Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fascinating Upcoming Events

Three events in Los Angeles that promise to be super-cool and probably very weird as well. If I were in town, I would be going!

1. Start the Tape Now Saturday July 9, 2005 7:00pm REDCAT
We are pleased to present a program focused on artistic practice and performance. From stories of punk rock rival yo-yo/skate gangs to fantastic feminist news networks, this program brings together herstorical tapes and recent pieces by contemporary artists. Sit back and look forward!
--curated by LTTR (Lesbians to the Rescue) collective.
Now Linda Benglis, USA, 1973, video, 10 min.
Electric At The Cosmic Age Lodge AK Burns, USA, 2005, video, subtitled, 3 min.
The Yoyo Gang G.B. Jones, Canada, 1992, video, 30 min.
Sometimes You Fight For The World, Sometimes You Fight For Yourself
Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz, Germany, 2004, video, 5 min.
Working Portraits Maîa Cybelle Carpenter, Canada, USA, 2005, 16mm, subtitled, 8 min.
Mock Rock Ulrike Muller, USA, 2004, video, 3 min.
550 Jamaica Ave. Klara Liden, USA, 2002, video, 5 min.
Searching For The Fourth River Fereshteh Toosi, USA, 2003, video, 2 min.
Strangers Carola Dertnig, Austria, 2003, video, 3 min.
New Report Wynne Greenwood, Kate K8 Hardy, USA, 2005, video, 12 min.

2. F- (The Failures of Queerness)
(also Saturday night right after the LTTR screening at REDCAT)
my (emily roysdon) video "social movement" is in this program
Curated by Kevin McCarty and José Esteban Muñoz. Queers fail - and often fail miserably. If standards are set by a horrific straight culture - a culture that feeds on reproduction and mediocrity - how can we help but fail? The media that we present here ruminates on queerness and failure. Or failures of queerness. Or queerness as failure. We are interested in failures both large and small, sublime and gory. Performances include the trials and tribulations of having a hustler boyfriend, the sad life and times of sexy serial killer Andrew Cunanan and the various stories of queers being lost.
Push It David Quantic, Abe Sylvia, USA, 2005, video, 4 min. LYPI Jim Stamatakos, Australia, 2004, video, 4 min.
Is Bigger Better? A.L. Steiner, USA, , 6 min. Portrait of Wrongness Coco Frio, USA, , 5 min.
I Feel Love Matt Wolf, USA, 2004, video, 15 min. My Hustler Boyfriend Peter Pizzi, USA, , 4 min.
Bigger Alberto Ferreras, USA, 2004, video, 13 min. Social Movement Emily Roysdon, USA, 2005, subtitled, 8 min.
The King and I Johnathan Horowitz, USA, , 2 min. Destination to be Determined Seema Kapur, USA, , 20 min.
Let Me Nao Bustamante, video, 25 min. Accompanied by a live performance, this video invokes primal forces that may indeed destroy us all.
To purchase tickets for the screenings: 213-480-7065 Box Office

3. LTTR performance! event at The ECHO 1822 sunset blvd.
it's early, 7-10 on sunday the 10th
Butchlalis de Panochitlan
Nao Bustamante
Tracy and the Plastics

The annual queer feminist art journal LTTR was initiated by artists K8
Hardy, Emily Roysdon, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi in New York in 2001 with
the first issue, whose title was an acronym for Lesbians To The Rescue. In
2005, Lanka Tattersall and Ulrike Müller joined as editors. In addition to
the journal, LTTR initiates events, organizes exhibitions, and supports and
documents the work of a community of critical thinkers who reject absolute
self-definition and identification. In Summer 2004, in conjunction with the
release of its third issue Practice More Failure, LTTR organized Explosion
LTTR at Art in General, a dynamic month-long series of events, collaborative
projects and exhibitions that celebrated and supported an international
community of queer and feminist artists. LTTR projects have also been held
at Cubitt Gallery, London, LACE in Los Angeles, The Kitchen, New York,
and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Issue 4, "Do You Wish to Direct Me?,"
will be released at Printed Matter in NYC in late September 2005.

