I Love the 00s – Part ? Big and Little Screen.

I’m going to finish what I started and remark about my favorite film and television of the aughts. This was a difficult decision, it is impossible to narrow down the choices in film; television was a little easier to decide. I only picked 5 for each category and the only criteria was that it had to be something that I have seen before the turn of the decade that had a big impact on me. Initially I came up with 2 or 3 for each category, then after browsing some top ten lists, I was reminded of what needed to be recognized here.

TELEVISION

Growing up, television was the primary influence and inspiration for my artistic slant. “SNL” was a staple food for thought, and I always dreamed of being involved with the show in the future in a writing and/or acting capacity. To me, everything made sense. The outlandish to the subliminal was very appealing to me. It has been one of the most innovative and risk-taking shows on television since its inception, and I love me some satire.

“SNL” has always been a vehicle with which world news has been disseminated to a broader audience with extreme exaggeration and comedy, providing a dais for everyone to stand and laugh together (now shared with shows the likes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”).

While most of the best of what I watched from “SNL” took place in the early 80s, I got the most from the seasons in the mid 90s. Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon were just a few of the cast that made for some of the most notable events in television history.

The 00s have brought turbulent, inconsistent times to “SNL” with casts and writers constantly distracted by other media, technology wreaking havoc on the industry in an unprecedented way. Actors want to branch out into movies and spin-offs, and some even start their own productions. These distractions have given us temporary comic relief the likes of Maya Rudolf, Ana Gastyer, Will Farrell and Amy Poehler. While the show suffered in many aspects, the ladies took over in the 00s and created some of the most memorable characters and caricatures of the show’s history.

One of these young ladies stepped down the plank of letting go of the organized chaos that resides in NBC Studios and had the most genius idea. “30 Rock” was about, none other than 30 Rock, that has been the incubator of some of the most comedic and talented collaborations to ever grace TV screens.

A playoff and satire of the onstage and off stage antics a la “Saturday Night Live”, Tina Fey, the brace and anchor for much of the good stuff that happened during her tenure at “SNL”, made the leap and found out that with her courage, ambition and all around awesomeness, the water is fine.

“30 Rock” has what every show needs. Any good comedy writer, actor or director must understand the importance of comedic timing. You have to hit ’em fast. There are no delays, no drawn out punchlines, no over-emphasis on one thing over the other that makes for funny. You can use spectacle at your discretion as long as it doesn’t fall into farce. There is a fine line, and by not taking itself too seriously, “30 Rock” has become of the most irreverently fantastic shows on television. A perfect triple threat: acting, writing and direction.

“Six Feet Under” is my favorite show of all time. Sometimes you get a show where the writing is strong, the direction is excellent and the acting is okay, but because there are so many different people coming in and out of these positions, the show fails to manage its message, and certain things that could make the show great are sporadic at best, and the pith falls to the way side. Many shows made today will have over six different directors in a season, and while they might bring in the same head writers, the contributions to the scripts may vary according to the way the respective director works. They might be more dialog driven or more visually stimulated. They might bring in a different cameraman that needs more direction. The thing about television is that it all happens so fast. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait and it all gets very repetitive.

What is wonderful about each season of “Six Feet Under” is that the show was under the constant watchful eye of Alan Ball, credited as the series creator, head writer, producer and frequent director. We gays love to wear many hats. Thanks to his control issues, vividly exposed in the detail found in “American Beauty”, he kept the show going at a naturally delicious pace that made you forget that the characters were characters.

The plots were rich with character development and veiled foreshadowing. Never before did I think to myself that I couldn’t wait to see the new way that someone was going to die at the beginning of each episode. I was looking forward to death.

What was so interesting about the opening sequence was that no matter how macabre the idea of tying all the shows together with an instant of death that would become the golden thread of the episode, it was an opportunity to feel a tinge of optimistic sadness, relating to the fear that is innate in all of us. These were accidents and natural causes, along with homicide and other types of death. It became an experience after a while. The accident you can’t look away from.

