The Berlin Years

Much an impossible chapter to close in my life – I’ve made great strides to at least archive most of the visual art projects of my yesteryears from my European stint.

When I arrived in Berlin for the first time in 2010, I was an American. Before long I became an expat. And then I was an artist – hearkening my suffocated passion, and I found myself in a dance studio again, teaching. I learned quickly that Modern dance was outdated in Contemporary driven Berlin – and so I forged a path to invade the landscape by delving into multimedia art.

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From “The Pursuit of Happiness : Berlin 2011 – 2014”

I had already started my Self = Portraits project when I returned to Berlin in 2011, and after Art Connect Berlin caught wind of it and it was presented at their grand opening event, I decided to do more film work. It all started with the first film of the series entitled “Banana” that secured me my Josephine Baker Moment.

 

I was also actively using my smart phone and laptop computer for projects satirizing social media and involving social experiments. And when a photographer friend I met allowed me to borrow his SLR for a few projects, I ended up with several visual art presentations that I’m now putting to rest. That ran the gamut of fine art inspired pieces, doing video portraits (inspired mostly by Tyler Shields) and technique inspired landscapes and compositions. My film work encompassed so much of what I wanted to express in writing and dance, but with much more abrasive force like so:


 

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Many photos of this series were taken by a friend in Charlottenburg – an actress who I spent a lot of time with sitting at a fountain, clumsily rolling cigarettes, crying and celebrating our woes and wins together.

“Can you take a picture of me?” is not such a foreign phrase – though it is, especially in a city that mostly survives because of its tourism. I’ve never documented the differences between when I asked my friends to take the photos and when I asked strangers – though I will say that I gave explicit instructions for each photographer to try and get a shot of me when the smoke was coming out of my mouth and covering my visage. The strangers were less frustrated by this request than my friends.

See the full collection here: Up in Smoke

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Many instances of love were transient entities who were powerful, fleeting members of my story. This particular bed was were I felt the most comfortable and heartbroken.

There was a large variety of places where I woke up in Berlin. I documented them.

See the full collection here: Morgen

first-platz

This is the very first apartment I rented just steps from Nollendorfplatz. It was the beginning of…

I also took photos of buildings that served as monuments where very monumental activities took place.

See the full collection here: Old Haunts

 

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This was a place I visited many many times. I learned a lot about myself here.

The most difficult to publicize is the most raw collection of photography that started off as a collection of pictures taken pre and post coitus (and sometimes during). I narrowed down the vast selection to a few snapshots that were the highlights of my experiences in this realm.

See the full collection here: The Pursuit of Happiness

I have always steered towards taking portraits of the body rather than the face. The face (while it tells a longwinded expository story) is too complicated for me and as a choreographer I’ve always read people through movements. Of course many of the portraits I took of artists were scoffed upon by the subjects for obvious reasons, but this perspective gives a very vicarious point of view of how I am inspired by them.

See the collection here: Lebenskünstler 


 

Though I haven’t been able to finish editing the biggest project that I started, a film entitled Muse, due to my old MacBook Pro crashing – I still have some of the rough cut edits in the following films.

I was setting out to find some editors to review and edit the footage artistically and juxtapose them together for a gallery showing, but that wasn’t in the cards for me. Each actor/artist in the films was an extremely special person in my life who influenced me to keep creating during my time in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m really proud of all of these works though I really hate editing (as duly noted in my Cubist style layering in my film work) and I never do any retouching or editing of my photography.

Perhaps if I can find a cinematographer and an editor – I’ll get back into filmmaking again, but I will only be doing it with a pen and paper. The camera is not my best tool, but I made the most of it and it kept me afloat as a relevant artists while I was in Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

Process : Directing

I’ve met a bevy of artists since I’ve come to New York in November.

They are not hard to find. When not on stages, screens or crisp white lit walls – they are serving cocktails, slinging trays, walking dogs, burping babies, selling stilettos, teaching teenagers and so on and so forth.

It is no wonder then that I’ve met new impressionable and inspirational talent through one of the several hospitality jobs I have to survive in the Big Apple.

