Gonna be a hot time in D-town tonight: The Bipeds and Curtis Eller’s American Circus


The Bipeds in rehearsal for Stacy Wolfson’s Never, Enough, Better, Nothing, with the high-kicking Curtis Eller on banjo. Performances will be June 2-4, 2016 at The Shed, Golden Belt.  Photo: Alex Maness.

Durham’s DIY dance scene continues to move expansively into the nooks and small venues of the city. Do yourself a favor, local dance fans, and get over to Golden Belt tonight or tomorrow for a performance by the Bipeds Dance Company in collaboration with Curtis Eller’s American Circus. I attended their final rehearsal last night–the final, and first with the full band–and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Bipeds artistic director and choreographer Stacy Wolfson had been talking on and off with Curtis Eller–their daughters are in school together–about collaborating. They started in earnest last September, and Wolfson began creating movement sequences to particular songs, sometimes incorporating some of Eller’s trademark stage moves. Wolfson’s dynamic, elastic style melds well with Eller’s jumps and high kicks, but where he climbs on the furniture, the dancers get down on the floor.

Most of the dancing is performed by the quartet of Renay Aumiller, Amanda Floyd Beaty, William Commander and Alyssa Noble, and on the small stage in the small space, even without a crowd, they neared the combustion point, with Amanda Beaty doing some particularly nice work.  The choreography is vivid, muscular and emotively clear as it quickly runs through a range of efforts and feelings in the pauseless, nonstop song and dance act. Sometimes the relation of the dance to the song is direct; at others, the song and dance are emotionally or tonally congruent, but not connected in any illustrative way. Eller is also very active on stage, and to some extent the singers Shea Broussard and Dana Marks join in, but the stand-up bass man (Hugh Crumley) and the drummer (Jack Fleishman) had of necessity to remain upstage.

The set-up in The Shed is charmingly down home. Wolfson is using part of the sprung floor constructed last summer by Renay Aumiller, Leah Wilks and friends, for RAD’s aerial performance. The floor was designed to be storable and portable and available for the dance community, and it makes all the difference in what the dancers can safely do. This work would fail on a concrete floor–the attack is too fierce, the dancers would hurt themselves. The availability of this floor is going to change local dance much for the better. But other than having a professional surface to move on, the room looks more like a living room, and the stage is lined with mismatched lamps that the performers turn on and off during the action. The big windows are haphazardly covered with swathes of cloth. There are about 50 chairs and a couch or two. And a great sound system.

Performances tonight, June 3 and Sat. June 4 at 8 p.m. in The Shed at Golden Belt, 807 E. Main St., Durham. Tickets in advance at brownpapertickets.com or at the door. The band will play on afterward on Sat. Dress to wiggle.


Never a still moment in Never, Enough, Better, Nothing. The Bipeds and Curtis Eller’s American Circus will perform their collaborative song-and-dance work June 3-4 at The Shed at Goldenbelt.  Rehearsal photo: Alex Maness.


The Mystery of Habitus

I don’t know what to say about Habitus, a “living installation” by VECTOR now at Manbites Dog Theater (the event repeats Jan. 15-17) , which described it as “an interactive installation/performance.” According to materials in the theater, it is “an installation around anger and violence.” The same materials gave a laundry list of trigger warnings–but there was nothing there to trigger anything except mild irritation, and a wonder at the slightness of the thing. Leah Wilks, the artistic director of VECTOR, said in an email that the installation is “about exploration of this world and themes and visuals and gathering from audience as well as the performers…also part of our process in developing/exploring this landscape and the questions inherent at the heart of this work” prior to a stage work of the same title to be performed in March as part of the DIDA season.

Intake card from the Habitus experience.

Intake card with unanswerable questions from the Habitus experience.


I know Leah Wilks can choreograph and dance; I know her partner in VECTOR Jon Haas can make interesting video. Unfortunately, the video in the installation is not interesting. There is no dance. Upon entry, one is handed a clipboard with papers to fill out and given various directions. After waiting in the lobby, which has been made over into a theater papered with mainstream magazine images, many of violence or its outcomes, and in which rows of chairs sit before a huge screen showing a loop of blown-out video from TV news and sports, you are called up to the Intake Desk and “processed.” From there you move on to a photo station, where you are robed and photographed with another person. I completely failed to grasp the boxing theme here until I saw a photo of other attendees the next day on Facebook. I guess this was supposed to put us in a pugilistic mood, but I missed it.