CTG Update

The LA Times posted a new article about the CTG New Works cuts. It features various playwrights who have had relationships with the Taper, including Anna Deveare Smith and John Belluso who ran the Other Voices program, writing short responses about the cuts. They try to offer measured and balanced consideration, desperately hoping that new and better things will rise from the loss. There's the mixed feeling that perhaps forcing multiculturalism by specifically targeting certain minorities wasn't the ideal program anyway, but it is nonetheless a loss and the problem of diversity is by no means resolved. They seem mostly to be mourning the loss of a community of writers from a program that brought them together. It's an interesting and important article and I hope it gets some attention. I'd still like to hear from more playwrights and Brian Freeman, Luis Alfaro, and Chay Yew, the other directors who lost their jobs.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Fresh Meat

This is one of those events that I would have driven up to San Francisco for if I had been living in LA at the time, and even with that insanity it would have been worth it. Fresh Meat 2005 was an excellent evening of performance by various transgender and queer performers of all sorts. The big-name people that are fairly famous (at least in the circles I travel in) were Lipstick Conspiracy, a rock group of fabulous transwomen and Katastrophe, a trans rapper. I'll admit that I mostly know Katastrophe because he's Michelle Tea's boyfriend, but now that I've seen him perform, I'm pretty impressed with him in his own right. Both of these acts totally made me want to buy their CDs, and if I were less broke and homeless at the moment, I would totally order them. So the list of queer CDs to buy in October when I get my next real paycheck now includes Lesbians on Ecstacy, Lipstick Conspiracy, and Katastrophe.

But back to Fresh Meat. The first thing I learned was that Michelle Tea was there, and was much smaller than I expected. She has such a big personality! She goes in the category with Holly Hughes as suprisingly tiny and you wouldn't suspect it until you see them live. She was totally kissing Katastrophe in the lobby, which was way cute. Awww. He's tiny, too, and they look adorable (and tough) together.

The show itself was mostly fabulous, but, of course, the highlight for me was Turner Schofield. I first saw him perform at the GQQG Conference in Santa Barbara, and he performed a much smaller exerpt of the same show, Debutant Balls. Debutante Balls (which, I'm sorry, but I don't like the title of; it makes me picture some large hairy bear man in a dress, and I don't know why. I feel like it should be the title of a performance by someone who looks more like Guillermo Gomez-Pena and less by adorable, sweet, gentlemanly Turner). He's a charming, powerful performer with so much charisma and humor that I'm always hanging off his every word. The piece is really polished and well-paced and so funny! But he deals a lot with gender and class and whiteness issues (good for him!) and actually thinks about them, which is wonderful. I really hope that I get to see the whole show performed straight through sometime.

6 Hours was a new piece by Sean Dorsey of Fresh Meat Productions. My disclaimer is that I'm really bad at talking about dance, but I find his work very entertaining. I definitely appreciate the fact that it's set to a narrative, and this time some of the narrative was even spoken live. Dorsey has a fascinating storytelling voice, and that is definitely a part of what makes his performances so beautiful. This one was a little less cute than Second Kiss, which I've seen him perform twice now, but wonderful in different ways. It's so honest about the way we fight and the way we hurt people who are close to us when it's completely different things that are bothering us. The piece was about a road trip with a girlfriend, six hours in the car to meet a father with whom the narrator is not out as trans. Some of the first movements in the piece looked very similar to some of those in Second Kiss so I was a little worried at first that this wasn't going to be particularly different or creative, but they got a way from that fairly quickly. Sean performs with a female dancer, Mair Culbreth, and there's a lot of mimicking and following one person to the other, which always makes me question the gender politics, but it's really about power in the relationship and who leads and who follows does change depending on what's going on in the story. I really appreciated the section describing the girlfriend as being supportive and understanding of the narrator's bad mood which was illustrated by some beautiful lifts where she lifted him. In my limited understanding of dance, that's a pretty powerfully gendered statement. The whole thing was lovely and very entertaining in my opinion. I wonder if swolf would go with me again if he comes to perform it again in LA.

ryka aoki de la cruz performed a piece called "Randori" that was about judo and the possibilities of pain and injury. It was beautiful and disturbing.