 

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Acute Reflections performance at “With This Ring” event at Punto Space in April – where I met several artists from a reputable catering company.

 

I am always looking for that special something – and after having lost all of my muses in Philadelphia and then Berlin due to relocation – I knew very well it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge on the account of my desperation and desire to find new ones. Furthermore, to be in this epicenter of creativity was my primary motivation (if not instinct) when I came back from Europe. I had the crème de la crème of artists at my disposal when I was across the ocean, so my burgeoning palette became hungry for better, more, perfection.

When I first saw Phillip – his smile was infectious. I wanted to bring the dark side out of him. Not one to harp on emotive proclivities, our introduction was brief and I spent much of the rest of the evening keeping a peripheral eye on him, going through my mental Roladex of scripts wondering what characters he might fit into or if there were any ideas on my back burner he’d be appropriate for – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

We were working a catered event for about 100 luxury cruise line professionals. They were a spritely, boozy bunch, and I was of course surrounded by a plethora of front of the house professionals slash artists, but there was something about Philip.

All of us were talking about film and television and theater, like the art nerds that we were – and the adrenaline of competition versus camaraderie was leaving a sweaty stench in the air. We told the forever-the-same tales of the woes and wins of New York Shitty, and how no matter how hard it gets, there is no option to bail out.

Philip and I (along with a few others) ended up huffing it to the subway instead of splurging on an Uber we couldn’t afford, as true artists are prone to do. Like a good writer, I had some Polish Vodka in my bag and started to swig to quell and coerce the creative energy brewing inside of me.

When we were the last ones to transfer off and away from the borough of Manhattan. We got to talking about or respective and specific passions and he had mentioned to me that his past primary project was a web series he wrote and starred in entitled “Planners”. I asked him to take a picture of me (this weird affectation of Narcissism artists sometimes get when they haven’t gotten any work in awhile) before he left. “I hope to see you again,” he motioned with a wave “so long”, as he too transferred off to another train with another hundred people.

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The next day I took a look at his web series and then found my way to his other work and I knew that there was something there…

Previously, I had already declared a perfunctory muse. She’s run the gamut with me in varying velocities of interaction. She works with me at my primary gig – a bistro restaurant on the Upper West Side that is famous for the entertainment elite it caters to.

The staff is made up of a cast of characters, mostly actors and the writers who adore them. I’m lucky in one way to be surrounded by so much drama, as exhausting as it is – but more than that there is this precious dichotomy of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of the equation. You can’t help but iterate those classic show business adages about making it on Broadway and singing those musical songs in your head as you serve expensive omelettes and steak frites to Tony winners. It’s better and worse than you can ever imagine.

There, I met Stephanie. A veritable chameleon that has a special draw not only for her unique and amicable visage, but her demeanor strikes you as coming off as the perfect blend of sweet angel and little devil.

She too told the story we all share about New York and her dreams and the struggle and the victories – and I was enthralled. She spoke openly (like a soliloquy) about her passions when I asked, and I mentally took notes on her diction, intonation, inflection, projection, physicality, emotional slants, her gait – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

I told her I wanted to work with her some day. Her oblige wasn’t so much of a blush but rather a figurative wink. It came in the form of a nod and verbal agreement; I knew we were a match.

About a month ago after seven months in New York, for the second time, after a slew of proposal and application writing – one of my works was chosen for a new artist collective entitled Hearts on the Wall from Dark Matter Productions.

I sent Phillip the script that was chosen and he said he was interested. Two of the actresses I had in mind (whom I met through other catered events) were indisposed, and eventually Phillip suggested that I get in touch with his acting class partner, Jamie.

I met Jamie for a meeting/audition/rehearsal – though after reviewing her work, and being turned on by the idea of working with two actors who work together regularly, I knew she was already my girl. We got along swimmingly. She sat next to me at the café where I typically meet everyone, where by chance there was another meeting/audition/rehearsal going on right next to us.