Yes, I hate to say it, but the show came out during that delicate time of tragedy in that tragic year in September. The Fischer family was painting a portrait of complex colors and subject matter. The syntax of the script read naturally and with the right amount of ebb and flow that is found in daily life. Every guest star fit seamlessly into the developing stories, and the show got better and better with age.

For years it became a visual book that you couldn’t put down. It helped to put HBO on the map (again) and we all knew that something about television was changing. While we were worshiping our freedom and trying to recoup, the artists were more inspired than ever. We were scared to speak out publicly, and television shows became watered down. And then “Six Feet Under” came along and brought us back to earth.

“Dead Like Me”. This post is getting a little dark. Two of my favorite shows of the decade have to do with death and dying and the effects caused by the old dirt nap. Admittedly, I have experienced death in the most callous way, having lost an immediate family member. This is not the sole reason why I’m “into” these shows though. Perhaps, speaking according to Freudian philosophies, there is some latent content there, but I’m not dealing with fight or flight right now, it’s all about entertainment.

What was so special about “Dead Like Me” was its cast. Sometimes the writing and directing is so right, but the cast is all wrong. While this show did suffer the loss of some of its original cast members, initially, the chemistry was nothing short of amazing, and the entire lot seemed to have this immaculate synergy amongst themselves.

Particularly tickled by the return of Jasmine Guy, the cast had clear, poignant roles in the show, and each was allowed a steady and captivating exposition throughout the two seasons of its existence, facing its untimely demise in 2004, only to be resurrected in 2009 by a straight-to-DVD movie version that I have to say wasn’t half bad. It might be making a come back.

This is going to sound really gay, but I have to say that “Project Runway” was one of the best shows of the last decade. While I’m half in and half out of the closet regarding my reality television watching tastes, it’s only the stigma attached that coerces me to not let my freak flag fly regarding the aforementioned. It seems as though they get better as they get worse, but still, the song remains the same.

The format of the show in the competition context, cuts down on the nonsense and beefs up the credibility. It has become a staple in the fashion industry and a highly respected vehicle for new talent to exploit their work. Sure, there is still the magic of producers and story editors to exaggerate the drama of the unscripted shows, but what it all comes down to is a battle of wills between artists.

“Project Runway” allows you to get behind the scenes of the artistic process. While some may thrive in the environment, I always thought that the way in which they have to work is nothing short of cruel. An artist’s work is never done, so allowing them ridiculous inklings of time with a myriad of restrictions on what they can design and make all on their own is nothing short of torture. While this allows for a platform to test their skills, more so it is an endurance match to see who wants to be a success the most, utilizing their talents and ambition. I love it.

For months I kept hearing about this show I should really watch. “It’s so you.” “You’ll love it.” “Oh my G-d, you haven’t seen it yet?”. I put it off and put it off and didn’t dare get involved with another show. I didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want to be a couch potato. I had so much shit to do as it is. I read the notes on the back of the case a few times. I checked it out of the library a few times. But I never watched it. Until I did. And there he was.

“Mad Men”. Quite possibly, to me, for me, the most perfectly designed show ever made. We were teased with a brief albeit brilliant rendition of a period piece with the short-lived “Swingtown” that depicted some pretty racy marital issues in the 70s. The production of that show was the tits. And now it’s gone.

Now we are blessed with “Mad Men”. Perhaps one of the most slowly moving shows ever created, it keeps you wrapped into its spell, a hypnotic interweaving of past, present and future stories, developed by intensely complex characters. The satire is there, the New York is there, the 60s are there, everything is divine.

It is one of those gems that keeps making you ask questions that you’re almost scared to know the answers to. It is a little bit noir, but manages to drive in other genres as well, with a little comedy thrown in for good measure. I just want to thank heavens for Jon Hamm. The most perfect man ever made.