I would have liked to see more by Thea Hillman, spoken word artist and intersex activist. She's fascinating and mesmerizing and very intelligent. And I have every intention of buying her book, Depending on the Light one of these days.

The TransAms Babershop Quartet were also fascinating and I would have loved to see more by them. It's just such a great idea. I want to see T6 in a barbershop quartet; wouldn't that be so cute?

I'm unclear about how queer or transgender it was, but The Extra Credit is a group of all women hip hop dancers and they were wonderful and fun performers.

Other performers included a stunning aerial hoop performance by Miguel Chernus-Goldstein, and East Indian dance by Dr.Jafer, a humorous burlesque number by Harlem Shake Burlesque, and a gospel song by Jamie Armstrong-Pouncy who is also a member of Transcendence Choir. Johnnie Pratt performed with Thea Hillman and Scarletto performed with Katastrophe. Luster (Sile P. Singleton) of IDKE fame emcee'd.

All of the performances of the evening were very high quality, and if you have a chance to see any of these performers, I highly recommend them. I'm not entirely sure about the organization of the evening. I feel like it perhaps ended on a meditative note rather than a rockin' one, and that might not be the most successful plan for them. I think it would have been better to sandwich the more meditative pices (especially Jamie Armstrong Pouncey, Miguel Charnus-Goldstein and possibly Thea Hillman and Johnny Pratt) between the more energetic numbers. If there's any way to make people leave the theater dancing, they're way more prone to a standing ovation, and probably buying things and donating money as well.

Speaking of which, Saturday night they had two back-to-back performances, one at 7:30 and one at 9:30, and this was a PROFOUNDLY bad idea. They weren't spaced out enough, so at the first performance (which I attended), they had to rush people out and I believe they even cut a down some of the performances (one of the songs by the TransAms and one by Scarletto and Katastrophe, plus the Viragos didn't beform Saturday night), although Lipstick Conpiracy instead isn't much of a sacrifice. But the really bad news about this (having to keep the show to 2 hours isn't exactly a bad idea really) was after rushing us out to the street after the show meant that there wasn't much of an opportunity to talk to the performers (I'm going to actually meet Sean Dorsey one of these days, now that I've seen him peform 3 times!) or to buy things after the show. I was totally out of cash, but I would have gladly purchased Lipstick Conspiracy and Katastrophe CDs and I keep saying I'm going to buy Thea Hillman's book. But I felt so hurried (ok, and I was broke) at the end that I really didn't feel like I had an opportunity to do this. I need to be better about this, and just buy CDs and books at shows when I want them, because I always regret it later.

Also, the thing that made my evening was Turner Schofield standing out on the street in tiny leopard-print boyshorts collecting donations for next year's event after the show. He said "I feel like I'm doing sexwork." Silly boy, all theater is sexwork, and it has been from the beginning (trust me, I can tell you all about Roman actresses/prostitutes). But it was interesting coming from him, since he's so sexy onstage. I don't know what it is about him, but seriously, seeing him perform makes me want to kiss him. This boy is going to be a star (well, at least in the tiny little land of queer theater).

Despite small organizational criticisms, the show was exellent and I'm so glad things like this happen and that I got to see it. My congratulations to all the out and proud queer and trans performers that I saw last night. Good for you!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Queer Time

I just finished reading Judith Halberstam's In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives and I have a very complex relationship to it. There's a part of me that wants to fall in love with everything she writes, because she's rather brilliant and writes and talks very readably and I agree with so much of her politics and her subject matter. But I recognize that the fact that I think Jack is intellectually attractive (and cute, of course), doesn't mean that everything she writes is perfect. But it does always make me want to know her better, and that's something in itself.

