Friday, March 27, 2009

True Love from Xnihilo Gallery's Stations of the Cross Exhibit

A few weeks ago, I posted about attending the opening of this year's Stations of the Cross exhibit at Xnihilo Gallery. One of the stronger pieces was Station 11 by Jessica Adams. Her father has sent me photos to post of this piece, which I'm glad to do. These photos show not only the final piece, but also the process. (I had not known, previously, that this piece had been made by a high school student. I saw that it had been created at a high school, it just didn't occur to me that it was a student who created it.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Divergence Vocal Theater

This past weekend was the second production from new indie performance company, Divergence Vocal Theater. The 10th Muse was a musical, theatrical, poetic meditation on love, heartbreak, and other such manipulations of Eros. Artistic director, Misha Penton, pulled from Berlioz, Gounod, and Boulanger (among others) for music. For text, she appropriated text from Sapho and also 4 poems from neoNuma poet, Jill Alexander Essbaum. Throw in some modern dance choreography by Toni Leago Valle, and you begin to get an idea of how fully packed a one-hour performance from DVT can be.

I should say up front---I've known Misha for 5 years now. I met her at Fieldwork and we became fast friends and fans of each other's work. We've worked together on a few things here and there and so I have some idea of how she works and her intentions behind the work she presents.

So I can't really do a review of what I saw this past Saturday night. What I want to do instead is talk a bit about one artist's evolution into force for re-imaging opera for the 21st Century.

First of all, Misha breaks a few rules just by forming this company. Opera companies are not formed by mezzo-sopranos. Mezzo-sopranos go and audition for opera companies, which are run by conductors or somesuch (I'm not entirely clear on all that, actually), and they wait for the permission of the conductor or director to be creative, i.e., to be cast in a production. Misha's background, however, is in dance and rock bands. Dancers form companies (Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, on and on) and dance in their productions because they have the need to be creative and can't wait to be invited to dance for someone. Rock bands pretty well do the same thing. Someone gets together a group of musicians and they meet for rehearsals in someone's garage and they start gigging. So it shouln't surprise anyone that Misha has taken her ideas for shows, gone out and assembled her "band" and called rehearsals.

On top of this, Misha has a history as a visual artist, a painter of abstract canvases that are all color and texture and mood and movement. This comes into play in her stage productions in that there is an arc to the evening, but not necessarily a story. She describes The Tenth Muse as a "watercolor collage" in her program notes and that's certainly one way to experience the evening. It's performance art as much as performing art. It's juxtaposition of ancient and modern art, it's a collection of thoughts on a theme, it is a collection of impressions intended to evoke feelings.

An evening with DVT, then, is a feast for the eyes and ears, with video projection, dancers, and highly trained voices and musicians. Mixing in spoken word fragments and poetry ups the intellectual involvement. It seems unlikely that someone would leave a performance without having seen or heard something that stimulated them on some level.

If this interdisciplinary approach to performance piques your interest in the least, I recommend you head over to DVT's website and subscribe to their email list. There are sure to be new and exciting things developing in the months to come and you won't want to miss out.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

New Necropolis Video on YouTube

I just posted a new video on YouTube. This one is my performance of Jill Alexander Essbaum's "Last Day," which is from her neoNuma Arts collection, Necropolis. Note the contest in the video description.

(full disclosure: I made this a couple of months ago, finished it all up, and THEN noticed the mistakes. I always intended to re-shoot it, but since that seemed to be an unlikelihood, I just decided to just admit my mistakes, post the video, and make a contest out of it. Lazy or overwhelmed? A little of both, but hopefully someone will have fun with this . . .)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Funny in a Sad Sort of Way.

So there's this journal that I'd seen many many times at work. It's called The Book of Myself, and it's one of those things where you go through and answer questions about yourself.

What I'd never noticed before was the somewhat frilly writing that is the subtitle: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography.

I kept looking back to see if it really said that.

A Do-it-Yourself Autobiography.