 

 

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I focused intensely on Jamie, noting that she must’ve been a dancer by the way she used movement as an expressive tool. I also watched her eyes, the muscles on her face, the nature of her personality, the tones of her voice, the weight of her hair, the concentration of her spirit – like any writer/director spends most of their time doing everyday.

The logline and synopsis of the play was as followed:

“Bed” is a brief exhibition of an intergenerational interlude
 
Workaholic Sharon and her much younger lover, Bill, are holed up in a hotel room together fighting over business versus pleasure. Not until a rousing discovery of a secret is revealed do they come to a compromise.  

I had a casual couch rehearsal with Philip and after we dug into the character, we conferenced in Jamie via Skype and read through all together. I am a big fan of using technology for working in the arts, many times I record rehearsals and send links so my performers can study virtually.

 

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I sent notes and references to the entire cast and went through the costume requirements. I was always taught to wear all black at auditions, and I prefer actors to do this during readings so you can have a “clean slate” visually, though we did go through what I call The Parker Posey Method of Acting. I once saw her in an interview say that the first thing she does when she is playing a role is pick out what the character would wear. I added a bandana and glasses to the characters’ accessories.

And then we met on the day of the show at the aforementioned café and I nearly shit a brick of glee having finally attained 3 malleable actors to paint my piece.

One of the biggest challenges for me as a Director was that I only had 3 weeks to put the pieces together. It was a staged reading, but me being me, I was very zealous about making it a performative piece as much as possible, though the actors were to stay on-book. I typically do not like the actors to get too involved or familiar with the text before the first rehearsal, but time did not permit that and I had to make some changes to the script posthaste.

I asked them all the same questions about their characters – and I eagerly acclimated myself with their contributions. I even made the narrator of the play an actual character, to further the complexity of the presentation.

 

 

I do get a little sadistic when directing, and I believe that that is the true mark of a great artist. It comes from the passion but also to instill discipline in my performers (perhaps that comes from my pious upbringing, my families’ military background, my stint with athletics, and from being trained in dance).

I got out of them what I needed, but not what I wanted. This was in fact a work-in-progress, so there was room for error, but make no mistake, they all impressed me and I consider them to be high caliber actors. The material was engaging not only to the audience but to the readers, and I knew this dynamic would be fun to navigate.

Here are my notes I sent to the actors:

-Remember to project!
-Make the most of Happy Accidents, that’s what drama is all about! Especially at readings/rehearsals, this gives you the opportunity to give the playwright/director a new perspective and perhaps make viable changes to the script/production.
-Typically comedy needs to be FAST – hit them hard with the punchline. When working with tragicomic material, the tragedy comes slow and easy. This cadence was just a little bit missing in the performance.
-Relish in audience reactions! 
-Keep digging and being awesome. Find a way to relate  to and disconnect from your characters.
Thanks again so so so much. This was so rewarding and special to have you all involved and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I work with you again.
It was an expertly curated event and I highly recommend you attending the next one and/or submitting your work in progress for [Monday, August 22].
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Courtesy: Dark Matter Productions #HOTW

Maybe I’ll see you there, if I can get my shift covered at the restaurant.
-ldn

 

Off The Cuffs

Snow White
Presented by: Company XIV – http://www.companyxiv.com
in association with Liberty Theaters, LLC :
Under the Direction of Margaret Cotter
Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by: Austin McCormick
Featuring: Hilly Bodin, Marisol Cabrera, Laura Careless,
Courtney Giannone, Lea Helle, Nicholas Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, Davon Rainey, March Richardson

Ran: January 26th – March 12th
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
New York, NY 10012

By Louis DeVaughn Nelson
@hokum_arts

PHOTOS: Courtesy Company XIV, Benjamin Riley – http://www.benrileystudio.com

“More tease, less strip!” was a common phrase I would shout at my classically trained dancers, sometimes strippers, performers every once in a while, and part time whatever else they could do with their many talents to make ends meet. That was over a decade ago when Cher and Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque movie hadn’t yet made the art form more acceptable to mass appeal audiences and the film Chicago had just made it more accessible.