I have to add one honorable mention. I’m totally cheating though because I didn’t watch this next show until my sickness of 2010. I was couch laden for two days and was searching for something instant to watch on Netflix. I didn’t want to commit to a whole movie so I was looking for a short documentary or a few episodes of a TV show. And there it was.

“Skins”. Take “Hackers” mix with some “Trainspotting”, add some “Kids” and some “Go” and a dash of “My So Called Life”. In this, you have the perfect recipe for a gritty, engaging, addictive, exciting show that touches all the bases.

Not only is the production value something not found in American television (thank you BBC), the cast and direction are miraculous feats to behold in their presentation. The raw and provocative nature of the plot lines are enticing in a lot of ways. There is something about shows about high school that always build a familiarity from the viewer that usually evokes empathy or sympathy. It is something we have all shared, and while we didn’t know it at the time, it would entail some of the most momentous occasions in our lives that would shape our future forever. A Perfect Ten.

FILM

The first film that came to mind was “Paris, je t’aime” (I’m using quotes for everything because I don’t feel like coding). This past year I’ve been getting more and more into television because I work so hard and so much that it is hard to stay awake to watch a whole film unless I am out at the theater. With the way the world keeps getting faster and faster and the internet being a constant distraction, I need short intervals of entertainment, and sometimes a film won’t be watched all the way through.

Clocking in at 2 hours, this compilation of short films had a very simple premise: get some of the best living directors together and have them produce a short film about Paris and Love, using a specific neighborhood there. There were no trite cliches in this wonderful conglomeration of genius. Each film had a mind and a heart of its own. I loved more than others: Faubourg Saint-Denis (Xe arrondissement) — by German writer-director Tom Tykwer, 14e arrondissement (XIVe arrondissement) — written and directed by Alexander Payne, Quartier des Enfants Rouges (IIIe arrondissement) — by French writer-director Olivier Assayas, Place des fêtes (XIXe arrondissement) — by South African writer-director Oliver Schmitz, Le Marais (IVe arrondissement) — by American writer-director Gus Van Sant.

Collectively, it was an exhilarating viewing experience. I went back and watched several over again. And you can never go wrong with Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The next film is probably one of the most defining films of Gen X & Y. Taking the lead just above “Requiem for a Dream” and “Momento”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is indelibly etched into 25-35 year-old’s most favorite recent movies more than any other film. Not only were we given this painfully romantic fresh and whimsical view of a modern day love story, it was presented in an innovative way that never delve into the depths of gimmicky madness or abrasive over-the-top shenanigans.

Having already given us some pretty excellent music videos and films, Gondry and Kauffman teamed up to give us this unforgettable film that tugged in all the right places. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet came down to earth for a moment in order to give us something that we could relate to. Something not unbelievable.

The structure and story of the film is vastly unique and took a big risk in many ways. Now deemed as having a cult following (snicker), there is no doubting the importance of the film and how it will forever be one of the best things to come out of the aughts.

“Habla Con Ella” (Talk to Her) remains my favorite Almodovar film of all time. The layers, the production quality, the acting, the direction, the surprises, the provocative themes, it all melds into this wonderful culmination of picture perfect film making. The art of this film is special and the subject matter(s) are intriguing and thoughtful. I went to see this film in the theater twice, and of course it was one of those films that you catch something new and brilliant every time. Is that not what a perfect film is made of? Por supuesto!

I had to add “Lord of the Rings” because no movie has ever made me geek out as hard as this one did. It had all the elements of good entertainment with the complex story (a comparable version of the book) and action and adventure. It was a movie for nerds, by nerds (FNBN – pronounced “Fun Bun”). I was lucky enough to know someone who managed a film house and had an advanced copy of the film. Some nerd friends and I got together and watched it in an empty theater together. Totally amazing.

