The Futurist Anarchist Funeral is Now

orsay carraFrom the exhibition Félix Fénéon, Les temps nouveaux, de Seurat à Matisse, on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris through January 27 before moving to the Museum of Modern Art in the Spring: Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), “Les Funérailles de l’anarchiste Galli (the anarchist Galli’s funeral),” 1910-1911. Oil on canvas, 198.7 x 259.1 cm. New York, Museum of Modern Art, bequest of Lillie P. Bliss (exchange), 1948. Photo ©Paige Knight. In the entry for Angelo Galli (1883-1906), in his “Dictionnaire de l’Anarchie” (Albin Michel, 2008), Michel Ragon writes: “Brother of Alessandro Galli, stabbed to death by a guard at the factory where he’d gone to check on strike-breakers on May 10, 1906. During his funeral procession, joined by an exalted crowd, violent scuffles broke out with the mounted troops. The painter Carlo Carrà, who at the time frequented the anarchist milieus, found himself among the crowd and, moved by the mass demonstration, the violence of the brawls with the police, the black oriflammes being brandished and the shrouds covered with red eyelets, painted in remembrance one of the most astonishing Futurist tableaux…,” of a mammoth scale, exposed to great success in Paris, London, and Berlin in 1912. A contributor to the newspaper Il Tempo upon its founding in 1918, on March 8, 1910 (as Guillaume Apollinaire would note in Le Petit Bleue on February 9, 1912), Carrà joined Umberto Boccioni, the poet Filippo Marinetti, and a handful of others on the stage of the Chiarella theater in Turin to deliver the Futurist Manifesto, in their words “a long cry of revolt against academic art, against museums, against the rule of professors, of archeologists, of …. antique dealers…..” Fist-fights and cane battles immediately broke out, Apollinaire noted, the “great audience tumult” only ending when the police intervened. (Guillaume Apollinaire, “Chroniques d’Art,” Gallimard, Paris,  1960.) For more on anarchists and unionists from Michel Ragon, click here. For more Ragon on art — exclusively on the Dance Insider and Arts Voyager — click here.

But First, a Bullfight: The Eisenstein Connection–Que Viva Kirstein! (& Mekas)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 3019 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on February 11, 2000, grace of my father Edward Winer, who passed away  this past December 7.

NEW YORK — One evening in 1933, a young man was thrown out of the New School auditorium in Manhattan after he rose to protest a showing of Sergei Eisenstein’s “Thunder Over Mexico.” The man was Lincoln Kirstein, who would later co-found the New York City Ballet with George Balanchine, and he was objecting because he knew that this copy of the film, a much-truncated extract from over 200 reels Eisenstein shot in Mexico, totally went against the legendary Russian filmmaker’s plan for “Que Viva Mexico!,” his panoramic history of Mexican civilization.

Kirstein had sat in a small projection room in New York with Eisenstein and his colleagues, Alexandrov and Tisse, a year earlier and listened as the three watched and commented upon 30 of these reels. In an article in the April 1932 issue of Arts Weekly (included in “By, With, To, & From: a Lincoln Kirstein Reader,” edited by Nicholas Jenkins), Kirstein had warned, “If anything should happen to ‘Que Viva Mexico!’ between now and the time it is cut and shown to rob it of Eisenstein’s final fingering, it would be a loss of staggering dimensions. There are no catalogues of the Alexandrian Library which Caesar’s fire ignited, and we have only the Rubens copy to show us what Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari may have been. For us their loss would have been less crippling than this film of the heart of a consciousness, this testimony of extreme distinction.”

By early 1932, Eisenstein’s backers had pulled out, and his stop in New York, where he would try to edit the rushes, was one last attempt — as Jenkins tells it — “to retain control of his film.” From the wreckage, some smaller films were created, pale shadows of the master’s intentions. This is what had broken Kirstein’s heart. He would have been heartened, then, to be in the audience at Anthology Film Archives Thursday, for a generous four-hour showing of raw “Que Viva Mexico!” footage, assembled 45 years ago by the Museum of Modern Art’s Jay Leyda and Manfred Kirchheimer. (The footage had been donated to the museum by Upton Sinclair, who with his wife had brought together the film’s original backers.)

