Sunday, October 26, 2008

DV8 - To be Straight with You

I continued my adventurous Friday nights by going out to the theater at Creteil (there may be an accent in there somewhere), and another wonderful experience it was.

Lloyd Newson's To be Straight with You was the best of the performances I have seen so far at the Festival d'Automne. A series of vignettes in which the stories of 25 characters are performed over the course of 90 mins. All of them are gay - with a handful of lesbians - and all of them muslim, from the Indian sub-continent, North Africa and the middle east. 

What struck me about the piece as a whole was its success on all levels. Not only were the stories moving and frightening and daring and cowardly, but the dancing, the narratives and the music worked to draw me in to the stories emotionally . I have often struggled with the intention of dance to state the direct correspondence between a movement and a particular emotion or array of emotions. But I was so impressed here by the logical and legible expression of sexuality. Gay men and women in London with immigrant backgrounds express their sexuality in many different ways, and the individual dancers of DV8 managed to echo whatever the given relationship to their sexuality: frustration, celebration, repression, fear, and so on, were so perfectly captured by the movements and debilitations of the body. 

The use of new media and fancy technology on stage is unquestionably de jour in the dance and theater world. I saw a performance by Simon McBurney's Complicit√© last month which used all the TV screens, digital imaging, creation of sets through lighting and different times, spaces and realities through the use of different media - much in the vein of Piscator. But the difference between McBurney's *A Disappearing Number* and DV8's *To Be Straight with You* was a difference in politics. *A Disappearing Number* was a love story, well told, but not much more. DV8, however,  used all its presentational and representational resources - projected text, lighting, speech, music, scrims and sets to drive home an urgent political question: gay men and women may in theory, by the law, be able to express their sexuality in public in England, but there's a long way to go, a lot of fighting to do before equality can be claimed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

America Deserves Obama

Being ill in bed for six days has given me the perfect excuse to read my favorite papers from cover to cover - The NYT, The Huffington Post, the Herald Tribune. Actually, there would be others, but I also read novels and watched movies.... sidetracked.

Obama. Yes, America deserves Obama. After eight years of a man who was ignorant, inarticulate, at times, even illiterate - did we ever get an answer to the question of what papers he reads on a regular basis? - America and Americans deserve to listen to a man who is articulate, eloquent, and above all else, intelligent. There are so many Americans who deserve someone who they can identify with, and that doesn't just mean socially and economically. For anyone with a brain deserves to identify with the intelligence, poise, compassion and respect of Barack Obama. Eight years is too many to have to look in the mirror and not see someone they admire, and feel themselves less-than and ashamed, without moral, ethical or political anchor in the world. 

And he delivers his conviction with absolute unflappability. After four years on the public stage, he has never lost it, always remains poised and articulate. As a politician who never loses it, especially someone who has so much to be angry about, so much to get emotional over, but never does, he's to be admired.

Though it's kind of schmolzy, as a non-American who is one of those people he referenced in the DNC speech toward the end, the ones who look to America, not for its wealth, not for its might, not for its brain power, but for its opportunity and belief in "anything is possible", I believe him. I believe that the dream can come true in America. And I believe that is what makes it the most energizing and exciting country on earth. And I believe that it is time once again for Americans to accept that mantel and to be able to stand on the world stage with self-respect and intelligence at the core of their collective identity.

Vote for him.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Gallery Hops in Chelsea

Today my friend James and I did that very Chelsea activity of "the galleries." Of course, the whole time I was fascinated by the attitude of the galleryists. A friend in the business commented that the worse the art, the ruder the people who work the gallery. It's true. For some reason, those lucky enough to work in Chelsea Galleries have been given the license not to be pleasant to the rest of the human race. I have to say that George Henoch of Gallery Henoch on West 25th St was absolutely delightful. He came out of his office, introduced himself and generously offered his own and his assistant's knowledge and ideas on the paintings exhibited. As a result, being the sucker for social pleasantries that I am, the exhbition of Simon Nicholas' paintings get my no. 1 vote of the "must sees" in Chelsea. See my review at next Tuesday.

