NYPress.com - New York's essential guide to culture, arts, politics, news and more » Valerie Gladstone http://nypress.com New York's essential guide to culture, arts, politics, news and more Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:05:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Behind the Hedges of a Neighborhood Oasis http://nypress.com/behind-the-hedges-of-a-neighborhood-oasis/ http://nypress.com/behind-the-hedges-of-a-neighborhood-oasis/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 16:26:57 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=72747 Carl Shurz Park is a hidden gem on the East Side, thanks to a devoted gardener and an army of volunteers

Carl Schurz Park’s 15 acres stretch along the East River above the FDR Drive from 84th to 90th Streets and inland to East End Avenue. Unless you live in the neighborhood, you have to make a special trip to go there, which makes it feel almost like a private park.

“One of the many things that are special about Carl Schurz Park,” says its executive director, David Williams, “includes its scale. It is designed pitch perfect for its location and the community that enjoys it. Unlike many other New York City parks it is not a pathway to another part of town. When you are in Carl Schurz Park you are basically there just to be in this park. There are nooks and crannies, special spots you can think are yours and yours alone.”

Named for Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz in 1910, the park was built at the edge of what was then the solidly German-American community of Yorkville. Filled with shrubbery and trees, it has winding, shady paths, dramatic rock outcroppings, basketball courts, a large playground for children and a striking waterfront view from its promenade of the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, the Triborough Bridge and Randall’s and Wards islands. Gracie Mansion, the 18th century house that serves as the mayor’s official residence, sits on a hill on its northern edge. Flowers are almost always in bloom — lilacs, honeysuckle, daffodils, hollyhocks, iris and many other varieties.

carl shurz - gardener secondary photo

City Parks gardener John Tweddle, keeper of the Carl Schurz greenery

It wasn’t always so beautiful. Williams points out recent improvements that the Conservancy helped initiate, like the well-situated gardens throughout the park, several of which were once ill-kept, and abandoned sandboxes along the Finley Walk (overlooking the river). Managed in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Conservancy navigates a vast number of suggestions from the staff and volunteers. “We are blessed with generous donors and creative volunteers whose support and dedication to the Conservancy and their community park are legendary. Being absolutely certain that we can do what we say we will do in and for the park is a mantra. And when you look at where we have come, and how lustrous this city jewel is, I think we’ve been able to get the job done.”

The landscape is maintained by City Parks gardener John Tweddle and an army of volunteers. Since 2001, he has been looking after the park, getting mulch and compost, weeding, pruning, edging, watering, buying plants, tools, and delegating tasks to the volunteers, each of whom is assigned to one of the park’s 20 zones or beds. He earned his experience tending state parks, golf courses and the Bronx and Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. A park aficionado, he walks across Central Park every morning from his home on the West Side and often finds time to wander in Riverside Park. He usually starts work around 8 a.m. and often stays until 8 p.m. “I could never tell you what I like best about the job because I love all of it,” he says. “I stay late because once I’m working on a project and I’m really getting into it, I might as well finish. I’m not going to go out at night after a day in the park.”

Dianne Olenick, the volunteer in charge of the zones, shows equal commitment. Refusing the title Zone Director, she calls herself instead “the noodge.” A neighborhood resident, she organizes the tasks and collects requests and complaints to pass on to Tweddle. Some of her volunteers work 70 hours a month and others six or seven. “Each gardener is independent,” she says. “We leave everything to their imaginations and creativity.”

She has many good things to say about the park. “What’s lovely about it is that it’s everybody’s park,” she adds. “When we’re gardening, people stop to talk and say things like a plant reminded them of a plant their grandparents had in their garden. Visitors seems to be very relaxed and happy. Every day is different there, so sweet at sun up and sun down. Spring is my favorite because there are so many irises. I love it when they burst into bloom.”

Recently, Tweddle decided the island of shrubs near the big dog run (there’s a run for small dogs as well) was too dense so he cleared it out so people could more easily use the area. Although they can stretch out on two large lawns in the central part of the park and on the hillside lawn near Gracie Mansion, he wants to give a greater feeling of space and more visibility in other sections as well. “I want everyone to see a lot of green,” he says. Winter, the longest season, poses the biggest challenge. “I try to make it more interesting,” he says. Recently, he was able to plant more evergreen trees, and has been pleased to see the camellias blooming late in the fall.