You won’t ever hear me talking about how much I love horror flicks. I will watch at least one Danger After Dark film at the Philly film festival each year. I do miss the days of cheesy horror flicks, but nowadays they just don’t do it for me. I feel as though it’s a genre you either hate or you love. I am somewhere in between because I like to break rules.

It is no wonder then that “Severance” is on the top of my favorite movies of the decade list. It is by far not one of my favorite movies of all time, but according to the criteria for this selection, this film has impacted me in a very memorable way and it was one of the first films I thought about adding to the list.

It has a pretty simple plot and some really fucking talented B list “stars” in it. There are scary moments, but nothing to make you want to hold your Mommy. What works best in this film is the humor. The comedic timing is pitch perfect and there is nothing I love more that laughing at a horror flick. There are no puzzling questions or who-did-its or is-she-gonna-die? It’s all about entertainment (again) here, and the film really brings it home with perhaps one of the most hilarious final scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. The entire theater was beside themselves, and thus that film one the Audience Award that year at the film festival.

I had to add one more that I thought of after I started typing this. One of my favorite directors, Gregg Araki, took a disgustingly long hiatus between his genius heterosexual love story “Splendor” (1999) and the rebirth of his immense talents with “Mysterious Skin” that affected me in a big way each and every time I’ve watched it since 2005. Taking a departure from his apocalyptic overtones and socioeconomic satire of teen angst, Araki takes his first piecemeal steps with a more mature, more serious work, “Mysterious Skin” based on the novel by Scott Heim of the same name.

I haven’t read the book (yet). The story is hard to explain and hard to explain without giving it away. I highly recommend it to those who like heavy drama. It is one of the best gay-oriented films I have ever seen, unfortunately that is a genre that constantly struggles with its quality, integrity and identity.

“Mysterious Skin” brings to life some taboo topics that live in the shadows of ignorance. It is engaging and entertaining while not screaming a message at you. It’s a weird and bittersweet coming of age slash rite of passage kind of story. It is touching and very very very well made.

I Need Jesus

“All I ever needed, was the music, and the mirror. And the chance, to dance, for you…”

Having spent most of my dance career behind the curtain, the time has come again for me to ask myself, “Can I do this?”. While acting, singing and dancing are almost a natural gift of mine and I love being on stage despite my wretched stage fright, I always manage to be captivating in one way or another (modestly speaking). It is no wonder then that I endured the harrowing process of an audition, almost 4 years since I’ve done any hardcore dancing for someone else. It was daunting and rewarding.

For the past month or so, a director for S.O.U.L. theater productions has been trying to contact me. I was slow on the uptake of getting back to him because it was for a dance performance and I don’t consider myself a dancer. He found my resumé on http://www.backstage.com and was inquiring to see if I was interested in auditioning for his upcoming production of “The Resurrection”. I winced a little at first, for my interest in juxtaposing religion and dance together on stage is far from my taste unless of course it is done in an avant garde or satirical way. It wasn’t too long before I couldn’t resist the temptation (get it?) because he found my work number (thanks Google) and I hastened to return his call, planning to humbly decline the offer despite my empathy for the inability to acquire male dancers.

Cut to this past Saturday. I was lazing around on the couch catching up with my shows, preparing myself for a Valentine’s Day Dance Party that was taking place in Old City later in the evening. The director called me and told me about the show and we talked about how hard it is to find good talent with a Y chromosome to perform dance without being a total narcissistic, egotistical commodity. He expressed to me the need to find a really good dude to play the role of Jesus and immediately I thought of Tyler Perry and all of my mother’s velvet paintings of hot, black Jesus adorning her walls. You know the ones, where this scruffy, dark skinned, sexy guy in sandals and old school Jerusalem clothing is sporting a six pack all the while being the son of Christ and all? Those.

I reluctantly agreed to hear more about the specifics of the production when it hit me, the audition, rehearsals and show were to take place in Baltimore. I have a “friend” in Baltimore. I said, “Sure.”

