The politics of Power. The architecture of Resistance. The aesthetics of Emptiness. And other discursive inQUEERies...

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To all the shapeshifters, the nightwalkers, the fringe-dwellers…

… To the lovers, the artists, the witches, and the healers amongst us today. I want to talk to you about queerness for a moment. I want to talk about the ways we love, the ways we live, and the enduring specialness of our place in this world.

For most of my life thus far, I thought that to be truly queer or radical, or radically queer, meant a kind of wholesale rejection of basically… everything. We have been alienated from state-sanctioned institutions for so long that we have known nothing else. “Good riddance,” we say. We don’t want your sullied stamp of approval. We don’t want to prove our “sameness”, our legitimacy, our civility. We don’t want “in”, so instead we choose to create liminal spaces to inhabit. We cruise each other in dark bars and clubs. We dance. We treat our cats like human babies. We potluck. We make art. We howl at the moon and make love with a kind of rich and reckless abandon that scares some.

But what has happened you see, is that in our rejection of authorized and normative spaces, many of us have also been incidentally stripped of sacred spaces. We’ve been booted out of ancient rituals and rites of passage. I believe it’s absolutely true that there is so much power and potency in refusing that which has been refused to us. But there is also some loss and casualty. Now, I do not want the state legislating my affections, but I do want to honor my commitment to Vanessa by having my friends and family witness and support us in this special endeavor.

And so, led by special creatures like Dori, we have the opportunity to reclaim and recommit to the shadows. To sacred spaces. Healing spaces. Because, for hundreds of generations, this was OUR domain. Queers have always reigned over the passages between life and death, the bardos, and the cracks in consciousness that reveal themselves when you’re tuning in. We have always been mediums, channels, translators, and shamans. Let’s not forget this in our bold protests, our resistance, and in our fevered stand against legacies of dominance and tyranny. Indeed. We ARE warriors and we must be armed with open hearts, open hands. I am learning that we need to soften in order to truly take back that which belongs to us. We need to give ourselves permission to embody ritual spaces on our own terms, and to honor our subaltern visions and aspirations. We need to tend to and protect the precious bonds of love that are not dictated by the certainty of blood or law. We need to commit to one another — this ever-extending Chosen Family. We are part of a long lineage of queer pioneers and heroines so let’s care for and forgive one another. Let’s reject that which misunderstands us but lean into that which has always known us. The sacred. The divine. And all the in-between becomings. 

Dori, Vanessa, and I have been meeting to explore the vast power and possibility in saying “yes.” And Dori is encouraging all of us to think about “yes” as magic, as expansion, as a powerful symbol and courageous gesture. So for me, today is a practice in learning how to finally say yes…

I’m saying yes to joy, yes to desire and pleasure, yes to love, yes to letting myself be loved, yes to being seen, yes to healing. Yes to utopias, yes to getting lost along the way, yes to failure, yes to celebration, yes to gratitude for the bounty that continues to offer itself to me, yes to the goddess, yes to the feminine, yes to the unknowable, the impossible, yes to the body, and to the earth… yes to coming home.

And yes to the wildness of queer love, which knows no bounds at all. Today is my Yes and I am offering it to all of you.

Cassie Peterson

Filed under Dori Midnight love-blessing queer love cvinthelife

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                    The Prince, A Public Service Announcement

                                                 By Cassie Peterson

In her first live solo performance entitled, The Prince, Sacha Yanow emerges as a force to be reckoned with. The Prince is a queer coming-of-age drama that draws on childhood fantasy and mythology. Part Homeric Hero, part “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” the prince steps forth into the spotlight as a dapper, cartoonish, androgynous warrior on a personal journey of humility and triumph. What ensues is a declarative, yet vulnerable evening-length confession — a deftly punctuated transmission of wisdom and intimacy with oneself.


Photo by Fawn Krieger

Originally conceived  by Yanow as a kind of  “public service announcement,” The Prince follows the regal Radcliff and her struggle to come to know herself and the truths of the world, all from within the tiny confines of her childhood bedroom. The performance is personal and weighty and unfolds like an episodic parable with “visits” from other characters (all played by Yanow) like an overbearing mother frog, a friendly sparrow, an ancient tree, an evil sabotaging stomach, an elusive wind woman, and finally the prince’s own body.

Informed by powerful queerfeminist cultural references and sensibilities, Yanow mines and crafts her own formative experiences for material. The Prince is a PSA about how to navigate the coming-of-age-terrain and the different psychological states that both plague and bless us along the way. The show is like the internal state of the union, backlit by a community theater aesthetic, a kind of “quick and dirty” set that speaks to the childlike fantasies that the prince experiences. Yanow interacts with black and white hand-drawn images across the stage, creating a collage-like experience that incites a sense of nostalgia for a simpler, more imaginative time.

It is the performative aspects of The Prince that are most striking. Yanow possesses a rare, special kind of sincerity that belies the entire show. It is an intoxicating sincerity. Each character  she portrays is an internal impulse from deep within the prince herself. Each character is a projection that the prince must pass through in order to find the real power of connection. And connection is Yanow’s strong suit. She captivates audiences with a  gaze that never breaks. A smile. A wink. We are visitors in a special world and Yanow is our tour guide, our benevolent host, walking, dancing, monologuing, or ice-skating us through the various vicissitudes of being sentient. The Prince is letting us in on something special. Something secret. Something that could in fact, save our own lives.