I was struck - but not sure why it was such a surprise - at the amount of bad art. The show at Pace Wildenstein, Lee Ufan's paintings, were so empty and pretentious, I began to wonder if there was something I was missing. He took a stencil of a round edged square, swept the paint brush across it, three times on every canvas, again and again and again. And there you have it: "A successful dialogue ... characterized by the fact that it keeps activity (one's own utterances) and passivity (taking in, following, responding to one's counterpart) in a dynamic balance." So said the press release. It is all, apparently, influenced by Merleau-Ponty, with a philosphical and phenomenological complexity way beyond my level of dialogue.

There were a few exhibitions worth writing about, so stay tuned. In the meantime, don't bemoan the horror of the suddenly falling stockmarket, and start mulling over how profound your thoughts are, put them on canvas, and go make your own millions on the wave of the Chelsea scams.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

What a strange body of work! Most modernist art has a somewhat obsessive quality to it, but this is something quite extreme. The content of the works varies little across the fifty odd years of his career - always bottles, pots, cartons and containers of some sort. But where the typical modernist takes different subject matter and applies his or her stylistic concerns - often in a repetitive fashion - Morandi uses the same content and explores every possible style and technique of representation. Despite his isolation, the early works are clearly exploring similar stylistic and representational concerns as those in his midst - cubists, surrealists, and realists. Then, the more he develops his own oeuvre, the further he shifts from the outside world. In the end, there is little to no connection between the exquisite water colors of the final years of his life and the abstract expressionism in his midst. Morandi's shapes may verge on abstraction, but the delicate studies remain secluded within the isolated artistic world he cultivates across his career.

The still lives are reminiscent of Chardin, but not really. As I say, they are in a world unto themselves. It would be accurate to say that these oils and watercolors are more like studies of light, shape, color, paint, and how all of these come together on a canvas. He is interested in verticality, horizontality, how different shapes effect the space around them and the space of the canvas. And as far as I could tell, the phenomenological dimension is pretty much absent. One of the major differences between Chardin, or other well known still life painters, and Morandi, is the sense the former have of spilling into the space occuppied by the viewer. Again, my overwhelming sense of Morandi's works is one of self-containment. They don't seem too fussed about us.

Very curious indeed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I love America and Americans

I have just spent five days in upstate New York and I am, as always, baffled by the reputation America and Americans hold the world over. Conversations over the long weekend ranged from how new technology can be used to airlift us out of the mire of political complacency, corporate corruption and  ideological brainwashing ... through increasing our commitment to and presence in Darfur ...and needless to say, because I was in Syracuse on Thursday the 2nd, there were animated discussions about how Sarah Palin may well be a maverick - but  even with the combined intellectual brain power of professors from all over the country, no one was able to understand what she meant. 

I know, I know, I know ... I am one of the privileged few who never went to high school here, and who don't have to hide when their fellow country folk are being "unAmerican" out there in the world at large. And I know only too well that there is a whole swathe of this country that I never meet ... the ones who will vote for that man, what's his name... I can't bear him?  But, as an outsider who has always been  embraced, inspired and challenged on these shores,  I do feel that at least on this side of the country, there are interesting, brilliant Americans who care deeply about the state of the union and its role in the world out there. If only they were the majority ....

Standard Operating Procedure

S.O.P. *finally* made it to Paris, and though it was - as everyone told me it would be - very disappointing, I am happy I rushed out to see it. The problem with all of Morris's mediocre films is that they don't know what they want to be. So is this film an interrogation of the reality claims of photographs in general? Is it an indictment of the upper echelons of US military and government? In particular, the complete refusal to take responsibility for the war in Iraq? Is it a portrait of the people behind the cameras and in the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib? Or is it about something else? I don't know. But if it is about one of the above, it doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. S.O.P. looks just fabulous. With his fancy digital equipment, Morris comes up with some wonderful images and images of images. But I can't say the big budget would not have been better spent on supporting a more political film. Go see it, if for no other reason than to engage in dinner party conversations about the Abu Ghraib. A conversation that should be had at ever dinner table until the troops are out of there.