25 October 2015

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: The New York Narratives

New York Narratives
Melbourne Festival & Arts House Melbourne
www.festival.melbourne





The New York Narratives mini program within the Melbourne Festival is the beginning of an exchange between New York's PS122 and Melbourne's Arts House.

In 1980, PS122 was an artist squat in an old school in the East Village and is now an international leader of contemporary performance that presents and commissions artists "whose work challenges boundaries of live performance".

Established in 2005 by the Melbourne City Council, Arts House Melbourne is one of Australia's leading presenters and supporters of independent contemporary artists.

Before sending Australian artists to New York next year, Arts House shared 12 PS122 projects – performance, film and installation – with the Melbourne Festival and the ones I saw were the works I think I'll remember the most from this festival.

Bronx Gothic

Bronx Gothic. Photo by Sarah Walker

Okwui Okpokwasili's Bronx Gothic was the first show I saw this festival and it left me struggling for words. This was dance theatre made words feel inadequate to describe the experience of sharing and being trusted with this story.

Okpokwasili begins with her bare back towards the audience in the corner of a room surrounded by white curtains. Her movement is somewhere between a shimmy, an orgasm, a fit and demonic possession. It's controlled but without a hint of tension, and disconcertingly mesmerising. As it's hard to tell if she's in pleasure or pain, the need to see her face and to understand is almost overwhelming.

When she stops – exhausted and sweating – she reads the letters between two 11-year-old girls; one is her. At first, it's a welcoming recognition of discovering sexuality and sex with talk of titties and periods. But it doesn't feel like the opening dance, or the songs and dance that are between the letters. 

As her 11-year-olds talk about hard dicks and the taste of cum, the deeper truth of her story and an understanding of the dance reveals itself. At a very nice, kind-of-elite arts festival full of very nice, kind-of-elite people, we're shown a world where a little girl screams at herself for being an ugly nigger.

Drawing on the gothic tradition of sharing letters and the themes of blood, superstition and unseen horror, Okpokwasili's story of sexual abuse, internalised-hatred and blood left me feeling like my heart had slopped onto the floor.


The Shipment


Young Jean Lee's Theater Company - THE SHIPMENT (5min) from Young Jean Lee on Vimeo.

Young Jean Lee's The Shipment, filmed in Seattle in 2009, was part of the Stage to Screen program (films on screen) that I wish I'd seen all of. Would love to see a similar program in non-festival time.

Young Jean Lee was at the 2012 Melbourne Festival with We're All Gonna Die. I described it as "an "not at all theatrey, a little bit hipstery and likely to make you cry (for yourself, in a good way) and sing" and knew that, given the chance, I'd see anything she made.

Working an African American cast – she's Korean American – , The Shipment attempts to address the black experience in a work that includes in-your-face standup, sketch and a living room drama. The tone's astonishing; move a bit either way and it's racist, offensive shit or soppy, self indulgent shit. But it's neither, which left some of the audience huffing out and some of us crying with laughter.

YOUARENOWHERE


YOUARENOWHERE. Photo by Sarah Walker

During it's run, Andrew Schneider's YOUARENOWHERE was the Fight Club of shows that could only be talked about among people who had experienced it knock the air out of us.

And I can't ruin it for anyone who will see it in the future. If you have the chance, go.

A what-the-fucking-fuck, jaw-dropping combination of technology, science fiction, physics and the purest of human interaction, it gave me something I hadn't seen before; I can't ask for anything more than that.
Performance Space 122 provides incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting and commissioning artists whose work challenges boundaries of live performance. PS122 is dedicated to supporting the creative risks taken by artists from diverse genres, cultures and perspectives. We are an innovative local, national and international leader in contemporary performance. - See more at: http://www.ps122.org/about/mission/#sthash.ktjYDmBO.dpuf
Performance Space 122 provides incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting and commissioning artists whose work challenges boundaries of live performance. PS122 is dedicated to supporting the creative risks taken by artists from diverse genres, cultures and perspectives. We are an innovative local, national and international leader in contemporary performance. - See more at: http://www.ps122.org/about/mission/#sthash.ktjYDmBO.dpuf

Acting Stranger


Read about Michael Dwyer's big-screen debut in The Age

Acting Stranger is a live art project with Andrew Schnieder wanting to create moments of intimacy between strangers.

Thirty two Melbourne people signed up to learn a scene, turn up in a public place and perform the scene with Schneider  – no rehearsal, no second take – and walk away without speaking. The scenes were filmed with a camera that was hidden in plain sight.

The scenes are available at actingstranger.com  – today only the New York ones are up, but the Melbourne ones are on their way.

The Melbourne ones had one screening at ACMI. The project was originally not going to be filmed, then only seen on the internet – Schneider says that the he's still working on how it works. But to see them one after the other on a huge screen brought a dimension to the project that the creators themselves hadn't seen.

There's something fascinating about watching people who aren't acting but are aware that they are being watched (the non-actor volunteers were always more interesting). And there's something more addictive about watching people who pass through the scene with no awareness of the camera. But what was most amazing was watching Schneider and his co-creator (whose name I've forgotten) as they saw something they filmed over two days, in a strange city, with strangers, while Schneider was performing another piece at night.



from New York with amazing passers by




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