I should pause here to explain what Kirstein means to folks like me — i.e., the non-dancers in the dance field. If dancers have their Nijinskys and Pavlovas, their Nureyevs and Fonteyns as role models, we in the dance auxiliary identify with people like Serge Diaghilev, producer of the Ballet Russes; Kirstein; and, today, Charles Reinhart, the co-director of the American Dance Festival. As someone who was drawn to dance, and particularly ballet, not because I’m a dancer but, in part, because I love good art, Diaghilev and Kirstein have a particular appeal because of their demonstrated interest in, and support of, not just dance but the visual arts. Diaghilev not only used the leading Cubist painters in the ballets he produced; he also started his own art magazine, “The World of Art,” just before the turn-of-the-last-century. Kirstein’s interest in visual art, and particularly sculpture, is widely known. But I had no idea until my dad gave me the reader, and I learned of Kirstein’s closeness to the promotion of the Eisenstein film, of how passionate he was about this medium as well.

Last Saturday, I stumbled into a showing at the Drawing Center in Soho of a hundred or so original DRAWINGS by Eisenstein (including one of a sinuous “Harlem snake dancer”). While there, I learned that Anthology would be showing the ‘Que Viva’ footage, which Leyda assembled to summarize Eisenstein’s intentions for the epic.

So I hied myself to Jonas Mekas’s treasure of an ongoing, public film archive in the East Village to look for Kirstein. I thought that if it was important to him, it had to be important to me. What I didn’t figure on was that this material would be so obviously a matter of movement.

Much of the first half of what I saw (I only stayed for part one — hey, I’ve been Flashing three nights straight!) was almost ALL about movement. (Confession: The film was also screened without a soundtrack, testing my ADHD-challenged concentration capability.) One section is a study of a Via Delarosa march by Indians that is subtly intertwined with indigenous tradition. Hundreds of Indian men retrace Christ’s arduous road, all but the few Christ enactors within their ranks walking on their haunches; that’s right, hunched. The road, the climb seem unending. There is definitely a rhythm here. Like “Serenade” — the first ballet Balanchine created in America — there is also a story, with rites. And canon!

“Serenade” ends with the ballerina being hoisted on the shoulders of her comrades and carried offstage. The prologue of “Que Viva Mexico!”, at least what we saw, is mostly taken up with bare-chested Indian males carrying the casket of a fallen compatriot down a mountain.

But the heart of what I saw last night –and the most dancey material — deals with bull-fighting, gruesomely real and hokily imagined.

First we are shown actual footage of a real bullfight. A picador gores a bull; a bull gores a picador’s horse. The matadors (? I get the human sadists in the bull-ring mixed up) then poke the bull with banderoles (these have flowers on one end, and hooked blades on the other), which stick out of his skin as he continues to try to fight them. Then we are treated to many takes of each of various aspects of the bullfight recreated by Eisenstein. We get a bull’s eye perspective, as we view the matador from atop an obviously phony bull’s head, seeing the matador from between his horns. Truly comic fodder, as is a surprisingly modern sequence in which a dapper and obviously older, and light-skinned, male spectator, dallies with a dark-skinned younger man.

The most purely balletic section is the lengthy footage of the paso mariposa (or butterfly pass) to which, a subtitle explains, Eisenstein “planned to give…special attention,” perhaps “for its resemblance to ballet.” One can see why: The bullfighter, facing his quarry, splays his cape behind him so that he appears to have wings on either side. He flits back and forth with lots of fancy footwork, moving backwards as the bull charges, then whips the cape over the head of the animal — who also dances. It’s total ballet. (Eisenstein’s plan was to have Dmitri Shostakovich score this film, to Indian and Latin themes. One can imagine how splendidly the Russian composer would have treated this intense section.)

Indeed, in a very human sense, the footage I saw indicates that much of this film is very balletic. Prior to seeing it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting a dance film; even such a ballet monument as Lincoln Kirstein has a right to have other interests, after all. And, as a non-dancer involved in dance, it’s Kirstein’s very catholicity of passionate pursuits that appeals to me. But I don’t think it’s too much of an extrapolation to guess that, as he sat with Eisenstein and his colleagues in that small projection room in 1932, at least one of the reasons Kirstein found “Que Viva Mexico!” “an absorbing experience” was Eisenstein’s capturing of how movement expresses culture. This same belief, I would guess, would seventeen years later help convince Kirstein of the need for a New York City Ballet — for U.S. American culture to be expressed through movement as well.

Race Matters: Why are Blacks Ballet’s invisible men (and women)?

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the Dance Insider on March 7, 2000. Today’s publication sponsored by Freespace Dance.

