Performance Club: Woozy Watching Wooster

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So, it’s not ideal to see work when you’re sick. But it can lead to singular experiences.

I remember a fever making Noémie Lafrance’s already dizzying “Descent” a downright vertiginous experience. Or the ballet gala when I was hopped up on allergy medicines (as I recall I’ve never enjoyed that particular choreographer’s work so much, before or since).  

Then came the Wooster Group’s “North Atlantic” on Tuesday. The Performance Club trouped over to the Baryshnikov Arts Center (more than 60 of us!), and about a third stuck around after at the fabulously accommodating Concrete Bar for food, drink and deconstructing. I couldn’t stay late on account of my cold, and my fuzzy brain couldn’t always keep up with this wickedly sly take on the war musical.

Or maybe that’s just a convenient excuse. In any case, please fill me in on what you all discussed after I left. And those of you who couldn’t stay, or will be seeing the show on another night, please chime in, too. Meantime, here are a few dazed and confused reactions:

1. I kept thinking of Karinne Keithley’s comments about the avant-garde being traditional at this point, and what a pleasure it is to sink into a classic of the tradition. It somehow makes me hugely happy that the Woosters are still "far out" to some folks and “Hi-Falutin Bourgeoise Exclusionism” to others (as one P. Club wag put it).

2. I wish I could keep this cast in my pocket  and take them out on blah days. Kate Valk, will you and your dirty mouth marry me?

3. I loved what one member, Stacy, said about the work being a relentless machine, entirely disinterested in her as an audience member; I geeked out on the play’s wonderful tight structure, and loved feeling alienated and entertained all at once.

4. The dialogue was, what, 94 percent cliché? The sexual stereotypes were so blatant and ridiculous, that it took awhile to see that the men were actually the objectified ones.

5. Will it never be an insult to call a man an intellectual in mainstream America? “North Atlantic” was written in 1982; some things never go out of style.


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Comments [15]


You have all no doubt long ago migrated away from this conversation, but hello anyway. I am reminded of what I'm missing. I miss you Meg, Ainsley, Claudia and Kirk. Hang in there, Kirk. Don't let them punk you. You make it fun!

Apr. 18 2010 03:53 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Mmmmm, bahn mi.

M, do you think to a certain extent what we see in theaters is also what sells? Aren't we always bemoaning the herd mentality in presenters, the fact that artists are taken up and become trendy for a season or two, so that we see them everywhere on the international circuit, and then dropped? I'm not sure I think that, to be honest, but just devil advocating a bit here.

Apr. 10 2010 01:24 PM
Mathew from Vietnam

Yes! The visual arts have always been intimately tied to wealth and it has resulted in some great art, both with the Medici's and in today patron system which are the commercial galleries. However, the terrific art that is being financially supported by the gallery system (cough, retail stores), IS what sells. Of course perceptions of what constitutes a work of art play into things, but when one single Jeff Wall photograph sells for half a million, and a Gary Winogrand photograph (brilliant and late photographer who did remarkable and never before seen things with a simple frame), sells for three thousand, a serious discrepancy arises which determines who can afford to make art, who can-not, and too often the latter are the few remaining voices of subtly over spectacle.

Been eating tons of street-food, but my next Bahn Mi will be for you!!!

Apr. 08 2010 12:57 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Speaking of free theater ...

Soho Rep's 99¢ Sundays for
THE TRUTH: A TRAGEDY by Cynthia Hopkins
go on sale tomorrow Friday, April 9 at 9 a.m.

Apr. 08 2010 12:07 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Vietnam! Yahoo - what fun to be talking art and commerce with someone halfway across the globe. Eat some street food for me, please.

This is a lovely essay (I'm not so open as Graham - Jeff Wall drives me up a wall). But is it so much to do with marketplace, or more perceptions about what does and doesn't constitute art, ease of communication among various players, etc.

It's true, what sells matters. But hasn't that ever been the case in the art world, back to the Medici family and beyond? And lots of theaters are retail stores themselves, selling experience, prestige, etc. - hellooooo ballet.

Though I do agree with you that the Chelsea model wouldn't really work for experimental performance. And I don't have smart thoughts (or really any thoughts) right now about what would - but I'm blaming that on my limited imagination.

Apr. 08 2010 11:21 AM
Mathew from Vietnam

hmm..."so that you can sample new work in the same way you can spend a day looking at gallery hopping in Chelsea"...

Except...galleries ARE retail stores, we often forget this yet what IS shown is deeply related to what sells. I think this would be the death of experimental theater, it certainly may still be the death of the visual arts. Check out this essay by Paul Graham (just might be my favorite living photographer) on the relationship of the marketplace to contemporary photographic practice.