The director explained to me that I would be reimbursed for my travel and that it was a paid position and if I didn’t get the part of our Lord and savior, I would definitely fit somewhere within the ensemble. I thought this was a bit premature and explained that I was a little rusty, having been a choreographer who basically marks much of the choreography I compose and leave it to the dancers to heed to my commands in French and the language of dance (i.e. Bah dah dah dom AND down up, 6, 7, 8). He reassured me that much of the work was technique based and that I would be fine. Also he explained that much of the cast was made up of dance teachers and choreographers and that they too mentioned the same trepidations and were doing just fine.

Eventually I relented and told him that I would get back to him about the audition that was happening the next day. The urgency in his voice brought a tad of compassion to my heart, but I was truly more concerned about seeing if my “friend” was available for me to come visit rather than the director’s search for the perfect Jesus.

Finally, after what seemed like a million eons, my “friend” got back to me and thus gave me the go to make the sojourn to Baltimore. I packed up my dance gear and I was ret-ta-go.

Me being me, I arrived just in time for the train after a pleasant taxi ride over to the station while playing eye sex in the rear view mirror with the inexplicably nice and handsome cabbie. “I’m going to hell for this,” I thought to myself as I pondered my disinterest in being cast in the production and my ulterior motives besides. I arrived in Baltimore in about an hour and I realized I left my dance belt at home. This is of import to note because the director was very adamant about the dancers wearing one. I giggled to myself thinking of certain scenes from “Wet, Hot, American Summer”. The director was very serious and professional, which I admired, but telling me to wear form fitting, black clothing and a dance belt was a little redundant.

I called my “friend” and asked for directions to his place. He lives not far from the train station and the weather was so beautiful out that I wanted to walk around. Plus I needed to find a store that sold men’s underwear so I could find something appropriate to wear under my tights, plus it was my first time in Baltimore on my own, so I wanted to have a lay of the land.

It was weird being back in my home state. While Baltimore is considered a metropolitan area, it still has its southern sensibilities. I was exasperated by the frequent hello’s and good morning’s from the locals. Immediately I started to miss my gritty city. Walking around I was nonplussed by the way the city looked. There was the necessary mix of old and new, but I couldn’t quite grasp the local color of the town. All the bars and restaurants had references to animals in one way or another and there were scattered boutique clothing stores for women and for some reason there was no shortage of Subway sandwich shops. There were no corner stores, no liquor stores, nothing remarkably retail about the place. I didn’t find a place to buy underwear, and my “friend” couldn’t think of somewhere to go either.

So I arrived at the residence of my “friend” and the following four hours were something of a marvel to me, but I won’t go into that. During my time there a la Pretty Woman, I found myself starting to get nervous and excited about the audition. I put on my tights and leotard and the feeling was back. I wanted to dance. I needed to dance.

The urgency of my participation revolved around the fact that on that day (Sunday, Valentine’s Day), it would be the first orientation and rehearsal for the production of the show. For my audition I would be learning the choreography and I guess he would decide if I didn’t suck or not. I was running a bit late due to unforeseen circumstances, but made it just in time to not be the last one there (did I mention that it was a mutli-cultural production?).

When I arrived, my cheeks were sore. I couldn’t stop smiling and nothing could bother me. It was no surprise when I met the director, he has a big personality and was really sweet and chatty as shit. I immediately felt comfortable.

In the past, I have kind of hated dancers. They tend to be prissy and prima donna about everything, but these dancers were different. Of course I noticed that a majority of them were relatively younger than me and there was an even balance of males and females, with just a few more females. All the men were “people of color” and the sisters outweighed the white girls. I’m just saying.

We were all stretching and warming up and I was filled with a desire to get going. The director went through the contract and had us introduce ourselves to each other and then we had a warm up. It was nice getting in touch with my body but immediately I knew that I was inferior to these bitches. When we did the across the floor movements, their jetes were remarkably more extended than mine, and their leaps were higher and stronger. Still I tried, and I was up to the challenge.

