Friday, April 14, 2017

Dream big? Dream strong! A conversation with Numen

Day before Christmas. Lazy morning down at the Cheasepeake Bay, cup of tea in hand, newspapers spread out over the sofa. No internet.
- Who’s coming for Christmas dinner tomorrow? Numen, 20, wants to know.
-  I wanted to joke I had invited your heroes to Christmas dinner, I reply, but I don’t know who they are these days. Have you got any?
-  Gamers. A few others like Junot Diaz. But mostly gamers.
-  What do you admire about them?
-  I mostly admire the gamers who make it a philosophy of enjoying gaming even when they lose. If you can’t handle losing, you should not game. They support playing your best, and having fun. Also, teaming with other gamers is rewarding, adds to the fun, and is gentler on the ego when the other team wins.
-  Interesting you should say that, because I have been thinking how kids are told to “dream big” by educators, and also by successful inventors, and athletes, and pop idols. But very few will be stars, and that leads to a lot of frustration, look around you, The Big American Dream turns into The Big American Frustration, relieved by shopping or drug abuse or violence. We also tell the kids: you’re the best! You’re Number One! At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to tell kids: hey, dream really small because that might be all you get. What do you make of that?
- People blame themselves for what they see as their failure, whereas life is about playing, not winning. They think they made bad decisions that led to bad results and failure. A lot of luck is involved in life, just like in gaming. You don’t know what’s due to decisions, what’s due to chance. It’s not chess, where chance does not play a part because you make all the moves.
- True. Some chess players jump out the window, literally, when they lose. 
- Sometimes people make good decisions that don’t pan out, sometimes they make bad decisions that lead to success. Playing the lottery is always a bad decision, except for that one person who wins. It’s not “I need to become Rihanna or Tom Cruise or Einstein”, but “how can I push my acting skills, what science attracts me most, which friends do I really enjoy playing music with?”.- 
-  So what message should we share with kids, instead of “dream big”?
-  Dream strong. Do what you love, love what you do. Team up.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter in conversation with son Numen Rubino


Sunday, April 9, 2017

A mirror in the corner of the Universe

I heard on the radio a young American philosopher, David Chalmers, say that we have a reason to exist. According to him, we are the conscience of the Universe. Its painters, poets, musicians, philosophers. Without us, the universe would not know it exists. "Universum, cogito, ergo es!"

This premise brushes us against the hair. After the long centuries in which Christianity had put man, God's favorite child, at the center of the Universe, we have learned humility the hard way, step by step. The earth is not the center of the universe and the sun does not revolve around us. Animals also have feelings and thoughts. We are not the ultimate creation of God, but a nasty hiccup in biological evolution. The world is random and not meant by God. That is our credo, as intellectuals particularly in Europe. It was coined in the twentieth century by Heidegger, Sartre, Lévy-Strauss, and others.

Arrive thinkers and scientists such as Chalmers that upset this dogma. From anthropocentrism, they move onto anthropism, or revert to it. Their theory can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, it can simply be taken as a vision of reality, a point of view. Undeniably, our consciousness gifts us with an awareness of the universe. I appreciate the poetic side of this version of humanity, we tiny women, we tiny men on our tiny planet in one of countless galaxies of the cosmos, where we act as a kind of mirror. Instead of being placed right at the center of the universe, we are placed in an obscure corner to better reflect the wonder of the universe. If there were no consciousness, the existence of the universe and its essence would go without being perceived, completely dumb, completely numb. It's pretty easy to accept. The second understanding of the proposition, that is our purpose to mirror is more difficult to swallow, as it presupposes a superior entity has meant for us to exist. Obviously, the candidate for this post is god, which would please Creationists .. or other, it presupposes an awareness that manages and while we're not the only ones to be aware of the universe.

Some of these philosophers also say, shaking statistical data in their fists, that we are the only beings in our universe, but there might be other universes that also produce conscious beings. I find this a questionable interpretation of statistics. We just don't know enough. We are looking for conscious beings similar to us in terms of physics and biology, but they might belong to a different essential realm that we are not aware of. On the other hand, it's convivial to imagine these other consciousnesses in parallel universes, in a way a similar experience to rubbing shoulders with our fellow human beings that we know have a conscience without ever being able to completely share it. As for me, I firmly hope that we are not alone in this here universe and that we will get to know our counterparts soon, I'm tired of being the only species (where are our Neanderthal sisters and brothers?), though I am concerned how likable we are, what first impression we might make. They might be appalled, and turned their spaceship around in a fast U-turn when they get to know us.

This anthropism theory also assumes that animals have no consciousness. I consult my cat. He is sitting at the window, looking at the universe. His perception without words, without images, without theories, is purely ontological, and probably more suited than ours to the reality of the universe.

