Posts Tagged ‘laurie anderson’

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary:

October 25, 2021

Cautiously and carefully, theater is back, and the culture world of New York City has come back to life. There’s a lot to see, and a lot I want to see, but rather than plunging in I’m trying to pace myself.

Wednesday 10/13

KLUDGE  /klo͞oj/
Noun
1. An ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose.
Verb
1. Use ill-assorted parts to make (something).

“Kludge” was the title for five nights of performances at Joe’s Pub curated and hosted by Laurie Anderson, this year’s Vanguard artist-in-residence. The Vanguard is an award and yearlong residency that celebrates the career of a singular artist who has contributed to American life and pop culture and is a part of the Joe’s Pub family of artists. This artist also sustains and leads their own artistic community while creating a body of work that stands apart from their peers. I didn’t get to see Arto Lindsay or writer Lafcadio Cass, but tonight’s guests were poet Anne Carson and cellist Ruben Kodheli and his trio. Laurie started off playing a record about hypnosis on a strange stand-up phonograph that she said she’d just bought (at the MOMA gift shop, did she say?), but the sound levels were murky and we didn’t hear what she wanted us to hear.

Anne Carson read from her book The Autobiography of Red, a novel in verse about Geryon, a figure who shows up in the myth of Herakles – in this version they become lovers. Then Laurie improvised with Ruben’s group, then Anne read some of her “Small Tales,” 13-second (or more) discourses on random subjects. One involved contemplating Hegel’s grammatical indignation on Christmas Day while snow-standing. Then another improv, and then the show was over, a crisp one hour show.

Thursday 10/14 – I went with Jay Michaelson to see Wally Shawn’s The Fever performed by Lili Taylor. I wrote a separate blog post about that. Jay and I had a good conversation about the content of the piece over dinner next-door at Da Toscano.

Saturday 10/16

I saw the Metropolitan Opera matinee of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones, based on Charles Blow’s memoir about growing up in Louisiana and being molested by a favorite uncle when he was 7. I found most of the vocal score unbeautiful and the libretto by Kasi Lemmons somewhat stilted. I admired the lush lyricism of Blanchard’s orchestral music (conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin), and I was excited to witness the first opera by a black composer ever produced by the Met.

In the evening, Andy and I took in the Wooster Group’s production of Brecht’s The Mother at the Performing Garage, mounted as a kind of exercise in trying on Brechtian theory, which is not that much of a stretch for the Woosters: exposing the machinery, the actors playing themselves rather disappearing into the role, etc. I liked that they focused on doing a play about communism from the point of view of the workers, striking to protest a cut in their pay, and how the title character goes from meek conformism to committed activism. Similar to the group’s mounting of Pinter’s The Room, it felt like a study, a little dry, less passionate than some of Elizabeth LeCompte’s more elaborate theatrical collages. The list of source material in the program intrigued me, and I came away curious to check out a few items on the list: Slavoj Zižek’s Let Us Be Realists and Demand The Impossible: Communism, Fassbinder’s Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I’d made a reservation for dinner afterwards at Pastazul around the corner on Grand Street (that used to be Lucky Strike) but the dining room was dominated by shrieking partygoers, and so we went to Felix on West Broadway, which was also insanely loud – even sitting in the dining shed, we could barely hear ourselves over the music and the hubbub from inside the restaurant, and the loud tables in the shed, and the son of one of the waiters who was restlessly clomping around the outhouse. But we ordered our merguez and our red wine and everything was fine. New Yorkers are ready to go out and party hard!

Thursday 10/21

In one of the most interesting experiments in recent Broadway history, the Vineyard Theatre has two shows previously produced at their home base in Union Square playing in rep at the Lyceum, a small Broadway house often commandeered by not-for-profit theater companies venturing to draw a larger audience. I’m seeing the remount of Lucas Hnath’s Dana H. next week. Tonight was Is This A Room, which was conceived and directed by Tina Satter, whose company Half Straddle performed the piece at the Kitchen before it moved to the Vineyard for an extended run. The hour-long performance stages verbatim the official transcript of the FBI’s interview with Reality Winner at her home in Augusta, Georgia, on June 3, 2017. Winner, you may recall, was the 25-year-old Air Force intelligence specialist who spent four years in jail for leaking proof of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Satter has fun making theatrical hay from the FBI agents’ fumbly manner and the transcript’s redacted jumpiness and mundane absurdism. Pete Simpson from Elevator Repair Service and Will Cobbs play the interrogators, and downtown legend Becca Blackwell gets to stomp around the edges as Unknown Male providing security for the detail.

