You would think that with my day job which entails crisscrossing the country racking up both air mileage and time zone discombobulation, there would be few places in the US that I would not have been to. In reality though, I haven’t really spent that much time in the Pacific Northwest. For the past several years, I’ve stared longingly at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s website, devouring the descriptions of the offerings in its Time-Based Arts (TBA) Festival, an international festival of cutting-edge theater, dance, and performance art which occurs for two weeks every October. The TBA Festival curator used to be Mark Russell, who also programs the highly-regarded Under the Radar Festival in New York City’s Public Theater. So over the past few years, the biggest names of edgy, unconventional theater from The Wooster Group to Nature Theater of Oklahoma to Australia’s Back to Back Theater to Baryshnikov dancing with the Donna Uchizono Company have shown up in Portland in the fall. So finally, this year, with cultural wanderlust and curiosity winning over work and Chicago personal life scheduling conflicts, I headed into what Fred Armisen calls the place “where young people go to retire”. In addition to taking in a couple of performances at the TBA Festival, the trip was also an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to satiate a non-theatrical, culinary curiosity: is Andy Ricker’s PokPok, winner of James Beard awards, subject of frenzied national food media coverage, and hot restaurant export warmly-embraced by usually skeptical, world-weary New Yorkers, truly the second coming of Thai food?
I’m pretty lucky to have some of the most awesome friends in the world. Despite her long-suffering BFF status (being run over weekly by my roll-on luggage when we commuted for work to Newark several years ago as I jostled to get on the plane before everyone else; being unwittingly dragged to a more than three hour and a half Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), BFF Debra still graciously invited me a couple of weeks ago to attend an intimate cocktail party that Thodos Dance Chicago was hosting for Ann Reinking. Thodos, an 18 year old contemporary dance company focused on dance creation and education, was planning to have as its Fall Concert centerpiece a trilogy of rarely revived Bob Fosse pieces staged by, and with additional choreography, by Reinking, who had a close professional and personal relationship with Fosse from the late 1960s until his death in 1987. I told BFF Debra, even if I was having organ transplant surgery, I would be there, hospital gurney, IV drip and all! Hey, Reinking is a true-blue, gold-plated Broadway star, having starred in the original productions of A Chorus Line, Goodbye Charlie, and Dancin’, but most notably, she re-created the character of Roxie Hart in the hugely-successful 1996 revival of Chicago opposite Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly. Being such a bona-fide, plaque-carrying musical theater queen, I’d be battier than Sarah Palin if I missed this unprecedented evening with a theater legend. And it was probably one of my most scintillating nights of the year, as Reinking generously regaled the attendees with tales of Broadway and Hollywood (such as her being the last-minute replacement for Liza Minnelli in the original Lincoln Center Encores! concert production of Chicago which was the basis for the Broadway revival – Liza in Chicago? I nearly popped an artery and dislocated a rib with all my gasping) while comfortably ensconced in a warm Lincoln Park living room on a brisk late fall Saturday evening. If I already didn’t have my ticket for the Fall Concert, I would have bought one on the spot.
Tags: Thodos Dance Chicago
Midway through the latest MCA Stage production, Anna Halprin/Anne Collod and guests: parades & changes, replays when dancer Laurent Pichaud was transformed into a wacky, flummoxing cross between Rae Dawn Chong in Quest for Fire and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind run through a trash compactor, wearing a variety of disparate costumes and accoutrements, from animal heads to hoop skirts to fur-lined clogs to trash bags to a mop and bucket which the rest of the cast had piled on him while a hypnotic, electronica score played in the background, I had to remind myself that I was neither drunk, medicated, or ‘shroomed. I have always been an avid fan and passionate advocate of MCA Stage, but this adventurous, highly audience-demanding show, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it plays an essential, irreplaceable role in making sure that our beloved Chicago will never just be flyover country in the minds and hearts of serious performance artists everywhere. I’m not really sure if parades & changes, replays is dance, theater, bizarro fashion show, or a combination David Lynchian-Burning Man fantasia, but, it is a highly memorable, intriguing, jaw-dropping night of performance (and I guess the New York Times and the audience in this summer’s Athens and Epidaurus Festival, one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the world, also didn’t really know what to make of it, as well.)
