Meeting with other curators and programmers while I'm traveling always gets me eager to head back to Cincinnati to start plugging away at full speed on new projects. So I was in a privileged situation on Friday to find myself at the Performa Hub (the official festival HQ) for a casual meet and greet. The conversations there with curators from organizations and institutions like Performa and Tate Modern in London gave me a fresh perspective on the kinds of performances that are making waves internationally and piquing the interest of curators from some of the premiere programs around the world.
Following coffee and chitchat, the participating curators were introduced to Turkish artist/activist Ahmet Ögüt and his project The Silent University. First started in London, the goal of this platform is to share the knowledge of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in different forms — lectures, consulting or other means — that utilize their cultural and educational insight. Contributors have had various levels of professional and/or educational experience in their homeland, but are prevented from obtaining work or exercising in their field whilst their legal status is in flux. Instead of being silenced by political barriers, The Silent University looks to provide an outlet for participants to activate their abilities and draw attention to the failure to celebrate the skills and experience many asylum seekers bring with them from their countries. It is proposed that the mission of The Silent University can be viewed as a creative one as the participants often use performance, writing and open dialogue to explore various themes relevant to the program. While certainly not a traditional manner of performance art, seeing how Ahmet Ögüt approaches new ways of addressing this situation brought a new appreciation for looking at old problems in a completely new light.
The big show for the night saw me head to Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with CAC Director and Chief Curator Raphaela Platow to see Sun, the latest dance piece from acclaimed Israeli-born, Britain-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter. A packed theater was introduced to the work via an announcement that the company was to show us a snippet of the very end of the piece in order to ensure us that “everything is going to be OK”. A comedic beginning to a performance full of sharp wit and contrast. Consisting of various vignettes that reappeared at points throughout the performance, Sun utilizes smart lighting and a brutal sound design (composed for the most part by Shechter himself) to rather brilliantly and swiftly turn on a dime and take the piece from moments of intensity and anger to those of subtle and soft humor; highly sexualized slo-mo gyrations of female dancers to male dancers prancing around the stage with cutout sheep drawings. Sun was certainly intent on making a political point of some kind. The aforementioned sheep cutouts were being stalked by a wolf, cutouts of indigenous tribesmen were being stalked into conversing with a colonist, and at one point a dancer addresses (shrieks at) the crowd with, “The wolf is behind you!”
While those more interested in the message might have been somewhat frustrated by the political clichés, the dance was the draw and the dance didn't disappoint. Prior to the performance I had been told that Shechter would become one of the leading choreographers of my time. Those major words were met and complemented with some of the most impressive company work I've seen recently. Each dancer in the 16-person company (besides sharing that they were striking and in the same, great shape) wore soft shades of white or cream, resembling a team consisting of artists from various genres and centuries. It was in the moments when the entire company was on stage, fluidly realizing Shechter's intricate and tightly controlled choreography, that the program truly became nothing less than mesmerizing. Strongly gestural, each company member looked entirely confident embodying this work, so much so that you would have thought that Sun had been a part of their repertoire for years rather than just less than a month. I left BAM wishing I'd been a contemporary dancer. I wanted to be in Hofesh Shechter's company. I'd carry a sheep, I'd head bang, I'd scream and rant at the audience — whatever it'd take to get me into that gang.
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