For all the ridiculousness of the encounter, the piece maintains a dread-dredged tautness largely thanks to Emily Davis’s deservedly award-winning performance as the central figure, an eerie weightless figure in cutoff jeans who apparently speaks Farsi, Dari, and Pashto, owns a pink AR-15, and surrenders her iPhone even though she needs it to play music for the yoga classes she teaches. We literally see nothing else in the course of the show, yet it resonates with so much of the craziness of the last five years of American public life, the jittery dance between citizen participation and the forces in the federal government who have no accountability for their dark deeds.

Friday 10/22

Back at Joe’s Pub for an early glimpse of Taylor Mac’s work-in-progress, Sugar in the Tank: New Songs About Queer People, envisioned as a 54-song tribute to queer heroes, both legendary and unknown. Among the dozen or so songs we got to hear, Larry Kramer and Stormé DeLarverie were referenced by name. But the sound system was cranked so loud it was hard to hear many of the lyrics, which frustrated me.

Sporting a full-blown carrot-colored coronabeard and dressed by Machine Dazzle in an outfit that Mr. David Zinn described as “Hibiscus meets Phyllis Diller,” Mac fronted the band that pumped its way through Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music, including musical director Matt Ray on keyboards and dazzling guitarist Viva DeConcini.

Each of the three backup singers got a solo – Steffi Christi’an (below) blew me away with hers.

We had a delicious meal afterwards at Corkbuzz on E. 13th Street and got to check out Chris Carnabuci’s public art installation in Union Square, SeeInJustice – giant heads of George Floyd, John Lewis, and Breonna Taylor, which looked especially amazing at night under a full moon.

Saturday 10/23

We joined Andy’s college bestie Bob for his second screening of Denis Villaneuve’s Dune on 42nd Street. I’ve never read Frank Herbert’s book, though I did see David Lynch’s unloved movie version when it came out in 1984. These futuristic epics in which a handful of super-powered individuals take on and triumph over vast hordes of confusing, interchangeable bad guys have never been my cup of tea, but I was happy to go along for the pop moment, the popcorn, and the dinner afterwards at Wagamama.

Happy as I am to be seeing live performances and going to actual movies theaters again, I am surprised to acknowledge that my favorite cultural vulturing in the last couple of weeks has been watching Ted Lasso. It’s a show that I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about from smart friends, and for some reason I held it at arm’s length. The capsule description – fish-out-of-water American gets hired to coach second-rate British soccer team – hits none of my pleasure points, and I feared it would be way too heart-warming. Damned if I wasn’t hooked from the get-go the same way everyone else is, by the constantly surprising overturning of preconceptions about virtually every single character, the smart writing with the weirdest non sequiturs, the casual but pointed anti-racism, and the eruption of laughs and genuine emotion when you’re not expecting them. Three cheers for joy!

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Laurie Anderson, DEEP BLUE SEA, House of Dior, and SANCTUARY CITY

October 12, 2021

October 6: Laurie Anderson’s fourth Norton Lecture

Some highlights:

She quoted her friend Justin Stanwix who refers to the internet as “assisted living for millennials.”

She mentioned that her middle name is Phillips, which led to Phillips 66 gas stations, named after Route 66. Also, who knew that the name of the phone company Sprint is an acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony?

She said that she always sets up and breaks down her equipment for a concert by herself and that sometimes she wears a wig and a “CREW” T-shirt as a disguise. (It’s true – I watched her nimbly and efficiently dismantle her elaborate sound system after a show in San Francisco, although she wasn’t in disguise on that occasion.)

She spent some time discussing the notion of “the avant-garde” in 20th century art, noting that Gertrude Stein – who might be a perfect example of an avant-garde artist whom people consider difficult or inscrutable – gave 74 lectures on an American tour in 1934-35, her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas made the best-seller lists, and her opera Four Saints in Three Acts was performed by an all-black cast for six weeks on Broadway in 1934. NOT marginal or obscure.