Posted by - - Arabella Hutter

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Some Deus, a lot of Machina - Robert Lepage's 887 at BAM

Robert Lepage has always had an unabashed penchant for technology on the theater stage. We have had decades of "physical theater' where props and sets had to be restricted to a column or a stick was the trend, as well as focus on the actor and the lines and the delivery of the lines. He's reintroduced the power of the trickster which is so enjoyable for the child in all of us. The world really lacks in magic, it tends to follow with stubborn sternness the laws of physics and basic ontology. A few people see UFOs and holy apparitions, but these are the lucky few.  In 887 Robert Lepage gives free rein to this passion for make believe to recreate the world of his childhood in parallel to his current one. It's pretty spectacular.  It would be hard work to describe every trick that is used: cameras on stage, moving trash cans, a building where every window is animated with little characters, etcetera etcetera etcetera etcetera, quite the delight.  He plays a lot with size as a whole building is smaller than he when he looks into his past, then he's in his kitchen that's to his size, and in a childhood living room where he is smaller than the TV and the lamp. The reality on stage shifts, and his identity shifts too as he alternately plays himself and his father.

The stuff with his father is very touching. Working class, his dad had to leave school at 8 - couldn't write or count much, and worked hard to support his family. Themes expand to celebrity and anonymity, Quebec politics, class segregation. And memory of course. It reminded me how much radio was still a large part of life in the sixties and in the seventies. I would lie in bed at my grandmother's and hear the neighbors' radio through the wall, and now I can't remember their name that I thought it would never ever forget. I wish I could recreate that lost world of my grandmother's, the way Lepage did for 887, the street number of the building where he lived as a child.

Robert is also just someone you want to look at, whether it's his longshore worker's body, which looks like his father's, his juvenile face, his peeping eyes. He's got perfect control of his hands. He's funny. He switches seamlessly from English to French. But still, I find it hard to watch a one person show that is longer than an hour or 90 min. After that, I think, oh could we please please have another actor enter stage? Reminds me of a Caryl Churchill play that was at BAM, a story about a woman and her son (Heart's Desire) About half way through the play, the kitchen that we had well got used to, suddenly all its cabinets opened and tons of kids run out of the cabinets! (this last sentence is not grammatical, because this is a BLOG) -  Imagine going to a one-person show, and a second and third person and a fourth, twenty more, show up unexpectedly, that would be so good.

During the show I started having restless legs. I usually only have it right before I go to bed and I have been sedentary during the day. But there I was coming out of the gym and sitting at the show and I was really annoyed and kept on rubbing my feet on the ground probably driving the woman in front of me crazy. There didn't used to be something called restless leg syndrome. I remember my sisters would complain about their legs when they went to bed at night, but there was no word for it. Now there's a word and now there are medications too, naturally. Maybe my legs were reacting to the show because, though the themes were compelling, though he's a great performer, there was a bit too much Machina too little Deus. I wasn't sure whether the play wasn't being fair to my legs or my legs weren't being fair to the play.

Written and published by  -  Arabella Hutter

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Two operas that feel more like 20, and it's a good thing, Mark Morris, BAM

First opera: Curlew River, by Britten

The sad, tragic story of a mad woman looking for her lost son.

Musicians and singers of the chorus alike are dressed in white pants and white shirt. A white uniform, the color of Benedictine monks, doctors, navy officers, Edwardian cricket players. Collegiate groups, mostly upper class (need servants to keep it clean). As the set is also white, the hands, bare feet and heads create rhythmic elements that Morris is happy to play with, an elegant device that doesn't depend on the performers' movement skills.

The music is so beautiful. At the beginning a chorus from the middle age sings, so I thought we were seeing the Purcell first. The percussionist chimed in, to my surprise: we're in contemporary territory. The singing parts also are beautiful, but the style of the woman sung by a man is less conventionally operatic. It lost me at time, felt self conscious, particularly as it was the only part that was different, as did some of the mickey mousing of the music.

I would say that about 10 to 20 min into a show, there is a tipping point. For me, anyway. I go to the show with the hope that I shall be seduced. It does not have to be perfect. What will tip the balance for me is risk taking, integrity, inventiveness, and, yes, talent, or the show ends up looking like a high school production. Once I"m seduced, I have a lot of tolerance for the faults. Well, yes, the singers of the chorus in Curlew River are not great physical performers, even simple movements walk the line of amateurism. The musicians are a bit uneven. The flute: yes, lovely. The percussionist: definitely. The others, hm, I'm not terribly musical, but hum... Still I'm seduced, I'm with the production, I'm with the performers, I'm with the creator. I'd rather be seduced by the inventiveness, by the guts, than watch a solid production of a show where everything is good, skilled, but it doesn't change me, it doesn't send me to my own drawing board, it's forgettable and will be forgotten.

How much of the writer's voice is allowed in a review? Can I say "I'm not sure"? "I had the impression that ... blablabla..., but I'm not sure, maybe I'm not educated enough"? Or what if I missed the intent through pure thickness of brain, should I not be reviewing?

I was fast seduced by Curlew River. So achingly beautiful. Mark Morris understands the language of the stage. He knows how to manipulate the eye of the audience. At least, mine. I swear the dozens of white flip flops lining both sides of the stage appeared by magic Little origami birds arrived by themselves in singers' hands. And that innocuous bench in the middle of the stage, how come suddenly it turns out to look like a coffin?! More than conjuror's tricks, he understands intimacy between the performers and the audience will lead to the communications of strong emotions.

