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Performance Club: What We Saw at the Armory

Monday, February 22, 2010

There's nothing like debating the nuances of a show beneath the moldering head of a taxidermied wolverine.

(At least I think it was a wolverine.)

The Park Avenue Armory is a spooky and magical place. It's not easy for art to hold its own in a building with so much history and flair. Anybody remember the largely stillborn performances held there during the last Whitney Biennial? I thought of them several times Friday, because it seems like Moving Theater's Armory Show managed to do what many of those works couldn't: have a conversation with the space. Themes of war and masculinity, of our relationship to the daunting past and ephemeral present, skidded by in a series of dance-theater and pure dance vignettes. These ran the gamut from ballet to breaking to pop music videos, and were augmented by live video, and the presence of the International Contemporary Ensemble.

Some aspects of Armory Show don't feel completely sorted out, and Ryan Kelly and Brennan Gerard, its creators, occasionally seem to lose their nerve, inserting coy winks at their own explorations or retreating into safe conceptual ground. But I think that's to be expected; they're taking a big step with this piece, which was created during their lengthy residency at the Armory.

I loved the sense of disreputable pageantry. I loved the explosion of a queer aesthetic within this uber-manly realm. I loved how sinister it felt at turns, and frivolous at others, and messy, as if the structure were about to spin out of control. As one P.Clubber, Meg, put it, "I didn't always have a handle on what exactly the performers were about, but I was always interested."

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Comments [7]

Claudia La Rocco

Hmmm ... P. Club event as parasitic happening ... I like!

Thanks, Barb - great to have you out.

Feb. 28 2010 03:06 PM
Barb Hertel

I'm glad I saw the show - I felt it could have been edited a bit. The dance bits were quite good and it was great to be in the space and their bringing attention to it.

For a few days afterward, a music worm of "Bright Eyes" ran in my brain.

Look forward to the next P-Club event and new worm.

Feb. 28 2010 02:36 PM
Claudia La Rocco

"And as I've come to believe that one necessary element of a performance being "good" is that the performers are pursuing thematic objectives that lead to their being integrated into a re-performed reality that they posit as good for the observers as well, I found this piece very good, because there was a clear case here of performers re-creating an ambiance by being what they are in a way that was both defiant and celebratory but which had as its underbelly the goal of reclaiming and reviving in a loving manner a ghostly milieu in the name of filling it with what it most probably would not have sanctioned when it was alive, thereby, in a way, redeeming it against yet by its will."

I love that this is one sentence.

I thought it was interesting to hear how differently the politics of this piece struck people, from folks who thought it was inadequately respectful of the armory's history to those, like Kirk, who saw it as a strange sort of celebration and redemption. Would be great to see the work with some soldiers, eh? Or at least the cast of "Black Watch"...

Feb. 26 2010 06:42 PM
Kirk Bromley

Dense as I am, when I first entered the Armory, it didn't really occur to me that this was a giant nightclub for man-warriors of old. Moving Theater occurred that to me. And as I've come to believe that one necessary element of a performance being "good" is that the performers are pursuing thematic objectives that lead to their being integrated into a re-performed reality that they posit as good for the observers as well, I found this piece very good, because there was a clear case here of performers re-creating an ambiance by being what they are in a way that was both defiant and celebratory but which had as its underbelly the goal of reclaiming and reviving in a loving manner a ghostly milieu in the name of filling it with what it most probably would not have sanctioned when it was alive, thereby, in a way, redeeming it against yet by its will. In other words, the performance embraced and screwed the old world, calling into question its desire to be so embraced and screwed, and the observer couldn't help but think that the performance was doing good by the old world, like it or not, and doing good by itself by reconciling itself to that world, literally spasming thru that world, as it were. One couldn't help but think that those man-warriors of old, now they're dead, might finally feel ready to see and enjoy this performance, because it was so manly, so "men loving fighting together," and even in its punkish womanly elements, it was so rebellious and careless, which, despite mandates of order, are always at the heart of soldiery. The foolish wrestling, the cocked heads, the shiny thighs, the angular fierce jerkings, the booming din, the spastic fifes, the frippery, the heraldic hats, the sassy ennui, the tortured forms, the offensive poses, the anarchic sentences, it is all so central to war and testosterone and weaponry and national defense, I felt GOOD about enjoying the elements of institutionalized violence, which is a great triumph for an art piece. Bottom line, Moving Theater went to the Armory, saw the Armory, and conquered the Armory, and in that they were hugely successful, not only in their artistic choices, but in their resonant archeologies. They bitch slapped a building the size of a small corrupt nation, and it loved it. And that is a pleasure to be invaded by.

Feb. 24 2010 08:28 PM
Sophie Henderson

I think David hits the proverbial nail on the head with his comments (and I too had to dash out after the performance and missed the discussion). I found that I engaged with each of the individual segments so differently that I was then frustrated there was so little to tie them together -- not looking for a neat and tidy bow, but it felt very jumbled to me in the end. I also agree with Claudia that MT used the space in more evocative ways than many who have tried before, but the haunting imagery that asked us to reconsider the spaces nearly overshadowed everything else in some places. A brave and beautiful work on so many levels, and it was a real privilege to see into their process as part of the evening. Many thanks P Club!

Feb. 23 2010 05:50 PM
Marie-Christ

Thank you for the opportunity,Claudia!

Cheers!

Feb. 23 2010 05:26 PM
David Savage from New York, NY

I missed the chance to "discuss" this work as a group, but I realize we were too big this time. I think ultimately this work was too overstuffed -- just too many ideas, too many threads (many broken), too many themes, too many layers of irony. Moving Theater's notions of "excavating" a performance from a given space were on display here, but what they unearthed proved to be too much for them to articulate in any clear, convincing way. Still, a provocative and stimulating evening.

Feb. 23 2010 02:44 PM

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Open to everyone, the Performance Club is a freewheeling conversation about New York performance of all kinds, from experimental theater to gallery installations to contemporary dance. We go, we talk (online and at bars and cafes, with artists and amongst ourselves), we disagree and, sometimes, we change each other’s minds.

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