The director returned and started teaching us the choreography. I was sweating profusely and breathing heavily (despite the fact that I hadn’t had a cigarette all day) and was starting to remove layers of clothing. I felt good. So the first part of the combination, the director, sweet guy, goes through the steps verbally and says “And walk walk walk walk, turn, tendu, step step. Prep and double pirouette and DOWN TO A SPLIT and lean forward.” I was fucking flabbergasted.

I haven’t done a full on split since I was about 15 and was doing gymnastics regularly. And that was on the left leg. The choreography called for the right side. Of course most of the dancers slipped right down to the floor like butter, in the perfect execution of said split, and while I slowly but surely eased down to the floor in a half-split, hurdle position like James Brown, my crotch on fire, I thought to myself, “Really?”. I persevered.

The rest of the choreography was intense and surprisingly I kept up with it only missing a step or two here and there. One of the most difficult parts of being a choreographer in a dance piece is that you have a totally different mentality than that of a dancer. You are thinking of composition and structure of dance, not necessarily feeling the movement and trying to put it into the perspective of executing it. Plus all the dancers were brilliant and I was obsessed with watching how they moved, wondering what kinds of choreography I would love to put on their bodies. The best part is in between takes when you notice a dancer stretching in a certain way or toying around with a jump as they stare at their reflection in a mirror. Those moments to me are very inspirational and always expound my own ideas about the crafting of movement.

The more I danced with these talented lads, I felt inferior in a lot of ways and superior in many other ways. I felt like I was an inspiration. Here I was, not 20 something anymore, still able to do battements and layouts and triple turns and arabeques in all different positions. Sure, I had to try harder and push harder, but I’ve still “got it”, and that is something that every dancer hopes to achieve: longevity. Because the body doesn’t give you a choice. The older your instrument gets, the harder it is to play.

I wanted to be Jesus.

Because of the debacle with the split, I knew that I was going to not be in that number that we learned if I was cast. But as we went along, and I was starting to get into the gospel music with my Star of David blazing around my neck, I kept thinking that I was the most striking out of the group and had the demeanor to play the role really well (did I just type that out loud?). Also, because of my varied abilities and skill level, it would be most beneficial to have me be a soloist, I’m no good in an ensemble anyway.

The main roles were being casted during rehearsals, so I don’t know who he has chosen for what. He asked me how it was going during our break time and I told him how out of practice I was and he told me it didn’t look like it. Per usual, I was having no trouble at all with the more gymnastic stuff, that others were struggling with, and the more balletic stuff I had problems with while everyone else did it with ease.

By the end of the rehearsal I was artistically refreshed and I wanted to play the character. I wanted to be G-d. It’s so appropriate, really (modestly speaking). I spoke with the director after the show while I was on the train, sore in more places that I could name and for more than one reason. He went on a long tangent about how impressed he was that I kept up with my body and still had it in me to role with the puppies, being the big dog that I am now. He knew that I was holding back, and I explained that I was psyching myself out a little bit, but he hoped that I would continue on with him on this and future projects and that he was happy to have met me. I smiled in spite of myself, in appreciation for him recognizing me as a good dancer, something I have always struggled with and doubted because most of my training is from books and videos. On the way home, I looked down on my digital camera and stared at my “friend” for a good long while, and I would have thanked G-d for the experience had I been more pious like I used to be. Instead, I scream his name in other ways nowadays. Amen.

Stages on Stages

Kosoko Peformance Group Winter Party
Artists Helping Artists Tour (AHAT)
Saturday, January 23, 2010
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Studio 34
4522 Baltimore
Philadelphia, PA

Despite the fact that I despise the countryside and I really can’t deal with Hippies, I ventured off to West Philly to catch some movement art (it’s not just dance anymore, make a note of it) that was held at where else but a New Age-ish Wellness Center. I don’t mean to talk shit on any part of my favorite town in the world, it’s just that we got issues. I know UC does a lot of good for people and they make really cool albeit useless crafts there. I don’t know, every time I go there I feel like I’m at an awkward family dinner. The things we do for art.

