IMPRESSIONS: Café La MaMa Live: La MaMa Moves! Online, Featuring Kevin Augustine/Lone Wolf Tribe and Tamar Rogoff with Mei Yamanaka
January 27, 2021
Wonder About Merri by Tamar Rogoff
Performance: Merri Milwe // Score: Wilco Alkema // Editing and Cinematography: Shachar Langlev
The Yamanakas At Home (work-in-progress) by Tamar Rogoff and Mei Yamanaka
Performance: Kumiko, Mei, and Toshitsugu Yamanaka
BODY CONCERT (work-in-progress) by Kevin Augustine/Lone Wolf Tribe
Performance: Kevin Augustine // Score: Mark Bruckner
For all our griping about the pandemic, and there’s been plenty, when you step back, we’re lucky it happened in 2020, rather than, say, 2004. That was before YouTube (2005), the iPhone (2007), Amazon Prime (2007), and Zoom (2011). We may long to hug our friends, sup inside restaurants, and gather in theaters, communing with the art forms we adore, but the reality is that modern resources allow us to approximate some of our favorite pre-pandemic activities.
We’ve been able to stay connected virtually, and — thank goodness! — for dance lovers like you and me, we’ve even been able to watch new choreography. Hats off to the intrepid presenters and tireless artists for continuing to nourish our spirits.
Like many theaters, La MaMa went dark in 2020, but artistic director Nicky Paraiso et al. pivoted, and Café La MaMa Live: La MaMa Moves! Online premiered in January, featuring four artists and their digital presentations. The artists rotated in twosomes over a quartet of nights, and I caught the final evening, which spotlighted dance filmmaker Tamar Rogoff and puppeteer Kevin Augustine/Lone Wolf Tribe. Check out my colleague Cecly Placenti’s IMPRESSIONS: Anabella Lenzu and Kari Hoaas HERE.
Rogoff’s five-minute Wonder About Merri functions as an amuse-bouche — fun, but insubstantial with a clunky narrative arc. Charming protagonist Merri Milwe points at the definition of dystonia (a movement disorder in which an individual’s muscles twitch involuntarily) in a dictionary. After applying a swipe of lipstick, she leaves her apartment in a wheelchair. On the street, apropos of someone turning up their car radio, she transforms into a spunky Golden Girl. Out of drab winter wear and into metallic leggings, she bursts into a jiving, waving, dance-like-nobody-is-watching solo.
Then the film retrogrades: Merri sinks into her wheelchair and returns to her apartment where she reopens the dictionary. In firm letters, she writes So why can I dance?, which, well, the dictionary never said that she couldn't dance. Curious about the relationship between dystonia and dance, I googled and found many websites (including a Ted Talk) devoted to the topic. Was this the response I was supposed to have?
Rogoff’s The Yamanakas At Home , a work-in-progress created with Mei Yamanaka, juxtaposes the mundane with the arcane. Mom and Pop Yamanaka drink tea, watch television, and groove around their living room to Scott Greenblatt’s infectious “Can’t Sit Still.” A lone soldier in fatigues and platinum blonde hair moves through and around their safe space, army-crawling over stairs and peering through windows. Who this entity is remains elusive, but Mom and Pop Yamanaka sense something or someone is afoot. Ritualistic circles of rice appear over and around the family and their objects, such as photos or delivery boxes or, in one instance, the parents as they sleep. They sweep up these esoteric symbols, but like a ghost, they always come back.
If you think being a puppeteer is nothing more than pulling a few strings, then watching Kevin Augustine/Lone Wolf Tribe will be enlightening. More of a documentary than a performance, the thirty-minute film showcases Augustine conceptualizing and rehearsing his latest creation, the work-in-progress BODY CONCERT. He listens to composer Mark Bruckner’s score. He opines about his previous works. He executes hollow holds and sit-ups with ankles weights. (You’ll soon appreciate why he must be in tip-top condition to animate his puppets.) Littered among these man-at-work scenarios are Covid-19 signs about mask-wearing and social distancing.
Let’s talk about the body-inspired puppets, which include a nightmare-inducing, beach-ball-sized eyeball that Augustine frolics with. The standouts are a leg and an arm, both shorn at the top so that their bone, muscle, and gristle spill out. Constructed of foam-rubber, the limbs are realistic enough to be creepy and artistic enough to be cool. The arm and leg form a friendship of sorts, and their bones “kiss” each other. When we’re still so far apart, somehow this quirky declaration of togetherness resonated through my screen more than any whiz-bang, Romeo and Juliet smooch could.