Friday, March 3, 2017

A (RE)EMERGENT MIRACLE ON 99TH STREET

A new work and a new theatrical entity emerged this evening at El Barrio's ArtsSpace on East 99th Street. (Re)EMERGENT THEATRE presented the premiere of GETTING CLOSE, an ensemble production by men who are returning to the world after decades of incarceration in prison. It was an intimate and compelling theatre piece where these men share their experience in prison through a lens of immediacy in which the actors assume various roles as they help each other to initiate their own narratives.

Artistic Director Clare Hammoor and Managing Director Ashley Hamilton might be described as theatrical visionaries who have made prisons their domain of professional development over the past several years. They have pursued a dream of establishing a creative space to assist former prisoners return to the world through collaborative interaction and creation to better understand themselves reemerging in a world now distant and strange.

Having gone through a process of collaboration, the actors reveal uncanny emotional strength and maturity, but we are also struck by the courage it takes to endure their world and to share it with us.

The ensemble, Akael Adil, Juan Carlos 'Johnny' Hincapie, Robert Mason Lindsay, Robert Pollock, and Juan 'Broadway' Rodriguez played themselves and other inmates and visitors to the prison as they described the events that connected them and their world. I was struck by the distinctiveness of their voices, and the depth of their tenacity and bravery. The thread of the narrative is compelling. We see and hear the world through their experiences, and we begin to have some understanding of the very difficult journey each has taken to reach this moment of sharing with an audience.

The stories include someone imprisoned unjustly for decades, and another convicted and serving 25 years before he was completely absolved of all guilt, a devout and devoted sensitive and lonely man, and an artistic, talented individual whose music kept him from going insane, to a man deeply devoted to his family, and the dramatic story of a mother who learned of her son's suicide in prison during her attempt to visit him. This a climactic moment as the actor reveals how many times in the silence of his own terror, he might have been that young man.

There are four major narratives that also are populated by vignettes of struggles and encounters of the vicissitudes of a life of imprisonment.  A fifth, unspoken narrative, was the musical voice of Robert Mason Lindsay, whose eloquent musical narrative permeated the evening like a rich tapestry.  His sound was simple, direct, expressive, and clearly heartfelt. Also sharing this musical sensibility was Robert Pollock, who used his guitar to meld with the bass, and the two provide the immediacy of a musical color and sensibility that is often stunning in their candor and clarity. Mr. Lindsay writes this is the first time the world has heard his music. It was well worth waiting for.

Assisting these men to find the coherence and uniqueness of the narrative was writer and storyteller Kate Meisner. The result is a profound moment in history and possibly the creation of a whole new process and genre to assist past prisoners to understand themselves and find a new voice as they explore a new world.

ReEMERGENT THEATRE has achieved a sensitive and compelling entry into a world that needs more of this kind of concern and support achieving an original identity in our culture.

                                                                                                     ...Wizardmuse



Monday, February 13, 2017

CLAYTON PATTERSON PRESENTS 2017 ACKER AWARDS AT 80 ST.MARKS THEATRE


With noted Avantgarde-artist Clayton Patterson serving as Presenter, the 2017 Acker Awards Ceremony was warmly acclaimed by a packed audience of fellow artists and arts enthusiasts. It was more of a happening than a ceremony.  Initiated on the West Coast, and named after novelist Kathy Acker, the East Coast Acker Awards in 2013 was founded by Clayton as a means of documenting the extraordinary artistic activities in the lower east side of New York. Clayton champions and celebrates the leading edge of artistic development that has long been identified with the East Village.

The Acker Awards are named after novelist Kathy Acker, who personified the risk-taking and uncompromising commitment of avant-garde artists. A commemorative box containing original art works, replicas, and mementos created by the 40 winners along with their bios serves as the award icon handed to each recipient in the spirit of Oscars, Emmys, and other artistic awards aimed at celebrating excellence within creative communities. This award provides an enduring context for noticing and documenting the extensive creative contributions of the East Village artists.