Not that this helps solve our conundrum of sustainability and artistic practice, Oye Vay!

Apr. 07 2010 09:53 PM
Claudia La Rocco

I wonder what it would take to make theater free. I've heard it said many a time that performance, especially of the experimental sort, should be free, so that you can sample new work in the same way you can spend a day looking at gallery hopping in Chelsea. That way, people could take risks on work they know nothing about (or, like Kirk, have feelings against) without weighing the cost. After all, we don't have previews in our art form...

Of course, how to do that and get artists a living wage is the million dollar question. (Not that artists make a living wage now)

@Meg - agreed.

@Aynsley - I've been thinking about this for ages! It's so interesting to me the ways in which seeing work with a group, and in particular this ever-shifting group, changes the ways in which I perceive it. I, too, feel that I'm much more inclined to be generous when watching with PClub - to go back to the idea of galleries, it's sort of akin to an opening, isn't it? The act of looking is social as well; at a typical gallery opening, it's 99% social. Also, of course, I think I'm wrapped up in other emotions because I'm running this thing - I want people to have a good time, I want the conversation to be worthwhile, I want the restaurant to remember our reservation - yadda yadda yadda.

And, of course, these are my choices, so ego is involved (though I do pick shows I suspect I won't like some of the time, and inevitably those are the ones I like the most. Sigh.)

Have to think more about FM ... I don't recall being put off by her choices. Hmmm.

Apr. 01 2010 06:21 PM

Kirk--we missed you on Tuesday. AND I have to agree with Meg and Claudia. What's wrong with artists earning money for a change???? And anyways, even at $45 I wonder how far each ticket goes towards paying for the expenses of making and rehearsing and performing this piece. It's related to last spring's discussions about sustainability. What is the actual cost of making theater? It's not free and it is not $12 a ticket either.

As far as the performance, I LOVED it! And these performers have clearly dedicated their lives to their craft and deserve to get paid well. They were spot-on and fabulously over the top and truly virtuosic. I haven't felt that kind of performance energy in a long time. It made it really hard for me to sit in my seat; I wanted to join them onstage.

I did feel a bit of confusion about FM's part actually. I felt like she was more reserved and a bit uncomfortable in her body, especially compared to the others. What I couldn't figure out was whether this was some poor acting decisions or actually subtle and necessary choices she was making related to her particular character. I'd be curious to hear other thoughts on her acting/character.

And I'm starting to feel like a bit of a dork because I think I've loved every p-club related thing I've seen lately. This has something to do with being in a phase where, in general, I respect anyone who is really putting their work out in the world. And it has something to do with seeing these works in community! It really moves me to get to share art in this way.

Mar. 31 2010 01:35 PM

If only there were bobbleheads for everyone you could want a bobblehead for. Special-order, individualized bobbleheads. In a perfect world.

I wonder: If a show is an attack on capitalism--and I don't really think that "North Atlantic" is a critique of any kind of capitalism but that's beside the point for this question--does that mean it has to be free, or at least cheap, to be valid? Or, to bring the question down to a personal, less abstract level, if I were to critique the place that wealth has in our society does that mean I can't simultaneously be interested in acquiring it? I don't know, it seems to me that institutions have to deal with the world as it is at the same time as they address other issues--the world as it could be, the world as it should be, whatever--in their work. (And also, maybe a little hypocrisy helps us get through the day.)

Mar. 30 2010 12:07 AM
Kirk Bromley

Yes, of course, I'm sure you're right, and it's impossible for me to defend my position, since I didn't see it.

Mar. 29 2010 10:03 PM
Claudia La Rocco

You got a problem with me watching ESPN? Huh?

Well, Kirk, you've now become the Arlene Croce of the Performance Club (she of course famously -infamously?- slammed Bill T. Jones' "Still/Here" as "victim art" in the New Yorker essay after announcing she hadn't seen it). Congratulations! I wish I had a Croce bobblehead doll to give you. Alas.

Is $45 (or $30 for PC discount tickets) really such a ridiculous amount of money to see theater, leaving aside for a minute whether one loves or loathes the work? You'd spend that much money at any number of restaurants, no? Or any number of activities, really. I can't speak obviously to FM's motivations for doing any particular movie, but hoarding?? Who are any of us to say how she spends her money? And I do know a few of the other actors in the show, and, well, rich they ain't.

I took "North Atlantic" in more as an attack on entertainment - or, rather, a sort of riddle about how to entertain while making fun of the idea of entertainment, sending up all the movie/musical/sitcom tropes that we take for granted as the bedrock of popular culture. It wasn't one-note for me because the send-up was also an ode to these forms; it didn't feel sneering or cheap or nasty. It felt affectionate, though not without bite. And the quality of the structure, the tightness of the ensemble, the lusciousness of the production values -- these things were such a pleasure, especially given how much good money gets thrown after bad quality on Broadway these days, and how many impoverished smaller shows simply aren't ready/resourced enough to be up on stage.