As my avid blog readers know, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s performance season, known as MCA Stage. I whole-heartedly agreed with one of my Chicago culturati friends when he said that MCA Stage is like our own version of the Brookly Academy of Music (BAM) in New York, the one institution in the city that has the vision, the commitment, and yes, the balls to present cutting-edge, risky, courageous, potentially audience-distancing work from both US-based and international arts organizations. The fact that they brought New York experimental theater Elevator Repair Company’s mesmerizing seven and a half hour Gatz last year (one of my top ten cultural experiences ever!) makes me want to throw money at them, regardless of what they’re showing. They just released their 2009-2010 season this week, and I’m already itching to open my wallet. I’m a little surprised, and a tad disappointed, that MCA Stage only has two straight-up theatrical offerings next year: our very own The Hypocrites is putting on an original adaptation of Frankenstein (October 21-November 1, 2009) from Artistic Director Sean Graney, to be staged in his trademark promenade staging; and experimental theater provocateur Young Jean-Lee’s The Shipment (March 26-28, 2010), a “Black identity politics” show using a mix of song, dance, theater, and stand-up comedy, which may make the Wooster Group’s controversial The Emperor Jones seem like an Easter garden brunch by comparison. There’s a very strong dance focus this year, with dance greats Lucinda Childs and Anna Halprin, and contemporary dance groups that have never been seen in Chicago such as the John Jasperse Company, as part of the season, but the one performance I’m looking forward to is a potentially bombastic collaboration between London-based choreographer Akram Khan and the National Ballet of China called bahok, from the Bengali word for “carrier”, which explores issues of cultural and national identity within the throughline of multi-cultural passengers stranded in an airport. It sounds ridiculously good! You can view the entire MCA Stage season here.
Last Sunday evening, in what was supposedly spring in Chicago, as I miserably waited for the train to arrive on the Brown Line platform, pelted by freezing rain and snow, standing in slush, I wondered what kind of perfect past life (maybe filled with warm, tropical breezes, constant sunlight, and boys in thongs?) did I have that I should be paying for it in this life. The weather for the rest of the month may continue to be unseasonably cold, but the city’s performing arts scene is continuing to warm up and sizzle, with tons of major theater and music events to go to. As my monthly public service announcement to my avid blog readers, I’m giving a preview of the noteworthy performances and events I’m planning to go to in the month of April.
Tags: Chicago Opera Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Collaboraction, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Goodman Theatre, Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, MCA Stage, Northlight Theatre, Red Orchid Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Timeline Theatre, Tymphanic Theatre
Last weekend, BFF Debra, the lovely Reney, and I went to see Batsheva Dance Company‘s production of Deca Dance, a “greatest hits” compilation of some of the best work choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director Ohad Naharin over the past ten years, already performed at the Spoleto Festival in 2007 and the Edinburgh Festival in 2008. Although Batsheva, founded in the 1960s by Martha Graham and the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and based in Tel Aviv, is one of the most important, pre-eminent arts organizations in the world, continuously travelling and presenting in the world’s cultural capitals, it’s last show in Chicago was a very long 15 years ago. So their two-show performance schedule last weekend was quite the treat for Chicago’s cultural cognoscenti. And it was quite the performance – the troupe of 17 dancers displayed both jaw-dropping technique and evocative emotion in seven complex numbers, from the energetic, mesmerizing opening number “Anaphaza” (also being performed by Hubbard Street Chicago as part of their repertoire) in which they performed intense, synchronized moves in a “wave”-like fashion until they feverishly removed their clothes, to the 35 minute excerpt from the modern ballet “Three” which seemed to be a reflection and commentary on young adult life in Israel. Deca Dance was world-class performing arts at its best, and I gave the group a sincere, well-deserved standing ovation at curtain call. Before we entered the Auditorium Theatre, though, we had to get through a pretty sizable phalanx of Chicagoans with signs, passed-out leaflets, bullhorns, and drums protesting against Israel and expressing support for Palestine. Regardless of what I personally feel about the Middle East conflict, I thought crossing those protesters’ lines was quite jarring and discomfiting. I don’t think the majority of the audience members bought tickets to Deca Dance expecting to encounter a political event prior to taking their seats in the theater. We weren’t there to be political, we were there to view the work of a globally-acclaimed, extremely-talented, culturally-significant arts group. Sure, the playwright Tony Kushner and other artists have said that all art ultimately is political (and Naharin’s work has admittedly political overtones, some subtle, some not-so), but from a paying audience member’s point of view, was it appropriate for the protesting groups to confront us in such an in-your-face fashion? Were they merely trying to raise consciousness of their cause and their opinions, or were they also implicitly indicting us, attempting to extend our support of the art, of the work, to a support of the arts organization’s politics? I respect the right of the protesting groups’ to demonstrate outside of the Auditorium Theatre, and we’re very fortunate to live in a country where they have the freedom to do so, but were they fair to the audience members? Shouldn’t audiences be allowed to embrace the art, de-coupled from its politics?