He especially loves the end of the day. “The quiet times, at dusk,” he says. “The public becomes more mellow then, too.”


 

For more on the park

You can find out what’s in bloom at carlschurzparknyc.etapwss.com /index.php/blooming, a well curated sampling of the plants at any season.

All year long, the park hosts special events including film screenings, concerts, children’s series, the Gracie Square Art Show (September 27 & 28), Halloween Howl, a dog costume event, and holiday tree lighting in December. To find out what’s going on: carlschurzparknyc.etapwss.com/index.php/events

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Nourishing Art on the East Side http://nypress.com/nourishing-art-on-the-east-side/ http://nypress.com/nourishing-art-on-the-east-side/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 20:50:08 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=72139 national academy for o_fmtThe National Academy teaches more than 1,000 students in a lavish setting

Walking into the stately Beaux Arts mansion on Fifth Avenue at 89th Street that houses the National Academy Museum and School, one would never suspect that within its handsome walls thrives a dynamic art environment where more than 1,000 students attend classes, exhibit their work and have access, as does the public, to first-class exhibitions and a permanent collection of over 7,000 works.

Established in 1825 by a group of artists and architects including Thomas Cole, Rembrandt Peale, Samuel F. B. Morse and Asher B. Durand, it is modeled after the Royal Academy in London, and has a mission to “promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.” Located on Fifth Avenue since 1939 when Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, donated their house to the institution, it prides itself on being both a distinguished museum and supporting an intimate and democratic community of artists and art lovers.

No one could better embody the National Academy’s spirit than the director of the school, Venice-born Maurizio Pellegrin, a respected artist, scholar, author, teacher and, above all, advocate for art, who has been on the faculties of Columbia University, NYU and the Rhode Island School of Design. Talking to him in a small office on an upper floor of the mansion, above the elegant galleries, he dives into conversation between meetings and teaching.

In only two and a half years on the job, he has appreciably raised the level of student work and helped make the institution far more progressive. Dressed in an orange suit adorned with a pink scarf, intense and wiry, he says, “I love it here because there’s a chance to be flexible. We attract people from different generations and jobs and provide a place for exchange. Art is humanitarian. We explore together; we debate. There’s positive energy here. We want to be a laboratory, not a place where you pay a ticket and then leave.”

One only has to look at the list of exhibits and programs to see what he is talking about. In recent months 19th century Swedish artist Anders Zorn, late 19th and early 20th century muralist Edwin Blashfield, and contemporary painter Philip Pearlstein have all been exhibited, while at the same time lectures, films, concerts and storytelling and music for families have taken place. In the recent show, “Creative Mischief,” student artists exhibit in the same galleries as the established artists. The Annual 2014 Exhibition, “Redefining Tradition,” from June 11-September 14, shows works by the Museum’s academicians.

A seasoned artist, Nancy Shapiro, only began studying at the school two years ago. “ “Maurizio is extremely inspiring. I do sculpture. He has incredible insight and looks upon each student as an individual. Sometimes he sees so deeply, it makes my head spin. He moves me to another place.”

Years in universities have made Pellegin leery of students’ anxiety about careers. “It can begin to dominate everything they do,” he says. “We teach them about business here but first they have to enjoy their creativity and make a real commitment to art and the craft of art making. You have to know art in a deep way not just a conceptual way. You’ll understand more about a painting if you know how to prepare a canvas; you’ll know more about a work of art if you know it was painted on mahogany or poplar. I believe to be an artist you have to care about architecture, fashion, cinema, photography, dance and video. I’m available 24 hours to my students. We’re like a family.”

The sense of community today is not that far removed from that of the original founders, who held the first session of the National Academy School on November 15, 1826, in the Old Alms House at City Hall Park in lower Manhattan, with two academicians and 20 students sketching by candlelight.

Monika Camillucci, who has studied there for 25 years and exhibits in New York galleries, says, “It is my home away from home. It’s my other family. I have taken every class there from painting to sculpture to printmaking, everything except video, and who knows, maybe I’ll take video next.”

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Life with John, Dustin and Harry http://nypress.com/life-with-john-dustin-and-harry/ http://nypress.com/life-with-john-dustin-and-harry/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:09:38 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=71671 q&A (should run small)_fmtEileen Haves has been a New York talent agent for four decades.