I was then working for the award-wining Peekaboo Revue (Philadelphia, PA), deemed a neo-burlesque troupe that was just as much ahead of its time as it was reliving the past. 2002 sparked the inaugural New York Burlesque Festival in which the burgeoning cabaret scene began to (once again) celebrate the entertainment value of the good old-fashioned “leg shows” and “good clean fun” of the American Vaudeville era when a few pence would allow you all day access to a bevy of bump & grind and sideshow acts.

Courtesy of the NYBF, troupes from all over the country (along with a few international groups) congregated in a place where society was starving for a bit more bang for their buck in the post 9/11 live life till it runneth over climate. While the frank association of T&A is synonymous with burlesque – the artful spectacle of the experience will always remain a big draw. During the first festival there was a lot of pageantry and couture costumes, but the most memorable and engaging performances were those who pushed skin and the desire to get under it in new and innovative ways utilizing inspiration from avant garde technique.

 

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Winner of a New York Innovative Theater Award for Best Choreography, Austin McCormick founded Company XIV based on these principles during the very same year the NYBF began. With a background as a former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet of New York along with many other accolades in the theater/dance performance world, McCormick has served up contributions to several opera houses in direction and choreography: The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Houston Grand Opera, and Canadian Opera Company…

What he does with Company XIV along with co-founder, Laura Careless, who passionately graces the stage of the their latest enthralling installment, is nothing short of spectacular; a simple Google search will retrieve a plethora of poetic pieces acclaimed by critics from The British Theatre Guide to The New York Times. Recreating and staging the classics, fairytales and ballets is commonplace in the burlesque community, so standing out and wowing jaded audiences is a feat in itself.

Case in point: I first heard about Company XIV from a theater artist in New York who proclaimed that there was nothing like it in the city and the meticulous effort they put into each and every show is astounding. Having had the ambitious undertaking of managing expectations in so many regards in my work with The Peekaboo Revue (my girls/boys had a lot of brilliant ideas, some too racy for audiences), I did my best not to roll my eyes at this statement, especially after seeing the Kleine Nachtrevue of Berlin, Germany – possibly the capital of burlesque it its true and original and perhaps most enjoyable form. The decadent depiction Bob Fosse presented in the film version of Cabaret still reigns today in this day and age (sans the Nazis).

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“Well, I saw a ballerina dressed up as a construction worker use a handsaw to cut metal of off herself, and that was her striptease, so…”

“They do amazing things, like one girl sings opera while she is pole dancing,” my ears perked up and he continued, “but I’ve seen it a few times and would love to see something else. But I go to all of their shows.”

That’s the thing about these burlesquers. The whole “You Gotta Have A Gimmick” is a necessary part of the craft. There are many details and hours and hours of repetitive rehearsals these performers must endure in order to perfect their tricks. There is a delicate balance between overdoing it and making sure you are accommodating an audience who are used to seeing a certain “gimmick”. It is very hard to raise the ante each time, which is why so many burlesque troupes stick to a certain style or aesthetic.

About a week later I met one of the company’s management partners at a theater networking event. The conversation went on and on about the style and content of this particular troupe. Not only was this serendipitous but it seemed this was one of the hottest tickets in town.

When I arrived (on a Tuesday) at the Minetta Lane Theatre, I was taken aback by the sheer number of folks lined up on another one of those little streets tucked away just off Broadway where patrons can congregate before the house opens and let the pre-show excitement wash over them. It was Tuesday, right?

The show started before it began. There was an air about the place which afforded a certain hospitable acceptance and an environment that allowed folks to bustle around the theatre (with drinks in hand no less) holding conversations while the performers were getting ready on the baroque adorned stage and walking around the audience scantily clad. It felt like home and it felt otherworldly.

The devious smiles of the cigarette girls and the burlesquers acknowledging but not addressing the audience from on stage while they warmed up and primped – was a sight to behold. And then the magic came in the most shocking but not surprising way.