Dido and Aeneas, by Purcell

In the first opera, Mark Morris enjoyed bringing out the tragedy by favoring the single voices. in the second opera, he has fun, and we do too, with his dancers miming the opera on stage while the singers are down in the orchestra pit. 

The first three acts were building up a comedy taking its wit from the ridiculousness of Pre-Raphaelite and pantomime, from Greek pomposity, from Roman decadence through Fellini and Weimar, 30s athletics, North Korea gymnastics, am I forgetting a period? It's a treat, after having watched the first opera performed by 19 men and 1 woman (the flutist) to have some strong female characters. Dido is Lysystrata, Lysander, Clytemnestra, she is strong, wild, baccanal, she is mad for good reason, Aeneas is deliciously pompous and sports the most spectacular mustache and back muscles. 

The main role, the mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe, has a huge voice that fills the theater, but lacks modulation, which takes away from the drama. The dynamics between quiet intimacy and strident pain express tragedy best. Seems to me. Because I'm not an expert, but then again, who is? Or maybe she was not having a good night.

While the pomposity of Greek vases, their symmetry, the folds in their chiton are amusing, while a balding man with Fellinian make up is delectable, there are some more menacing hints: that love of perfect classical form was taken up by the 1930s, leading to fascism and nazism. Synchronized movement is also a favorite propaganda tool of totalitarians. So is the nationalist penchant for folk dances which are also alluded to in the choreography. 

Ariadne by Morgan
I want to say a word about Pre-Raphaelite. Yes, they are a bit ridiculous, but what about the faultless technique, the fabrics, the human form? Could we bring them back a bit to the main light? Kitsch is what the classes controlling the art calls anything they don't produce and don't like. Pre-Raphaelite was once embraced by the upper classes but has now been swept under the sofa of good taste. It's particularly the work of Everly de Morgan that makes me argue for the unearthing of her work. And I also want to placate the little girl in me that loves her work.

Madonna by Raphael
One more thing about Pre-Raphaelite. I was always wondering why they were "Pre" when clearly the 1900s are quite a few centuries "Post" Raphael. Google? This group of English painters wanted to go back to art before Raphael, like there was something wrong with the painter. Funny thing is, some of Raphael's paintings seem quite Pre-Raphaelite to me...

While I was laughing my heart out at all the antics taking place on stage, I was having a private dialogue with Mark Morris: OK, this is all very funny, very witty, but for the 4th act, you need to turn around and deliver a finale to honor the beautiful music. He did, but it fell just a bit short of making justice to the composer.

No, it's not quite fair to Purcell, the opera's music is so beautiful. Plus it's an opera from the late 17th century, which seems to be the only period not featured on stage. But it's not evil, Purcell long dead is safe from getting upset, and what a wonderful divertimento!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Escaped Alone, Caryl Churchill's play at BAM

Escaped Alone - play by Caryl Churchill, directed by James McDonald, at the Brooklyn Opera House

The Visitor, Mrs Jarrett spies 3 retired women sitting in a backyard in England, London probably. They invite her in, after all she's one of them probably, retired, with a detestable taste in clothes and hair style. They offer her a cup of tea. Hyperrealist set. 

The women don't finish their sentences. Caryl Churchill can't be bothered, and we are grateful, because we can finish them ourselves. They talk about birds, what bird would you like to be, eagles or blackbird. They talk about cooking: I don't like to cook since I killed my husband in the kitchen.

It's a safe, dull environment. The one who killed her husband and went to jail for 6 years at least has something to discuss. Her son won't see her. The 2nd woman is depressed, she'd like to travel to Japan but going to Tesco is a challenge. The 3rd one, terrified of cats, wishes she had someone in her life she could trust to reassure that there are no cats inside her drawers or pillowcase. Loneliness. They're retired. We don't learn anything about the Visitor, but she seems to fit right in.

It's not about psychological insight. Much closer to Beckett: it's a situation, things happen to them.The actors don't worry about what their motivations are, this is no method acting time. In the loneliness of the characters, their emotions are stunted. Little puffs pop up here and there.

Suddenly, and I mean, really suddenly, the set's lights switch off and the Visitor magically appears in the foreground, as a barker at a fair. A different reality. She describes an apocalyptic world. The rivers flow backwards. Beds and dingy and swimmers float on the stock market. There is no food, and most of it go to TV shows, so the obese sell slice of themselves until they get hungry and eat rafters of their own fat.  After children and politicians set houses on fire, a whole country burns down.

Back to the women. They are surrounded by a wooden fence. From time to time a car is heard. They talk about the neighborhood: didn't a newsagent replace the fish and chips on the corner?  We have to take their word for it, because, what is behind that fence? Is it the apocalyptic world the visitor describes? If it isn't, that apocalypse could happen anytime, burst their little bubble.

It might be our future too. Who knows? In 1938, Jews in Poland sat in their gardens sipping tea. While they were aware that Hitler was a threat, and we know global warming is a threat, it must have been impossible to imagine the apocalypse at hand. Japanese sat in their gardens too on August 5, 1945, in Hiroshima.

