Category: NYC

Photo by Matthew Murphy

When Dina (played by Katrina Lenk) beautifully sings “Welcome to Nowhere,” a song introducing the audience to the show’s location, she doesn’t portray it to be one of the most exciting places. In fact, she goes so far as to sing “Such a city, nobody knows it. Not a fun, not an art, nor a culture. This is Bet Hativka.”

And her character is right: this show, like it repeatedly describes, is a simple story about how ‘’Once not long ago group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Yet, in this charming 95-minute show, audiences are thrust into a story that is so simple yet so complex, just like the human experience. Indeed, like life, the show begins with a slow start, in which we are introduced to the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt, which, due to a misunderstanding of their final destination, end up spending a night in Bet Hatikva rather than Petah Tikva.

Stuck in a new place with nothing else to do, we see these strangers begin to connect. Part of the experience of meeting new people is finding out more about them: at first, you don’t know much about each other, but as time goes on, you learn more and begin to feel more for one another. The same is true for characters in shows. While The Band’s Visit eventually introduces us to all of its characters, unfortunately, we only get to really know a few. As the show progresses, though, we see extraordinary songs and heart-wrenching moments from most of the characters that, when the characters we as the audience get to know are involved, leave us tearful and filled with emotion.

For the characters we don’t get know as well, moments of truth — revealed in admittedly beautiful songs — can be a little confusing. Why does the man who waits by the telephone wait so obsessively for his girlfriend to call, to the point of being agitated when someone else uses the phone? Just because he misses her? Knowing nothing about this man except that he waits and waits and waits, it felt as if his behavior fell closer in line with someone who is unhealthily obsessed rather than in love. While this too can be part of the human experience, it was frustrating to see this moment aggrandized as it leads into the final grand moment of the show in which the entire cast harmonizes beautifully, singing about longing, love, and human connection. If we had gotten to know this man better, perhaps the final wouldn’t have felt as if it came out of nowhere.

That being said, the final song (“Answer Me”) is still beautiful in its own right, highlighting the show’s strongest component: its music. With lyrics and composition by David Yazbeck, every song pulls at the heart, making you laugh and leaving you contemplating your own desires. Each song is stunning and invites the audience members into the moment, allowing them to connect with the music on a personal level, even if they’re not familiar with the musical style, which is inspired by Arabic culture — something rarely seen on Broadway.

In a time that feels incredibly divisive, this production shows that, despite differences in our languages, our backgrounds, and our heritages, we all still are united in one human experience. We still all have a desire to love and be answered, and The Band’s Visit is such an important musical because it reminds us of just that. Rather than focusing on gaudy, ostentatious sets, colors, and music, it strips down these elements and focuses on the simple, the ordinary. This ordinariness actually produces something  unique and extraordinary, and, accordingly, the show should be seen by all.

Tickets to The Band’s Visit can be purchased from the show’s website.

Yayoi Kusama, With All My Love for The Tulips, I Pray Forever, 2012. Photo: Yayoi Kusama/Courtesy of David Zwirner, NY/Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai/Victoria Miro, London

 

Running through December 16th, the David Zwirner Gallery is hosting two exhibits of Yayoi Kusama’s installations: Festival of Life, in their Chelsea gallery, and Infinity Nets in their new Upper East side location.

Kusama is best known for her Infinity Rooms, a set of rooms which she creates using mirrors and various lights and objects and which are absolutely astonishing and the perfect place for an Instagram photo. Her works are bright, simple, and brilliant. In all of them, the viewer is enveloped into what feel like new worlds that they do not expect.

With the launch of the new exhibition in New York, writers Cindy Liu and Will Essilfie visited the Chelsea gallery. Here are their thoughts:

CINDY LIU

Visiting the iconic Yayoi Kusama’s newest New York exhibit installation is akin to reading a book with deliciously-quirky characters, a refreshingly-unpredictable plot, and more sensory overload than one knows how to absorb. In her paintings and sculptures, Kusama has an uncanny knack for pairing bold, brash colors in ways that are often disorienting at first, but undeniably charismatic the more one’s eyes travel across the surfaces. Her canvases ask her audience to approach the art percussively: with the openness to absorb the punches of turquoise, the flashes of Shrek green. Her sculpture is both fluid and jagged, confronting the purported delicacy of the flowers that often inspire them.