It's a big church. I don't want American theater to have any one purpose.

Mar. 29 2010 01:23 PM
Kirk Bromley

I like that. Avant garde-ism as Sports Channel. Shallow, polemical, macho, and all about competition (between artistic "truth" and social "lies"). And what, btw, are you doing watching ESPN?

Mar. 26 2010 10:35 PM
Claudia La Rocco

Oh, Kirk -nothing like starting the morning with one of your comments. Thank you!

You know how ESPN's Sports Guy ends his reader mailbags with one particularly outrageous question and simply says "Yup, these are my readers"?

(Such as: "Q: A couple of weeks ago at a frat party, I began to get with a pretty cute girl. As the night wore on, and the drinks started flowing, she took me back to her apartment. When I entered her room, the first thing I saw was a giant Sidney Crosby poster. Without saying another word to her, I left. My buddies have never stopped making fun of me since, but I still insist that it was the proudest moment of my life as a die-hard Flyers fan. Can you please give me some consolidation, or should I have just swallowed my pride? In my defense, I would not qualify her as "hot."--Dave Z., Philly" --Note the frat house reference echoes)

Well, these are my members. Brilliant. You guys make me happy.

Mar. 26 2010 08:53 AM
Kirk Bromley

Yes, it was I who said I wouldn't be going because this show was evidence of "Hi-Falutin Bourgeoise Exclusionism." I didn't see this show, 1) because it was too expensive and I find it more absurd than anything they could throw at me that I should be expected to give that much money to Francis McDormand who could easily bankroll the whole damn thing and give it free to the people...I mean, why else do Almost Famous, Madeline, and Transformers 3 other than to spread your wealth in the name of art...but no, I guess that's not what SHE'S about, and 2) given this hoarding of icky, I find it laughably corrupt that no doubt the show had as its underbelly some one-note attack on the capitalist conflict complex, which is maybe an act of self-referential insult, but I'm not in the mood to watch movie stars ironically spank themselves on my tab, and 3) who needs this kind of wink wink cranky superficial "we're nothing more than a bunch of snooty dancing statues" kind of avant retard Wooster whatever anymore? Wow! Annoying cliches couched in electronic antics cosseted in pithy automatism spouting rehashed cultural criticism! Does anyone here long for intense physical loving penetration like I do after watching performers send EVERYTHING up? I guess emotional AND intellectual commitment just don't roll together anymore, at least not when you're funded to keep them in separate sinkholes. Hey, I have an idea. Let's call this generation of avant garde what it is - cold, hard, cash.

And, okay, I didn't see the show, but doesn't slamming it without seeing it make me more avant garde than they are? And if I'm not, will they satirize me? Fortunately, their weapons aren't loaded. I mean, when you're up there doing the singing militarist (easy target, anyone?), you're asking to be bombed.

Of this show, David Cote said, "This paranoid, profane, goofy mélange of noir tough talk, screwball wisecracking and frat-house ribaldry delivers on all counts."

What counts are those? The kind of counts I can count on when hanging out with my paranoid, profane, goofy, tough-talkin, screwball, wisecrackin, frat housey, ribald neighbors? No thanks. I think I'd rather join the Marines than suffer more arrogant detached pseudo-expressive irony. They at least have a mission that involves going somewhere scary.

Since when has the purpose of American theater become presenting people you loathe with loathsome people and then asking those loathed people to pay a lot of money to be told that money is bad? I smell a fusion of bitcher and butcher.

Mar. 26 2010 12:47 AM

Well Claudia it made two of us. I was starting a nasty cold and felt on another planet. Sorry I didn't go to the gathering.

I found the sound / rhythm, audio structure and delivery of it all quite breathtaking. Great set and "choreo grapho". So yes!

Now for my babble on aesthetics:
The avant garde (avant la garde), french military term referring to the small group of men preceding the biggest number of soldiers, makes me smile. What are our innovative geniuses preceding? When an artist, out of necessity, finds a new / different form of expression, a new / different approach, that is what it is all about for me. For the ones who obsess with innovation (the word the most used and boring nowadays), it is rarely nutritious (to me).

My sense of dizziness that night may well have been intensified by the presence of Baryshnikov close to where I was sitting. Star struck!

I hope you understand my french. Am going back to bed for some more coughing and headache.

Cheers to All!


Mar. 25 2010 07:26 PM

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About Performance Club

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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