Another Performa show, another mesmerizing experience. But we'll get to that.
While my nights are reserved for performances, the days allow me an opportunity to put some miles on my MTA card, shuttling around the city to meet people in various outposts. Wednesday morning saw me grab breakfast and coffee with artist Roberto Lange, a frequent Cincinnati visitor under the guise of Helado Negro. Roberto has a long history working with Cincinnati's own Paul Coors on various projects over a number of years, and Helado Negro's packed performance at MOTR Pub closed this past edition of Midpoint. A graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, Roberto's creative output is not limited to the standard write/record/tour process, and his vision for future projects across various mediums was exciting to talk about.
Another meeting of note was a jump across Fort Greene to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to sit down with Joseph Melillo, executive producer of BAM overseeing artistic direction over the esteemed organization and its venues. Our chat nearly didn't happen as our CAC email had been out of service for the past 24 hours (work traveler's worst nightmare realized) and all emails to me were bouncing back. Thankfully everything got up and running just before the one window of opportunity and we were able to connect The operational realities of the performance programs at BAM and the CAC may be very different, but the conversation on our shared ideologies and the approach to the work we program was inspirational and left me feeling energized for the performance I was heading to immediately thereafter.
Quickly grabbing dinner to go (a cubano sandwich, for those interested), I made my way to Chelsea and New York Live Arts, a venue dedicated to movement-based artistry that was created in 2011 by a merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop. Tonight's performance was the much-discussed Disabled Theater, a collaboration between French choreographer Jérôme Bel and Zurich's Theater HORA, a company of actors with learning disabilities. Debated and praised all over Europe after its premiere at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, the work sees the actors' conditions and their (dis)abilities laid bare as they remain onstage for the duration of the performance as they respond, often with humor, to a series of tasks proposed by Bel. A translator to the side of the stage began by addressing the crowd. The actors only speak Swiss German fluently, so she would be our guide. Each of the ten actors individually came out to stand in front of the audience for one minute. Even with this task, you began to learn about their conditions, their strengths and their fears. The actors ranged in age from 20 to 43. Some suffered from more severe or noticeable conditions than others. Asked to name their disability, some were fully aware of their diagnosed reality while others were limited to describing themselves as “slower than normal”.
The main focus of the night was the dance routines, with the actors selecting the music, choreographing and then performing their own pieces. One by one, they would jump up when their name was called, taking the opportunity to show their moves and completely invest in the moment. With each new dance different questions would come to mind, as well as a new awareness of what expectations or preconceptions I might generally have had of artists — and people — with disabilities. Essentially, these actors were just being themselves, out in front, onstage, mostly without concern for how the audience was feeling. There were moments, however, in which we see that these actors have had experiences whereby they feel different from the so-called “normal people”. In one heartbreaking instance, a young, energetic girl with Down syndrome informed us of her disability when prompted, said “I am sorry,” and rushed back to her chair in tears, straight into the arms of a consoling friend.
With Disabled Theater, Bel has made the notion of disability commonplace. The idiosyncrasies, weaknesses and natural gestures of the performers are displayed free of outside influence, allowing each audience member to accept and appreciate the artists as they would any other. An honest, highly impressive look at how we relate to a group typically viewed under a different lens.
Follow citybeat.com for more Performa 13 updates from Drew Klein. Read Part One here.