A panoramic of Kusama’s gallery.

The highlight of the show, of course, are Kusama’s infinity rooms, frustratingly transient (visitors are timed to experience the rooms for thirty seconds to one minute) and exhilaratingly immersive. Entering Let’s Survive Together, the first in the Chelsea galleries, is similar to descending in a submarine deep into the depths of some silver-laced ocean. The orbs that dangle from the ceilings, extend for millennia in the mirrors, and litter the ground seem to muffle the outside world; and indeed, this seems to be Kusama’s primary project: to create a landscape that becomes her audience’s mindscape. With All My Love for the Tulips, the next room in the collection, is more lighthearted and psychedelic, a playful contrast to the meditative, cooler Let’s Survive Together.

 

WILL ESSILFIE

Visiting the Festival of Life exhibit, it was clear how dedicated Kusama is to delivering an intimate experience. For the first of the two Infinity Rooms on display, Let’s Survive Together, only six people are allowed in at a time for exactly one minute (the staff at the exhibit have timers). The room is dazzling with large silver spheres all around you. As you explore the room, it feels like you’re floating around the galaxy in a very surreal experience. Both Cindy and I were in awe as we walked around the room and got to experience the hype of Kusama’s galleries. It was an memorable experience that is almost impossible to describe in photos alone.

Cindy and Will experience Let’s Survive Together together.

After your minute in the room is over, visitors are next sent to see With All My Love for the Tulips, a room covered in polka dots and gigantic flowers towering over you. It’s a breathtaking experience and amazing sight to see.

In With All My Love for the Tulips, Cindy and Will show their love for the tulips by snapping a quick picture together in the exhibit.

Finally, you are able to explore a large collection of Kusama’s paintings in a giant gallery. A lot of them are quite bold and beautiful, and they are amazing to see. As we explored this space, we saw many guests using the paintings as the perfect backdrop for their new profile pictures and others staring at pieces in awe of the vast range of Kusama’s skills in creating art across both 2D and 3D dimensions. This exhibit is amazing and definitely something to check out if you have the time.  

 


Tickets are free to both exhibitions, but lines can get long — especially for viewing the Chelsea galleries’ Infinity Rooms (around 2-4 hours). For more information, visit the gallery’s website here.

Composing the Missa Solemnis

Instead of a usual review, TD writes fifteen fragments. These are refractions of TD’s consciousness during listening. Judgments are to be interpreted as culminations of preceding, unwritten descriptions.

1. The Swedish Radio Choir rises and falls as a unit. Natural and pleasant, like a sleeping baby’s belly.

2. After Beethoven finished the Missa Solemnis in 1823, he wrote to Karl XIV, the king of Sweden, to cajole him into purchasing a copy. Beethoven penned two epistles, one in February and one in March. The king did not respond to either. In this performance, these Swedes answer Beethoven’s request.

3. Wow, this Kyrie! Sustained unisons resound with power. Despite movement, they seem static. The divine is immovable and motionless.

4. Beethoven: “For God, Time absolutely does not exist.”

5. Dausgaard conducts with reserved dignity. He expends just enough energy to get his desired result. Nothing is superfluous.

6. I picture how this would sound in a cathedral.

7. Michael Weinius’s movements are unpleasant. He shakes his music with despair, as if in need of literal salvation. Apparently, he enjoys Beethoven.

8. These sopranos sound like dying birds. Their staccatos are clipped and comical. They need depth to match the Credo’s message.

9. Dausgaard automates a magnificent swell in the chorus. He pricks a delicate ribbon and pulls it outward. Solemn, subterranean vibrations to boisterous exultance.

10. Whereas Weinius sounds like an overblown opera star, Malin Christensson, the soprano, transmits the divine. Pristine and peaceful, like immovable lake water in the Canadian Rockies. Repentance soars in beautiful legato.

11. Beethoven: “In the upper registers, the soprano, too, can demonstrate inner calm and joy as the evidence of peace.”

12. The famous Incarnatus. Processional dignity morphs into solemn piety. Alto soloist enters with care. A flute tries to soar over the strings. It ultimately breaks through. Ignaz Seyfried, a Viennese composer and colleague of Beethoven’s, thought that the flute was heaven’s messenger in the Annunciation.
13. Thunderous applause congratulated the mass’s Viennese premiere. Beethoven heard nothing.