As they sometimes say in comic strips: ?!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 14 Corpses

This past Saturday (3/14), we had another Writing Marathon at the Montrose Library. As usual, we played a few rounds of Exquisite Corpse. In fact, we may have played more rounds of it this time than in the past. We were especially "on" this past Saturday and kept coming up with very interesting images. Here's most of 'em:

A red mouse dances a jaunty espresso.

A high-flying twirler regrets the sad apron.

A hopeful vine spills the golden desert.

A rowdy penguin climbs a lukewarm cheese.

The ecstatic hummingbird reads the warm closet.

A broken lion stung the slivered vacation.

The pretty heart creates the wimpish man.

The paltry sign flips the reckless story.

A humming person fastens the soft apprentice.

An imaginative horse watched an alarming book.

A western cowboy sipped the prismatic mess. (We commented on the fact that two players, sitting side-by-side, gave us the phrase "a western cowboy." We decided they were influenced by Houston's currently running Livestock Show and Rodeo.)

An ugly bee drives the thirsty ragdoll.

The fiery woman writes a diaphanous plate.

A hungry president wraps the hot forrest.

The pretentious tree swallows the intriguing paper. (cannibalism, anyone?)

The flirtatious margarita brings a perfect knee.

The beautiful performance writes the limited shore.

The squeaky girl captivates an appalling space.

A monstrous ferris wheel jumps the cynical watch.

A gray lover inhaled a red statement.

The pink storm washed the blue audience.

The gray day fell a stunning woman.

The timid hula-hoop chug-a-lugs a lukewarm coat.

The illustrious kite pounded a downy piano.

The breathtaking notebook flies the worn cushion.

A thin bowl clutched a surly thigh. (A fun thing about this sentence: it was written on lined paper and all the players put all the words on the same line, except the word "surly," which made the word itself appear a little surly. Or at least nonconformist.)

The hard spy transports a merry wassail.

The voracious stone sips the mysterious child. (A mysteriously liquified child? Um, ew.)

A wet nobleman holds a nasty window.

The strong cup nibbled a tasty girl. (And how did two players use nibbled and tasty in the same sentence?)

The gentle bandana smoldered the arid anteater.

The itchy offering spits a fresh choice.

The cloudy girl cracks the enchanted man.

So a lot of nonsense, to be sure, but some interesting images, too. And that's the fun of the game. Those surrealists really knew how to have a good time, huh?

I haven't set the date for the next marathon yet, but I will soon. Email me if you want to be put on the neoNuma Arts mailing list to keep up to date on these and other events. neo (at) neonuma (dot) com.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Joe Goode Performance Group

Just in from an evening at the Cullen Theater. I had been looking forward to the evening for weeks, ever since I interviewed Joe Goode of the Joe Goode Performance Group for OutSmart magazine. It was well worth the wait.

Goode introduced himself to the audience, dressed in cowboy drag (which is really the only way to describe it in this context). It's cowboy by way of Porter Waggoner's closet. Lots of fringe, in other words (although not so many sequins). Goode immediately endeared himself to the Houston audience by pointing out that it was a costume and that he wasn't dressed up as he was simply because the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are in full swing this week. He went on to say that they're performing in other cities across the U.S. where the costume is actually ironic. The audience warmed up to Goode's charm and his company would have had to screw up royally to lose it.

His company, of course, did not screw up royally. We were treated to a wonderfully inventive evening of dance theater. The first half of the evening was a revived piece from his history, Maverick Strain. This was inspired by the movie, The Misfits, and played with the American ideal of rugged individualism, machismo, John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. The company danced, they sang, they played out scenes that reversed gender roles. Joe Goode himself would swagger one moment in imitation of a Hollywood cowboy, then give us a swishy counterpoint to that image. What's most amazing is that he was able to do it, get laughs, and it never felt forced or cheesy or played only for laughs. As he said in the after-show talk, it was about being male in America---and all the ways a male is in America. It's agenda was laid out in a very friendly way, not pushed, not a strident voice, just politely presented with humor and grace.