 It could be argued this manmade apocalypse is interior to the old ladies, its potential certainly. Play goes back and forth between tame backyard and apocalyptic fairground.

One moment of sweetness: they sing  in unison an old doobop song from their youth. For a short while, they're not alone. They're playful. Nothing else matters. 

Great ensemble performances, with the Visitor, Mrs Jarrett, played by Linda Bassett with tone perfect delivery.

Funny too.

Wouldn't have minded a second act, and a third for that matter. But I suppose Ms Churchill didn't see the point, same as finishing sentences...

At the end, the Visitor leaves and closes the door on the microcosm of that backyard: "I thanked them for the cup of tea and went home." 

Well received by audience. By me too. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

L'Amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera, NYC - not a review

A show is the sum of its parts. Here are a few:
Lepage brings the ocean made out of colored lights on the stage, for our ecstatic experience. He lifts Deus on a Machina: a prince, who is a troubadour from France (Eric Owens). His love, a distant countess from Tripoli (Susanna Phillips). Lepage fakes the distant horizon on stage with lines that are smaller and closer together. A small pilgrim (it’s a puppet really, we’re not asked to be fooled!) rows his boat in the far distance. Goes off stage. Back on stage, he’s closer (a larger puppet on a larger boat, clever Robert). Off stage again. This time he comes back as a real person, a young pilgrim cum go-between (Tamara Mumford, who must get bored - and aren't we all - with mezzo-soprano roles crossdressing as young boys) singing like a nightingale on his frail skiff. The chorus pop their heads like mermaids out of the waves, or their hands like the tails of some marine creatures. Moonlit water. Huge waves in a storm. Lepage celebrates unabashedly the secret magic of the stagecraft.

It’s too easy being sarcastic, I shall not dwell on how hard it is to believe a very bulky man is dying on stage of deprivation. I shall neither qualify nor quantify the acting skills of the soprano. On the other hand, every one could sing, while the mezzo-soprano could both sing and act.

The orchestral and choral music might not have broken boundaries but the singing by most apt artists - it's the Met - was thoroughly enjoyable. An opera written by a woman composer (Kajji Sarriaho) conducted by a talented woman conductor (Susanna Mällki) on the same night at the Met?! Quite the femme celebration! Pour the Pro Secco out!

Best part? Libretto by esteemed Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf. What a treat it must have been for him to write poetry that people are actually going to listen to. In the 21st century. It’s obvious Maalouf immersed himself enthusiastically in this work. The lyrics, funny at times, are more often simple and poetic. A beautiful tale of longing for the Other, of crossings, of cultures coming together with a tragic end. In real life, what love encounter ever ends well? Unless both partners die at the very same time in their sleep, unaware of impeding death, their bodies entangled, while dreaming of love?

The sum of the parts was most positive. But not in the black. In the blue, and the pink, and the gold, and the silvery moonlight, all reflected by a Countess’s shiny dress.

Contributed by  - Arabella Hutter  -

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Thread: A Prologue

Below is the prologue to a project part memoir, part historical fiction, The Thread
Inspired by Helen Schjerfbeck

Inspired by Remedios Varos
We were the only family who ate corn on the cob and celebrated Christmas on the 25th of December instead of the 24th. We didn’t know the simple explanation to these peculiarities: our mother was American. One day, long before she came to Switzerland, she had taken a machete and cut her life in two. Did she open this gash over one day? A month ? A year ? My father, who met her when she was 20, knew little more than we did. She had already changed her name, did not see any of her family nor any childhood friend. She did not write to them, did not speak to them, did not discuss. Thus we knew her, born at twenty, all questions about her past taboo. This code of silence existed before I, the youngest of the family, started asking questions. Even friends of my parents seemed to be aware of the taboo and respected it.
“She must come from Britain because she speaks English and often travels alone to London. “ we whispered during one of our secret conferences. She sent us beautiful postcards from the British Museum, with sweet words that failed to touch us as her absence seemed further proof of her aloofness.
“She must have lived near the sea, as she talked about picnics at the beach. “ Reported my sister. “She mentioned a nanny. “I added. “ She didn’t. “ “ Yes, she did. “ I imagined a large Victorian house, a bit run down, near windswept dunes covered with brambles. And behind the shutters of the villa, the great secret, the deep mystery that was hidden from our sight. If she made any allusion to the past, we would freeze and pretend casualness, in the hope that, oblivious to our presence, she would inadvertently slip into confidences.

The day of the revelation, seated at regular intervals around the living room, hearts pounding, we waited. Now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know, it was frightening. She started speaking. A childhood can not be restored in one or two hours. This narrative of her past would normally have been built over time by what our childhood terribly missed: by hearing touching and humorous anecdotes, stories from the grandmother we never met, looking at family photographs together, visiting relatives. We asked a few questions, as if stroking cautiously an unpredictable cat. She answered, describing the harrowing events that led her to cut all ties with her family in a manner as devoid of emotion as a notary reading one more will.

