Way out East - Page 2

A dose of American Realness amid the NYC festival season

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Caden Manson/Big Art Group's world premiere Broke House riffs on Chekhov.
PHOTO BY IAN DOUGLAS

The relaxed mood encouraged by the sudden warming trend was further augmented by an intimate little walking tour called Elastic City. Artists Todd Shalom and Niegel Smith conduct small groups of people around the grounds of the Abrons Art Center, training everyone's attention, with a gentle and inviting playfulness, on the smallest and most quotidian details imaginable — with low-key but delighting results. A passage down one maintenance hallway, for instance, was an invitation to notice any little detail that caught the eye and stimulated the imagination and to share it with anyone around you, turning the seemingly bare walls into a topography that might have given a 16th-century explorer the chills, or ... a woody. At one point, our guides led us outside barefoot onto the wide concrete steps in front of the building, for what was no doubt originally conceived of as a brief but striking encounter with the winter elements. Everyone stood there comfortably, however, thankful for the temperate bath of fresh air. "Yeah, it's not very cold," agreed Shalom. "Actually, it's not cold at all."

A couple more memorable moments as of this writing: Daniel Linehan spinning in a circle for a very long time, declaiming, "This is not about anything" — and variations on that theme. The young choreographer-performer (who's worked with Big Art as well as Miguel Gutierrez, among others) delivered these poetically schematic lines at intricate length, in a voice precisely doubled by an offstage "doppelganger" piped through a nearby speaker, demonstrating a fairly wowing memory and focus, while alternating both the speed and shape of his whirling form to create a kinetic sculpture of transfixing beauty.

The stunning solo Not About Everything faltered only momentarily for me, when Linehan, pulling out and "reading" a self-conscious letter about his own art and practice from his pocket, shifted from mathematical-geometric abstraction to the all-too-specific. It was an almost rude awakening from a kind of syntactic ecstasy — the motive, unmooring meaninglessness of the mantra — back into the semantics of worldly and solipsistic concerns. It was saved ultimately by a combination of Linehan's acuity and alacrity as a thinker and performer, however, and it was as fine, moving, and memorable a solo as any seen thus far.

Ann Liv Young presented a desultory piece called Sleeping Beauty Part I that held few surprises for anyone remotely familiar with her work. But the audience was caught off guard at one point at least, as Sleeping Beauty, having completed a Showgirls-style dance of seduction, pleads for understanding from her Prince Charming (a blowup doll sitting in the first row of the packed Experimental Theater). At that moment a soap machine above the stage suddenly erupted with a noisy rush of air and fluff, casting a snow-like arc of fine goo down onto the heads of maybe a third of the house, producing amusement and irritation in more or less equal measure. Only one patron actually got up and left. The rest sat stoically, trying to stifle coughs and sneezes for the next 20 minutes as the finer, mistier particles of whatever is in that stuff began lining breathing passages.

The remainder of the show was given over to an invitation to have your Polaroid portrait taken with the Sleeping Beauty (two bucks a pop). There were enough takers to drag this process out about half an hour. Then the performers left the stage. More ALY concessions were on sale as you exited.

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