With The Eye Is the First Circle, Simone Dinnerstein ventures into bold interdisciplinary artistic territory in collaboration with projection designer Laurie Olinder and lighting designer Davison Scandrett. Conceived and directed by Dinnerstein, this dynamic production deconstructs and collages elements from two works that are themselves collages: her father Simon Dinnerstein’s painting The Fulbright Triptych and Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2 (Concord). The Fulbright Triptych places a family portrait (including an infant Simone) within the tradition of Medieval altar paintings, against a wall teeming with art historical references, and the Concord Sonata expresses the imaginative and natural world of the Transcendentalists through an ecstatic and fractured musical lens. Olinder pulls visuals including animated elements of the painting and real-time video to all points of the stage, and Scandrett’s lighting gives them breathtaking theatricality. Dinnerstein’s searching performance sits within this disorientingly immersive visual space. The piece asks: How do our origin stories mold us? How can a sense of self come from the musical and visual fragments we remember from childhood? The Eye is the First Circle shows us what it is to draw a new circle around the one we stand in, at the edge of what we can see.
“For me, this is a matter of common sense. I am in favour of expanding the archive, reading the different archives of the world critically, each with and against the others. There can’t be any other meaning to a planetary curriculum.”—Achille Mbembe, in Interview by Torbjorn Tumyr Nilsen in Bergen Norway on November 30, 2018
The genesis of the series of works entitled Curriculum came from the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe’s ideas around archive and curriculum. Curriculum I began with exploring the rich archive of Bill T. Jones’ movement phrases which are mostly non-theatrical, non-psychological, non-narrative, all made with the intention of clarity and form. Running parallel to and in juxtaposition with this formal exploration is a ticker tape of topical concerns informed by the 24-hour news cycle: climate change, racial violence, identity politics, reparations, decolonization. Mbembe might categorize these concerns as “planetary curriculum.”
Curriculum I was set to premiere at the Holland Festival in the summer of 2020 and was canceled due to Covid-19. At the height of the pandemic PEAK Performances commissioned Curriculum II as a film project. As with its predecessor, the work attempts to embrace formal directness and clarity while allowing it to be intruded upon by word fragments, imagery, and the stuff of Mbembe’s planetary curriculum. This time the focal point comes from Louis Chude-Sokei’s treatise The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, which explores the connection between race and technology from minstrelsy, music production, cybernetics, to artificial intelligence and posthumanism. Curriculum II came to an abrupt stop because of Covid-19. The work will be reimagined as a live performance for an in-person audience, and, as with any curriculum, it is a dynamic entity made up of intersecting parts whose content will and must change in response to time, place, and purpose.
The dark art of juggling revisited.
9 PERFORMERS, 80 ORANGES, 7 WATERMELONS. THIS IS SMASHED2.
In Gandini Juggling’s hit Smashed, which made its U.S. Premiere at PEAK Performances, the manipulation of forbidden fruit shrewdly explored the strained relations between seven men and two women—and kindly flayed traditions of juggling and circus. Smashed2 is the dark art of juggling revisited. Director Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala borrow elements of Pina Bausch’s gestural choreography and combine them with the intricate patterns and cascades of solo and ensemble juggling. Simultaneously evoking great pleasure and small disquiet, Smashed2 lightly disrupts the rigid conventions of etiquette, dress, gender, and body language. The result is a new hybrid of juggling, performed with meticulous unison and split-second timing.
(Mask Theater, Germany)
Using clowning, acrobatics, magic, and improvisation, Familie Flöz makes its highly anticipated U.S. debut after delighting European audiences for more than 20 years with captivating theatrical experiences. Strange things happen in Hotel Paradiso, a comedic thriller chock full of eccentric characters including a pajama-wearing front-desk clerk, a kleptomaniacal maid, and a cook who chops up more than just pork. Set in a family-run Alpine resort, this fairy tale full of secrets is created by a Berlin-based troupe known worldwide for works that are “wordless and yet somehow so expressive, full of yearning and yet also filled with joy” (The Guardian).
MOVEMENT follows Yerushalmy’s most recent major work, Paramodernities, a six-part series generated through reverently and violently dissecting iconic modern choreographies. The project explored tenets of modern discourse – sovereignty, race, sexuality, disability – with contributions by scholars from different fields, and was created explicitly in order to provoke dynamic conversations with the past and its legacies. In MOVEMENT, existing dances are again quoted (this time from a vast array of sources) and pieced together into an intricate and elaborate quilt with radical and surprising results. By plucking (stealing) short movements and placing them outside of their original contexts, Yerushalmy repurposes them, re-orients them, and perhaps re-cultures them.
Strange Fruit draws its title from the 1937 poem and song of the same name by Abel Meeropol and made famous by the great jazz singer Billie Holiday—which metaphorically addresses lynching as a tool of racial terrorism during the Jim Crow Era. For this dance/theater work, the facts of lynching act as springboards into a highly personal interior space and state of mind. Abstract yet grounded in a brutal reality, Strange Fruit tracks choreographer Donald Byrd’s feelings as a response to lynching and plays out as a series of dance/theater vignettes.
The language of the circus and dance movement highlight the physical potential of the acrobatic body as performers are confronted by a landscape in transformation. Circus and danced movement induce a slow metamorphosis of humans and organic matter, as performers confront nature, accompany it, dodge it, collide and merge with it. Like fractals, nothing here has a beginning or an end, but is part of a continuum.
Stephanie Batten Bland creates performance at the intersection of dance-theater and installation, questioning contemporary and historical cultural symbolism and the complexities of human relationships. Inspired by the 1967 Stanley Kramer film starring Sydney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy, Look Who’s Coming to Dinner pays tribute to those who paved the way toward acceptance in love and life. Set around a transformative dinner setting, seven dance-theater artists excavate interlaced universal traumas through imagery and ritual as they seek a seat at the table.