-in-life experimentation by established 20th century artists like David Hammons, Joan Jonas, and Joan Mitchell) and the selections from the permanent collection currently on display.

“The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers”

“The Escape Ladder”

“Personages, Mountains, Sky, Star and Bird”

“Portrait of a Man in Nineteenth Century Frame”

I’ve always enjoyed Miró’s quirky, surrealistic work, and the pieces included here are quite delightful. It’s always interesting to see the early figurative work of artists who went on made their marks with unmistakable signature styles — like Duchamp, Rothko, Pollack, and so many others, Miró started out relatively conservatively before he busted out with the distorted swoops and shapes we recognize at a glance now.

Among the permanent collection, I revisited a canvas that always draws me in, James Ensor’s “Masks Confronting Death” (above, painted in 1888! but resembles some of Hopper’s more impressionist pieces).

And I relished several Matisse paintings that didn’t immediately scream “Matisse,” including “The Piano Lesson” (above) his “View of Nortre Dame” (below), which for some reason reminded me of Joni Mitchell’s song “Two Grey Rooms.”

Looking up a video of that song, I came across this information (from the liner notes of The Complete Geffen Recordings) that I’d never encountered before. Oh, Joni, how we love you so!

“It took me seven years to find words for it. I kept thinking, ‘This thing wants to be written in French,’ and I had to find the right story for the mood of it. It’s a very dramatic melody, full of longing. So, I finally found a story in some magazine about a German aristocrat, a homosexual and friend of [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, who had a lover in his youth that he never got over. He lost track of him for many years. One day, he discovered that his old flame was working on the docks. He moved out of his fancy digs and into a couple of dingy rooms that overlooked the route where, with his hard hat and his lunch pail, his ex-lover walked to work. He lived to glimpse him twice a day, coming and going. He never approached him.”

Culture Vulture: Best Theater of 2018

January 24, 2019

Best Theater of 2018:
(somewhat arbitrary ranking)

  1. After – Andrew Schneider’s spooky high-tech meditation on what happens to the dying body (Under the Radar)
  2. 24-Decade History of Popular Music – Taylor Mac’s temporary queer utopia (all 24 hours in Philadelphia)

  3. The Damned/NetworkIvo van Hove’s intense, upsetting staging of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 film about the rise of Nazism — performed by Comédie-Française at Park Avenue Armory with his usual peerlessly inventive multimedia design team — was eerily resonant with today’s shifting political landscape. Ditto van Hove’s London-to-Broadway stage version of Sidney Lumet’s 1976 movie depicting electronic media’s uncanny ability to turn grass-roots political rebellion into cash-generating consumer culture; Bryan Cranston gave a towering performance as the disillusioned newscaster who’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”
  4. The Emperor – Colin Teevan’s adaptation of Ryszard Kapuśiński’s portrait of Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie at Theater for a New Audience with stunning performances by Kathryn Hunter and musician Temesgen Zeleke
  5. The Head and the Load – William Kentridge’s spectacular, appalling pageant depicting the involuntary participation of Africans in World War I, at Park Avenue Armory

  6. Dance Nation – Clare Barron’s fascinating, constantly morphing ode to girl power at Playwrights Horizons
  7. In and Of Itself – Derek Delgaudio’s melancholy mind-blowing philosophy-seminar-as-magic-act
  8. Three Tall Women – Joe Mantello’s exquisite revival of Edward Albee’s play with ferocious Glenda Jackson
  9. Is God Isdespite everything I didn’t like about Taibi Magar’s production at Soho Rep, I was knocked out by Aleshea Harris’s crazy/bold language and theatrical imagination
  10. In the Body of the World – Diane Paulus’s beautiful staging of Eve Ensler’s raw cancer memoir

Other remarkable manifestations: Toshi Reagon’s music for The Parable of the Sower and Dickie Beau’s stealth AIDS memoir Re-Member Me, both at Under the Radar; Vox Motus’s puppet epic Flight at the McKittrick Hotel; the Performing Garage incarnation of the Wooster Group’s hommage to Tadeusz Kantor, A Pink Chair (in Place of a Fake Antique) ; Joe Mantello’s Broadway revival of The Boys in the Band ; Oneohtrix Point Never’s trippy theatrical concert Myriad at Park Avenue Armory; the brief, timely revival of Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus in Central Park; Craig Lucas’s brave play I Was Most Alive with You at Playwrights Horizons, starring the mesmerizing Russell Harvard; Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s spectacular staging of Six Brandenburg Concertos (above) at Park Avenue Armory (do you detect a theme? the Armory programming rocks — hats off to executive producer Rebecca Robertson!); Elaine May and Joan Allen in Lila Neugebauer’s fine production of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery ; Daniel Fish’s bold reimagining of Oklahoma!  at St. Ann’s Warehouse; Heidi Schreck’s righteously outraged What the Constitution Means to Me ; Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s tough immersive drama The Jungle with its gigantic international cast at St. Ann’s; Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on Broadway with another terrific huge ensemble, among whom Justin Edwards especially stands out; and Jeremy Harris’s edgy, form-smashing Slave Play at New York Theater Workshop.

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