Wonderboy, the second half of the evening, was a bit different. Using a puppet as the main character---a quiet, sensitive boy who watches the world from his window, but is afraid to go outside and engage the world---we're given a story of self-discovery that again uses humor to tell the tale, but doesn't shout. Goode may talk about the difficulties of growing up gay in Virginia in the 1950s, but his work suggests that he isn't angry or bitter about it, only that he wants people to see what that experience was like. This is very appealing to me. As a gay writer and sometimes performer, I know it can be hard to present the work without being defensive or antagonistic to a straight audience. It's a joy to see someone modeling a way to do it, to create work that makes seeing the difficulty easy, that doesn't place blame for the difficulty or rails against the oppressor. Goode has found a way to present the difficulty that makes it possible for others to identify with it, even if it isn't the viewer's personal difficulty. Wonderboy is, in the end, about wanting to belong, and pretty much everyone who has survived being a teenager identifies with that.

Even going in with some knowledge of what Wondergoy was about, even after talking with Joe Goode about it for the interview, I was surprised by my own emotional response to the climax of the piece. I knew it was about a boy discovering that his gift and, indeed, his power lay in his being sensitive. Still, when the puppet proclaims, "I'm sensitive!" I had this internal response of wanting to shout, "Yeah! That's right! You're sensitive!" It's a funny moment, yes, there's something kind of funny about this sweet little puppet proclaiming his power with the very thing that had made him afraid to go outside, but it also touched something in me that I wasn't expecting. It's nothing new, really. Mystics and poets have been saying this for centuries. Our weakness is our strength. My own religion proclaims the weakness of a state execution is the power of our proclamation. Humility, the Desert Fathers and Mothers told us, is the one thing that the devil can't match and so is our greatest strength. So it wasn't a new idea, that senstitivity, a "weakness," could be powerful. Goode just built up to it in such a way that swept me into a catharsis of sorts. And that is, the ancient Greeks would have told us, the point of theater.

I should talk about one aspect of the evening that I was most interested in. Goode is known for making his dancers sing and speak. His shows apparently rely heavily on text to create the story he's telling. This is an interest of mine, one that drew me to Toni Leago Valle (see a couple of posts ago) and when I was making performance myself, a thing I tried to explore. I often feel like dancers use text to explain the dance or else use dance to illustrate the text---neither of which is particularly wrong, but not what interests me. In my work, I would try to layer text and movement so that each element offered more information, that there would be information left out if one element was absent. Whether or not I succeeded with those attempts, I wouldn't dare say. But I wanted to see how Goode used text, how he integrated the two.

Here, tonight, fresh from his show, I would say Joe Goode is a storyteller, and he uses many elements to tell the story. There are moments of dialog/monolog that do that, and ther are moments of "pure dance" that propel the story forward. There are times the two overlap, but I'm not sure I would say they are completely integrated in the same way I was attempting, but neither are they simply illustrative/explicative. From my point of view, he uses all elements with ease and the result is a seamless story. It is a layering in that all these disciplines do add a different dimension the the overall work. It is skillfully done and I cannot fault it one bit.

But I'm still searching for some thing I can't quite describe, haven't really managed myself, and may be an unattainable idea---this notion that text and movement might be integrated so that one requires the other to create a third thing. I'm high on what I saw tonight and I want to stress that what I saw was wonderful, skillful, full of creativity. And I'm looking for someone to do something . . . else with text and movement. But that's my notion, and is no fault on the part of Goode for what he offered his audience tonight.

Oh, and for heaven's sake, the other thing I wanted to mention is his choreography for duets. I'm a sucker for inventive partnering, and there was some very exciting and breathtaking partnering in tonight's work. There was even one point that I literally thought, "that defies the laws of science! How are they doing that?" Someone in the after-show discussion noted it, too, so it wasn't just me.

But that's enough gushing. This was one wonderful evening of performance. I have a new favorite dance company, another troupe to keep my eyes open for. If you run across this and the Joe Goode Peformance Group is coming to your city, I highly recommend arranging your life around it.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Nothing Says Lent Like Necropolis

I'd be a very bad publisher if I didn't mention that there is a really good poetry book, basically just made for the lenten season. It is Necropolis by Jill Alexander Essbaum. The cheapest place I've seen to purchase it remains but you can order it wherever you like. Actually, it's very much a Holy Week kind of book. So order now so you have it in time . . .