08 April 2010

There are no pictures because there are none on the internet, but it was super gorgeous: ZviDance's ZOOM

I don't know a ton about dance. I know what I like, but then I'm like that person who always orders pad thai when they go for Thai food... I guess, to keep the analogy alive, unless they're presented with some free coconut curry, but only if the curry looks really good. ZviDance is my pad thai. I saw them perform at Jacob's Pillow a few years ago when I was in MA with a friend's family, and fell in love with their style. I still remember the undulating duets, especially the men together, lifting and leaning body weight against one another. It was gorgeous, and strong. One of those things where it's like, "Whatever you guys do, if I can, I will see it."

And, largely, I have. A show at the 92nd St Y a couple of years ago; last summer's installation at Governors Island. The Gov's Island piece was less choreography than I would've liked, more movement and wrapping gauze around trees, but it was still cool. And last night I got to see the world premiere of their new piece: Zoom.

This is another concepty piece, integrating projections and audience participation - photos and text messages ("keep your cell phones out!") - but it was still full of dance. Athletic, graceful, beautiful dance.

The audience participation aspects - texting in photos of the dancers, texting conversation with a dancer lying on the floor at a laptop, audience members (other audience members) being called on their cells to come down to the stage to take a picture of or with a dancer - tied with some of the dance gestures to give the sense of some sort of commentary on our communications culture - our dependence on our gadgets, the computer interface of our relationships, the saturation and inundation, etc. The participation was fun, if not exactly integrated with the dancing. (A lot of the texts the computer-using dancer got were requests for more dancing. Some of which - "Can we see more of the kicky thing?" were delightfully honored by some other dancers across the back of the stage.) But the commentary... So really, our society is oversaturated with cell phones and text messaging and internet chat? Huh. I am not opposed to political theatre, nor that sort of commentary in a dance piece, but in this case it was like, Okay, fine, but can you get back to the kicky things?

And oh, the kicky things. And the lifty things. And the falling and flying and dancing was so, so good. There's something so kinetic about the ZviDance style. Strong, beautiful dancers (with a gorgeous, diverse range of body types, heights, and sizes) and a choreography that just fills my heart with the joy of movement.

I like them a lot.

ZviDance is at Dance Theatre Workshop until April 10, aka Saturday. For $20 ($16 for students and seniors!) it's totally worth it to see some gorgeous, awesome dance, and maybe get your text message projected on the big screen.

11 March 2010

Well, Holy Crap

Um, I apparently have a column at The Awl. It's about vegetables, obvs, and the farmers market and food politics and stuff. So, there's that.

22 February 2010

I Am Frustrated By This Play, But Maybe Moreso By The Critical Response

When I was in college, I took a dramaturgy class that hinged on the idea of "dramatic action." It's what happens over the course of a play, what changes. There's a moment of revelation in which the protagonist learns something about himself or the world, and then he, like, stabs his eyes out, in the case of Oedipus. Or something like that.

So. I will give ten bucks to anyone who can tell me the dramatic action of the second act of Bruce Norris' new play, Clybourne Park. Other than "Jeremy Shamos' character gets angry," or "People go from being passive aggressive to a little more blatantly aggressive." Tell me what happens. Tell me how someone changes. Because I saw an hour of bickering, and it is frustrating the hell out of me. (I am serious that I want to hear your answer to this question.)

Part of what's so frustrating is the fawning reviews, lauding the play's sharp, damning insight. I mean, it's damning, yes. It says, "These characters are assholes." But the only thing worse that being stuck in a fruitless, circular argument with a bunch of assholes is being made to watch one such argument for an hour, and that is not something that reveals to me a bloody thing.

I should back up. There were many wonderful things about this production. The first act, though maybe not any more active, was at least moving and engaging and a story I haven't heard before. Frank Wood (giving a full-on genius performance of subtle anguish) and Christina Kirk are 1950s homeowners who, it turns out, have sold their home in a white Chicago neighborhood to a black family. The community is outraged, but they hold their ground. The juxtaposition of 1950s repression and the historical perspective on shifting neighborhood demographics is absorbing (especially to someone like me, a white kid living in a Dominican neighborhood that was an Irish enclave 40 years ago). Relationships and pretty facades shift and slip, and tensions flare. Anchored by Frank Wood's bitter, heartbroken father, and sparked by Jeremy Shamos' brilliantly high-strung community representative, this act may be more about revelation than action, but it makes compelling theatre nonetheless.

Act two, though, brings us into the modern day, after the Clybourne Park neighborhood has slipped into urban blight and begun its resurgence. The house of the first act is decrepit and graffitied, and a white couple, played by Shamos and Annie Parisse (who, as Shamos' deaf wife in the first act, was pretty fantastic), have bought the property to demolish the decaying structure and replace it with a new construction. They're meeting with representatives of the community to address concerns about the new house's size in the historic neighborhood.

And so the black community members, represented by a white lawyer, and the white family represented by another white lawyer, bicker and passive-aggressively dance around issues of history and community and heritage, and when someone finally breaks and says, "This is about race!" everyone looks at him like he's crazy. They go from trying to be polite to abandoning that idea, but still nothing actually gets said, no real feelings or fears or desires are expressed. And then there's some shouting and the play is over.

Part of the problem is that these characters are flat mouthpieces for Norris' speeches and screeds. They make small talk about European travel or word origins or ice cream, and then someone has a few paragraphs about a Theme Of The Play, and some people react or get offended or whatever.