Anywho, I brought my notebook along because I was properly tipsy beforehand, brandishing the Jack filled flask a co-worker gave me for Christmas (it reads “Hot Mess” on the front in purple cursive letters). It was kind of brisk out, but bearable, even still, with so many trees and less buildings, the wind is more apparent on the other side of the river. Where was I?

The notebook. I used to bring my notebook to every performance whether it was to take notes (read: steal choreography, kidding!), or to jot down some for a reflection later. During a dance writing class we were given an assignment where we had to go and just experience the experience. I was delighted to hear that many of my peers were aghast by this idea of recording things not with your head or pen & paper, but with emotions.

At the risk of sounding cliché (which sounds like a cliché), it was a humbling moment for us all. I remember how nervous I was to see the show but it is indelibly etched into my memory of being one of the greatest performances I ever experienced. It could have gone either way, at the time I was forcing myself to see some pretty crappy stuff in order to fulfill my coursework. This performance, no doubt was a good one.

This time, I was a little short of depth perception, and needed something to help me focus.

Studio 34 is a really cool, dare I say “hip” spot. When you open the door (after finally realizing the building is on the other side of the street), there is an onslaught of flyers hand and professionally crafted by the newest face of starving art. The steps are steep and wooden, and there is almost a sense of an oncoming sensory overload as you enter the space, the smokers smoke wafting in from the almost completely closed front door.

There are splashes of color throughout, and as you make it up to the top step, beyond the plethora of gatherers, there is a wonderful labyrinth of work and play space.

The place reads like a studio loft with a gallery and café. There is of course art scattered about here in there, in various fashions, on the wall and in the selection of chatski. There was a lot of black wrought iron railings and big windows at the front of the space that were adjacent to a riser that could have doubled as a stage. The lighting was dim, and naturally, here were colored light bulbs (they burn less electricity).

Tonight’s dance event was part of Studio 34‘s Studio Series. Jaamil Kosoko was invited to be a curator for the series, and along with Karama Butler, presented and hosted a motley conglomeration of movement artists. The Founder and Executive Director of The Kosoko Performance Group, Kosoko successfully managed to pull together a compelling show of diverse and talented artists’ works in progress.

I unfortunately missed the hour long artist’s chat (damn you Facebook), but was glad to see that there was some genuine mingling going on when I got there 5 minutes past curtain time.

Jaamil was center stage, calm and smooth and dapper as ever, rounding up the masses into the gallery area where the performance was going to take place. I grimaced in spite of myself; I don’t think I’ve ever been to a performance in West Philly where you weren’t encouraged to sit or lay on the floor. I was shocked that everyone still had their shoes on. What is that?!

After I said my one hello (there’s always one, for fear of talking to the other rock stars in the room), I leaned up against the wall next to a pair who had no problem with personal space. Eventually, they got out of my way and chose to lay down and sit “Indian Style” (are we still allowed to say that?) on the pillows and Sante Fe inspired carpet rug blanket things that were scattered about.

I was tickled by the hostess of the evening who I presume was playing opposite of the guise of Kosoko (Winston Hemm) to her, Deboreau Hemm (Karama Butler). She was witty and irreverent, and kept the show going at a nice pace. Plus, she was such a lady. She looked like one, she acted like one, she dressed like one. Wait, that was a little misogynistic, wasn’t it? Oh, labels!

In hindsight, the 2nd act was a little more engaging than the first, though Kosoko did dole out a riveting presentation of some of his poetry that left a pleasant stench of tension in the air. There is a dreamy languidness to his work that has a nostalgic undercurrent filled with bittersweet poise.