14. New Yorkers, who are all critics, tend to support foreign ensembles more than the New York Phil. As evidence, a great celebration greeted the performers. They definitely heard it.

15. Dausgaard gently releases his grip on “Eleison”– and its sound flutters away. I am sad to see it go.

Photo by Jenny Anderson

 

For students with disabilities (invisible or not), feeling out of place or unrepresented in narratives is not uncommon. One place in particular where this happens is in theater. Because there is a lack of shows that speak to the experiences of people with disabilities and include in their casts people with disabilities, the theater world can at times feel exclusionary.

Gardiner Comfort, an actor based in New York, is changing that with his new one-man show “The Elephant in Every Room I Enter.” We sat down with Comfort, an actor with Tourette Syndrome, to talk about his experience bringing this new show about his experience during a trip to Washington, D.C. for a National Conference for people with Tourette’s to Off-Broadway.

 

How did you get inspired to want to become an actor?

When I was in ninth grade, I went to a new high school that fit my precise learning disabled mind. I was doing characters at the dinner table, and my mom suggested I try out for the school play, All My Sons by Arthur Miller. I got hooked from the experiences of doing play.

In your TED Talk, you talk a lot about being hesitant to, in a sense, “come out” as a person with Tourette’s Syndrome. What factors led you to decide to be more public about it?

I was diagnosed when I was 7, and it’s been hard. There have been times while acting where my tics have been a problem. Directors have difficulty working with me. When I’m on stage, though, it completely goes away. Coming out was nerve wracking: if I’m known as an actor that makes these noises, I might not get hired. People said, “If you have this, why not be more open about it and this unique difference? Why not use it?” I realized I had nothing to lose, and eventually I listened, and now I’ve been writing my whole life.

What are your goals with your upcoming opening of “The Elephant in Every Room I Enter” at Next Door at NYTW?

Honestly, it’s been a labor of love. It’s exhausting because you have to do everything. I could talk for hours about how I and my collaborator Kel have put this show together. It’s incredibly rewarding to be up there doing it and to get the attention of NYTW: it just feels gratifying. We have the best opportunity to attract the attention of major producers from regional theaters. . Hopefully, it gives us more notoriety. It’s a very beautiful, unique show. It can change lives. Our main goal is to make a beautiful piece of art, but it’s such a personal story about something most people really don’t understand. I really think it spreads awareness in a unique way.

What made you decide to make “The Elephant in Every Room I enter” a one-man show?

I think I thought about doing a one man show more than doing a show about Tourette’s. My mother is a choreographer, so I was around dance and theater growing up and saw a lot of individual one-man shows. People like David Hawk inspired me. Even in high school, I was writing short pieces and performing them through college and beyond. Doing one about my life with Tourette’s just followed from that. There’s no one who can better tell my story than me. My collaborator has considered making a screenplay about this. I really enjoy the autonomy of doing a one-man show; I love the physicalness and telling the story and breaking out into side stories. As someone whose mind is always bouncing around the place, it’s useful and great to expand on the story. I enjoy the challenge of being myself.

What should people expect from the show?

I’m very close to the Tourette’s community. To hear people in the audience ticking while I’m doing my show and getting quite close–it’s a profound, moving experience. It can bring me to tears when I hear a young person affected by the show.

I want audiences to prepare for something that is very moving. There’s personal details in it that can be painful memories, but it’s also comedic. There’s the coin of trauma and tragedy. It’s funny. I hope, but quite moving. On top of that, I think the information is rare to see, and we also put these crazy projections on the wall that are a nod to the experience of Tourette’s. It’s like offering a view into my mind. It’s a show that’s really not like anything else. There’s nothing else out there like this.

What was the process of creating this show with co-creator Kel Haney?

It took a really long time. We were in a theater residency here in NY, and we thought we’d write a story about me growing up in NY, but we didn’t have big ideas. In Spring 2014, I went down to this conference in DC (the Tourette National Conference), and my mind was blown seeing hundreds of people ticking. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and telling people about it, and Kel realized that was the subject we could write about. We weren’t sure how to really write it at first; everything kept sounding like an essay. Then, we realized that we could use the method of me telling short stories. Kel would record me and take notes, and then she had an intern transcribe the recording. Over a year long period, we ended up with this story about my week in DC. It was something neither of us have ever done before — reforming these stories to fit this narrative of a week in DC with all of these details about me.