  Having John Travolta throw his arms around you in a midtown pizzeria was only one of the perks of Eileen Haves’ 40-year career as a New York talent agent. Born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, and an Upper East Side resident since her 30s, she has worked from her office in the neighborhood, along with her new orange tabby cat, Baron.

How did you get into show business?

My aunt took me along when she joined The Players, a drama school on West 72nd Street, run by June Justice, which taught children and adults. Excited to see what acting was all about, I asked my parents if I could take classes. I studied from the time I was 11 to 13. I was very shy, so the teacher started me off very simply by asking, “How are you?” When I answered, “fine,” she explained that I should say more and continue the conversation. It really wasn’t so much about acting, as learning how to talk to and approach people. By 16, I had become even brave enough to give some lessons myself to kids in my building.

JohnTravolta3_cutout_fmtWhy didn’t you pursue your acting career?

It was just too tough to find work. I wanted something steadier. And I had begun to be intrigued about other aspects of the business. My first job was with Ashley Steiner Famous Agency, which is now ICM. I started as a relief switchboard operator and then moved up to receptionist.

Who were some of your clients when you started casting for commercials?

DustinHoffman_cutout_fmtDustin Hoffman. I remember he was shy and would usually come in at lunchtime when the office was pretty deserted. This was before he and Jon Voight became famous with “Midnight Cowboy” and he starred in “The Graduate.” Jon and Ally McGraw were clients in the theater division, we called it “legit.” Funny, they all made it around the same time.

Do any huge stars stand out?

Harry Belafonte. When he came into the office, everyone – even the men – would try to get a look at him. Once my friend Norma and I set up a fake meeting in the lobby so we could pass by him. We made some fake conversation. He knew what was going on.

What are some of the biggest differences in the business between when you started and today?

There’s a lot more work but you have to work harder for it. We used to sell clients on the phone – now we do it all by email. And people certainly don’t look down on commercials. No one could get anyone to do Preparation H for awhile but I had a guy, who wasn’t phased by it at all. He said, “I’m an actor; I can do anything.” He ended up making an awful lot of money doing Preparation H commercials.

HarryBelafonte3_cutout_fmtWhat makes someone good?

A pleasant personality, always on time, polite, never gives anyone a hard time, and if you’re going to be late to an audition, calling to say so. Same for when you go on vacation – let people know. It’s amazing how much good manners count. And a pleasant voice. It takes some training.

Do your artists ever get competitive with one another?

A lot. One might call me and say, “I saw that you sent so and so out three times last week. Why didn’t you send me?” And I’ll respond, “Are you African-American in your 50s?” Since in that case it was a young white man in his 20s, there wasn’t much he could say.

Are they thankful for your help?

They all say thank you and many of them send me gifts on the holidays but I especially remember D. Wallace Stone, who went on to play the mother in the movie “E.T.” I first ran into her at a Halloween party. She was dressed as a bunny. I asked her to come into the office the next day. Someone said to me, “Eileen, don’t you ever stop working?” Anyway, much later, after she’s made a lot of commercials and “E.T.” she came back to the office to say a special thank you.

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Theater for the People http://nypress.com/theater-for-the-people/ http://nypress.com/theater-for-the-people/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 21:32:06 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=70441 Inside the Public Theater’s new public works initiative 

Oskar Eustis of The Public Theater

Oskar Eustis of The Public Theater

The luncheon had been arranged to announce The Public Theater’s remarkable new initiative for community-based theater called Public Works, which is planned for the next two years. While the organization has always been true to its name, consistently instituting programs designed to bring theater into the lives of all New Yorkers, Public Works goes further than almost any other in its 59- year history. Its debut project amply proved its value, when only a few weeks later, in early September, a thrilling production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” was performed three nights at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, with a cast of professional actors and 200 New Yorkers from community organizations.. “This was a love letter — to Shakespeare, certainly,” wrote New York Times critic, Claudia LaRocco, “but really to the city of New York.”

Inspired by a community theatrical production of “Caliban” at New York’s City College stadium in 1916, the musical play was conceived and directed by Public Works director Lear deBessonet, whose lauded production of Brecht’s “Good Person of Szechwan” is now playing at The Public Theater. The cast included members of five community partner organizations: the Children’s Aid Society in Manhattan, DreamYard in the Bronx, the Fortune Society in Queens, Brownsville Recreation Center in Brooklyn, and Domestic Workers United, from all five boroughs. Among them were the elderly, domestic workers, people recently released from prison and taxi drivers.