First of all, I think everything Halberstam says and does is really about herself. She has a very complex relationship to masculinity and her own female-born body and while she rarely talks about her own identity issues in her work, it's very much there underneath everything else. This is true of Female Masculinity and it's true of In a Queer Time and Place as well. I really wish she'd write an article or autobiographical novel or something about her own personal identity and her relation to her subjects, because it really feels like the elephant in the room in all of her work. And while she meticulously catalogues and describes various manifestations of female masculinities and trans masculinities, she doesn't always address the relationships between them in ways that need to be continuously discussed. The chapter in Female Masculinity about the "Border Wars" was fascinating, and it came out of an article that apparently caused even more trouble, but I don't think that's all there is to be said. Things like SEC's deep suspicion of Jack and her general dislike of transmen "because they often tend not to be feminists" is fascinating and problematic. So is the fact that one of my transguy friends said that it's offensive that I identify as a lesbian and yet admit that I'm occasionally attracted to and would consider dating a transman. Where does Halberstam stand in all of this? Why has she chosen not to transition (not that I'm complaining...) and how much does she identify herself as transgender? Does she often pass? How do her identity and her academic career relate? How does she theorize her own gender? What are her investments in the communities she studies? It's not entirely clear. As a feminist, I want her to situate herself. Plus I want to know when or whether to call her 'Judith' or 'Jack' when I see her at conferences and in bars. In this entry I will discuss her as female because that it the name under which the book is published.

That's my concern with Halberstam's work in general, but In a Queer Time and Place raises a different issue for me. It seems to want to say too much without quite enough exploration. There are so many different ideas and different subjects circulating in the book that I feel that none of them are explored or tied back together particularly well. There are 3 or 4 things she talks about that probably need and deserve books of their own.

The main issues that jumped out at me, probably because it relates to my own work, is queer temporality. She defines normative (heterosexual) temporality as the cycle of birth, adolescence, maturity, marriage, reproduction, death. Queers, at least those that resist normativity and assimilation, don't follow the same timeline. She talks about the AIDS crisis and how that altered perceptions of time and lifetimes in the queer community, but also that queers who avoid the imperative toward marriage and reproduction remain invested in queer subcultures much longer in their lives and thus can be perceived in a state of prolonged adolescence. This statement can be pretty provocative in relationship to a long history of pathologizing homosexuality as a failure of proper psychological development and the whole "it's just a phase" thing, but Halberstam means to valorize it as a disruption of the concept of maturity and marriage as ultimate goals. Queer lifestyles can be used to rethink imperatives such as monogomy and reproduction or even just "settling down." These are disruptions to normative conceptions of time and progress, which are important to challenge.

Another important element of the book that doesn't get as much attention and support as I think it needs in the book is the idea that transgender identities and gender fluidity became important and visible at this particlar moment at the end of the 20th century at the same time that we were discussing the fluidity of global capital and dissolution of other forms of borders. A kind of fascination with transgenderism is valorized as the epitome of postmodernism (ie Judith Butler), but that has more to do with the discourses surrounding all aspects of life at the moment than it is any real reflection on actual people. I'd love to hear more about what Halberstam has to say about this, but it's not particularly well supported in the book.

Then there's the subcultural theory that moves throughout the book and is possibly intended as the throughline, though I didn't find it quite as compelling as some of the other ideas. She takes popular standard theories about subcultures and how the are assimilated into mainstream cultures and draws attention to the fact that these theories were based on heterosexual subjects who can become part of the mainstream. Because queer subcultures have something that unites them beyond that mainstream and prevents them from ever completely identifying with the dominant culture, they can have a sort of continuity that others may not.

Each of the chapters of the book has very different objects of study: the first three are about Brandon Teena himself and representations of him and other transgender subjects. Then there's a chapter about visual art, one about mainstream film (Austin Powers and The Full Monty) and one about musical subcultures. In a lot of ways they seem more like a collection of unrelated essays without a strong throughline. Though each is quite fascinating in itself, they way they connect and work together isn't as strong as it could be. This feels like 2 or 3 different books, each of which is incredibly important but unfinished.

One major critique that I feel that I ought to voice is that the "transgender bodies" that Halberstam discusses are almost exclusively FTM. There are very few mentions of transwomen at all, and they get only glancing discussions. I don't think that it is in any way a bad thing that Halberstam's subject is almost exclusively transgender masculinity, I just feel as if she ought to discuss that.

With all of that said, I think it's a fascinating and brilliant book, and there are several parts of it which I would like to discuss with various friends if only everyone I know had read it. I will most likely talk about it and recommend it frequently, and it will be quite useful in my Salad of the Bad Cafe paper on which I should be working right now. It raises some important questions, and leaves room for quite a bit more work to be done. I wonder what she's working on next?