She brought up the nefarious Texas law empowering citizen-vigilantes to prevent women from receiving abortions and asked, “How is this different from the Taliban?”

She spoke poignantly about her mother, who was brilliant but cold, and wondered: “If I’d had a warm mother, would I have seen technology as more embracing?”

Her aspiration: “Try to have a big mind and an open heart.”

Norton Lectures #5 and 6 are scheduled for November 10 and December 8. You can register in advance to receive the Zoom link (free) here.

Laurie Anderson fans will also want to read Sam Anderson’s beautifully written profile of her in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

I was tickled to see the magazine reprint Allan Tannenbaum’s picture that ran with my 1980 cover story for the Soho News.

The NYT piece coincides with the opening of “The Weather,” her show of paintings and immersive installations at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Click here for details.

Also this week Laurie plays MC for a series of shows at Joe’s Pub under the collective title Kludge (definition: “An ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose”), featuring poet Anne Carson, musician and composer Arto Lindsay, writer Lafcadio Cass, and cellist Rubin Kodheli, in different combinations. See here for details.

October 8: penultimate performance of Deep Blue Sea at the Park Avenue Armory

Bill T. Jones’ exquisite performance collage Deep Blue Sea weaves Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech into a monumental meditation on remembering and forgetting, the individual and the collective, freedom and justice, and asking young people to take the mic and share what they know.

For the first part Jones takes the vast stage of the Park Avenue Armory by himself, with occasional flights of sweet music from five vocalists at one end of the theater-in-the-round. For the second part he’s joined by the current members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company, 10 dancers with excellent chops and extremely distinct personalities. Amidst their rigorous choreography, Jones tracks them with a video camera, addressing them each by name, two different times.

Then for the last section, 100 other dancers appear and fill the stage with waves of actions and group image-making. The music throughout — original score with contributions from Nick Hallett, Hprizm aka High Priest, Rena Anakwe, and Holland Andrews — is beautiful, as is the extraordinary visual environment created by Elizabeth Diller – DS&R and Peter Nigrini with Lighting by Robert Wierzel.

For the last 15 minutes of the show, the “community participants” take turns declaring an “I know” statement. The extremely diverse cast includes at least three hearing-impaired performers (all the statements are translated by sign-language interpreters) and someone I casually clocked as “a Larry Goldhuber type” who turned out to be Larry Goldhuber himself, the plus-sized Jones/Zane veteran, whose statement was “I know everything.” Especially pertinent statements got greeted by snaps from their colleagues. Many dancers made statements that included derogatory assumptions about white audiences for the show — a fascinating role-reversal exercise for us white folks to be on the receiving end of unattractive generalizations. 

When the show was over, the cast stayed onstage and Jones urged the audience to mingle and talk. I got to chat with a queer black performer who represented fiercely and a white lad whose statement was “I know how to bottom.” Both of them said they come up with a new statement for every performance. The white boy said he likes to come up with something spicy. One night he said, “I know I’m waiting for Donald Trump to die.”

October 9

This morning at the farmer’s market at 57th Street and Tenth Avenue, a sight I’ve never seen before: a jazz combo set up on the corner. I couldn’t help thinking of the Joni Mitchell song: “They were playing real good, and for free.” The two horn players traded sweet and cool licks so intimately it brought tears to my eyes. The bandleader was the drummer, Will Terrill, who said he’s associated with the Jazz Foundation; his crew included Sharif Kales on flugelhorn, Chris Hemingway on alto saxophone, and Jason Clotter on bass.

Later that day, we trekked to the Brooklyn Museum, where we stopped in to see the Obama portraits by Kahinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

The museum’s main attraction at the moment is a spectacular multimedia exhibition to rival the David Bowie retrospective in 2018. This one, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, traces the groundbreaking history and legacy of the House of Dior.

I know virtually nothing about the artistry of couture and couldn’t care less about dresses, so for me this was immersive theater, fun for people-watching and eavesdropping as much as absorbing the art and fashion.

The show has the unmistakable touch of Matthew Yokobosky, the museum’s Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture (also responsible for the Bowie and other great shows in the past), who put a decidedly 2021 stamp on Dior by choosing to display all the designer gowns on black mannequins. That small choice has immeasurable impact.

On our way back out of the museum, we passed this alabaster relief with a 9th century BC queen swinging a clever little clutch.