I've had a huge problem with Bruce Norris' earlier plays in that the white, well-meaning liberals are all idiots and assholes, and there are always one or two wise black people - never American - who see through the hypocrisy and call it what it is. At least in this play, everyone's an asshole, and no one gets a free pass. But the problem with these passive-aggressive hypocrites is that an hour-long argument between passive-aggressive hypocrites is really painful to watch. Norris is probably trying to hold a mirror up to his audience's well-meaning liberal hypocrisy - "Oh my god! I dance around racial issues, too!" - but the characters are so two-dimensionally awful that the audience - especially the older, more monied theatre-going audience that doesn't have to worry about being priced out to traditionally minority neighborhoods like, oh, me and all of my friends - that it becomes not, "Oh my god, we do the same thing!" but rather, "Oh my god, look at those awful people!"

I don't imagine that my experience as an agent of gentrification is universal, but anyone as blithe as the white couple of this play's second is just blind to the world, and a jerk. This play didn't tell me anything about race or neighborhoods or tradition or community. It told me that Bruce Norris thinks that people are selfish, self-deluded, and terrible listeners. Reviews are calling this play witty and insightful. What insights, exactly, has anyone gleaned? That gentrification is complicated? That people have trouble talking about race?

And also, on the topic of wit: I am calling for a moratorium on Whole Foods as symbol for yuppie gentrification. That's not a funny punch-line any more, and also, it's just a fucking supermarket.

29 January 2010

Smudge (only about three weeks late - thanks for nothing, Haiti! sheesh.)

I can't help but wonder what the pregnant woman one seat over me thought of Smudge, Rachel Axler's strange, dark comedy that I saw at Women's Project a few weeks ago. Smudge is very much a pregnant woman's worst manic fears brought to life, and whether the pregnant audience member was enthralled or repulsed, I'm fairly sure this play gave her a stronger feeling than it did me.

The world in Smudge is at once pedestrianly ours and yet also lyrically, absurdly something else. Cassie Beck and Greg Keller give fantastic performances as Colby and Nicholas, the new parents of a baby so grotesquely deformed - save one beautiful, Caribbean-blue eye - that she's more a "smudge" than a tiny person. This is a dark, dark script, and they deftly bring out its grim humor. Greg Keller does brilliant, pathetic things with a stuffed carrot. Cassie Beck, a leading interpreter of Adam Bock's hypernaturalism (seriously, I think she moved here from California for a production of his), knows how to find the balance of wry comedy and pathos beneath and in between the lines. Playing opposite a glowing, blinking mass of tubes pouring out of the bassinet that houses the smudge, she compellingly runs through a manic cycle of disgust, despair, and joy in the face of this disaster that she's supposed to love.

But this play still seems to lack a grounding in, if not the real world, then a world that operates on any rules that make this scenario plausible. The newborn's deformities - a spiked tail, no arms, the singular arresting eye - call to mind a fairy tale monster, but no one seems to notice that this very unreal baby has been born into what seems to be our own real world. I don't know if I'm more distracted by the baby's poetic unrealism or the fact that a real baby so disfigured wouldn't be so easily sent home with her hapless parents.

I suppose Nicholas' complete denial of the baby's problems could be a coping mechanism, for example, but when there's zero acknowledgment between characters of the reality that the audience is seeing, there's no solid ground to start from even before things start to slip. When the monster-baby communicates with its mother via a feeding tube light show, we're left not only wondering whether it's real or in Colby's head, but whether the play knows this, either. I don't want a play to give me all the answers, but to at least give me a sense that they exist.

25 January 2010

Let's Try to Resume

Hi people. I'm slowly emerging from under the five-hundred-calls-a-day-shaped anvil that fell on me at work a week and a half ago. I know there are several horrible layers of irony to be complaining about a rough work situation that's brought on by something like the earthquake in Haiti, but I'm not so much complaining, just filling you in. So that's what's been going on.

I've been using my tumblr as a sort of note taking thing throughout these weird couple of weeks. All of those jottings are, in reverse chronological order because that's how tumblr rolls, here. Things like this:

Haiti doesn’t need me. The mountains need me. The hills need me. The children need me. I’m not interested in Port au Prince. Port au Prince has enough. I’m saying what’s going on in the mountains. I’m saying when you have 200,000 people in the mountains and 17 doctors. I’m an intelligent man. I can add.

— This was the call of the day that was difficult and sad in a way that kept me on the line for ten minutes. It ended with the older gentleman, a trauma surgeon, telling me, “God bless you,” which I never otherwise would’ve responded to with, “You, too,” but that’s where this call left me.
There is also this photo, which got me and some other people in my office through some rough days.

This is a week or so old, but it's pretty much how all this feels, how weird it is to experience a thing like this, from this perspective.

And in completely unrelated tumblr linking, I went to The Top of the Rock on Saturday night, and here is some of what that was like. Basically: great.

Things seem to be starting to calm down at work. I may not be back to my receptionisty life of leisure for a while, but I can think clearly enough to type, so that's a start.

14 January 2010

One of the Strangest Ways to Be Affected By Something Like This

Well, I guess what happens when you're a receptionist at an international aide organization and there's a massive fucking earthquake in Haiti is that suddenly your job becomes INSANE. In a few weeks I want to grab a drink with, like, the receptionist for the International Red Cross, because this is such a weird, fractioned way to experience a thing like this. I want to write about it, so badly, but the very fact that it's happening means there's no time. But I jotted down some notebooky things here.

Also, on Haiti, in another way-- the conventional wisdom that you should give money rather than supplies is, unless you have a spare helicopter in Miami, true. The aide organizations on the ground know what they're doing, and have infrastructure and experience and know how to spend your money. That's the best way you can help.

09 January 2010

Texts From Tonight, Someone Saw Ragtime Edition

(917): excuse me while i cry like a baby
(646): Get on your feet and clap! And love America!