Flanking Clayton Patterson's stage presentation was the celebrated Phoebe Legere,  musician and multiform artist, serving as MC of this event that had elements of spontaneous combustion. The energy of the artists and the audience was palpable, immediate and free spirited.

The evening was laced with impromptu performances, witty and insightful comments from Phoebe and Clayton, with an air of celebration in understanding that this event helps create and maintain community among a wide range of arts and generations from young and aspiring to venerate veterans who have established identities and domains through many struggles and challenges.

Many in the audience were former winners of the Acker Awards, suggesting that Clayton Patterson's vision of establishing a strong sense of community through the awards has become manifest,  It is a monumental achievement to put together these awards, prepare the  commemorative boxes,  hire a hall, advertise and stage the event. Kudos to Clayton Patterson.

Even more impressive of this community of village artists is the diversity of practices, preferences, and artistic collaborations/creations spanning almost seven decades of explosive creativity. At one point when Lincoln Anderson and his work with The Villager was announced, Clayton took a moment to remind us that the Villager is on-line, and that its presence on the Internet makes it equal to all other publications in visibility. He noted that this publication is a record of the work of the community, urging that everyone add to the record by commenting on articles and postings.

This was an awards evening worth noting for the city, for the artists represented by these awards are carving out new terrain that resonates with change and the creation of new work.

... Oscar W


ACKER RECIPIENTS 2017

COUNTESS ALEX ZAPAK"POLITICAL NOTICE"
NANCY WOLFE  &  ETHAN MINSKER"2016 VIDEO OF CEREMONY"
NATANIA NUNUBIZNEZ,  "CARTOON ILLUSTRATOR"
SARAH SCHULMAN"ACTIVIST PLAYWRIGHT"
CARLITO CASTILLO, "ART & SCIENCE OF BOXING"
FRIDAY JONES, "TATTOOING"
MICHELLE MYLES"TATTOOING"
MARI-CLAIRE CHARBA, "THEATER ACTOR"
MARILYN ROBERTS"THEATER ACTOR"
BARBARA KAHN"THEATER ACTOR"
LOIS KAGAN MINGUS"THEATER ACTOR"
CHARLES SCHICK"ART"
REGINA BARTKOFF, "ART"
FELICE ROSSER"MUSIC"
CHERYL PYLE, "MUSIC"
EDEN BROWER & JOHN HENEGHAN"MUSIC"
LINCOLN ANDERSON, "COMMUNITY MEDIA"
LUCKY LAWLER, "COMMUNITY MEDIA/ART"
CHARLES MINGUS 3RD"ART"
THERESA BYRNES, "ART"
LESLIE LOWE, "ART"
VICTORIA ALEXANDER"ART"
AGATHE SNOW"ART"
ANTONY ZITO"ART"
JANE DICKERSON"ART"
ISTVAN KANTOR, "ART"
JENNIFER BLOWDRYER"WRITER"
SHELLEY MARLOW"WRITER"
MAGIE DOMINIC"WRITER"
VERONICA VERA"SEXUAL EVOLUTIONARY"
CANDIDA ROYALLE, "FEMNIST PORN GENRE"
TOYO TSUCHIYA"PHOTOGRAPHY"
JACKIE RUDIN"PHOTOGRAPHY"
MARY CAMPBELL & VIV VASSAR"PERFORMANCE ART COLLECTIVE ORGANIZER"
WENDY SCRIPPS"COMMUNITY SUPPORT"
CARTER EMMART"SCIENCE"
COUNTESS ALEX, "TRANS MEDIA STORY TELLER"
ANNE HANAVAN"VIDEO"
KEITH PATCHEL"COMPOSER, PRODUCER"