DeBessonet was a natural for the project. Growing up in Louisiana, she loved Mardi Gras, and its mix of people, and learned more from church services than from formal theater. Assisted by  teaching artists, she started working at the community centers last year, initiating dance, singing, poetry and acting classes and readings. “Many of the people had never seen a play,” she says, “but there was a huge hunger to participate.” Sometimes that meant acting; other times, it meant learning stage carpentry. “It was deeply satisfying,” she says.

“I felt the whole experience was a gift,” says Christine Lewis from Domestic Workers United, which has 200,000 members. “We were like the Little Engine That Could. I’ve always written poetry but this was different. Plus, I got a chance to play a significant role. I was on cloud 9.” Robyne Walker Murphy at DreamYard echoes her reaction. “Middle school children were taught how to write sonnets. One 7th grader, Chimia Hawkins, won the opportunity to read her poem on stage at The Public Theater. People’s lives were transformed. ”

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Perfecting the Storm http://nypress.com/perfecting-the-storm/ http://nypress.com/perfecting-the-storm/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 18:44:42 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=70118 Local photos memorialize the historic Hurricane Sandy

Untitled (Breezy Point) Queens, November 10, 2012 Photo by Deirdre Galvin

Untitled (Breezy Point) Queens, November 10, 2012
Photo by Deirdre Galvin0505

“Not long after Sandy,” says curator Sean Corcoran, “I decided we should do an exhibition of images that would tell the story of the storm and its repercussions. It was such an important historical event.” He put out an open call for images, at first planning to present the show six months afterwards. Then he realized that it was a developing story and that more photographs of the rebuilding should be included. In the end, he received 10,000 submissions and, in conjunction with curators from the International Center of Photography, selected 200 color and black and white images for the show, which opened on the anniversary of Sandy in October.

They decided to arrange the images chronologically, dividing them by themes. “The exhibition had to have structure,” he says. “We imposed our own guidelines, among them that we would include amateurs and professionals and that the images had to be both aesthetically interesting and advance the story.  We hoped to achieve a delicate balance between the look and the content. We have a section simply called `Home,’ which is a series of portraits of people working on their houses and facing their loss. Their faces reveal as much about what happened as the images of water engulfing the beaches and streets.”

Corcoran not only wanted to document Sandy but also to remind viewers of what happened. “A lot of New Yorkers are still dealing with the effects of the storm,” he says. “It’s not really over. I’m hoping this will spark conversation about how we might have been more prepared and how we build in the future and provide an infrastructure better equipped for this kind of catastrophe. I also hope people can relate to it on a personal level.”

“Rising Waters: Photographs of Sandy” at The Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, at 103rd Street, 212-534-1672, mcny.org.

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Making Art A.S.A.P at APAP http://nypress.com/making-art-a-s-a-p-at-apap/ http://nypress.com/making-art-a-s-a-p-at-apap/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 22:27:14 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=69934 Local festival brings dance, theater and music to town at reasonable prices 

Jane Comfort’s dance troupe

Jane Comfort’s dance troupe

 “The priority is to network,” says Scott Stoner, director of APAP, on the phone recently. “Presenters, artists and audience members get a chance to interact in ways that are not usually available to them. It’s very practical and it’s very inspiring.”

This year APAP is collaborating with other major festivals and series, including Under The Radar, globalFEST, Winter Jazzfest, Focus, Prototype and Coil, meaning any even wider range of theatrical experiences will be available. Those attending the forums get a chance to hear keynote speakers from the worlds of music, dance and theater, including Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, choreographer Kyle Abraham, dancer Wendy Whelan and actor and playwright Taylor Mac.

New England-based choreographer Adele Myers has participated for three years.  “I wanted to gain exposure,” she says. “It’s been great for the conversations with presenters, other audience members and dancers. It also gives us a chance to try out new dances. We’ve gotten work at new theaters every year. I don’t know how else that would have happened.”

Choreographer Jane Comfort echoed her words. “Something good always comes out of it,” she says. “Once I wanted to try an abstract work, which I rarely have done. The day after I showed it, I got a text from the American Dance Institute, asking if I wanted to take part in its incubation program. I had been trying to get a grant to do that. The participants need a lot of stamina but if you’re simply someone interested in any or all of these arts, it’s an incredible education.”