“Guten Abend,” began one of the many mistresses of the cabaret whose genres were all over the map and back again, utilizing live video performance, ballet, modern dance, contemporary dance, tap dance, puppetry, circus arts, tango, pole dancing, opera, flamenco, marionettes, live music, kabuki, Cyr wheel, pop performance, and many other mediums. Oh! And some striptease.

Taking the classic German fairytale and melding it into the modern world with traditional sensibilities without a speck of fault is almost impossible to believe, even with so many momentary suspensions of. There can only be one complaint about Company XIV’s Snow White : overkill.

The twists and turns are irrebuttable in their presentation, leaving the audience almost dizzy from how much is fit into the show. There are many intellectual bombs thrown on stage but not just for the hell of it – each and every iota is a well-focused form of exquisite expression. At the risk of being trite, it would have been nice to have reverted back to the art form’s pioneers and dumbed it down a little. There were a few very raw and a bit naughty parts that shined through, almost a taunt more than a tease, which could have been expounded as not to forget where we came from.

“Yeah, but when do I get to take off my clothes?” one of my favorite girls used to say to me incessantly when I was working with The Peekaboo Revue before I left for Berlin in 2011. While I appreciated her zealousness to bare all in so many ways (almost as much as the audience), it was a lesson learned for the both of us. The visual appeal has to be balanced with the artistic.

Her name was Melissa Bang-Bang (a moniker derivative of a certain gimmick she evoked with her backside) and after Snow White I approached the stage to personally thank the show’s brightest star who played the queen, aforementioned Laura Careless, who had the least amount of tricks up her sleeve and managed to steal the show with her provocative reprieve.

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“You renewed my passion for the art form. I used to work in burlesque and one of my favorite girls just died a little over a month ago. You remind me of her a lot, you have the same spirit about you on stage,” I gushed and received a blush.

The company ended its season on so many high notes and now Austin McCormick is on to produce work for the Metropolitan Opera. Be sure to catch Company XIV when they get revved up again. Their shows typically sell-out, so plan ahead!

 

 

 

 

NEW BLOG POST: “Love Feast”

Check out the newest entry for Center on the Aisle that I wrote:

“Perhaps it was because it was just a few days after Valentine’s Day and we were all watching a play about love and the lengths one will go through to achieve it. Maybe I needed to be closer to someone or anyone and the obvious attractiveness of the cast with their hip outfits and provocative instrument playing was helping in the worst way. Perchance I didn’t want to feel anything when the lyric that came during the culmination of the play came over and over and over again nonstop: “What is Love?” the actors sang in a bittersweet tone…”

 

Read More Here

NEW BLOG POST: “Off Broadway”

Here’s a snippet of my newest article for Center on the Aisle

“The performance started off with several recognizable classics, engaging the audience in a swaying assonance. There was a welcoming comfort to the expository portion of the start along with the introduction of the band: Tommy Faragher (Musical Director and Piano), John Putnam (Guitar), Paul Socolow (Bass), Sam Merrick (Drums). Mr. Young went in and out of hiding behind his sunglasses – and in doing so he coyly played with the audience but his phenomenal voice, intrinsic in its varying capacities, remained and held us all captive. Sing-alongs came and went, as did perfunctory applause at the beginning of bits due to the recognizable, sparse but poignant standing ovations, abrupt interruptions by way of unruly cheering – and then something happened.”

You can see the full text here.

Self = Portraits…part seven

Full circle or triangle or quadrilateral? I am not sure there was any sort of linear movement in this longwinded rite of passage full of astounding obstacles that led me back to start off where I wanted to end up in the beginning.

Self = Portraits…part one
Self = Portraits…part two
Self = Portraits…part three
Self = Portraits…part four
Self = Portraits…part five
Self = Portraits…part six

66. Baggage

This was the very first video I made when I returned to the United States of America in December 2014, just two weeks before Christmas.