Inspired by Ana Mendieta
The burden of suffering which my mother had shed became mine. I filled not just with my mother’s pain, but her mother’s as well, and that of all her little brothers and sisters’, rippling down the generations. The only way to drain the overflowing vault was through the valve of my imagination. I began to make up the missing episodes in my mother’s life, and in her mother’s. Then I went back to my great-grandmother, the famous Lietta, who seemed the source of all our calamities. This emotional monster, what could she have gone through in her childhood? I had no reason to stop, and beyond this cruel grandmother, I went to listen to the story of each woman who miraculously gave birth to a girl who then in turn became a mother, a long meandering thread over the centuries, saved against all odds from being cut down by nature and men. I followed it back to the time when a handful of thinkers on their peninsula decided the important facts to remember would not be desires, births, jealousy, vanity, rape. Instead they came up with a discipline that would only record political events, thus excluding women’s memory: History was born.

To read the first story of 100 women talk to their daughters over 2500 years, click here.

All illustrations original works by Arabella Hutter, as are the texts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jasperse & King at BAM, a history of beauty? Not a review!

I have not followed dance the way I have with theater or visual arts. Therefore I would never call myself a dance critic, but then who is? So this is not a review either.

I thought about cheating and reading the New York Times review, the ultimate standard, to compare notes. But, no. Here it is, unstructured, uneducated, honest:

The beginning of the show brings up a whole cornucopia of images of all European art and the continuity of its ideas of beauty and masculinity/femininity: Greek vase art, Michelangelo, The Three Graces of Raphael turn into Matisse’s nymphs. It’s seductive (hey, we speak the same secret language!) and feels uncomfortable (hey, let's exclude everybody else!) This Game of cultural references implies a common Cultural Vocabulary but what If I grew up In Zimbabwe or in a working-class small town in Iowa?

Men replace women in a series of tableau with classical ideas of femininity, and vice versa. They were short tunic with skirts, the women severe grey tunics.

The choreography, as in a line of dancers moving fast over the stage on a waltz rhythm, is the work of someone at the top of his form, who is brilliant, intelligent and experienced. I think. The dancers must undergo grueling practice, from the way they control their body and the movements they are able to perform. Lighting imaginative and evocative. The music by John King, striking, adds a spiritual dimension to the visuals.  Usually, I prefer live music to recorded. But in this show, it sounded like it was played by the Gods and came down to us from the top of Olympus.

When the music, which arrives by dramatic bursts, becomes silent, the audience communes in its involvement with the show. Not even a cough, no kidding. 

As I was watching, I was thinking that maybe the reason I have followed dance less than other arts, is that I have two different reactions to it. On one hand, I wonder intellectually what the choreographer meant, what the references, context to images. On the other, there is a very gut reaction to watching another human dancing, a connection directly through the movement as referenced by our own body. Everyone dances or should. When we watch art, we automatically bring up other images, other art, landscapes, faces. When we watch theater, we are reminded of scenes of our lives. And when we watch dance, it’s through our experience of our own body we perceive the other’s movements. I think. I can’t reconcile these two reactions, one intellectual/visual, one kinetic, two far apart for my comfort. But I'm learning. I'm moving outside my comfort zone, and it's rewarding.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Performa 2015 - free drinks, expensive books, The Lament of the Financial District, that kind of general rant

Exchange went something like this:
I decided to get rid of my books to express how we don't live forever, we need to let go of our material goods, we need to realize we're not going to read that book again.
Young man:
How much are you selling this one for?
The books are lying on the floor, like at a stoop sale. Good books. Art books, philosophy.
How much would you like to buy it for?
The young man turns it around in his hands. He seems embarrassed. Haggling with the artist?
Young man:
I couldn't let it go for that. It's worth much more. What I do is I check on the Internet how much they go for. I think it should not go for less than $20, more like $30.
Older man:
So you are linking this to the existing market?
The books I don't sell, I will keep. I don't need to sell. You see, on the wall, that's the packaging.
Older man:
How about this one, how much?
Maybe $35? Let me check on the Internet. Some of these books are widely available, but others like this one are very hard to find, it took me a long time to unearth them in libraries. By the way, before I was able to buy art books, I used to buy postcards. They're $3 each. Look here. Ah, I found the book online. Let's see. $12.75! Well well. OK, how about $20?

As opposed to my poetic Eric the Hawker selling me his lovely keyring last week, I could not perceive any artistic dimension to this sale by Rainer Ganahl beyond the initial concept. He could have chosen to put arbitrary prices on the books: white ones $10, green ones $25, black ones $1000. Or, as Ed Schmidt did in one of his shows, give them away for nothing. After this unpleasant experience, I was getting truly discouraged by Performa 2015. There is an abundance of free drinks that's appreciable, and seems to attract a younger crowd, that's the only improvement I could see in this edition of the festival.