Inside the theater proper, the space is divided into rooms and corridors in which various scenarios are sketched. There are several people doing odd things, and attempting to engage “the audience.” Dana Marks marches around in a vaguely fascistic uniform, barking orders; Nicola Bullock trails around charmingly in a long backless dress, channeling Billie Holiday and offering “pills” to strangers; another woman works out; yet another tries to escape invisible chains holding her scantly-clad self to a stool. You are given chalk and told to draw around another person, as if he were a body on the ground. There’s a display where you are asked to rate the various items as to their relative violence (I was unsure it this meant the object’s capacity for use with violent intent, or its association with violent acts in the viewer’s mind). One is encouraged to write on the wall in various topic areas. Every thing I could bear to read was a cliche.

It is possible, quite possible, that I have passed over the far edge of the age group for whom this would be interesting. The collaged images and the chalked walls seemed particularly middle-schoolish from my point on the time line. I long ago opted out of life with television and glossy magazines full of fake female beauty. I’ve experienced or observed various kinds of anger and violence firsthand, and the fast-cut mediated version presented here did not inspire the powerful feelings I associate with those experiences. As I began to grasp the set-up, I thought at first that Habitus was a parody of interactive installations, but when I entered the interior, I realized it was completely in earnest.

It is also possible that this installation is merely an early messy stage of art making–one that ordinarily is not publicly shared. Perhaps Wilks, Haas, et al will take this chaos and give it dramatic form in an artwork actually about anger and violence. We will find out March 5, when VECTOR will present the staged work at a location yet to be announced.

Next Year in the Theater

Aaron Davidman will perform his WRESTLING JERUSALEM at PRC2, Jan 7-11. Photo: Ken Friedman.

Aaron Davidman will perform his WRESTLING JERUSALEM at PRC2, Jan 7-11. Photo: Ken Friedman.

Whew. 2014 was another amazing year in Triangle theatre, but there’s little time off for the avid audience. 2015’s season starts right up on Jan. 2 with South Stream Productions presentation of Pinter’s The Caretaker at Common Ground. If Pinter’s not tough enough for you, try Wrestling Jerusalem, at PlayMakers PRC2 Jan. 7-11.

A one-man show, written and performed by Aaron Davidman, the work follows Davidman’s travels in Israel and Palestine as he attempts to unravel this knot of troubles, “to try,” in his words,”to understand the nuance and complexity that lives in the hearts of the human beings at the center of the conflict. Part personal memoir, part transformational theatre, in addition to myself, I play 17 different characters whom I meet along the way, each with his own story and perspective to share.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the PRC2 series is not just about watching a show–it’s about having a discussion afterwards, since civil discussion of intractable matters is one of the key roles of theater in society. I am deeply grateful to live in a place with real theatre that does just that, and deeply admiring of theatre leaders who bring tough work and defend it against all the forces of dilution and silence. You may have read of the recent firing of the artistic director of Washington, DC’s Theater J, Ari Roth, by the board of the Jewish Community Center, of which the theater is a part. In an unheard-of show of support, 60 or so artistic directors from theaters around the country sent an open letter of protest. I am proud to say that our own Joseph Haj, producing artistic director of PlayMakers–who keeps bringing us work like Rodney King and Wrestling Jerusalem–was one of the signatories. You can read an interview with Roth on Howlround here.

Hard on the heels of that show will come the eagerly awaited new work by Howard L. Craft, Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green. Directed by Joseph Megel and performed by the talented Alphonse Nicholson, the presentation by the StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance will play in UNC’s Swain Hall Jan. 8-24.

Also opening Jan. 8, at Manbites Dog Theater, VECTOR‘s Habitus, an installation/performance by dancer/choreographer Leah Wilks and video/virtuality wizard Jon Haas. All this and more before the month’s half over. Rest now, ye merry ladies and gents–no rest in the new year.



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