Turn, turn, turn

And now the season is September, and “the days dwindle down.” It’s a fresh theater season–but 2017-2018 will be imbued with the sense of an ending. Manbites Dog Theater–that bold upstart, that instigator, that model of theatrical activism; the mature presenter of new theatre for the thinking class; a support system for independent art theater in Durham and the Triangle–will darken next May, at the close of its 31st season.

There is no way to overstate the size of the hole this will leave. MDT founders, artistic director Jeff Storer and managing director Ed Hunt, along with the theater’s board, plan to help fill that hole with advice and money to other theater artists from a donor-advised fund they will establish at the Triangle Community Foundation with the proceeds from selling the theater’s building in the now-fashionable Foster-Geer Street zone, in the overheated downtown Durham real estate market. It is unlikely that another theater might take its space. The Manbites organization will live on with a somewhat altered mission, but there will be no place for us to go. I won’t see you at the theater.

Yes, of course, more theater-makers will find more spaces. And some of them will be great. But they will have to go some to create the kind of welcoming meeting place for public conversation about being human that Manbites Dog made. One felt that open welcome in the rooms, even in the early itinerant years, but in the theater’s 20 years in its own space on Foster Street, it has become an important physical spot in the urban intellectual fabric, a nexus of art and politics, a crossroads of thought and emotion, and a haven for those who care about such things.

Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt have agreed to a series of interviews with me, and I will be talking with many other people involved with the theater, with the aim of writing a somewhat episodic history of Manbites Dog, its impact on the community, and it importance to various artists. These pieces will run more or less side by side with my reviews of the final season’s shows, beginning this week with the Other Voices series piece, a devised work by Summer Sisters, Bad Mothers & Neglectful Wives. If you would like to talk about some aspect of Manbites Dog Theater, please contact me through the comments section. Or buttonhole me at the theater.

This series will likely be my final project for The Five Points Star, and will be my sole focus. It has been a privilege and often a joy to review and critique visual art, theater, music and dance for various publications, including this one, but it is time to wind it down. When Manbites completes its 31st season, I will conclude my 30th year of writing about the arts, and I believe after that I’ll do some other things as the days dwindle down. Thanks for reading all this time, and stick with me a little longer. And really, you ought to go ahead and get some tickets. We’re still paving paradise and putting up parking lots, but in this particular case, we do know what we’ve got, before it is gone.

 

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ADF: Bill T. Jones’ Obscure Finish

The American Dance Festival closed its 84th season and celebratory 40th year in Durham with the final installment of Bill T. Jones and collaborators’ Analogy: A Trilogy on July 30 in the Durham Performing Arts Center. The two previous segments were performed, individually, on the two previous nights, so that at last we could see the whole shape of Jones’ idea.

Or not.

Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant was one of the most obscure pieces of performance art I’ve ever seen. Even though its structure was similar to that of the previous segments, especially the first, Dora: Tramontane, and even though there was a thread of connection to the second, Lance: Pretty AKA the Escape Artist, formed by a common reference to legs that no longer work, Ambros remained baffling throughout.

The text (which has a dominant role here) comes from a section of W.G. Sebald’s book, The Emigrants, and much of it is very fine. But divorced from its larger literary context, the story bits (back and forth in time) barely made sense, let alone a point.

Bjorn Amelan’s decor, with dancer-moved panels in frequent re-arrangement, echoed that of Dora–but the panels here just seemed mainly to point up how little real action there was. And the transitions between bits were awfully slow.

Yes, I’m really going to say it: I nodded off a couple of times during the piece.

The music, by composed by Nick Hallett, and performed by him and Emily Manzo, was the best part of the evening. Mixing recorded tracks with live sound, it was often very beautiful, rich in tone and texture, with clear themes and all the emotions and emotional arcs that were missing otherwise.

One loves Bill T. for being an cool-headed intellectual who draws analogies, but this piece was so cold as to be DOA…rather a let-down for the season closer. But what a great thing it is for the ADF, and the assorted funders who helped support the making of this work, to give artists not only a place to succeed in their efforts, but a soft place to land when they fail.

The major universities in the area will be presenting a fair amount of dance during the 2017-18 season, so dance junkies will make it through until summer again. But if you are fretting, know that we are already at T minus 10 months and counting for ADF 2018.

04_Ambros_PaulBGoode

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

ADF: Bill T. Jones’ TRILOGY, part 1 (again)

BillTJonesArnieZane-Dora-007

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performing Jones’ Analogy/Dora: Tramontane in the ADF presentation in the DPAC, July 27, 2017. Photo: Ben McKeown.

 

Two years ago, Bill T. Jones brought the first segment of a planned trilogy to the American Dance Festival; last year he brought part two, and this year, the full trilogy is having its debut as a completed whole, on three successive nights. On July 27th, the DPAC saw the return of Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.

Since 2015, Dora has tightened up a lot, and this performance was very good. Some of the baffling textual repetitions have been removed, and some of the trickier microphone hand-offs, but more importantly, the elocution and vocal expressiveness of the dancers has  improved immeasurably, rendering the stories much more powerful and making it easier to see the dancing and understand its language. What hasn’t changed is the work’s cool tone. It’s not about feelings or emotional response, it is about the facts and mysteries, about self-generated action and fate (all that we cannot control or order). For a fuller description of Dora, please see my previous review.

Tonight, July 28, will see the much anticipated return of last year’s second trilogy section, Analogy/Lance: Pretty AKA the Escape Artist. This was one of the best dances in last year’s festival, and I’ve been thinking about it all year. High recommended. See my review of last year’s show here.

Saturday night (7 pm), the final puzzle piece will hit the stage–the ADF commissioned Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant. Lance certainly modified understanding of Dora; I would guess Ambros will further clarify Jones’ ideas. This will be the final performance of the 2017 ADF season.

 

 

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