NEW YORK — The other day at the Children of Uganda performance (reviewed elsewhere in the DI Archives), I saw something that I rarely see at the ballet: Black people. Not just on stage, but in the audience. Actually, the two are related: I believe the reason I rarely see Black people at the ballet, with the exception of Dance Theatre of Harlem, is that there are so very few — and in the case of American Ballet Theatre, no –Black people on stage. This is not meant to infer that Black people just want to see Black performers. Rather, when a company, such as ABT, is so lilly white, the message is that this is not a Black-friendly environment. So it was refreshing Monday night to go to an event that indicates that another company, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, is not just welcoming Blacks into its house, but going to their house.

A caveat before I begin: I live in New York, so my observation about the dearth of Blacks in ballet applies to the two companies I see most of the time, ABT and New York City Ballet. (Author’s note, December 28, 2019: At last viewing, the Paris Opera Ballet was doing a lot worse than its New York counterparts, making them look like the Ailey company by comparison.) I am aware that the problem is not so severe elsewhere. Houston Ballet, for example, goes beyond tokenism. Atlanta Ballet, too, has one of the most diverse companies in the country. San Francisco Ballet, on the other hand, which is located in one of the most racially diverse cities in the country — I grew up there — has very few Black dancers, and no Black principal dancers. Several years ago, when Evelyn Cisneros was just breaking in there and was about to go on stage for a George Balanchine piece, Cisneros would later tell me, an assistant ballet master instructed her to coat her beautifully brown skin with white pancake makeup.

New York City Ballet also has just a handful of Black dancers. Its one black principal, Albert Evans, does not typically get the princely roles. He gets the character parts, such as Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A similar lack of opportunity befell the late Christopher Boatwright at SFB. A beautiful prince if ever I saw one, Boatwright had no problem landing the Romeos when he danced in Germany; those opportunities ceased when he joined San Francisco.

But the most blatant example in our times of ballet’s “Invisible Man” is Desmond Richardson’s experience with ABT. (Yes, I am picking on ABT — how can it call itself “American” and not reflect this country’s rainbow diversity?) Initially, ABT did the right thing. The immediate need for bringing Richardson in was its new production of Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello.” But ABT didn’t just make him a guest artist for that one ballet; he was welcomed into the company as a principal dancer. It stopped there, however. Richardson is probably our greatest living male dancer –and yet beyond “Othello,” he was put to little use. The visiting Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato used him in a lovely trio. I think he performed in one other one-act ballet. And then he was cast in “Romeo & Juliet”– not as Romeo, of course, but as the villain, Tybalt. In a Times story at the time or shortly after Richardson left, it was clear from Richardson’s comments that he was very uncomfortable there.

I saw a very relaxed Richardson last night at Fez in Greenwich Village, where Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was hosting a press reception for Indigo in Motion, its upcoming evening of three ballets set to the music of some Pittsburgh-connected jazz giants: Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne, Stanley Turrentine, and Ray Brown, the last two of whom are creating original music for the program. Kevin O’Day, Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Richardson’s partner in Complexions, Dwight Rhoden, make up the choreographic team. As members of the Steel City’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild jammed live last night, Rhoden and Richardson chatted with PBT artistic director and former ABT stalwart Terry Orr. Orr’s passion for this project appears not just a token effort to bring in new audiences, but seems genuine; he wore a big grin on his face the entire evening, snapping along with and tapping to the jazz.

There were probably more Black people in the small lounge last night than I saw on or off-stage at ABT the entire last season.

Of course, there are box office considerations at work here. “In some ways, you could subtitle what we’re doing as putting butts in seats,” said Steven Libman, PBT’s managing director. “Unless dance begins to develop a connection to its audience, we are not going to have an audience.”

Helping to put those butts in the seat will be jazz singer Vivian Reed, who will sing the songs made famous by Horne. Last night she gave us a stirring example, a bluesy rendition of “Stormy Weather.”

Warhol’s showdown with triple Elvis

warhol elvisFrom the exhibition Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 26: Andy Warhol, “Triple Elvis [Ferus Type],” 1963. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. ©2019 the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

‘Up Your Ass’: Solanas @ PS 122 — No Factory Retread from Warhol shooter

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the DI on February 9, 2001. Today’s re-publication sponsored by Freespace Dance.