67. Armor

Frail, broken – if not damaged, I was more guarded and protected than I had ever been but at the same time I was willing to wear my vulnerability on my sleeve. By a twist of fate, I had to shed my freedom when I returned to USA and cover up all the messiness of being able to be myself in Europe. I was “home” in familiar territory and it was time to go to work. I went back to the same temp agency and started working in an office. This plight is shown here, along with the simple fact that I had to let go of my passion and start censoring myself for social graces. What lies beneath is what got me into trouble in the first place.

 

68. Früher

Sometimes in order to move forward we need to go backwards a little bit and look at the history of our time in order to not make the same mistakes. Amiss an abundance of reverse culture shock, this film came about when I needed a change – as so many of my shaving videos in this series involve some depiction of mine wanting to reinvent myself by altering my physical appearance.  I was experiencing extreme PTSD as well as reverse culture shock. I missed all the good and bad of Germany, as well as the USA. This was my way of handling it.

69.  Quit

This is somewhat a sequel to “Smoke” – one of the very first films of the series that I made in the same location. The location was the “back alley” of a friend’s apartment where I stayed during my 6 months back in the USA before I left to go back to Berlin. This time, the situation was way different. I knew at this point that I was going to want/need to go to New York – there were too many demons in Philadelphia and I was facing a lot of strife with the seemingly dissolving support system I had there. I was starting to realize the pith of the relationships I had with people before left and all of the annals of 3 years away from them was building up to a lot of misunderstandings. The lyrics of this particular soundtrack are phenomenally adjacent to what I was experiencing.

70. Again

One of the biggest challenges in life as aforementioned is confronting change in order to avoid similar mistakes that one has made in the past while maintaining who you are as a individual. There are nuances of personality that involve genetics, environment and/or nurture versus nature. No matter how desperately we try to break certain unhealthy patterns or behaviors (see: vicious cycle) – there is some comfort in the familiar.

 

71. Empty

A visual outcry of sorts in regards to the ongoing daunting task of being a veritable bag lady. The place to hang the hat cliché was an obvious nod to the unrelenting bouts of homelessness I’ve endured – my belongings always on my person and no personal place with which to put them.

72. Dream

There is a Juliana Hatfield song entitled “Hotels” in which she says, “Welcome me when I need a home.” This clause encompasses so much of my work in this series. When I came back to the USA there was a big change in the music I was allowed to use due to intellectual property rights (the reason I stopped posting my work on youtube). I learned how to circumvent this issue for the most part by using classical/vintage music tracks or internet only release selections like heard in so many of these films. Juliana Hatfield occasionally releases music via the internet, accepting donations, in order to avoid all the Capitalistic sociopolitical drama of the music industry. It works out famously because it correlates to my philosophy in terms of free reign (I’ve recently been advised to restrict my work because it has been downloaded and uploaded to porn sites for money – I’m more flattered than offended). So this film was me finding access to the rungs of a corporate ladder. I was on my way to the proposed good old American version of success. I was in contention for a very big job and endured an intense interview process that landed me in a hotel and wondering what my life will become.

73.  Bridge

Another stint in a hotel and another blatant reverse strip tease burlesque satirical ditty, the namesake of this piece is multifaceted per usual. I do have company in this film and he is a European who had no problem with me making the film in his presence. He was my bridge to the culture that I miss so much – and refueled my waning passion to create.

74. Banana 3

The third installment of what started this whole process came perfunctorily. “Banana” was the very first video in the series, made in between my 3 month stint and my 3 year stint in Berlin – when I knew I was going, I had found a job and a reasonable way to survive through temporary apartment rentals, and I had a love interest or two to keep me busy (besides the city itself). It was also the first serious art work that I showed at a festival for Art Connect Berlin who I began working for throughout my time in Berlin in varying capacities, mostly as a writer for their blog. There is also a second, “Banana 2“, and in “Banana 3” I wanted to again use the original song by PJ Harvey entitled “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” for obvious reasons. I couldn’t use the original song so I dubbed in a recording of myself playing it.

75. Myself

There have been so many spaces, spaces that have belonged to others. “I just want a bookshelf again,” I tell my friends when I explain how harrowing this destitution is. For the first time in a long time I had my own room (via AirBnB) that was all mine: no roommates, no arrangements, no situations. Just me. I felt the freest I had in a long time.