Studio showings are all the rage again, and this event was representing a new era of performance art where the community is brought in during the developmental stage in hopes of helping the artist test and craft their work as it is further pushed into the artistic process.

The first piece made me feel like I was back in dance class and there was some improvisational exercises taking place. Later I learned that the artist was very much interested in the improvisational style. If I am correct (and I hope I am, I made no reference to the performer’s names in my illegible notes), the choreographer was Justin Bryant. His work included text and was off the cuff so to speak, but was an interesting mix of movement motifs.

Another work was a duet that was a very intricate study of a technique the choreographer was developing. It was a picturesque exhibition of exercises that involved a balance of complicated but simple looking gestures evolved from classic ballet. The repetitiveness of the movement and music was cause for a dizzying, euphoric engagement in the performance. There was a balance of floor work that added to the depth of the study, but it didn’t take off in a big way like you would expect a duet to surmount, but in its subtlety, it managed to present something beautiful. Nora Gibson composed the performance.

If my memory serves me correctly (I hate not having a reference point) the next piece was a solo by a male topless dancer. I mention the topless thing because you had to be there, and if you were, you would have totally mentioned the topless thing if you wrote about it afterward. Moving right along, the topless male dancer guy, Luke Gutgsell, is a dancer turned choreographer who was experimenting with static phrases that concentrated on technique and body movement. The choreography wasn’t complex, but the vibrant structure of it spoke volumes about the creation of dance composition and it was a nice homage to the bridge between old and new styles.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, “author, poet, choreographer, performance artists, curator, comedian, etc.” presented an excerpt from one of his newest works, “An Expectation of Violence” that is a multimedia, autobiographical piece presented by a company of dancers.

The piece was framed by Kosoko’s poetry, used as dialog by the dancers. His sweet yet haunting verses spoke of and conjured up images of dancing ancestors and being haunted by ghosts, in a good way and a bad way. In his words he invoked thoughts that engendered a dreamy eroticism and an attachment to memories. The way he was describing impossible and real situations, created a harmony of darkness and lightness in the work. There were moments of comic relief and abrupt distractions. The elements all melded well together and were jarring in a lighthearted way.

One of the most entertaining pieces was conceptualized by artist Sydney Skybetter who was working on a piece that was inspired by flight attendants. All and all it was a brilliant idea and because of the focused nature of the subject, the work was clear cut and really pulled the audience in. In all forms of art, the story of the “common man” and exploiting the blue collar world has always been of interest and has been successful in many realms. Here, the work is playful yet seriously deep. There is a great use of props (the two dancers in the piece end up inside of a rolling suitcase during the show) and the addition of voguing added a nice touch.

Another duet exceeded all the expectations of a duet. The (topless) male dancer and his partner (a fully clothed woman) really got the packed house revved up with their acrobatic style, doing a lot of floor work and really embracing the dynamics of the choreography. The work was conceived by Kathryn Tebordo?

The final piece was a presentation of new work by Philly Contact Collective who also presented work that was based on the improvisational style but delved more into the movement study realm. Again, the movements were simple yet complex in the combinations, and lots of twitching and contorting of the body was seen throughout. The piece had a nice sense of humor and mystery to it.

Overall, it was a great night of dance and the show was heavily attended. It is a great tool for the artists to be able to present their work in a casual environment in order to further their artistic development. Rehearsing in the studio does not create the same element that dancing in front of the audience allows. It is nice to have that middle ground where an artist can mold and present a live performance without having it be the end-all-be-all.

The only issue for me is that some of it is so raw and new and leaves a lot of questions. Art is subjective after all, and delving into a work in progress can be like eating a BLT with no “B”. It’s the best part. That being said, the works that presented themselves in a strong assertive way without being too weird are the ones that got the most attention and left their mark in the memories of the audience (or should we call them “participants”). Those are the works that have bred interest and a desire for understanding, if not entertainment.