Posts Tagged ‘BAM Next Wave Festival’

Culture Vulture: Holy Body Tattoo’s MONUMENTAL and nora chipaumire’s portrait of my father

September 18, 2016

I love artwork that shows me things I’ve never seen before. It’s why I’ve always been drawn to the downtown and other-borough venues that showcase emerging and experimental performance. The BAM Next Wave Festival began with a solid commitment to that realm of contemporary live art, and I’ve seen tremendous stuff there over the years. Inevitably, as the festival has become an international institution, there has been a drift toward brand names and sure-fire programming. But every so often BAM makes a new effort to tune into cutting-edge work, most recently by introducing the new cozy BAM Fisher (Fishman Space). This week I saw two shows by artists completely new to me (endorsed by my friend Keith Hennessy, himself a cutting-edge performance-maker/curator/teacher/scenester) and came away challenged and invigorated.

The Holy Body Tattoo is a Vancouver-based dance company that formed in 1993 and in 2006 morphed into a new entity called Animals of Distinction. In 2005, the company created monumental with choreography by company founders Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon, poetic films by William Morrison, texts by Jenny Holzer, and recorded music by Montreal emo band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Last year the bright idea emerged to revive the piece and tour it around to festivals with the band (who recently regrouped after being on hiatus for several years) playing live. I had no file on any of these artists except for Holzer, whose work with soulful/philosophical aphorisms I adore. When I arrived at the BAM Opera House, the ushers were handing out earplugs to nervous middle-aged patrons, which alerted me that it was going to be THAT kind of show, which usually thrills my rock-n-roll heart. The show was indeed a  multimedia spectacle with separate movement, sound, and visual tracks intertwining in provocative and compelling ways.

For the first half of the 85-minute piece, the nine dancers confined themselves to standing on boxes (or plinths, as they call them in the program) — for my taste, they ran out of interesting things to do up there pretty quickly so this section ran long for me. But after that, when they left the boxes, the dancing/movement/choreography kept transforming itself in ways that I could never pin down and mostly found exciting to watch.


The Holzer texts were longer than her usual one-liners and faded in and out unpredictably, forming chapters in a non-linear narrative. And the music was indeed monumental, droney and sweet and slow-building at times and then sometimes dense waves of squalling sound as three electric guitarists at high volume generated spooky crying overtones. Not quite like anything I’ve seen before, which is always high praise in my book.

Same went, only double, for nora chipaumire’s portrait of my father at the BAM Fisher.  It was ostensibly an exploration of black African masculinity centering on the father she never had any real relationship with. But from the minute you walk in the door this is an extremely layered piece in a space that is highly alive in every way. The stage is set up as a boxing ring with chipaumire and Pape Ibrahimas Ndiaye (representing her father/sparring partner) continuously connected via lengths of stretchy straps with Shamar Watt circulating as referee/cheerleader/stage-manager, constantly rearranging the portable floodlights that serve as the show’s only lighting. (A witty touch: instead of earplugs, the audience is issued cheap sunglasses in case the glare gets to be too much — a courtesy never offered at Richard Foreman shows.)

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But the activities, the costumes, the gestures, the masks, the soundscore, and the movement pile onto the boxing metaphor numerous other frameworks: hiphop concert, voodoo ritual, club performance, shamanic trance ceremony, and Wooster Group-style mediated theater. There’s a lot of movement that rarely looks like dancing, speech that rarely emerges as coherent sentences let alone narrative, sound that almost never sounds like music — and the whole thing is pretty riveting. The three performers push themselves to extremes of physical ability, gender identification, and cultural cross-reference.  I was dazzled. 



November 22, 2012

The score handed to audience members for Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s ROMAN TRAGEDIES at BAM

pre-show, with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” on a continuous loop

Soon into the first of three Shakespeare plays back-to-back, CORIOLANUS, the audience was invited to go onstage, observe the action close up, and be part of the spectacle for people who remained in the auditorium. The scene on the large screen is taking place in the seating area on the left side of this picture.

The actors spoke only Dutch, with the English translation appearing on the large video screen (and smaller flat screens onstage). The LED screen underneath would periodically offer footnotes, dramaturgical asides, and a countdown toward the deaths in the show.

When a character died, he or she would lie on a platform that slid between the two glass walls at center, and the image of the sprawled corpse would appear onscreen (like a police crime-scene shot) with the birth and death dates.

Battle scenes were represented by one minute of stark lighting and cacophonous loud sound emanating from two percussionists in the orchestra pit.

JULIUS CAESAR proceeded straight out of CORIOLANUS, the actors again dressed in contemporary business drag — here you see Caesar’s funeral oration represented as a press conference.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA mostly seemed to be taking place in hotel rooms — here, in the opening scene, Marc Antony sprawls on a sofa in his boxer shorts watching a movie on his iPad while cartoons play on the flat-screen TV and his staff sleep off the previous night’s debauch on other sofas.

I had excellent seats in the sixth row on the aisle so I stayed put for most of the show. But during the last scene change, I decided to walk around onstage of the BAM Opera House because, hey, when else would I get a chance to do so? The clocks counted down the time til the next scene began.

Two bars onstage sold food and drinks throughout the show, and next to one of them this actor (Fred Goessens) sat and made announcements keeping the audience informed, in the crisp bland manner of airports or hospitals. (“Cleopatra, to the white courtesy telephone, please…”)

Given permission to take pictures (or Twitter) throughout the performance, the documentarian in me could not resist doing so, which only reinforced the production’s cool reflection of our media-saturated contemporary culture, where nothing happens without people recording it on their smartphones. “Pictures or it didn’t happen.”

After the long slow deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, and after the bows (which included not only the actors and musicians but all the stage hands and, finally, the maestro himself, Ivo van Hove), the show wasn’t quite over yet — onscreen, where you might seen film credits, the departing audience saw a long long series of questions inspired by the issues of the play: a suitable ending for a pitilessly Brechtian production.












Theater review: Needcompany’s THE DEER HOUSE

October 7, 2010

I’ve been covering the work of Needcompany, the Brussels-based theater troupe, since its inception in 1987. I saw their first piece, need to know, at the Polverigi Festival in Italy, and I think I’ve seen all the work they’ve presented in New York, mostly at the BAM Next Wave Festival. I interviewed director Jan Lauwers for the New York Times when they performed Morning Song in 1999, and then when they returned in 2001 with their savage adaptation of King Lear, I interviewed Lauwers again for the BAM Playbill. My review of their latest work, The Deer House, has been posted on

The Deer House… is an epic spectacle about chaos and beauty, theater and war. Of all European theatermakers, Needcompany’s director and playwright Jan Lauwers is virtually alone in remaining insistently aware that a brutal war is being fought somewhere on the planet, sometimes just a day’s trip by car from where he’s living. And in his work, he refuses to avert his gaze from that reality.”

You can read the entire review online here.

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