NEW YORK — The woman who shot Andy Warhol fired another shot from the grave last night on the stage of P.S. 122, with the New York premiere, 36 years after she wrote it, of “Up Your Ass.” Valerie Solanas’s protean agit-prop treatise, which received its world premiere only last year from San Francisco’s George Coates Performance Works, would have heralded the arrival of a major political satirist in 1965 had it not been lost by Warhol and posterity for so long. Presented in 2001, however, and surprisingly, it is more than contemporary: Where much proto-feminist theater and dance these days, by artists young enough to be Solanas’s daughter or even granddaughter, is just so much screaming, Solanas delivers her punches with constant hits to the funny-bone as well, making any sexist accusations of “man-hater” secondary. “Up Your Ass,” while it doesn’t hold back, holds up first and foremost as powerful artistic expression. While much has been made about how this play predates Solanas’s “SCUM Manifesto,” a seminal feminist work, “Up Your Ass” stands on its own as a piece of sharp theater and a model, perhaps, for, not a kinder, gentler feminist didacticism, but one with artistic teeth to match its political bite.

The background, briefly: Solanas submitted her manuscript, one of only two copies, to Warhol in 1965, hoping he would produce it. Instead, he lost it and, so the legend goes, it was her rage over this treatment of her script that prompted her to shoot him. Warhol’s copy was discovered after both protagonists had died, in a box under some film lighting equipment, by Billy Name. “Up Your Ass” premiered January 12 of last year in San Francisco, a few blocks from the Tenderloin hotel where Solanas spent her last hours in 1988, dying of pneumonia.

“Up Your Ass,” which might be subtitled Bongi’s adventures in hetero-macho land, is the best kind of romp — one with bite; and the best kind of screed — one with satiric chops. Coates, a performance art institution in the City by the Bay, has certainly highlighted the humor by setting much of the script to karioki (with such rock & soul standards as “Let’s Get it On,” “Because the Night,” “Fever,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “White Rabbit” getting new lyrics. This last becomes the score for a belly dance, “Celebration Dance: A Dance for a Turd,” the turd being on the maenu of a dinner party not for a husband to eat, but for his supplicating wife, because, she explains, “everyone knows men have so much more respect for women who are good at eating up shit.”)

Did I say men? There’s only one male actor in Coates’s production, which is not to say there’s only one male character. A chameleon cast of eight women essay a variety of men, women, and everything in between. Two actresses, Tina Marie Murray and Annie Larson, even portray men who then get dressed up in drag as women, the ensuing hilarity including a mind-fucking moment in which Larson chides Murray for sitting down with her/his/her legs spread and all but revealing the family jewels. Their hilarious banter also offers this line from Larson: “I despise men. You know, what I’d like to be is a lesbian — than I could be the cake and eat it too.”

At the serious heart of “Up Your Ass” is Bongi Perez, a “queer” — in quotes because, as another reviewer has pointed out, Solanas was using this term proudly before it became the vogue among queers to do so, and when much of the Queer Nation was still in the closet — and a prostitute. Perez, some reviewers have said, is Solanas’s stand-in. “I’m so female, I’m subversive,” Sara Moore’s Bongi tells Mantra Plonsey’s Russell, a smooth hubby who brandishes a whole raw squid before singing “I don’t fuck, I make love,” to the tune of “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You.” But when Russell agrees to make an exception in Bongi’s case and have a quickie after she tempts him by opening her fly, she turns the tables on the man and fucks him in the butt.

Did you catch that? Note that I said, “after she tempts him.” I thought I was just describing what I saw, but really, all I saw was Moore open her fly. “Tempt” implies a motivation — and the motivation a man WOULD see after a woman opens her fly. A woman might see the motivation differently — perhaps, for instance, she was opening her fly to challenge him. I’m thinking of this — of the question of how open, even in supposedly post-feminist 2001, a male critic can truly be to receiving this work on its own terms, as opposed to through a defensive lens — after reading a review from the late San Francisco Examiner which was included in the press kit.

In his January 14, 2000 review, Robert Hurwitt described Bongi as “a dyspeptic lesbian hooker who delights in degrading her male johns and coming on to any woman who crosses her path. An androgynous figure in black leather jacket and trousers, she spends most of the evening casually injecting man-hating quips — many of them very funny — into the dialogue.”

Hmmm. Let’s break-down that paragraph, shall we?

In just about every line, Hurwitt describes Bongi not on her own terms, but in how her identity leaves her relating to males. She is a LESBIAN (unavailable to men for sex), a HOOKER (well, sort of available), who delights in degrading MALES WHO WANT TO PAY HER FOR SEX, and who COMES ON TO ANY WOMAN (not coming on to MEN.). To hear Hurwitt tell it, her dialogue consists almost entirely of MAN-HATING words.