On Friday night, went to the Erica Vogt event at Roulette, Artist Theater Program.
I did not understand. I felt like someone from mainstream American culture, adept at Hollywood movies, mass paperbacks, who would come to an avant-garde event and would think it's all nonsense, because they would not have the tools to understand it, the references, the context. I don't know whether it was nonsense or not. But if it has a sense, I didn't have the tools to understand it. I did enjoy aspects of it, such as the sounds, some of the readings, some of the projections. Hated the props. And the last scene, where the artist came on stage, and all the performers sat at her feet. She asked:
What did you think of the imagery in the show?
The twelve of them all answered at the same time, with much earnestness and expressivity. Obviously it was a mangled chaos of words that could not be grasped by the audience. Then the lights went out, and the scene was repeated by the audience discussing amongst itself after the show.

But. At last. Jesper Just. Saturday November 14. A simply awesome show. Occupies the whole floor of a skyscraper near the World Trade Center. We're inside the building, can't see outside apart for tiny shapes scraped out of darkened windows, and it's all about the reverse of the space we're in. We watch from high up, on a video, the people who should be working in this space, but instead are roaming the wilderness, in anguish.
Several live projections of outside the building scattered around the place. It takes a while before we realize that the beautiful bass sound track is being played live and we can see the player on the projected live stream, sitting lonely on the floor of a large office building. Fleeting people get projected over a photo of the World Trade Center. In the next room, we realize these people are in front of a camera, and that we can also be projected onto that photo for the audience in the previous room. Then a woman took her place in front of the camera and sang to the accompaniment of the bass player who we know is there somewhere, but where? Her song is a poignant lament.
The poignancy in her song, and in the bass playing, their loneliness, the anguish of the employees looking for something in the wild, all really expressed to me what the architectural environment, and the human condition in these financial districts contribute to: a killing of the human soul.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Monday, November 9, 2015

Performa: deliciously fooled.

Performa is infusing New York City once again with its streak of wild creativity. Have only been to a few events. The anger workshop was a lot of talk, signing up release forms, and only 3 and half minutes of being angry. Then 4 minutes of loving someone, a stranger, but hugging them closely. An intriguing experience. Why should I love a complete stranger? But then anyone around me that I love is also there by contingence, out of the several billion people on Earth.I didn't review 8 billion people to choose my loved ones. That workshop took place within the tent of the Embassy, with awesome activist/artist Richard Bell.

The Wyatt Kahn show Work was sweet. The painter's paintings became puppets who articulated their pride or protest at the artist and art scene. The setting, the Swedish Marionette theater in Central Park, is even sweeter, and the hip audience sitting on benches, hip to hip.

The Heather Gibson exhibit, Final Days, did not particularly grab my attention but maybe I was distracted myself and did not do it justice. And I was thirsty. There were beer bottles and cans floating in a plastic vault. I looked at them. A guy was standing awkwardly next to it. Short, pale, glasses, 50. Holding a plastic bag closely.
- Are you looking for a beer? he says, with a British accent.
- No, water actually. 
 - I don't think there is water, just beer. Which one do you want?
 -  Thanks, no, I really wanted water.
- Are you enjoying the show?
- So so.
- I'm an artist too. Kind of a failed artist. I've had quite a few mishaps in my life. I used to be quite a prolific artist.
- Really? I say politely. Is being prolific a good thing? I wonder.
- Yes. I wanted to open an art school in London, for people who can't afford art schools, and I put all my fortune into it. 
Hm, upper class guy, then, I guess.
- It failed, and I lost all my money. I decided to make small sculptures for all my mishaps, 
He pulls a keyring out of the plastic bag which is full of them. It has a rectangular structure.
- Here's the plan of the school, you see, it was a Victorian building. These are the trees.
- Aha.
He pulls another keyring which is a ballerina lying on her back, and another one that looks a bit like a jack. Meanwhile my phone rings, I have to join someone outside.
- This is a dolof, do you know what a dolof is? he asks. But maybe you have to go?
- I have a minute.
I'm intrigued.
- A dolof is something on the beach that holds it in place.
- You sell these key rings?
- Yes, he says, still awkward.
- How much, I ask, because I haven't got all the time in the world.
- $20 each.
A guy in his 30s approach while I'm on the phone.
- I said I would take 2 for $30.
- No, says the little guy, that won't work.
- OK, I say, I'll take the school one. 
Because I think they look cool, and $20 is cheap to avoid having to say no to the small, awkward guy. 
I pull a bill out, we exchange.
He says:
- My name is Ryan Gander.
- Nice meeting you. I'm Arabella. Bye.
2 days later, I find out in the Performa printed catalog that it is an act. I was deliciously fooled. Ryan Gander was performing. I believe it was Ryan, not an actor, but not 100% sure. In fact, I saw him two days later at the Performa hub playing it out on a young man who was trying to buy 3 for $50. But he looked genuinely sad while performing. I thought, maybe he's sad he's so good at peddling off his goods. Maybe he's a bit sad because the act works only if the buyer does not know who he is. Maybe he's a really good actor at playing the failed artist.