Another show of contemporary work included this nutty three-channel video of the artist lip-synching to the Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway” in airplane lavatories.

And then there was Karon Davis’s Nicotine, a striking sculpture of an essential worker on break.

October 10

In my therapy practice I somehow acquired the understanding that “having brings up not having” – sometimes when we get something we’ve longed for, there is a paradoxical bittersweetness or sadness recalling all the times we wanted that thing and didn’t have it. As I took my seat at the Lucille Lortel Theater to see New York Theater Workshop’s production of Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City, I was mystified by the wave of melancholy that swept over me until I realized: oh, this is “having brings up not having.” Returning to the theater after 18 months of pandemic lockdown has been an emotionally charged experience, joy and excitement tempered and dampened by remembering exactly why we’ve been away – the losses, the deaths, the turmoil, the fear, the vaccine anxiety. We’ll get more used to it over time, like people in war zones get used to metal detectors everywhere, but we’ll never get over it.

The first act of Majok’s play covers a year in the life of two high school seniors from immigrant families in Newark. The fractured narrative skips around in time with lots of blackouts and repetitions without losing clarity or coherence, thanks to the original staging by Rebecca Frecknall (remounted by Caitlin Sullivan), Isabella Byrd’s lighting, Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound, and the performances of Jasal Chase-Owens and Sharlene Cruz. The second act (intermissions and concession stands have been 86’d out of covid precautions) consists of one continuous scene that unfortunately descends into soap opera territory as the three characters (Julian Elijah Martinez joins at this point) play out an overly melodramatic love triangle. The playwright has some subtle insights about class, race, immigration status, and sexual orientation dynamics but the second act lurches through a series of contrived plot points and sudden reversals that turn nuanced characters into TV-drama stick figures.

Recommendation: go see Todd Haynes’ documentary The Velvet Underground, which opens this week. It’s a fast-paced Warhol-esque stream of images, split-screen video, talking heads, vintage footage, and satisfyingly loud sound focusing on the early 1960s artistic/cultural milieu from which emerged the unlikely team of classical violist-composer John Cale and Long Island poet-rocker Lou Reed…and the rest is history.

Media: PARTY IN THE BARDO with Laurie Anderson

August 30, 2020

I met Laurie Anderson in the fall of 1980, when I interviewed her for a cover story in the Soho News after I was blown away by Part 2 of her work-in-progress magnum opus United States, which she performed for a week at the Orpheum Theater on Second Avenue. When the entire cycle had its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I interviewed her again for the New York Times Magazine. Over the years, I would run into her and we would have meals and take walks together — in Paris, in Minneapolis, in San Francisco, and on the home front in New York City. It’s been a treat to build a friendship with someone whose wide-ranging work has thrilled me for decades — her albums, her shows, her films, her books, her collaborations. So it was a special honor when she invited me to be a guest on “Party in the Bardo,” the biweekly radio show she’s been producing during the pandemic for the Wesleyan University campus radio station WESU-FM. We spent two hours playing music, reading poems, and talking about life. The show premieres at 4am on a Friday morning, and it’s archived on the station’s website. You can also listen to it on Soundcloud. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

Culture Vulture: Under the Radar Festival and Duane Michals at the Morgan Library

January 20, 2020

Under the Radar, the annual festival of cutting-edge international work centered at the Public Theater, always opens the year with a bang. I feasted on three events in one day.

Aleshea Harris, one of the cadre of fierce amazingly original playwrights of color who’ve emerged in the last few years, created WHAT TO SEND UP WHEN IT GOES DOWN , which presents itself very specifically as a ritual first and foremost for black people to heal/address the situation of violence against black people in this country. “Please note that it is not often that Black people have a safe, public space for expressing their unfiltered feelings about anti-Blackness. We are taking that space today.” The playwright and the company she works with (Movement Theater Company) incorporate many elements of pagan ritual, African village ceremony, trauma therapy, and spiritual workshops to make every moment of the experience participatory, not sit-back-and-watch theater. Whitney White directed the uniformly strong performers: Alana Raquel Bowers, Rachel Christopher, Nemuna Ceesay, Ugo Chukwu, Kambi Gathesha, Denise Manning, Javon Q. Minter, and Beau Thom (above, photo by Ahron R. Foster).

