As a voracious fan of experimental live performance, during lockdown I find myself turning to the artists and artist-centered organizations who create and present this sometimes soothing, other times provocative work.
The last live gathering I attended before New York City closed its cultural doors was a long-form conversation at Danspace Project, in St Mark’s Church, as part of “PLATFORM 2020: Utterances from the Chorus”, co-curated by MacArthur Fellowship recipient Okwui Okpokwasili and Danspace executive director and chief curator, Judy Hussie-Taylor. The event, “Voice & Body”, brought together three pre-eminent visionaries of our time: scholar Saidiya Hartman, multi-media artist Simone Leigh, and choreographer and performer Okpokwasili. (Full disclosure, I am on the board at Danspace Project.)
It was 7 March and, in a space where long, warm hugs are typically bountiful, we were already mostly touching toe-to-toe or elbow-to-elbow to say hello instead. This generous and iterative program, years in the making, is itself an homage to both slowness and gathering. Like others, Danspace Project and Okwui thoughtfully moved what could be virtual, continuing the rich dialogue and programming online. I wholeheartedly recommend a deep dive into this singularly beautiful space, and if you are looking for a place to start, Okwui’s powerful and probing seven-song album Day Pulls Down the Sky is the perfect spot.
Other kindred and legendary organizations accustomed to producing live performance have now turned their attention to the screen, including The Kitchen, which quickly initiated “Kitchen Broadcast”, a live-stream performance series on Twitch, in which “artists connect from their homes to yours”.
The Baryshnikov Arts Center nimbly created two platforms in response to this crisis: “Parlor Broadcasts”, newly produced live-streaming events with curated artists that were slated to perform in the now-on-hold live season, and “PlayBAC”, which mines Baryshnikov’s archive of gorgeously documented performances for a weekly video series. The selection is wide-ranging and includes the Latvian National Choir, former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member-turned-choreographer and performer Rashaun Mitchell, and vocalist and songwriter Somi, who has been dubbed “the new Nina Simone”.
One other screen-bound performance that really strikes right at the heart of this moment is Trisha Brown Dance Company’s Room/Roof Piece. Unable to embark on its long-planned 50th anniversary tour due to covid-19, current and former members of the company convened from their homes over Zoom to re-create Brown’s seminal 1971 Roof Piece, originally performed on rooftops spanning ten blocks in Lower Manhattan. It is a mesmerizing movement-based game of telephone. While you’re on the site, peruse the incomparably extensive archive for more.
And, lastly, if you want to move your own body, check out the “Social DisDance Party”, conceived by choreographer and performer Ani Taj and fellow members of The Dance Cartel, who are the most wonderfully raucous and exuberant dancers around. A virtual nightclub, participants are encouraged to dress up and turn on some flashing lights. Joining is free, but the organizers always highlight a cause to which dancers can donate if they are able and so inclined.