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

KEITH PATCHEL'S NEW OPERA PREMIERES AT MEDICINE SHOW THEATRE

Keith Patchel's new opus, The Plain of Jars, based on a book by the same name, premiered at The Medicine Show Theatre December 10th. This performance was a significant cultural event that should be noticed and honored, if only for the spectacular talent involved in the production that was created from scratch over a 12 day period. If Rossini remarked that it takes "about 21 days to make an opera," the making of this new work sets a new record. Patchel's work defies classification, as it might be described as a docudrama, musical play, or opera.  Mounting such a complex production in such a short time is a masterful accomplishment, and Producer Sean Shiwon Kim should be credited for maintaining production values effectively and efficiently. Even though the actors performed on book, this did not inhibit what proved to be a convincing and satisfying performance.

Patchel's background as a film composer is evident  as he has created a tapestry where the music flows without interruption, sometimes as the dominant feature and other times as commentary on the scenes of intrigue, exploring the motives of political characters and agents involved in the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War.

The "Plain of Jars" is a garden-of-eden-like place in Laos that was life sustaining  for Laotians, who led a simple, peaceful life until their homeland was violated by the US to test new weapons and bombing strategies during the Vietnam War.

Besides the Laotians, the cast of characters includes JFK, played by Robert E. Turner, Nixon, portrayed by Timothy McCown Reynolds, LBJ acted by Jon L. Peacock, and Henry Kissinger, depicted by John Hayden. Patchel's treatment of the characters satirizes them in the light of their criminal and covert actions, with the exception of Kennedy, regarded as the hope of change for the direction for the country. Turner's stately and passionate enactment of JFK provided a stark contrast to the political trio who plot the death of Kennedy. In addition to the rich diversity of these characters, two CIA cohorts (played by Sayaka Aiba and Clare Francesca) add to the scheming and deceit, playing a critical role in persuading the politicians to use the Vietnam War to test new weapons.

The Laotians are performed by Sayaka Aiba, Clare Francesca, Jialin Li, and Xi Yang, and their opening scene of the tranquility of the Laotian natives was serenely projected with their melodic lines interweaving and overlapping, shimmeringly mystical. 

The scene shifts to the White House with JFK and the political trio in which the assassination of Kennedy to prevent the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, establishes the symbolic presence of his spirit. Patchel's conception of having JFK portrayed by an African American is an inspired gesture, and Robert E. Turner brings a sense of dignity and destiny to the role. It stands in stark contrast to a CIA-directed White House and State Department intent on using the "falling domino" theory as an excuse for the war.

The trio of conspirators, provided a bitingly satirical commentary, and each actor emerged sharply etched as a caricature deeply embedded in a personal grasp of the demeanor and rhetoric of politicians caught in the web of their own deceit. Timothy McCown Reynolds was brilliant in capturing the expressions and blustering mannerisms of Nixon. John Hayden's Kissinger was covertly evil in his quest for power and posterity, a stunning range of characterization. LBJ was indeed "with heavy heart" as possibly the most powerful and reckless one of the trio, but traumatized by the enormity of his transgressions against America and Vietnam. The Vietnam War was a force that spiraled out of control, and each response only made matters worse. Peacock's characterization was accurate, revealing a troubled LBJ who could not overcome his own tragic flaws.

There are two extraordinary scenes that seem to transcend the structure: a "Death Dance" danced by Robert Turner, Cantata Fan, and Sayaka Aiba, an eloquent gesture mourning the death of Laotians. This was a powerful moment, abstract but also immediate and irrevocable.

The other, concluding scene of the opera is the final aria of Gaia (Yang Xi), a compelling apotheosis of the Laotian pride whose survival in the world exacts a justice, a redemption for having endured the slaughter of innocence. The pride and purity of the Laotians remain untouched. The aria begins in the symbolic demise of Kissinger, Nixon and LBJ entombed in the ancient jars of the Plains. The music celebrates triumph of Laotians over evil. In many ways, the structure of the work is a series of climaxes, each surpassing the previous. Yang Xi's musical sensibility and strength of interpretive expression uses her remarkable voice to shape each nuance and climax demanded in this dynamic and expressive aria.