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To view some or all of the entire series, see the full album on Vimeo:
Self = Portraits by Louis DeVaughn Nelson

 

 

Love of Love

“It’s you,” was my obvious turn of phrase when I saw her. I was belting out something not quite a statement or declaration. It was an exclamation with a point.

Even in her exhaustion, she was a beauty to behold. She had that radiant and alluring classic fifties pinup girl look. Her sweat and primp-tortured hair was somehow still perfectly in place. It was a rich hickory color, tight and bouffant all at once. Her eyes were bulbous and inviting like a bewitching vintage doll to match her porcelain skin. The blush and lips candy red, and she looked good enough to eat while she clumsily gulped from her bottle of water as she schlepped her dance bag on her back.

I was waiting for the A train back to go uptown when I saw her as I was thinking about all those “…and another hundred people…” platform thoughts. I had already decided that she was my muse, or rather that she decided for me – because more than anyone and anything around, again she really stood out.

Her name is Kristin Piro, and she is entertainment personified.

She is the Dance Captain of the now running and open-ended show Trip of Love showing at Stage 42. Conceived, directed and choreographed by Joffery and American Ballet Theater alumni, James Walski, Piro was part of the original cast who developed and presented the world premiere of the sixties sociopolitical dance theater extravaganza. Drawing from some of the most recognizable music hits of the decade, the show is a tribute not only to the era, but to the old Broadway revue-style gems that used to be common fare on The White Way decades ago.

It is fascinating to see what happens when you put together an award-winning production staff, a ballet master and a relatively “emerging artist” cast. The costumes and stage design boast the wow spectacle that is indicative of a Broadway show while the choreography is unfathomable in its complexity and intensity. Those elements alone make for a visually striking display, but the performance suffered because of it.

The actors and dancers were barely allowed a moment to do what they do best because everything was so placed. From the bright and brilliant (and ridiculously expensive looking) props to each battement and pas de bouree, there was a 5-6-7-8 for everything and you could see the pained look on the performers faces – insecure about and distracted by perfection that was obviously demanded by the veteran ballerina.

Trip of Love is quite a trip as duly noted by my neighbors in the theatre. To one side I had a couple who had went through similar experiences commented within the context of the show (see: Make Love Not War) and the woman squeezed her man’s hand between tears from time to time. On the other side of me I had two seemingly sisters who were debating about which singer had the best voice, a hard argument to win indeed as all of the cast were strong.

I kept waiting for something to happen, and what happened every time was when Kristin Piro entered the stage. She had that va-va-voom and expertly captured (or stole) those moments to shine away from the glitz the glamor and the enormous amount of beautiful choreography. A wink, a nod, a bump, a smile, a shimmy – these were those nuances that were missing from the overall performance, and these little connections to the audience were barely afforded to us because of the exorbitant spectacle.

“It was really hard to watch the rest of the show when you were dancing,” I blushed. Piro thanked me and I asked her a few questions about the performances as New York played its rushing song in the background.

She told me that the cast is different almost every night so they have to re-stage everything (which explained some of the spacing issues I noticed in one or two numbers) within hours of opening curtain. She loves the show and obviously she loves what she does. It’s needles like this that are found in the haystack of the White Way that makes theater great and worthwhile. Piro took us back to a time with her brilliant characterization and consummate stage presence. Let’s hope that there is more of her in the future.

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Trip of Love
Created, Directed and Choreographed by James Walski
Presented by Makoto Deguchi, Hiroki Kozawa, and Masu H. Masuyama
In Association with:
Debi Coleman, Takeo Nakanishi and Kunihiko Ukifune
Featuring: Joey Caleveri, David Elder, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins, Austin Miller, Tara Palsha, Kristin Piro, Laurie Wells
Stage 42 – 422 West 42nd Street (Between 9th & 10th)
Tickets: $35.00+ @ www.tripoflove.com