amBroadway | New adventures in live theater: ‘Afterwardsness’

Bill T. Jones
Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger

Two months ago, “Afterwardsness,” a socially-distanced new dance piece co-created by Tony winner Bill T. Jones (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela!”), was slated to become the first live professional production of any kind to play an indoor venue in New York City since the pandemic began. But when multiple dancers tested positive for COVID during rehearsals, it got postponed.

Last week, “Afterwardsness” finally debuted at the Park Avenue Armory, where it played to a small number of audience members who were spread throughout the massive drill hall (used at only 10 percent of its seating capacity).

While I do not profess to be an authority on modern dance, I was eager to attend and once again experience a show with live performers (as opposed to theatrical “installations” such as “Blindness” that substitute actors for prerecorded audio) and witness the extensive safety protocols that the venue would be incorporating.  

In order to attend, audience members had to either present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. In order to limit physical contact between audience members, we were instructed how and when to enter and exit the space with orderly, military-like precision.

“Afterwardsness” is an hour-long piece intended to convey the anguish and anxiety of the past year. The nine isolated dancers materialize along narrow paths throughout the space, where they perform movements and gestures invoking pain and abuse. It is played against a score that includes violin tribute to George Floyd and excerpts from Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” and an anonymous voice that interrupts the performance by reciting recent dates in advancing order.

Regardless of whether has a passion for modern dance or Jones’s aesthetic, “Afterwardsness” marks an important step forward in making the transition towards the return of live performance. In spite of the shortness of the run, it has been filmed for future broadcast.

‘Hadestown’ and ‘North Country’ confirm reopening

Two more Broadway musicals that were running at the time of the shutdown have announced reopening dates: “Hadestown” (Sept. 2) and “Girl from the North Country” (Oct. 13). “Hadestown,” which won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Musical, is now slated to be the first Broadway to reopen, to be followed on Sept. 14 by “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Chicago.” The news about “Girl from the North Country” (which incorporates songs by Bob Dylan) was announced on Monday, coinciding with Dylan’s 80th birthday.

‘Winnie the Pooh’ to adventure again

The Disney version of “Winnie the Pooh” is coming to the stage – with life-size puppets. A new production by Jonathan Rockefeller (who previously created and directed stage versions of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Paddington”) will play Off-Broadway’s Theater Row beginning Oct. 21. It will incorporate music by The Sherman Brothers (whose songs are used in the 1977 animated film “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”) and additional songs by A.A. Milne (author of the original “Winnie the Pooh” stories).

This week’s streaming recommendations…

“The Nose” (Shostakovich opera about a Russian bureaucrat whose nose mysteriously goes missing), Thurs. at 7:30 p.m., metopera.org…”Bandstand” (short-lived 2017 Broadway musical about a group of emotionally-wounded World War II vets who form a swing band), Fri to Mon, broadwayondemand.com