Meditations on Watching Dance

Last night my roommate and I saw the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform at the Ahmanson. For the first half of the evening, they performed a dance called Fabrications that Merce choreographed in 1987. The second half was a piece called Split Sides that he recently developed (2003). It was performed to music by Radiohead and Icelandic musicians Sigur Ros. Both pieces were fascinating, but they also made me realize how little I know about watching and writing about modern dance, or any dance really. I don't really feel like I know where to start in describing these pieces at all. I watch very little dance, actually, although one of my good friends at school is a dance critic and I've taken several classes that involve discussing and analyzing dance. I always say that I should watch more dance, that it would be good for me intellectually to be familiar with a wider range of culture and dance is in many ways very much like theater. And yet, I rarely do attend dance performances or analyze dance in any way. I probably wouldn't have gone to the Cunningham either, except that I could convince my roommate to go with me. You see, Cunningham is gay and his partner was musician John Cage for something like 50 years before Cage's death in 1992. My roommate studies John Cage, so even though neither of the pieces performed had music by Cage, we both felt like it was something we should see. And I'm very much glad we did. The dances were beautiful and fascinating and intellectually stimulating.

The first piece, Fabrications, I won't spend much time describing. It was interesting and quite compelling. In the post-show discussion, Cunningham informed us that he created it by choreographing 64 different movement sequences and then rolling a die to determine the order in which they would be performed. In recalling it, the things that I remember most were the costumes; the men wore solid colored pants and dress shirts, mostly in black and white though one man was in bright blue. The women wore very simple 1940s-style dresses but with leggings under them. The movement sequence that I liked best was one in which a single woman danced with all the men, but she led them in some very masculine movements, taking up space as one of the men. It was a great contrast to images of dance in which the women are passed around and maniuplated by the men. The whole piece was quite striking visually, but its approach to gender was what I found most interesting.

The second piece, Split Sides, was the fascinating and exciting one. It began with audience members onstage rolling dice to determine which of two music pieces (Sigur Ros or Radiohead), costumes (black and white or brightly colored), music pieces (A or B), lighting plots, and "decor" (backdrops). The effect of this was that I spent the whole time imagining the other possible combinations that I could have been seeing. It really dramatized the 'absent potential' (a term from Sandra Richards that doesn't have much to do with Merce Cunningham as she conceives it) of all the performances you could be seeing with different combinations of the same elements. Another interesting tidbit was that the Sigur Ros piece involved some live music, which was played by, among others, Christian Wolff. The instrument he played looked very much like a bunch of ballet slippers (they were, actually, ballet slippers, over a series of microphones). And Christian Wolff, my roommate informs me, worked and studied with John Cage and is a famous composer in his own right. The music throughout the evening was an interesting combinations of sound that sounded very natural, like rain or wind, and sounds that sounded very mechanical, like microphone pops and machinery. The movement was developed entirely independent from the music, so the moments in which they interacted and the moments in which they seemed to clash were both exciting. The whole thing was fascinating and stunning and I'm really glad that I got to see it.

The more academically exciting thing about the performance was that Merce Cunningham was actually there, and he even did a little post-show discussion. When he walked onstage to take a bow at the end, he was tottering with a cane and someone to lean on. It's always great to see someone I've read so much about and to hear him talk about his process and his work. Despite all of the mechanical sounds and the fact that he uses a computer and dice to help decide his choreography, he frames his work as questioning and challenging ideas of what movements are possible. It's a great way to think about dance, and about the relationship we can have to technology.

Friday, June 03, 2005

How cool is this?

Phranc is hosting a Tupperware Party tomorrow afternoon to support gay marriage legislation.

This Saturday, Pholk Rock legend, Phranc, will be entertaining as she presents the summer line of Tupperware items. Our movement will be directly impacted as 40% of every purchase will got to Equality California and help support the Los Angeles County Chapter.

Event Date: Saturday, June 4, 2005
Time: 1-3 PM
Address: 6020 Elmer St., North Hollywood, CA 91606


Can I call that performance art?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

With So Much Style, Who Needs Substance?

