ADF: Cherdonna


Cherdonna performing Clock That Mug or Dusted  at the Living Arts Collective as part of ADF Out of the Box. Photo: Ben McKeown.


Cherdonna Shinatra‘s ADF performance Saturday was along the general lines I had expected from reading up on her, and talking with her, yet I can’t recall having been as surprised at ADF since I first saw Dairakudakan (or at least Rosie Herrera), as I was by the first of Cherdonna’s series of six performances in the Living Arts Collective theater on West Geer St.

The outward appearance of Clock That Mug or Dusted is one of induced chaos (and there’s not much dancing), but it’s driven by a subtle mind that has created this mad melange with its own sly kind of order. If you have any interest in the further reaches of performance art/dance theater, I urge you to go to one of the two remaining performances–Monday 26th and Tuesday 27th. This art is not going to submit to rational analysis: it must be experienced; I can’t describe it for you beyond saying that this is some superior strangeness, high-chroma, with lots of sensuous substances spread around, and lots of great physical theatre.  Although some audience participation is required, those who play are well rewarded, and Cherdonna won’t pick on you if you really don’t want to participate.

Cherdonna’s creator, Jody Kuehner, seems to have drawn sustenance from many sources. Not just from Cher and Madonna, the performers whose names she has appropriated, but Dolly Parton, too. Not just the work of 1960s feminist body art/dance practitioners, and drag style queens, but children’s puppeteer Shari Lewis and her character Lamb Chop. Plus 1970s womyn’s music, Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and Shen Wei. Also physical clowning traditions–and Butoh. And Mary Tyler Moore. The incredible thing is that it holds together. Often hilarious, it is also unexpectedly touching, and really, very sweet. Cherdonna clearly subscribes to the “honey draws more flies than vinegar” technique of winning friends and influencing people, and honey, she loves her some paradox.

48 hours later, and I’m still feeling like the boa constrictor that swallowed the elephant: this is going to take a while to digest! Tickets here.



ADF: Catch Up


Hillel Kogan (r) and Adi Boutrous performed We Love Arabs for the American Dance Festival at Reynolds Theater on Duke University’s campus in Durham, N.C. on Friday, Jun. 16, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.

For CVNC, I reviewed the remarkable piece of dance theater We Love Arabs (first 2 photos) from its first appearance at the Cary Theater. See Dance as Comedy in ADF’s First Cary Performance.

Also for CVNC, I reviewed the grand opening night (last 3 photos), a very successful all-NC program. See Forever Young: The American Dance Festival, Lookin’ Good at 84.

Adi Boutrous (standing) and Hillel Kogan helping each other across the river, in We Love Arabs, at the American Dance Festival at Jun. 16, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.



Elizabeth Burke and Luke Hickey delighting the full house at DPAC during ADF’s fantastic all-NC Opening Night extravaganza, 6/15/17. Photo: Ben McKeown.



A Carolina Ballet dancer soaring in an ADF commission on ADF Opening Night at DPAC, 6/15/17. Photo: Ben McKeown.



ADF Opening Night in DPAC included extraordinarily splendid drumming and dancing by the African American Dance Ensemble in the celebratory Mendiani. Photo: Ben McKeown.


ADF: Tommy Noonan’s JOHN


The American Dance Festival’s presented Tommy Noonan in his work JOHN, in Shaefer Theater, June 18, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.


Taste in art is so personal that almost any artwork will have its appreciators, so it is difficult to say that any art–traditional, transgressive, experimental, whatever–has sinned against an absolute standard. There may be only one mortal sin that art can commit–to be boring.

Again, “boring” is entirely individual. However, I was bored throughout the 5 pm Sunday matinee presentation of Tommy Noonan‘s John in Sheafer Theater, as ADF 2017 continues. (Noonan, in addition to being a director, choreographer, performer and teacher, is co-director of the Saxapahaw non-profit Culture Mill, Inc., which produced this work.) Using a pastiche of spoken quotes, video clips and the idea of John Travolta, celebrity dance star, appearing on a TV show, Noonan attempts a cautionary (but not very) parable about the lowering effects of media “culture” and its inevitable ends. Initially, I twitched between irritation and disgust, both of which offer promising avenues towards some new understanding. But all too soon the yawns began. As my companion said, “if that disco music hadn’t been booming, I’d have taken a nap.”

OK, I was a poor candidate for appreciating this show: I lived through disco and do not wish to revisit it; I have always been repelled by John Travolta; I make my life as TV-free as possible. I find the falsity of the host/star/audience thing almost unbearable, and the willingness of people to participate in it completely confounding. And yes, I was confounded by the evident enjoyment most of the crowd seemed to take in participating in a parody of TV talk show fakery. I was anomalous.

The show is all about fakery; about the layers and layers of artifice of contemporary American life; about artifice as authenticity, and where art may come in, and what’s a con, what’s a lie; about the direct line between celebrity (famous for being famous) worshipping “culture” and the monster in the White House. Worthy topics, if the artist does more than create yet another shiny surface from a hash of recycled sparkly bits. As hard as I tried, I could not find substance or sustenance in the shallows under the surface of John–“there is no there there,” in Gertrude Stein’s words. No new thoughts, no fresh perspectives, no fresh targets for artistic disdain. But its subject was high on the list of trending topics!

And what a waste of dancing talent. The point of repeating, ad nauseum, John Travolta’s famous dance sequence from a film, as seen in a TV clip, is so obvious that you can’t really call it a point–more of a bludgeon. Noonan’s very strong–it takes him a long time to wear down as he further dulls a pop culture moment that had already been flattened into an “iconic” image. The one instant of brilliance in John is the second when Noonan begins to morph the John character into one resembling the current president. But then the wave of obviousness rolls back in.

Of course, what seems obvious, hackneyed or passé depends very much on where one is on one’s own timeline. Everything is new to someone at any given time. But I always thought that art, serious art, aspired to go deep enough into the mysteries that it could continue to offer something as you went below its surface, down, down into the heart of its subject. But in this era, in which surface is supposedly substance (even to an artist critiquing said supposition), I find myself not only anomalous, but anachronistic in holding to such a quaint belief.

Repeats June 19, 8 pm in Shaefer Theater, Bryan Center, Duke.


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