Contributed by -- Arabella Hutter

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pécheurs par contingence

Un ami nous a prêté son appartement de vacances dans un complexe à St-George, dans l'Utah. Au coin de l'Arizona et du Nevada, ce Nevada qui, avec ses casinos et ses bars et ses "girls", doit offrir de graves tentations grave à la population mormone de St-George - aurait-ce un rapport avec l'expansion rapide de ce lieu de villégiature? Les appartements du complexe sont pratiquement tous occupés par des Mormons aisés de Salt Lake City. Cette secte, comprenant principalement des personnes d'origines nord européennes, a de grosses ressources financières, avec sa taxe de 10% sur les revenus de ses adeptes.

Nous les voyons depuis notre balcon, les rencontrons dans l'escalier, partageons avec eux le jacuzzi. Ils ressemblent et se comportent comme des Américains ordinaires, ce qui est bizarre, je m'attends des adeptes d'une secte qu'ils soient socialement inadaptés. Ils sont blonds et grand et beaux. Seulement, escortées par de nombreux enfants (une stratégie bien rôdée pour l'expansion de l'église que d'interdire la contraception), les femmes ne portent pas de bikinis, mais de prudes maillots. Les Mormons ne boivent pas d'alcool, ni de boissons caféinnées. Ils ne fument pas. Nous adonnant à presque toutes ces habitudes, nous étions des pécheurs de leur point de vue.

Je me surprends à planifier des cambriolages de leurs condos. Ce serait facile de grimper sur les balcons, peut-être quand ils sont à l'église le dimanche matin. On prendrait juste l'argent et les vélos, je rêve de sillonner à vélo les magnifiques paysages du Sud Ouest américain.

Je suis intriguée. En général, je ne donne pas dans le cambriolage, sans blague, ce n'est pas mon champ professionnel. Comment se fait-il que je songe, même en passant, à commettre un crime? Eh bien,  comme je suis une pécheresse pour eux de toute façon, pourquoi ne pas ajouter un péché de plus? Nombre de mes comportements et de mes habitudes appartiennent au Mal, d'après les Mormons. Je me retrouve dans la peau de tous ceux qui sont marginalisés dans notre société, tels que les minorités ethniques aux États-Unis ou les gitans en Europe.

Les individus appartenant à des minorités sont criminalisés avant qu'ils ne commettent un crime, parce qu'ils ne correspondent pas à la norme du citoyen respectable typique. En outre, aux États-Unis, le système juridique est biaisé contre eux, les médias les dépeignent généralement comme des criminels. A quoi bon essayer d'être un citoyen responsable, si on est de toute façon étiqueté et perçu et traité comme un malfaiteur?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Un agresseur ou une amatrice de framboises?

Émergeant de la station de métro près du World Trade Center à 17 heures, je me fais figure de petite paysanne de Brooklyn. Accablée par la foule. C'est une réaction viscérale. Je m'immobilise sous le choc, alors que les gens se précipitent dans tous les sens autour de moi. Il y a de nombreuses années, quand nous vivions en tribus, si nous tombions sur un autre être humain, soit nous la/le connaissions  soit elle/il était un ennemi. Les gens que nous ne connaissions pas étaient porteurs de danger. Ce qui est encore le cas de nos jours, voir le film "CRASH"Il nous fallait lire le visage de chaque nouveau venu: ami/ennemi? Maintenant, nous sommes sensés ne rien lire du tout, ni nous approcher, ni leur faire de croche-patte ou leur sauter au cou: nous ignorons nos congénères, ça s'appelle l'anonymat de la grande ville. 

Le bruit nous alertait également du danger. Il le fait encore, par exemple, si l'on entend une sirène hurler ou des balles exploser ou des éléphants tomber du ciel sur l'asphalte. Les sons nous avertissent des dangers qui ne sont pas toujours dans notre champ de vision et pourraient venir à notre rencontre. Dans une grande ville, nos sens nous fournissent des alertes que nous supprimons, parce que nous sommes soumis à des sons, dont certains non identifiables, toute la journée et toute la nuit.

C'est évident, je sais. Wow, je viens de découvrir que la vie dans une métropole est stressante.

Mais revenons à la foule. Pour remonter à l'époque où soit nous connaissions soit nous ne connaissions pas la personne qui arrivait en sens inverse. Si nous la connaissions, nous étions au courant de son histoire. Elle aimait à rouler en bas d'une pente quand elle était petite. Son père est mort lors d'une chasse. Ou elle était timide et ne jouait pas avec les autres enfants. Elle a refusé prétendant après prétendant jusqu'à ce qu'un visiteur d'une autre tribu l'ait convaincue de le suire. Elle aimait les framboises.

De même, avec toutes les personnes que je croise sur le territoire de la ville, je suis étourdie par la multitude de leurs récits inconnus. Je remarque des indices: leur âge, leur langage corporel, l'expression sur leur visage, leurs vêtements. Ça ne suffit pas. Je veux connaître chaque histoire de chaque personne, si elles préfèrent les framboises ou les fraises, si leur premier amour les a blessé, quelle partie de leur âme grimpe vers les nuages. Impossible bien sûr, mais, je travaille à quelque chose d'approchant: le Grand Projet Secret de Blog qui sera lancé à l'automne.