Well, I beg to differ. Longtime DI readers will know that my man-hater radar is as sensitive as any Joe’s. And yet when I look at Bongi, at least as Moore’s portrayed her, I see a woman — yes, a woman, not an androgen — who, despite views she has acquired after what has obviously been some bitter experience, is still out there engaging with the world. She does accept a square woman’s invitation for dinner; she banters jocularly with an Ed Nortonesque typical hubba-hubba male; and she answers the square woman (Leanne Borghesi)’s belly dance with her own “dance of the seven towels,” plus her “modernistic fan dance. I use an electric fan.”

Indeed, if we look at the author for whom Bongi is a stand in, even as the work itself stands as a proof of her subversion, still, to try to get it out in the world, she was left relying on a man, Warhol.

Warhol is dead now, and so is Solanas. A man, Coates, certainly has brought her work back to life — enabled, of course, by a fine female cast! — but, based on the Examiner review, it seems to me that the male critical hegemony will still try to dismiss it. Hurwitt lead his article by dismissing “Up Your Ass” as “far from a masterpiece,” and saying it is “scarcely well written enough to be an interesting artifact of mid-’60s proto-feminism, let alone a work of art worth a man’s life.” He also said that “The Fuss is more than a little overdone.”

Again, I beg to differ.

I’m sure that male critics like Hurwitt would like nothing more than for “Up Your Ass” to have stayed under the nice glass case in the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where Coates first saw it. Male critics, hell; the alumni magazine of Princeton University (edited by a woman) which arrived in my mailbox this week has, as its cover story, a fawning tribute to an alum who’s gone on to edit Maxim magazine, where a woman’s greatest value is her breasts.

Point? You may have come a long way, baby, but we as a society still have a long way to go before Eve is fully defined beyond being one form or another of Adam’s rib. Far from being a museum piece, Valerie Solanas’s “Up Your Ass” is a clarion call. NOT a clarion call for how to hate men and make it funny, but a call for how woman artists who want to continue Solanas’s fight — and folks, it ain’t over yet! — can do so with a form of high art that, because of the very humor which gives it mass appeal, has the power to truly subvert our male-centric system and move it closer to equality.

Solanas, finally, has come a long way, even if it took too long. Linda Moran, her sister, told last night’s audience after the curtain, “Valerie never had a memorial service. I think this is the most appropriate place to have the memorial. I consider this a memorial.”

“Up Your Ass” continues at P.S. 122 through February 25. The all-killer, no-filler cast also includes veteran comic Karen Ripley (in a hilarious Home-Ec send-up which concludes with a lesson in how-to-fuck-your-man), Chantel Lucier, Allison Hennessy, Sharon Boggs, and Eddy Falconer. For more info, please visit P.S. 122’s web site.

Special thanks to Rosa Mei for her valuable input on this article.

Infectious: Untainted Love for Dance from Donna Scro & Freespace Dance

donna for re-postPhotograph of Donna Scro Samori of Freespace Dance by and copyright Lois Greenfield.

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002,. 2019 Maura Nguyen Donohue

First published on the DI on September 23, 2002.

NEW YORK — On occasion one might be lucky enough to see a dancer whose love of the dance is absolutely infectious. Donna Scro continued to reveal herself as one of those dancers in work with her own company, Freespace Dance, this past weekend. Scro shared a program, as well as one progressively unraveling duet performed in parts throughout the course of the evening, with fellow Sean Curran dancer JM Rebudal as part of the self-produced Dance Access program at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church.

Scro is a radiant performer and a capacious dancer. She eats up the space around her and exudes a kind of excitement that practically bubbles over when she’s dancing. In “Paso” (2001), a quartet choreographed with Pilobolus alum Gaspard Louis, she’s a lovably girlish tomboy, willing to play with the boys on their level but on her terms. The quartet is a resoundingly athletic tour de force straight out of the Pilobulus mold but no less enjoyable. There is a cheekiness to the frolicking that keeps the playful work engaging beyond the immediate thrill of taut, daredevil bodies flying through the air.

“Innercurrent,” also choreographed with Louis, featured performances from the company including the equally lithe Amy Brous and powerful Maureen Glennon. Glennon is a co-founder and fellow artistic director of Freespace, which follows a collaborative mission. Louis’s six years with Pilobolus are evident in this work’s derivative partnering and tableaus, but this younger company maintains the kind of active enthusiasm currently lacking from Louis’s former company.

Rebudal’s company, Rebudal DanceGroup, was seriously out-danced in the evening. The company, made up almost entirely of recent Connecticut College alums, had an overall effect of earnest but bland dancing. Rebudal’s “Mercurial Relapse” looked well scrubbed but hardly witty. His dancers need a few seasons before they can handle Rebudal’s athletic movement sense and flair for dramatic phrasing with the kind of command their evening’s partners held.