How’s he doing?

By Lori Ortiz

Some season highlights in Gantner’s pix for fall ’08

Performance Space 122’s freewheeling spirit has only been fast-forwarded by its newish artistic director Vallejo Gantner. There’ve been changes in programming. The Avant-Garde-Arama showcase is nearing 30 and a family-friendly version was recently added. Formal talk-backs are out—talking happens in the natural, social way. And P.S.122 is presenting major off-site productions, for example, the beer-garden-style Spiegeltent on Pier 17, and Yanira Castro’s new “Dark Horse/ Black Forest.” The performance previewed in very close quarters where it couldn’t be ignored or forgotten.

You may listen as you descend your building’s staircase and hear the neighbors yelling at each other or even throwing things. But the view of a torrid relationship in choreographer Castro’s upcoming duet takes voyeurism to a precipice. It’s about being in a scary, unsafe place. And it doesn’t happen on a stage but in a bathroom like yours.

There couldn’t be a more intimate setting for this work for two: menace and mate. Someone is slated to lose but may come out ok. While they dance, your empathy for the intense situation may invoke barely perceptible waltz music. Castro’s take-away “Dark Horse/Black Forest” is magical dance, even in the cramped setting.

An objet d’art for its duration, the duet can be installed in any bathroom. Its layout and footprint determine some of the dance-theater. The sound is a constant— a carry-along box with a taped score consisting of water sounds and carefully modulated electronic noise.

Dance can take place anywhere, according to the American born Gantner, not just in a theater. “Dark Horse/Black Forest” is to run contiguously with shows in the P.S.122 building—an old schoolhouse that was repurposed as a hothouse for performance and art. It’s been an East Village fixture, as such, for at least a quarter century.

In fact, P.S.122 sprawls out of the box in more ways than one. Sui generis could be its middle name. Performances may start ten or fifteen minutes later than specified, the way poetry readings do. Three years ago, after veteran Mark Russell’s long and respected tenure, Gantner took the job of keeping the scene vivid. It can be noisy, outrageous, and life interferes. If the August launch is any indication…the lights are on and P.S.122 patrons are in for a wild ride. The membership event was held at The Norwood, a tony, funkified artists’ social club on West Fourteenth Street.

The evening began with video clips of past and upcoming performances in the Norwood’s screening room. Gantner spoke animatedly about the new season, or scene, and the physical revitalization of the building. Our private viewing of “Dark Horse” followed. While Castro’s cast made a splash in the bathroom, Neal Medlyn anti-performed his “Life Drawing” at the bar. He posed in a thong while viewers sketched.

Typifying the energy level slated for ’08-’09, a sandwich of Palissimo dancers Ashleigh Leite and Gina Bashour played puppet and puppeteer. “After I had cut off my hands and grown new ones something my former hands had longed for came and asked to be rocked,” from poet Denise Levertov’s parallel verse. Their riveting duet, or should I say solo, from “Blind Spot” was seen at P.S.122 in June. One reviewer called it “dance with meaning.”

Having hosted yearly Norway festivals at P.S.122, Gantner again reaches where the sun don’t set. “Louder” (September 25-28) is a new work by Verdenstreatet, the group that created the Bessie award winning “Concert for Greenland.” Also, Jo Strømgren Kompani’s “The Society” opens off-site on October 15 at the Abrons Center on the Lower East Side. Earlier this year Cedar Lake Ballet performed Strømgren’s pure dance “Rite,” to Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.” It’s worth catching this precise choreographer’s more theatrical work about a coffee-loving society that falls apart when someone introduces a tea bag.

From Paris, the awesome dance-theater artist Rachid Ouramdane joins Pascal Rambert and Kate Moran for a double bill using both of P.S.122’s theaters October 3 and 4. Gantner is about art that generates conversation and dialogue. “A Standing Boy” and “With My Own Hands” are intended to coalesce in the viewers’ mind.

Which brings us to Sara Juli. In her touring hit “The Money Conversation,” she offered members of the audience the option to take her life-savings from behind her left cheek and elsewhere. “At the end of the day I won the conversation with myself,” she told me at the Norwood. Again she’ll confront the unspeakable in her new work. Her tragicomedy aims for resolution and release. She is mourning the recent death of her Dad, but during her October 24 – November 2 P.S.122 engagement, she will be six months pregnant.

Opening the fall season on September 6 through the 27 is Thomas Bradshaw’s “Southern Promises.” Says Gantner, “It’s a fantastic work of an intellectual and juvenile mind.” Bradshaw’s new play promises the off-color and politically incorrect, if not outright racism. “Not for the faint of heart,” says the press release. Bradshaw is one of Paper magazine’s 2006 Beautiful People. Jose Zayas, of “Talk Radio” fame, directs.

For the film buff, there is Reid Farrington’s “The Passion Project” September 10 – 20. It’s a solo by the Melle Falconetti look-alike Shelley Kaye, in which she sets up a 3D version of Carl Dryers’ 1928 film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” Strange but true, the reels were lost in fires and then serendipitously recovered.

If you still have questions about empathy, see Amy Caron’s “Waves of Mu” October 10 -19 and get a neuropsychological take on the phenomenon. In December, the jet-set, cabaret diva Meow-Meow performs “The Love Show.” Expect new age exotica with a medieval twist.

In Gantner’s engaging scene, some of the themes are Artaudian. And dance lovers, bring your lorgnettes!