Quote of the day: GRIEF

April 28, 2019

GRIEF

The playwright asked for the floor… But when McCraney talked, he didn’t talk about the play [Choir Boy] or the dialogue. Instead, he talked about grief. Casually, as though it were something that just came to his mind. He explained what it felt like to lose his mother at 22. He did not talk about how she died, and he hinted only a little at the complexity of their relationship; this address was not autobiographical. It was to do with emotions. McCraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained its half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay. He talked about the phenomenon, when grieving a loved one, in which you begin to have memories of times after their death that you think they must have been present for. Remember when I won an Academy Award for my movie, and you were so proud? And then he talked about how things like that make you grieve their absence all over again, and how that grief catches you unawares, taking over your body when you least expect it. It sits in a small reservoir beneath your heart. It whispers to you at odd hours and yells at you in quiet ones.

–Carvell Wallace writing about Tarell Alvin McCraney in the New York Times


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.

 

 


R.I.P.: 25th anniversary of Harry Kondoleon’s death

March 21, 2019

Harry Kondoleon left this plane of existence 25 years ago, March 16, 1994. Like so many of our friends who were casualties of the AIDS epidemic, at the end of his life he was blind in one eye, skeletally thin, and in a lot of pain. He passed away in his bed holding his father’s hand. (portrait above by Robert Giard)

In the last year of his life, Harry published DIARY OF A LOST BOY, his surrealistic novel about living with AIDS. The book was very well published (by Alfred A. Knopf, no less!) and well-received critically. Most important, Harry performed a spectacular act of grace and self-healing by envisioning his own demise.

The book ends with a quote from Meister Eckhart: “Listen then to this wonder! How wonderful it is to be both outside and inside, to seize and to be seized, to see and at the same time to be what is seen, to hold and to be held — that is the goal where the spirit remains at rest, united with our dear eternity.”

Just before that, the final paragraph of Harry’s text reads:

“My face is down in the dirt, but make no mistake, it is a beautiful place. Even the little bowls of bread soaked in milk Kim has left near the oak tree for me only enhance the landscape which is God’s presence. Even the dead flowers must be groomed and honored, and by leaving them we leave death, and those are the attachments of this world. Fear be gone! Please do not feel sorry for me — I go to some place thrilling!”


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