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NEWS, 12-17: SCHOOL'S OUT FOREVER
RUSSELL TO LEAVE P.S. 122 AFTER TWO DECADES
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
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Mark Russell, who single-handedly
changed the Downtown cultural landscape and the national cultural
context, midwifing not just new artists but new theatrical forms
from a converted New York City public schoolhouse, has resigned
as artistic and executive director of Performance Space 122 after
20 years, effective next June, the vaunted East Village venue announced
"It is with mixed emotions
that I leave P.S. 122," said Russell in a prepared statement released
by the theater. "P.S. 122 is a terrific institution that has seen
world-class artists cross its doors before they became household
names. I am gratified and proud to have been a part of this important
part of performance history. However, the time has come for me to
look for new challenges and I leave the Space with a committed staff
and board to carry on."
Coming a year after
David White resigned as chief of Dance Theater Workshop after three
decades, Russell's departure will leave the city and thus the nation
without two of its major cultural rudders.
Founded in 1979 by a
collective of performers, P.S. 122 has been called a "petri dish"
of downtown culture. To Russell, that he could provide a theater
to host the experiment often seemed more important than whether
the experiment succeeded. "It's a little rough" was a typical admission
he could sometimes be heard to whisper after a performance debut,
even to a critic and always with pride.
John Leguizamo, the
Blue Man Group, Eric Bogosian, Ben Munisteri, Ron K. Brown, Danny
Hoch, Sarah Jones, Doug Varone, Tim Miller, Elevator Repair Service,
and Ann Carlson are among the artists whose careers P.S. 122 helped
launch. Because of the audience Russell cultivated and taught to
appreciate the experiment as much as the results, P.S. was a place
where established artists like Leguizamo, Spalding Gray and Karen
Finley were comfortable workshopping.
But more important than
the artists P.S. introduced were the incipient art forms (and arts
publications, including this one) it nourished. Those forms ranged
from puppetry, with P.S. 122 serving as the anchor of the Jim Henson
International Puppet Festival, to porn-ography, and the bio-performance
work of Annie Sprinkles. In the area of dance-theater (or theater-dance),
Russell cultivated ongoing relationships with Jane Comfort and Shapiro
& Smith, who knew they could bring work to this theater without
worrying whether there was enough of a dance quotient, and fostered
the development of artists like David Neumann, ERS, Tory Vasquez,
Andrea Klein, and Headlong Dance Theater. Russell was also the first
to welcome the burgeoning new burlesque scene to the concert stage
at the end of the 1990s, programming Akim Funk Buddha, among others.
When Funk Buddha proclaimed, during his 2001 "Urban Mythological
Musical," "This is not television!" the declaration could have applied
to the theater hosting his show as well as the performance.
For the often-insular
world of dance, P.S. 122, which doesn't really market by niche,
introduced the art to a broader audience, more likely to be filled
with P.S. 122 loyalists than dance insiders, thus making it part
of the broader avant-garde cultural mix.
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