I read the text when it was published in American Theatre last year, which blew me away, and the experience itself is super-powerful, from gathering in the lobby surrounded by photographs of black people killed by police to the very end of the show, which looks different for black and non-black audience members. I took very much to heart the statement Harris has an actor read at the end of the show to the non-black audience: “A good friend once told me that we each have a different job where challenging racism is concerned. She spoke to the ways she could use her privilege as a white woman to dismantle the white supremacist ideology that contributes to the deaths of so many people. As a Black woman and writer, I am uniquely positioned to create a piece of theatre focused on making space for Black people. This is one way I can contribute. This is my offering. I’d like to end this ritual by challenging you to consider what you are uniquely positioned to offer. As a non-Black person, what is a tangible way you can disrupt the idea responsible for all these lives needlessly taken? My hope is that you will consider this deeply. My further hope is that your consideration will turn to action.” I have some ideas. I want to percolate more. WHAT WE SEND UP had a short run Off-Broadway last year and will have another short run at Playwrights Horizons this summer.

I went from that intense reality directly to the moon – via TO THE MOON, a 15-minute virtual reality piece co-created by Hsin-Chien Huang and Laurie Anderson. Five people at a time sit on stools wearing a headset and holding joysticks for a trip through space. There were some beautiful images and speeches familiar from Anderson’s recent work, but the piece as a whole was so SCARY! I’m not a gamer and I’m amazingly prone to vertigo, so I stayed pretty low to the ground. When the video provided the opportunity to fly through space or climb a high steep mountain, I had to shut my eyes. It was so crazy: I knew I was sitting on a stool with a headset on and my feet on the floor but my palms were sweating and I was making involuntary fear sounds.

Then I got to see MUKHAGNI, created and performed by a young-ish gay male couple, one of them Bengali-American (Shayok Misha Chowdury), the other biracial/African-American (Kameron Neal). They do the entire 90-minute performance totally naked: cook food, stand with video projected onto their naked bodies, lie on the (stage-soil-covered) floor speaking into microphones dangling inches above their faces, talk about death and death rituals in various cultures and cremation and their respective families. (The title means “mouth fire,” which is how cremations along the Ganges begin.) They take a pile of birch trunks and build a kind of square seating area, then they rearrange the tree trunks into a kind of bonfire structure. Then the lights come up and they sit in folding chairs and talk to the audience about their relationship in a funny structure (“on our 15th date we did this…on our 312th date we did that…on our 186th date we decided to make this piece,” etc.) — a regular activity on “dates” was to visit cemeteries — then there’s a mourning ritual where Chowdury creates a garland of fresh flower blossoms while Neal shaves his head with a clipper. So amazing and sweet and strong and not exactly like anything I’ve seen before. But it’s the sort of thing I’ve watched my friend Keith Hennessy create over the years, elements of spiritual ceremony combined with pop-culture savvy non-linear performance art. I wish this show would have a longer run somewhere. You can see more pictures on their website: http://www.shayokmishachowdhury.com/mukhagni

A few days later I met my friend Liam Cunningham at the Morgan Library to walk through the beautiful exhibition “Illusions of the Photographer: Duane Michals at the Morgan.” I’ve long admired Michals’s work, distinctive for the interplay of image and language, poems and sentences and stories handwritten in the margins around his usually black-and-white, often enigmatic photographs.

The show is partly a retrospective but also an “artist’s choice” event, meaning that Michals got to root around in the Morgan’s archives to pull out art works that struck his fancy or that resonate with his own work.

Liam (who is a legendary photographer in his own right) took this beautiful picture of me in front of Sol LeWitt’s giant Wall Drawing 552D.

 

Quote of the day: FAILURE

March 4, 2018

FAILURE

When I first worked in recording studios with Brian Eno in the early 1990s I was unnerved by how much he liked failure. He seemed to look forward to it. Failure gave him the chance to rethink the whole project, to be flexible, to redefine it, to start over. During the long recording process I noticed that often by the time a song was finished it had little to do with the original version. Sometimes it’s painful to discard everything, sometimes it’s exhilarating. But I’ve finally learned that failure is largely a form of perception and definition, the way a dessert can be a complete failure as a cake but a great success when it’s renamed a pudding.

–Laurie Anderson, All the Things I Lost in the Flood

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