Some highlights from New York's APAP-pourri
Questions about art's social role and power, as well as the lines joining the mundane to the great political and narrative arcs of the age, ran through much more work besides. One of the fresher, quietly unsettling surprises in this respect was Australian company Back to Back's brilliantly staged Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, a deceptively low-key exploration of power and marginality by a five-member ensemble that includes actors with varying mental and physical disabilities. On a largely bare stage repeatedly transformed by large transparent curtains into a gorgeous shadowbox landscape of mythological proportions, the riveting cast plays out its own inner turmoil along an extremely subtle line separating the ridiculous and the profound, meanwhile complicating our perception of what is in fact real.
In a highly anticipated offering, New York's Nature Theater of Oklahoma premiered eight hours worth of its Soho Rep–produced opus Life and Times (Episodes 1-4) — more episodes are apparently forthcoming — which channels the verbatim childhood reminiscences (replete with uhs, ums, likes, whatevers, and oh-my-gods) of a middle-class American 30-something (company member Kristen Worrall) through an evolving set of choreographed, highly stylized, mostly-musical ensemble performances. Again, as directed by founders Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, the banal is elevated to the level of the epic, but in a precious and ironic way that, for all its precision and the seriousness of its core idea, leaves one feeling mostly empty, bored, and frayed by the text's endless assault of half-articulate and overly familiar riffs on family, friends, awkwardness, first kisses, religion, and so on. With the dialogue divvied up among an entire ensemble in coordinated outfits, vocal harmonies, and group dance steps, we're being made to hear again what we hear all the time, which invites certain revelations, but they seemed precious little compensation for the tedium of it all.
Further downtown at American Realness, where founder Ben Pryor's astute gathering of contemporary dance-performance is now in its fourth year, there was much greater and subtler impact to be had from a slim hour spent in a largely unadorned room with performance maker Jeanine Durning. She also set forth a barrage of speech, a continuous stream of consciousness that touched on many subjects and her own self-consciousness, but in that simple score came a powerful emotional encounter and myriad questions about language, communication, reason, madness, art, and subversion that left the audience slightly stunned and reeling in their chairs.
American Realness had its much-hyped disappointments as well, in particular Trajal Harrell's Antigone Sr., a self-conscious and dull three-hour riff on fashion and voguing that is part of his seven-part opus, Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, which sets out to explore a dialogue between the post-modern dance movement of 1960s Greenwich Village and the voguing scene taking place uptown in the same era. A provocative enough project, but this piece had little to recommend in terms of ideas or movement.