Lead Image: nora chipaumire, #PUNK, all photos by Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness
Last month, I had the opportunity to catch a bunch of shows at the American Realness festival at Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side. Now in its ninth year, it has grown considerably and praise is due to festival organizer Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor whose commitment to presenting radical and experimental dance and performance consistently delivers some of the most exciting work happening right now.
I was tasked with writing about my experience this year by Art in America, and I'm not going to lie: it was a tough assignment. You can read my full review here:
Some additional thoughts, for perusers of the blog: Choreographer and dancer nora chipaumire's #PUNK was, hands down, one of the most intense pieces that I've ever seen. It directly attacked white supremacy and shook the audience up with sixty bone-shaking minutes of highly technical and confrontational dance, voice, and sound. Trying to write about it was daunting, a testament to chipaumire's total ownership over her content and form. I don't know that my review for Art in America offers much other than an account of what I saw, and to be frank, I don't think any take I could conjure up would be valuable anyways. For the record though: the piece kicked fucking ass and it changed how I saw everything else at the festival.
Neal Medlyn's tribute to late choreographer Pina Bausch was also difficult to write about, both because of having seen chipaumire's piece first and because I've long been an admirer of Medlyn. As you've probably noticed, I'm mostly interested in writing about work that, to me, feels successful. There are already plenty of people whose entire bread and butter is writing about shit that they hate. I'd gone to Medlyn's looking forward to it a great deal, but left feeling a bit let down. Picking apart what I thought was unsuccessful about Medlyn's piece was an uncomfortable exercise, especially since I would categorically list him as an influence on my own performance work. Perhaps this is why, even though I'm often given the opportunity to write reviews of work, I've never called myself a "critic."
And I had an inverse experience going to see Michael Portnoy's work, a series of white cube performance installations that he'd reimagined for the stage. Portnoy, as readers of this blog probably know, is a sort of mentor to me. I was his student during the Experimental Comedy Training Camp residency at the Banff Centre in Canada, and also count him as a good friend. He was even an early guest on episode 8 of the Humor and the Abject podcast. So, as I headed into the playhouse theater at Abrons, I was riddled with anxiety. What if for some reason I really, really disliked this new piece? Thankfully, it was just the right amount of academic and stupid, something that, when Portnoy gets it right, is almost transcendent. Not only did he shine in his role of Relational Stalinist (dictatorial director of social practice, essentially), he had put together an incredible cast of performers that I cannot wait to learn more about. There was a tasteful amount of crowd work, enough borderline-cringe-worthy bits that made me evaluate my own tastes and politics, and a devotion to professional buffoonery. It was the last piece of the festival that I caught on closing night, and as I walked out I spotted art historian, critic, and author of both "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics" and Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop, filing out with the other audience members. I'm very curious what she thought about it.
So, follow the link way up above for a review that's less rambling and navel-gazing. I hope you enjoy it.