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Mac and Mandy Get Apocalyptic http://nypress.com/mac-and-mandy-get-apocalyptic/ http://nypress.com/mac-and-mandy-get-apocalyptic/#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2013 20:47:19 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=69219 Star power comes to Henry Street Settlement  

Mac and Mandy at Henry Street

Mac and Mandy at Henry Street

A Biblical-size flood has swept away almost everything on earth, leaving two lone survivors who have lost the ability to speak and can only communicate in song and dance. To keep up their spirits, they sing of the rise and fall of civilization to tunes ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim to Queen and R.E.M. Written by and starring two remarkable musical-theater performers, Taylor Mac and Mandy Patinkin, the unusual musical workshop production, “The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville,” comes to the stage of the Abrons Arts Center, the performing and visual arts program of the 120 year-old Henry Street Settlement, from December 14-31. It is not a surprising presentation for the Abrons Arts Center, which features some of the city’s most adventurous theater, music and dance.

While Mac’s formidable reputation rests on downtown performances, often in drag, most recently in Brecht’s “Good Person of Szechwan” at the Public Theater, Patinkin made his name on Broadway in big productions like “Evita,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” as well as in a solo show of Yiddish songs, “Mamaloshen.” Scored by Daniel J. Gerhard and directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, their first venture together should be a revelation or as Mac recently put it in a phone conversation, “A total blast and an absolute joy.”

Patinkin and Mac chose the songs together. “Everyone expected me to want alternative type songs,” says Mac, “because that’s my world but I was more drawn to the American Songbook because I don’t get a chance to sing those songs very often.” Famed for writing the acclaimed plays, “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth” and “The Lily’s Revenge,” as well as his dazzling, sequined cabaret performances, he is accustomed to rapid changes of style and mood within one play and from performance to performance. “I’m looking forward to this vaudeville after the Brecht and all its extremes,” he says.

After this workshop, Mac and Patinkin will take “The Last Two People on Earth” to theaters around the country, in hopes of bringing the show back off Broadway next year. Mac can’t wait to get the show in front of an audience. “The audience is my favorite part of acting,” he says, “though sometimes it’s my least favorite too. I believe I am a mirror and each and every one of my audience members is both snow white and the evil queen. I rely on them for a conversation; it sustains me. And I’m not talking about applause. I always discover something about my performance through the unspoken interaction. It’s what keeps me doing theater.”

“The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville” starring Taylor Mac and Mandy Patinkin at Abrons Art Center of Henry Street Settlement, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt).

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Orchestral Rock http://nypress.com/orchestral-rock/ http://nypress.com/orchestral-rock/#comments Tue, 19 Nov 2013 21:41:32 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=68929 Digging the deep roots of rock and roll

Nona Hendryx sings with BRC Orchestra

Nona Hendryx sings with BRC Orchestra

Until musicians Greg Tate and Vernon Reid and producer Konda Mason established the Black Rock Coalition in New York in 1985 the African American origins of rock music and its roots in the music of Bessie Smith, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters were almost completely overlooked. Frustrated with mainstream America’s dismissal of black rock as unsavory “race” music, they set out to show the world just how thrilling, complex and gorgeous it could be. From the beginning and still today, its energy feeds today off New York’s African American community, much of it based in Manhattan.

“There’s no question the situation has improved,” says Harlem-born, BRC member Carl Hancock Rux, the poet, author, actor, teacher and musician, in a recent phone conversation. “But there’s still a lot of room for improvement. There’s always been inherent racism in the overlooking of African Americans as the source of rock.”

No more convincing argument could be made for African American rock brilliance than one of the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra’s unforgettable concerts, mixing funk, R&B, hip hop, soul and jazz. Rux joins a star-studded line up when it performs at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University on November 23. Under the musical direction of Toshi Reagon, the group features Grammy and OBIE award winners as well as artists who have been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. They include Nona HendryxCorey Glover of Living Colour, Marc Anthony Thompson aka Chocolate Genius and Tamar-kali, among many others.

 “The ideology built around our music called it crude, rude, and promoting of sexuality,” Rux says. The Civil Rights movement and cultural rebellions of the ‘60s began to gradually change that. Still, it took the united organization of the BRC to really get people to sit up and take notice of what had been going on. “It burst to life here,” he says, “because New York represents culture and urbanity. The city has a history of musical invention. The founders grew up in the Civil Rights movement: they knew about the struggles and the taboos connected with black rock. Tired of the shame associated with the music, they reclaimed it. With the BRC, a page was turned.”

