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Flash Review 2, 5-29: Deep-Dish Petri
Touring the Avant-Garde-Arama Terrain at P.S.

By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng

Saturday night at P.S. 122 I saw the "petri-dish of downtown culture" (to quote the Village Voice) in action with Avant-Garde-Arama, curated by Salley May and the Avant-Garde-Arama committee. Featuring six pieces in two acts, plus the hostessing talents of the New Wondertwins with the Sparklevision Dancers and Orchestra, the terrain which this evening traversed was wide indeed: From skit comedy to music performed on the Australian didjeridu and steel guitar. And before, during and after the pieces I gleefully took in the talents of the Wondertwin emcees, Susan Blackwell and Rebecca Finnegan, and their Sparklevision Dancers; grins, glitter, and names perkily spelled across their T-shirts. Song and dance numbers, performed as cheesily as they should be, brought the audience along for the Avant-Garde-Arama ride, tickling us here and there with a raunchy word or delicious innuendo through the music (composed by Jeff Bowen, lyrics by Susan Blackwell) and dancing (choreography by Tom Schultheis).

First up was the comic act of Fred Armisen with assistant/assailant John Grady in a spoof entitled "Self Defense." With deadpan face, Armisen made ridiculously funny pronouncements about how one should go about defending oneself from muggings and attacks. One suggestion was that you carry a flashlight with you and when someone comes up behind you at the ATM machine, you flash the lights behind you at the floor, moving the light about so that you distract the assailant. John Grady ably demonstrated by looking dumbly from point to point in total distraction.

Next up was "Mannahatta," a piece directed and performed by Mara Smaldone with original text by Agent MT. Ms. Smaldone emerged from behind a shower curtain and danced while she spoke to us about the trials and tribulations of housing in New York City; at times her movement was almost robotic, a feeling of stunted flow. Her voice was difficult to hear, her movement hard to trace as it brushed and stroked around the stage, never stopping or defining points. The sound score was by Michael Bratland.

During intermission a red box appeared on the stage and inside was Michel Yang in her installation piece "Box." With elastic red fabric on three sides and a clear plastic sheet on the fourth, this box (created in collaboration with Eduard Kudlis) enclosed Ms. Yang from all sides. Her body was at times pressed outward, the outlines visible from outside; in other moments she stopped short of touching the surfaces. The movement phrase, facing a side or diagonal of the box at all times, was repeated in a cycle which left Ms. Yang facing a different side of the box for each cycle. While there was a sense of changing perspective, the feeling of confinement and the use of a never-ending cycle spoke of entrapment. The lighting, designed by Jane Cox, made us more aware of the different walls of the box.

After intermission was the piece "ERIKA," performed by j mandle performance, an "experimental arts company" directed by designers Julia Mandle and Said Mahrouf. The company uses "costume-defined-choreography, a process of character development through the structure of clothing," according to the program notes. Performed by Asia Oniszczuk and Stacey Napoleone, this piece was entirely gestural, the two women remaining seated at a thin, long table (constructed by Cornell Riggs) for the entire piece. Behind them was a video (created with Shannon Palmer) resembling a blue screen with the small, repeated silhouettes of the two women gesturing. Between the bright blue screen behind the performers and the fact that there was no light on them, I did not really see what their gestures were. The costumes were dark and sculptural, including the hats which sat upon the women's heads, logically creating a kind of careful, upright sitting position in response to a need to balance or hold-in. The possibility of much more movement (springing from such wonderful costuming) is intriguing, yet this work-in-progress does not yet point out a direction to me.

After this more somber piece came Scotty the Blue Bunny in the one-man "Lucky Foot." Scotty appears in a large, baby blue, fuzzy bunny suit with foot-long ears and walking with crutches. What did he do during his act? Unpack a bag of shoes (sparkly!) and arrange them on the floor, and stage a funeral where one shoe lies in the coffin whilst another carries a flower and places it upon the coffin in memory of its partner, and dumps a bag of carrots on the coffin. He also shows us a video of his leg cast being taken off (the second one of three; his leg has been broken in three places) by a cute technician. All the while, Scotty the Blue Bunny just tells us what's going on. His simple description and a kind of bunny charm make me happy -- but I still don't really know what he did that was so funny.

Last of all was Aboriginal Bluegrass, the musical duo of David Corter and Byron Estep, which combines the sounds of the Australian didjeridu, another instrument based on the didjeridu which the duo has variously named a "didgeribona," "leafblower," and "slippery doo" (I vote for "slippery doo), and a 12-string and National Steel Guitar. The two songs that Mr. Corter and Mr. Estep played were full of the cascading sounds of the guitar and the deep, resounding ancient sound of the didjeridu. Aboriginal Bluegrass has a CD of the same name.

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