Sunday, July 26, 2009


That is not a metaphor. It is crashing so loudly and so brightly, it feels very near.
I am such a lucky girl this week and I have so much to process.
It was the first week of the Lincoln Center Director's Lab, the opening of One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro by Kate Ferber and Louis Greenstein, (that I am directing), and casting is set for Three Days of Rain (also directing, goes up in Texas in September). I also got to see my mom and my cousin Katie.
The Lab is a recipe for incredulity. This week alone we talked with:

Kate Whoriskey
Declan Donellan
Lev Dodin
Winter Miller
& Mark Bennett and numerous musical-theater peeps (composer, lyricists, etc.)

and did:
a 3-day 'moment workshop' with Andy Paris (Tectonic Theater Project)
some strenuous physical work with a Grotowski practitioner
movement work (and psycho-drama!) evoking MAAFA (or, Middle Passage) with Jesse Wooden, Jr. and his company Meyerhold's Biomechanics with a theater company that uses his principles and etudes in the conception and execution of their work

I missed Ntozake Shange's talk because of my callbacks... but I doubt if I would have been capable of taking in and synthesizing much more stimulation.

All this movement work and discussing it in terms of its groundbreaking-ness has me feeling very appreciative of my coming to theater through dance, and slightly anti-hero-worshipful of some of the people who gave existing quantities clever, intellectual names. Many of the big ideas are intrinsic for dancers/choreographers-- and it is fascinating to me how many of my directing peers in the Lab seem to revere artists like Pina Bausch-- while going about their craft in a completely different way. I used to talk with my friend Sam about how being a choreographer is quite like being a director, only it is harder-- because you are also the playwright. I don't think he agreed with that. But then, at that point I was a choreographer and he was a director and we are so often protective of that thing we do, aren't we?

I walked around DUMBO this afternoon too and had to keep pushing the bitter feelings down and away. This place that has had such a formative effect on me-- and I once thought I was making an impact on it-- has no memory of me. No trace. There's a bigger and better flea market than any DUMBO Bazaar. The first three homes of my fledling Nest are alive and well and seem to be carrying on respectable and legitimate cultural commerce. Then again, the beer still tastes good and the view is still magnificent; for now anyway.
The girl who is living in the apartment I lived in hung a piece of fabric over the glass door to the balcony just like I did. There's a problem there of too much light coming in all at once in the morning and almost blinding you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

moving circles

I went to see Les Ephemeres by Ariane Mnouchkine and Theatre du Soleil at the Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival tonight. The only other time I saw this company was at their home, the Cartoucherie, outside Paris, in June 2000. So much has happened since then. That show, Tambours sur la Digue, really changed my life-- and I'm not exaggerating.
As my friend Rob was saying yesterday, you can't judge what other people decide is their 'big stuff.' What they get worked up about, what pain they struggle with. It is all relative. And for me-- Theatre du Soleil and that show in particular was a PRETTY BIG DEAL.
The show tonight was a series of short vignettes, MANY vignettes-- that added up to an epic almost 3 1/2 hours. And that was only Part 1. The company has endeavored to bring a bit of the circus-barn feel to the Upper East Side and the audience was seated on bench seating with small cushions and not-deep backs on pretty steep risers. The audience faced each other and the action was played in a playing space with pewter silk fabric billowing at either end whenever a platform was wheeled on. The space was very long and the depth was further exploited when scenes would continue on in a sense, even as they were disappearing into the distance. A young adulterous mother sitting at a table with a single candle burning on Christmas Eve. A transexual woman and and a little girl watching an old movie right after blowing out the lights on the birthday cake. That sort of thing.
The NY Times did a bang-up job of describing the show and I won't make any attempt to do better. What I will say is what it left me with.
Mnouchkine is so genius at marrying an seemingly impossibly abstract idea/theme/issue to a visual/objective manifestation-- and the way this show was played was genius. This show is about the ephemerality of everything, of youth, of love, of family, of life... and so it of course is about memory. Each of the scenes were played on platforms on wheels-- most of them round, and one to three company members moved like serpentine gondoliers surreptitious manipulating them through the space. The 'plates' were always 'spinning.' Like a memory that swirls through your mind, as one element or person shifts into the foreground and then another, as your point of view invariably changes over time... and then inevitably, it all recedes. Spinning away into darkness.
Also, Mnouchkine is a genius at choosing both the extraordinary and the mundane. The extraordinary in the ordinary.
My boyfriend Alex and I had moments of impatience-- he thinks anything really profound can be said in 90 minutes... or 80 even... but that doesn't account for the transfixing meditation factor. And there was definitely a value-add as the piece played on. Storylines wove through each other and I felt like I was reading the Westing game all over again as I tried to put the puzzle pieces together.
In the final moment as the company took apart the circle where the last scene had taken place, and the theatrical lights turned to flashlights which gave way to tiny lights illuminating only the mass of people across the playing space, in near-darkness, in silhouette, I thought of our own ephemerality. How one day, not too long from now-- all the people in this theater will be gone, the moments of their lives spinning away into the darkness.
And the music swelled. And a few tears welled up. And I didn't want any of it to end.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

art I recommend

I am so in love with art, and the brave, hardworking souls who make it.

Two pieces I saw in the last few days have totally floored me.
Now maybe I am coming really late to this party but Up was my first Pixar film. Truth be told, probably one of only a handful of animated movies I've ever seen. I don't know if they are all this good. But this one is. SO BRILLIANT and beautiful and heartbreaking. I cried. Twice. And I smiled a lot. And guffawed a couple of times too.

The other piece, the Broadway musical Next to Normal gave me a similar sensation. I stood in the rush ticket line this morning, which of course only adds to the experience-- should a person be lucky enough to get in. [Or you can get there at 5am, as many people did, mothers and daughters and young Hugh Jackmans with their folding chairs and snacks and theater trivia games.] I listened to so many repeat offenders, young and old people who love this show and are so empowered by it. People were trading lots of stories, how mental illness or the loss of a child had touched their lives personally. Then, tonight, I sat smack in the center of the front row and watched a bunch of sickly talented superstars sing and move and talk in really gut-wrenching, visually-satisfying, emotionally-potent ways. I am so amazed at the boldness of this show-- dealing with this very real, little-talked about subject matter. And it reminds me of how I felt when I saw Rent, in 1997.
And it also reminds me that theater (insert: 'that I like') doesn't always have to cool, or even try to be cool. It will serve me to remember that when people make something that is true and beautiful and depressing and sincere and (seemingly) hopelessly un-commercial it is VERY cool. It is very cool to feel things deeply. Especially in live performance. Sometimes it's easier to feel things more in movies, that distancing effect, (watching movies on airplanes even more so!)-- but it's not impossible to be completely transported by live theater. It's hard, but worth the try I guess.
In the front row next to me tonight two college-age girls held hands as they shook with tears streaming down their faces. Then after the show, they both said how much better they felt and how much people were talking about 'stuff-- because of the show.'
Talking about 'stuff' ... and also empowered and seriously entertained.