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Keigwin on the Canvas http://nypress.com/keigwin-on-the-canvas/ http://nypress.com/keigwin-on-the-canvas/#comments Tue, 29 Oct 2013 17:53:13 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=68579 Local choreographer gets busy at the Joyce Theater

Graciano Photography

Graciano Photography

“I’m always ready to branch off and explore,” he says in a recent phone call. “I’m interested in all different forms of theater, and working with all kinds of performers.”

Keigwin + Company comes to the Joyce Theater October 29-November 3, with an engrossing and varied program, featuring “Canvas,” a dance exploring and contrasting balletic and contemporary styles, set to a cinematic score by Adam Crystal. Opening night it will be performed by his troupe and the New York City Ballet dancers, Tiler Peck, Robbie Fairchild, Daniel Ulbricht and Lauren Lovette. “Girls,” a female trio, to Frank Sinatra songs, and two older, delightfully playful and poignant works, “Natural Selection” to music by Michael Gordon and “Mattress Suite,” set to Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Verdi’s “La Traviata, and “At Last,” sung by Etta James, complete the line up.

Keigwen’s “Canvas” at the Joyce Theater

Keigwen’s “Canvas” at the Joyce Theater

“Canvas” grew out of his residency at the Vail International Dance Festival in 2010, and the support of the director Damian Woetzel. A dazzling work, it showcases his formidable talents as a constructor of complex and dynamic spatial designs and his genius at showcasing the talents of his remarkable dancers. He describes his technique as, “assembling a collage.” Though it garnered praise from critics and cheers from the audience at its premiere at Vail last summer, he promises that it will look even better at the Joyce. “We’ll have shimmery curtains in gold, red, purple and blue, and the dancers will play in and out of them,” he says. “It will have lots more pizzazz.” Pizzazz is something you can always count on at a Keigwin performance.

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Armory’s Forces http://nypress.com/armorys-forces/ http://nypress.com/armorys-forces/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 20:28:12 +0000 http://nypress.com/?p=68124 Season’s greetings at the Park Avenue Armory 

Massive Attack at The Armory

Massive Attack at The Armory

Now a haven for a wide ranging arts projects, it has featured among its many outstanding presentations, the 9,216-square-foot action painting “Greeting Card” by Aaron Young, made of burned out tire marks produced by speeding motorcycles, the Royal Shakespeare Company performing five plays in a duplicate of its home theater, installations by Ernesto Neto, Christian Boltanski and Ann Hamilton, Peter Greenaway’s multimedia Leonardo’s Last Supper, an immersive tribute to Merce Cunningham, and choreographer Elizabeth Streb’s acrobatic “Kiss the Air.” 

“Our mission is to present work that otherwise might never be done,” says Rebecca Robertson, the Park Avenue Armory president and executive producer. “The space doesn’t dictate. Therefore, artists can develop their ideas anyway that they want. Every artist surprises us.” 

The new season began with a compelling production of British playwright, Matt Charman’s The Machine, a depiction of the epic 1997 New York chess tournament between chess phenomenon Garry Kasparov and a super computer called Deep Blue, developed by IBM and mastermind Dr. Feng-Hsiung Hsu. It runs through September 18. A co commission by the Park Avenue Armory, Donmar Warehouse and Manchester International Festival in England, where it had its premiere, the play is staged by Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke like a sports event, with seats around a four-sided chess board, while a giant scoreboard and video cameras record the action on a large screen television. 

“Nothing prepares you for the majesty of the Armory,” says scenic and costume designer Lucy Osborne. “The challenge was to create the atmosphere of a sports arena.” For research, she visited Madison Square Garden. Returning to the task invigorated, she created a complete 360-degree environment, with raked seating, so that audiences will have an intense sense of focus and feeling like they are almost falling into the chessboard.   

The match between Kasparov and Deep Blue always fascinated Charman, who thinks of it as a boxing match. He studied the contenders’ backgrounds, more interested in the psychological aspects of the match than in chess itself. “I applied all the basic rules of storytelling,” he says, “trying to figure out why people do things, wanting to empathize with their motives.” He did the same kind of research into the characters close to them, including Kasparov’s mother and the members of the Deep Blue team. “Casting was tough,” he adds. “We had to build a family. We wanted an ensemble feel. We wanted the rigor of truthfulness. We got it.” 

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