Patchel's music unfolds as a continuous tapestry of sound embellished by live instruments performed by Kento Iwazaki (Koto), Cantata Fan (Pipa), Alan Gruber (violin), and the keyboard manned by the composer. Their presence as a substantive texture, provided an evolving spontaneity.

Adding to the ambiance of the evening was the wonderful set created by Alexis Kandra, simple, but enriched with the nuance of an primeval space invaded by the technology of 20th Century war... the enduring, giant jars on the Plains ultimately serving to entomb Kissinger, Nixon, and Johnson, indicted for their crimes against humanity.

A highlight that must be noted is Clara Francesca's solo "This is the only war we've got..." Her performance was powerful, Brechtian, yet bitterly poignant, confirming the opera's pervasive tone as satire. Perhaps the strength of the libretto is the tension between the gentle presence of the Laotians and the sharp, caustic satire enacted with such brilliant individuality by Reynolds, Peacock and Hayden. 

The Plain of Jars theatrical premiere created an unforgettable quality for New York City on December 10, and 11 by bringing to our attention a regrettable and shameful time in American history.  The opera focused on the violence in Vietnam and the culpability of the United States. Even though video footage of the bombing and violence in Laos was included in scenes, the libretto did not explore the atmosphere in this country that was violent, explosive and cruel, with riots, demonstrations and killing of innocent protestors. This is clearly a work in progress, and Patchel faces many options as he develops this new opus.

Patchel is to be commended on creating a work that reminds us that Time does not erase such moments, but elevates them to renewed significance as we discover new meaning from events of the past.

                                                                                                                ...Noj Treblig


Monday, August 15, 2016

MULTIMEDIA OPERA ROTATION OFF BROADWAY PRODUCTION

ROTATION performed its final Off Broadway tryout in BlackBox Theatre on Washington Square. on Sunday, August 9.  This multimedia opera by John Gilbert was premiered in 1969 and was included in Stewart Kranz's epic 1971 book Science and Technology in the Arts. The work is decidedly contemporary in tone, eclectic, but also distinctive in achieving a personal style in Gilbert's libretto as well as his music. Besides the convincing and expressive musical performance, perhaps the most distinctive element is the extraordinary production directed by Clare Hammoor and choreographed by Lisa Naugle, with media created and mounted by installation artist Diarmid Flately, including special images by Evelyn Walker.

ROTATION features an extraordinary cast of five singers and two dancers. According to his Manifesto written in 1968, one of Gilbert's goals for this work was to achieve independent theaters of text, music, action, media, and dance which interact in a dynamic fluctuating context. In his program notes, Gilbert notes that the setting is something like Greenwich Village in a distant or timeless future. As one of the characters, Julia, observes, "This is a very strange place."

The work begins with a quiet opening in which the dancers create the space that is quiet and contemplative or comic and dazzling, a magical but ordinary setting that seems to be waiting for something. The Critic, sung convincingly by baritone Suchan Kim, lays the groundwork for what is to follow by sharing with the audience that he knows everything and he will guide them with his keenly analytic mind.

As the Critic exits, Merculian, played by veteran opera performer and song stylist, Ulrich Hartung introduces himself to the audience as Merculian the Merchant selling his "odds, and ends." Hartung possesses a strong classic presence, and he communicates a wisdom always couched in a sense of humor that he shares with the audience.

Lost and seeming to wander into the space is Julia, a runaway who first is at odds with Merculian, but accepts him as merely an old man with a cart of junk. Played by Julie Song, Julia is an innocent who searches for some meaning for her life by discarding her past. Ms. Song has a very clear voice that  is sometimes quite intimate, but also often projected a commanding and strong resonance.