How do you see Broadway/the theater world in general becoming more open to showcasing characters with disabilities and highlighting issues related to feeling like an outsider?

I think things are finally starting to change. I know that there have been a number of shows that highlight disabilities like Curiosity of Dog in Night Time and theaters focusing on characters with hearing disabilities like Deaf West. It’s certainly changing. There’s a lot of argument with people advocating for the disenfranchised. There’s the Apothetae theater company which performs shows with disabled actors and supports helping them perform. How do we make it possible for people to have the same chance to be in roles, especially with theaters that aren’t wheelchair accessible? I’ve definitely felt that I could lose a job because  of it.

What advice do you have for people with disabilities (invisible or not) who may feel isolated in their current communities?

It’s hard. It’s definitely a challenge. I think everyone faces their own challenge and everyone needs to meet that challenge on their own, and I think it’s important for people with disabilities to do what they love and excel at. As someone whose neurology is different, I know acting is something I can do. I know I was easily distractible, the class clown, but I’m lucky I had parents who took the time to let me find my creativity. I really believe that for people like me who think differently, you need to find what it is that you’re good at — even if doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I used to use an Etch A Sketch a lot. I wasn’t good, but I realized over time I could better “see inside” the device. It was a very meticulous, meditative experience. I got a better understanding of the machine, and it allowed my mind to work in a way that it intuitively wanted to.

When I meet young people with Tourette’s, I tell them: Don’t let the world make you think the way you think and interact is unacceptable. You don’t have to conform to every asset of the normal world — be yourself.

 

“The Elephant in Every Room I Enter” runs from November 9th to November 25th. Tickets to Gardiner’s show can be purchased here. He will be hosting talkbacks after matinee shows featuring different members from the Tourette’s community.

Guests, pre-insanity (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel, an opera based on a 1962 film directed by Luis Buñuel, is absurd. Aristocrats return to their mansion after an opera outing. They soon discover that they cannot leave the dining room. Naturally, they become crazy and turn on each other. It is the idle domesticity of Clue mixed with Lord of the Flies savagery.

I was initially concerned that Adès’s music glorified these lifeless subjects. How could he write high-strung heroisms for such ennui? Juxtaposed elements, though, frame the opera’s macabre. Lovers fondle each other naked. Luscious harmonies hug crazed language: “Birds of our coupled mouths, while death enters through our feet.” This is not a prototypical tragedy; we’re not meant to feel for the plutocrats. But the music points toward sympathy. Disparate moods compete in this creation of unreality.

Accompanying exhibition for the production. Human hands, lamb legs, and olive branches for dinner. Bon appétit!

Adès etches continuous, pulsating phrases in the love scene (See “O Albion,” from Arcadiana, for an example of this style). The music pictures a spaceship creeping through a mysterious fog. Cohesive linearity is rare in New Music aesthetics, which often favor disjunction and fragmentation.

The work clearly targets the aristocracy. After the richies go crazy, the mulling mob asks: “Are they all dead?’ Answer: “This is to be hoped.”

Could the affluent figures stand as representations of the one percent in tonight’s seats? Wealth inequality unabashedly lurks in the Met’s walls. Price of my ticket has $115 base rate, plus $7.50 service fee, and then a $2.50 facility fee (thank god for press tickets.). This is a hierarchized concert life. One price does not fit all.

The bottom-dwellers – those on the lower levels – finance opera. At intermission they chow down on über-expensive meals on the second tier, gazing out on Lincoln Center’s plaza, served by dressed-up waiters. It’s possible to witness the residual effects of aristocratic ass-kissing. Met employees grunt, curse, hold curt, stony expressions. At the ticket window, my ticket was flung at me with disgust. Misery swirls among workers. Yet, galas “celebrate” the one percent’s contributions. The Met wants to wrestle money from their coffers to supplement their seemingly-perpetually sinking finances.

Adès confronts the art form, crusting with opulence, and the Met, which stages stagnant, thoughtless “tradition” for commercial indulgence – here you will not find feminist productions of troublesome “classics.” Through financial support, donors implicate themselves in the opera’s demands: Adès skewers those who bankroll him. I wonder if ticket refunds will soon be in premium demand.