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Downtown Arts Festivals Kick Off in January

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Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd, photo by Ian  Douglas
Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd, at the American Realness festival,  photo by Ian Douglas

Editor’s note:  This festival roundup is from our Arts contributor, Robin Schatell.

Happy New Year LES! It has been a while since I last wrote about our local arts scene. But what a time to start again. Winter festival season starts this week in NYC. Some of the newest work by local, national and international theater, dance, opera, and music artists will be performed right here on the LES over the next month in what has become known as JanArtsNYC.

JanArtsNYC is a partnership among eleven independent multidisciplinary festivals, performing arts industry and international marketplace gatherings. Every January more than 45,000 performing arts leaders, artists, and enthusiasts from across the globe converge in New York City for JanArtsNYC, making it one of the largest and most influential gatherings of its kind.

Lucky for us, three of these festivals are based right here in the LES and the East Village, and have become fixtures of the New York theater season:

The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival (January 4 – 15) is now in its 14th year. This year’s highly anticipated program features a trove of work by theater artists from across the U.S, and around the world including Cuba, China, Canada, Italy, Japan, UK, Poland, and Slovenia. The festival is curated by UTRFestival Director Mark Russell.

Performance Space 122’s Coil Festival (January 10–February 4) celebrates the opening of its newly renovated, column-free space at 150 1st Ave., after nearly six years presenting work in partnership with venues across New York City.  The Coil Festival has presented cutting edge, multidisciplinary performance since 2006.

American Realness (January 9 – 16) is a festival of experimental dance and performance created by downtown impresario Thomas Benjamin Snapp Pryor. It is co-presented with Abrons Arts Center and Gibney Dance. This year’s line-up boasts three world premieres, four North American premieres, four New York City premieres and six encore engagements.

Whew! If that’s not enough, all three festivals have expanded their reach this year to venues throughout New York City. There are the usual suspects like the East Village’s LaMama etc., and Danspace Project, and LES’s Abrons Arts Center. But if you are up for traveling outside of the ‘hood, you can catch shows at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, Invisible Dog Art Center and BRIC house in Brooklyn, or Gibney Dance on Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan–an easy 20-minute walk from the LES.

In addition, across town in Soho, HERE Art Center presents PROTOTYPE, its premier festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre, running January 7-20.

Bleecker Street’s Le Poisson Rouge is the home base for Winter Jazzfest (January 10 – 17) a multi-venue festival that has become a hub of the New York City jazz scene since its inception in 2005, with performances by contemporary jazz musicians from around the world.

Some of these shows are already sold-out – like Toshi Reagon’s Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, at Joe’s Pub, as part of UTR, and the Coil Festival’s Jupiter’s Lifeless Moons by Dane Terry. Hopefully both will get longer runs later in the season, but there are plenty of other exciting shows to choose from — plus, late night parties, talks, and panel discussions.

Here are a few of my top picks:


Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)
 Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw: Split Britches


Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)
is a new exploration of ageing, anxiety and ‘doomsday,’ created through conversation and collaboration with an array of elders and artists. Developed between the UK and US, pioneering theatre-makers Weaver and Shaw have created a unique production, combining darkly playful Dr. Strangelove-inspired performance with a daring new protocol for public discussion–the Situation Room. Co-presented by LaMama Experimental Theatre Club.

January 4-21 La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club 66 East 4th Street, Manhattan Tickets: $25 | www.lamama.org

 Janek Turkowski (Poland)

In 2008, Janek Turkowski discovered a cardboard box containing 64 reels of 8mm film in a North German market close to the Polish border. Each reel consisted of images of the same woman, Margarete Ruhbe. Using digital and 8mm projections that he edited from the found footage, Margarete
 unfolds from Turkowski’s curiosity-driven purchase to his private investigation into the identity of a woman who left only a brief but indelible mark through home movies.

January 4-15The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan Tickets Start at $25 www.undertheradarfestival.com

Thunderstorm 2.0
 Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental & Wang Chong (China)

Thunderstorm 2.0 at NYU Skirball Center
Thunderstorm 2.0 at NYU Skirball Center

Cao Yu’s early 20th-century drama Thunderstorm, regarded as a masterpiece in Chinese theater, is dismantled and reassembled in this new interpretation- Thunderstorm 2.0
, helmed by internationally acclaimed director Wang Chong. Using real-time video editing and sound mixing from action occurring on stage, a hypnotic, near- silent movie unfolds to tell the explicit story of two female characters discovering that they have been cheated on by the same womanizing playboy. Performed in Chinese with English supertitles. Co-presented by NYU Skirball.