Pour le moment, je me pose la question: ai-je atteint le stade d'intolérance à la vie citadine où je devrais me réfugier dans une hutte au fond des bois et recevoir au maximum un visiteur par jour?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Metropolis vs shed in the woods

Emerging from the subway near the World Trade Center at 5pm, like the country bumpkin from Brooklyn I am. Overwhelmed by the crowd. It's a visceral reaction. I'm standing in shock while people rush in every direction around me. 


Many many years ago, when we lived in tribes, if we ran into another human being, either we knew him/her or he/she was an enemy. Danger mostly came from people we didn't know. It still does, see  "CRASH". But now we have to accept this multitude of strangers we rub shoulders with, it's called the anonymity of the large city. We can not fear them all, but at the same time, we should not stop them and try to befriend them,  nor wink at them, nor tell them we like the shape of their skull.

Sound also alerted us to danger. It still does, for example if one hears earth rumbles or bullets firing or elephants crashing down from the sky. It alerts us to the dangers that are not within our vision range, and might be coming our way. Living in a large city, our senses are always feeding us alerts which we try to suppress, because we are subjected to sounds, many unidentifiable, all day all night long.  Living in the city is a lot about suppressing the natural fear we should feel, and that takes its toll in the long run.

This is really obvious, I know. Wow, I've just discovered that living in a metropolis is stressing. 

But getting back to the crowds. Going back to that time when either we knew or didn't know the person coming our way. If we did know the person, we were familiar with her history. She loved to roll down a slope when she was a little girl. Her father died during a hunt. Or she was shy and did not play with the other kids. She refused suitor after suitor until a visitor from another tribe took her away. She liked raspberries. 

Similarly, with all the individuals I cross on the city turf, I am overwhelmed by the multitude of their unknown narratives. I see clues: their age, their body language, the expression on their face, their clothes. It's not sufficient. I want to know every story of every person, whether they prefer pears or apples, how much their first love hurt, what part of their soul reaches to the clouds. While unattainable, I am working on something approaching: the Big Secret Blog Project, to be launched in the fall. 

For the time being, I wonder: have I reached the stage of city fatigue where I should move to a shed in the hills and welcome just one visitor a day?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not a review: Ibsen’s Ghosts at BAM

The reviewers of the Almeida production of Ghosts are wrong and I’m right: it was ABOMINABLE.  Still on the warpath with reviewers, allow me. When we walked into the theater, a beautiful set with layers of glass (Yes! Ghosts were going to be appearing and disappearing between these layers! Clever!) was waiting for us on stage. I was excited. Its style was respectful of the period and place, while inventive and elegant. And then the maid, (couldn’t find the name of the actor who played her on the BAM website, forgettable socially, forgettable theatrically) ran on stage. I have a rule about theater which has proved quite correct again and again: stay away from plays that have a sofa on stage. There are a few exceptions to this rule (Lepage, Ostermeier), but on the whole it's proven itself. I’m thinking of adding a new rule: no young ladies running around the stage with their arms loose. Why should young actresses run!? It’s another theatrical cliché. Young men don’t run, older men don’t run, older women don’t run on stage. Children run on stage, and they should, because they do in real life. Or everyone should run if that’s an expression of an inner state. That young actress was signaling acting, she had been informed they were all the correct signals.

I tried to hang in there, a little bit of irksome running should not be a source of panic, the production could still be good. Was hoping the other actors yet to appear on stage might still act rather than act acting.Maybe just be the maid got it wrong. But no. All the other actors followed suit, a sure sign the director was involved. They were so convinced that they were acting right. Everyone told them. The director. The Oliver Awards. Even the New York Times. Well I dispute. Good acting cannot be self satisfied. Every night, setting foot on stage should be a risk. The appropriately named stage fright. That's one of the contracts between the actors and the audience. The actor who played the priest, Will Keen, was a bit less liked, a bit less sure, and therefore he was just a little bit more bearable to me. It could well be all these actors are able to act, but they were misguided.

At the end of the play, the son, actor Billy Howle, goes into seizures, then becomes blind. His physical degradation, the whole night, unravels in a collapsed time frame, which has to be dealt with theatrically. Richard Eyre did not come up with an effective solution to that challenge. Treated realistically, the resulting production is massively over dramatic. The mother, actor Lesley Manville, decides to give to her son the pills he had gathered to terminate his own life when the time came. Her tears provoked an all time high in my embarrassment for the actors. Which turned into ill humor when they came back to collect their - oh so well deserved as far as they were concerned - applause.

The one thing I enjoyed was the head of the young actor. It was overdimensioned. That was really interesting, and oddly satisfying. His whole head was half a size larger than would be expected for his body size. His eyes, his nose, his mouth, his skull, freakish in a good sense. That is all I got out of this production, the oversized head and the blue glass set.

I actually like melodrama. Visconti. Zola. Dickens. But this production’s combination of cocksure acting and heavy drama rubbed me the wrong way. Richard Eyre is on my watch list now, I’ll beware. The production was 90 min long, clearly not its natural stage length. And without an intermission. Thank god for small mercies, as Fiona Shaw repeated memorably in Beckett’s Happy Days. On that same BAM stage.

Contributed by  - - Arabella Hutter