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A Weekend in New York

October 18, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street protests are in full swing and I'm at the end of a long weekend in New York, where I've encountered a couple of cultural events -- one that shed some light on the current feeling in the air quite captivatingly and one which attempted to offer some kind of social insight but ended up providing little more than inane escapism.

It was surreal experiencing The Sun Also Rises, a stage adaptation by the ever-inventive Elevator Repair Service Theatre Company, when just up the street at Times Square, thousands of people were gathering to voice their discontent at the unraveling economy and ever-yawning gulf between the haves and have-nots. A political rally is in some ways a carefully orchestrated mix of sound and movement cues all calculated to create the biggest impact. The Select is similarly structured, with hundreds of brilliantly rendered recorded sounds and choreographed sequences all deftly carried out by the fluid performers. It's interesting to compare Hemingway's cast of disenfranchised expats, suffering latent shock in the aftermath of World War one, with today's hoards of protesters trying to make sense of an equally nonsensical world. Only the bullfights of Pamplona, with their controlled vision of violence, provide a creative outlet for the characters' feelings in the play as they otherwise do whatever they can to lose themselves in drink and sex. The Wall Street occupiers are channeling their energies in a more positive way, in some respects. But for every person who feels like taking a stand about today's socio-economic woes, there are a hundred going the sex and booze route. Ultimately, I wonder which is more effective as a means of protest?

How fast the three-and-a-half hours of The Select flew by in comparison to Symphony for the Dance Floor, a tedious 80-minute long music and dance extravaganza created by electronic violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I gather that DBR (as the violinist is popularly known) is a darling of BAM and has been commissioned to create several pieces in the past by the venerable arts organization. I hear some of his other efforts were better than this latest one, which combines some unexceptional violin playing, coarsely derivative club-style dance moves, cheesy screen projections and uninspiring DJ beats and rhymes. In the program notes, DBR states that the piece is a response to the paralysis that the artist felt upon hearing the news of the January 12 2010 earthquake in Haiti. DBR is Haitian. But I was hard-pressed to find a relationship between the artist's social message about Haiti and the fashion magazine-style portraits thrown up on screen and scenes of simulated sex involving the various parts of DBR's wooden "instrument" and the crevices of several nubile female dancers' bodies. Maybe I just lack the necessary imagination.

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