With commotion and screams of "Merculian, what have you done with it!"  renowned opera diva Oksana Krovytska,  erupts upon the stage as Cassandra, the Witch, and Merculian's companion and collaborator.  Ms. Krovytska's voice is rich and vibrant. Although she usually plays the more dramatic diva roles, her experience and insight fashions a comic role that could become classic. The collaboration of Hartung and Krovytska create Merculian and Cassandra as a quintessential paradigm, vintage and primal. At times, Hartung achieves a Hans Sachs grandeur, while Krovytska creates the realm of a witch with compassion, humor, and understanding. They perform some remarkable duet passages and imbue the setting with a sense of mystery and discovery.

Christopher Sanfilippo, tenor, suddenly interrupts the mystique of the moment as he struggles with the Critic who has stolen one of Brian's poems, and begins to read it mechanically. Brian grabs the poem from the Critic who sneers, "Can You Do Better?" Deliberately reminiscent of the scene in Wager's Die Meistersinger when Walther sings the prize song,  Brian sings perhaps what might be regarded as the only full-length aria in this chamber opera.  Sanfilippo's passionate delivery reveals a voice with rich texture that includes elements of contemporary musical theatre. His sense of pace and shaping the climax was impressive. Sanfilippo revealed strong acting background in manifesting a deep sense of humor while in the midst of extremely dramatic moments. His comedic work helped reinforce Hartung's tragicomic eloquence.

In general, the musical scenes, ensembles, solos are truncated and interwoven in an intensely intimate tapestry of interaction with dancers, and media directly engaged in the action or sometimes commenting, or entering and leaving in contrapuntal fashion.  Every character has distinct moments, but the work is rich with miniature duos, trios, quartets, double duo's laced throughout the work.

Flatley's media is abstract and painterly, but often with a stunning presence of a "universe uninvolved with us."  Evelyn Walker's added images are evocative.  Flately has created a multiscreen texture requiring precise image projection and timing. Into the abstractions, Flately captures the action unfolding onstage and projects it to different screens in the theatre, an extraordinary technical effect.

Hammoor's direction is deft and pragmatic, creating moments for characters to grow into the action and blocking.  His setting is functional and comedic, allowing ample space for the media while maintaining a careful balance with the physical presence of objects and set pieces. An added touch is The Young Boy played by Nathan who mysteriously moves in and out of the fantasy.

Naugle's choreography is evocative, and perhaps the most critical and difficult of the separate theaters acting independently. Dance is the one constant that never changes in terms of presence and requires continual attention to details of consonance and dissonance. Theoretically, this presence can interact with the actors and action, and with more time they might have achieved greater cohesion. The dancers, Tal Etedgi and Jacqueline Shannon, weave a tapestry of mystery and coherence, as they establish their identity as the gatekeepers.

There are several highlights worth mentioning: a masquerade scene led by Cassandra and Merculian to seduce and persuade the hapless young couple ending with the explosion of a perpetual motion machine, and a stunning climax to the opera in which the characters sing the quintet "We Require the Masks." In this moment this disparate group of characters bond into an ensemble powerful, eloquent, and memorable.

The star of this opera is the music. Musical Director and Pianist Stella Chiashan Cheng led an inspired ensemble of Zack Hicks (fl/cl), Jordi Nus (vln), and Jiafan Shi (vc).  The original score included analog tape cues which have vanished. Synthesist and Audio Engineer, Tate Gregor recreated the tape cues in consultation with the composer.  The instrumental score was arranged by John Russell Gilbert, assisted by Sean Shiwon Kim and the participating instrumentalists.

Stella Cheng's musical direction was rich and insightful and extremely responsive to the many changes in tempo, dynamics, and emotional range. Given the context and limits of this Off Broadway trial run, the result was a rich and powerful musical event.

ROTATION explores the meaning of life with humor and skepticism, but also with passion and verve. It is highly compressed with all the elements of grand opera on an intimate scale. The work is also about energy and recycling, and the adventure of discovering who we are and who we might become.

                                                                                           ... George Grisham