Tonight I saw The Hot Mikado at UCLA. It was a production of the undergraduate musical theater program and had several of my students in it, and it was absolutely wonderful. I was totally impressed by how talented these kids are. They've been working really hard on this show and it totally paid off - every single one of them were strong dancers with gorgeous voices and great acting talent. I'm completely amazed.

Now, unfortunately, the show itself was not nearly as breathtaking as the performers in it. It was vaguely postmodern in that it was self-referential, but it was mostly intellectually empty. And the racial politics made me cringe. It was a mostly white cast performing a show set in a Harlem jazz club/Japan. The recurring joke was "Hey! This note is written in Japanese. Oh, wait, WE'RE Japanese." There was some ethnic diversity in the cast, but they were for the most part white, especially the boys. The exception was Sterling Suileman as The Mikado. He entered for a show-stopping tap number at the top of Act II, doing what was at moments an excellent Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation, although it faded in and out. It was interesting to have the only African-American man onstage be the most powerful character.

The Mikado's son, with no family resemblance was Chris Fore as Nanki-Poo and he was completely compelling, which is pretty impressive for a role with the development of a cartoon character. He was a cross between the sweet but vulnerable "good guy" (think Jimmy Stewart)and Micky Mouse, complete with high voice. It was absolutely charming. From the moment he opened his mouth I wanted him to get the girl, and I wanted to see him perform more romantic lead and earnest young man roles.

The other highpoint was Robert Bastaron as KoKo, the Lord High Executioner. Robert's interpretation of the character didn't seem to make a lot of sense at first, because he didn't seem too particularly heterosexual. He wore thick glasses and ran around the stage telling us that certain dance moves were "Fosse" or "Busby Berkeley." I kept thinking "I'm supposed to believe this guy really wants to marry Yum-Yum? Please. He'd be happier with one of the boys." But the queer content came out when he had to seduce Katishaw. She was an 'older woman' and they very quickly established a very kinky S/M relationship. KoKo as a kinky bottom thoroughly resolved his latent homosexuality in my opinion, and I loved the queerness of the heterosexual relationship. If he had to be in the closet, what a fun way to do it. In my opinion, they could have gone a little more over the top with the S/M. I would have liked to see some fetish gear, handcuffs, something. Instead they tied KoKo up with his own tie, which was cute and very resourceful, but a little too vanilla for how clearly naughty their relationship was.

In comparison to the boys, the girls in the play were utterly forgettable, altough they all performed flawlessly. Lana as Yum-Yum had a beautiful voice and was in general quite adorable.

The costumes and dancing were really spectacular, and I could have just watched them dancing forever. The men's costumes were very strange, though beautiful. The men wore brightly colored Zoot Suits (now, I associate with Chicano/Latino culture, but that could just be my LA context) but with lots of sequins on them, decorating the seams of their pants and accenting their suitcoats. They were also decorated on the back and arm with vaguely Japanese designs such as bonsai trees and Japanese characters. The girls wore rather more plain '40s-style dresses that matched the men's suits, though some of them had sequins on the heels of their shoes, which I thought was pretty hot. One incongrous costuming choice was that while all the other men wore dress shirt and ties, if not glittery suitcoats, Chester See only wore a men's undershirt with a collar and tie - no dress shirt. Though he has lovely arms and biceps to show off, it didn't really make sense why he would be that much less formal than the other men.

The set initially appeared to be a Shojii (sp?) screen backdrop, onto which various designs and backdrops were projected, but it opened up to reveal a Cotton-Club-like set with twinkly lights on the steps and around a second proscenium. Altogether the combination of style elements traced the history of the show: vague Japanisme layered on top of a 1940s swing/jazz version of a musical about Japan that actually has nothing to do with Japan. There was Gilbert and Sullivan's appropriation of Japan and then white appropriation of African-American music. I'm not so sure the production had a good critical awareness of its politics and seemed to prefer the strategy of being so overfull of signifiers that it distracted you from what it was doing. But really, I was so well entertained and visually stimulated, that I cared very little about what the show was saying. I loved the whole thing and highly recommend it if you happen to be LA this weekend or next. Go support my students!