January 6-7NYU Skirball | 566 LaGuardia Place Tickets: $25 | www.nyuskirball.org 

The Hendrix Project
 Roger Guenveur Smith & CalArts Center for New Performance (USA)

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Jimi Hendrix’s electronic blues trio, Band of Gypsys, played a legendarily funky concert at New York City’s Fillmore East. Twelve disciples have gathered in the upper balcony to bear witness, in The Hendrix Project
, as heat is brought to a nation caught in mid-winter chill. As “bullets fly like rain,” at home and abroad, the ensemble movingly reimagines an iconic moment in rock and roll history through the timeless power of Hendrix’s music. It’s the end of the Sixties. And Jimi Hendrix’s final New Year’s Eve.

January 11-14 BRIC House | 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn |Tickets: $25 | www.undertheradarfestival.com


The Way You Look (at me) Tonight | Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis – NYC Premiere

Leading UK disabled artist Claire Cunningham and San Francisco/Berlin based choreographer and performer Jess Curtis’, The Way You Look (at me) Tonightcombines performance, original music, and video to wrestle (sometimes literally) with important questions about our habits and practices of perceiving each other and the world.

 January 10 – 13 Gibney Dance 280 Broadway (Entrance at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan|  Single Tickets $25Gibney Festival Pass $20gibneydance.org

Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd | Ishmael Houston-Jones & Miguel Gutierrez with Nick Hallett and Jennifer Monson  

John Bernd, a pivotal figure in the New York downtown dance scene of the early 1980s, died at age 35 of complications of AIDS. Variations revisits and reconstructs dances and images, and collages themes and excerpts from his body of work to interrogate the effects of his loss on work made today.  Co-presented by Danspace Project and Gibney Dance.

January 11 – 13 Danspace Project, 131 East 10th Street, Manhattan Advance Tickets $22  Danspace Project Members $15Door Tickets $25  DanspaceProject.org

#PUNK Nora Chipaumire

Nora Chipaumire - PUNK, photo credit: Jesus Robisco
Nora Chipaumire – PUNK, photo credit: Jesus Robisco

#PUNKpart of a multi-part song cycle inspired by Chipaumire’s formation, growing up in 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s Zimbabwe, takes its cue from Patti Smith’s iconic song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger.”

 January 11 – 13, 10:00pm Abrons Arts Center, Playhouse, 466 Grand Street, Manhattan  Single Tickets $25 / Abrons Festival Pass $20 / Abrons Arts Center.org


visions of beauty | Heather Kravas (New York Premiere)

Punk in attitude, feminist in spirit and deliberately anti-spectacle, visions of beauty  is a dance about itself and the compulsive, lopsided, angry, funny, frustrating and redemptive messiness of everything.

January 10 – 13 Performance Space 122 150 First AvenueTickets $15–$25 ps122.org

he his own mythical beast | David Thomson  

David Thomson (USA) he his own mythical beast
David Thomson (USA)
he his own mythical beast

Dance maker David Thomson’s he his own mythical beast  is a meditation on the mythologies and contradiction of identity, race, gender, and the black body in post-modern American culture. Photo credit 

January 31 – February 4 Performance Space 122 150 First Avenue|  Tickets $15–$25 ps122.org


Black Inscription (World Premiere) Composers Matthias Bossi, Jeremy Flower, & Carla Kihlstedt Lyricist Carla Kihlstedt

Black Inscription at HERE, Photo by Valentina Suarez
Black Inscription at HERE, Photo by Valentina Suarez

A free diver descends into the depths of the ocean, never to resurface. As her terrestrial ties dissolve, she embarks upon an Odyssean journey. Black Inscription is a multimedia contemporary song cycle written by a team of veteran creators, drawing on the most powerful aspects of rock, classical, and pop music. Through music, sound and imagery, Black Inscription plunges us into our oceans and fills us with wonder, outrage, and hope.

January 11 – 20HERE’s Dorothy B. Williams Theatre 145 Sixth Avenue Tickets $30 prototypefestival.org


 A Tribute to Geri Allen


On Martin Luther King’s Birthday Winter Jazzfest will honor the memory of the late pianist-composer-educator and innovator, Geri Allen, who passed in June 2017, weeks after celebrating her 60th birthday A Tribute to Geri Allen with music direction by Terri Lyne Carrington, features Angela Davis, Esperanza Spalding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Maurice Chestnut, Ravi Coltrane, and S. Epatha Merkerson, plus more.


January 15 New School Tishman Auditorium, 63 5th Ave|  Tickets $65 winterjazzfest.com


Robin Schatell has been an active NYC arts & culture advocate, producer, manager, and curator for nearly three decades.  She lives on Grand Street in Lower Eastside.


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