Photo by Fawn Krieger

In the age of quick fixes, pop psychology, and TED talks, The Prince is less of an answer and more of a raw unfolding. It is a steady meditation on the root causes of personal suffering, the slippery intricacies of our self-loathing, and the psycho-spiritual antidotes to these mind states. It is not a resolution, so much as an invitation to think about what is possible. Yanow’s prince dares us to be in direct conversation with our suffering whilst still striving for self-knowledge and transformation. How do we make meaning and purpose of our lives amidst the cultural alienation and nihilism that is our time? The Prince reads like a roadmap, a journey to the center of one’s self. It gently moves through the barriers that hinder us; from obsessive thinking, jealousy, and grandiosity to entitlement and perfectionism. And the shame and guilt that so often underpin all of these things.

In the end, Radcliff transcends her singular, bedroom-bound existence by taking up arms with her own physical body and the social body, the body politic. The lonely prince becomes many. A thousand princes a top a great mountain. Similarly, Yanow has joined a community of artists, of queers, and of seekers; people who yearn for deeper truths than the ones we inherited at birth.

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The Failed Firebird

                                             By Cassie Peterson

Katy Pyle’s, The Firebird is a feminist direct action and a queer confrontation, making it anything but your typical ballet. No, this is a Ballez; a ballet-inspired theatrical process, featuring an all female-assigned, lesbian/queer/transmasculine cast, that redefines the traditional gender roles, technical expectations, and dominant narratives of ballet. Ballez seeks new embodied expression through the queering of classical forms. In order to challenge the heteronormativity implicit in ballet, Pyle deconstructs balletic elements: physical training, theatricality, and presentational performance, and reconstitutes them into a community-oriented, gender-fluid, queer utopian vision of what is possible in dance. Through Ballez, Pyle has made ballet available to untrained, queer bodies. In this process, Ballez strives for the complexity, beauty, and grace of classical ballet forms, while simultaneously breaking all the rules. Ballez allows for struggle and misfire, aiming at a standard, but missing it entirely.

In this version of The Firebird, we follow a yearning, Lesbian Princess and a Tranimal (part bird, part prince) as they seek liberation in a magically perverse landscape of polyamorous Princes and their dominant Sorceress. Accompanied by the Queer Urban Orchestra, and a cast of 15 queer performers, this work positions itself as part of a long lineage of radical, experimental ballet companies, including one of its inspirations, the Ballet Russes. Throughout her creative process, Pyle utilized the outline of the original “Firebird” ballet created by Mikhail Fokine and Igor Stravinsky in 1910. She read Fokine’s journals, which shaped her narrative structure and aesthetic choices. In this, she was particularly moved by his idea that “each ballet’s movements should be specific to the culture it represents.” Therefore, Ballez explores and communicates movements and embodiment specific to the queerfeminist culture that Pyle and her cast so unequivocally inhabit.



I completely failed at this essay, the first time I wrote it. It was too long and it read like a string of theoretical bullet points. In response, my editors used words like “dense” and “impersonal.” I had in fact, written myself out of the piece, an act of total self-effacement. What got lost was my experience of the Ballez, the feelings it incited in me, and the effects of seeing my own community do this incredible thing together, on stage. With a pressing deadline and an overwhelming desire to perfectly document everything, my voice slowly disappeared and was replaced with a barrage of academic citations (which I have since removed). I had managed to write around the primary, organizing principle of Ballez: it’s a project of connection and togetherness. At the core of Pyle’s interest is generating and capturing community interaction; queer folks coming together for classes, rehearsals, and performances over time.

Ballez is a communal state where magic is possible and perfection is not.  It’s a place where all the awkward struggles of being a sexual minority in the world dissipate and are replaced with the nobility of queer relations. This is what you’re seeing on stage — a community in full bloom, each individual pulled out momentarily from their particular alienations and isolations and placed together like a bumpy, beautiful, jigsaw puzzle, composed of vegetarian potlucks, cats, astrological signs, and burnt sage. This is some serious Deep Lez, Earth Goddess Mother, howl-at-the-moon shit.

I had the pleasure of joining the Ballez Company at Mount Tremper Arts during their residency there in March. Stepping into a Ballez rehearsal was like a homecoming I never knew I wanted or needed. The first night I arrived, we each pulled our totem animal card from the deck and shared it with the group. A polar bear, a snake, a firebird. Yes, the firebird. There was a Reiki session going on in the corner on someone’s twisted ankle. Someone else was doing a past life reading/ritual. Someone else was processing a bad break-up, and eventually the whole scene devolved into an ecstatic dance party in the woods, snow on the ground, a shooting star, hip hop blaring from someone’s small, but effective iPod speakers. There was a wildness in everyone’s eyes, their physical fatigue turned inside out and manifest as endless laughter.

My original (failed) essay was defensive, fraught with a fortress of impenetrable language. Without knowing it, I was trying to defend or protect the Ballez and myself within it. So many representations of queerness are intrinsically defensive, formed in reaction to that which is deemed normal or “right.” But the Ballez is not defended, nor does it require defense. It unabashedly exists as an open-hearted, vulnerable expression of queerfeminist intimacies. This intimacy is a fortunate residue from all the immense partnering exercises devised by Pyle: gazing into each other’s eyes every day, standing at the barre again and again, cutting each other’s hair, cooking for one another, and playing Scrabble. In this Ballez world, opportunities for intimate connection are multiple, making this performance a symbol for the ever-extending queer family that created it.

In rehearsal the following morning in March, Pyle and performers talked about queer coming-of-age traditions like softball, clubbing, and sex and found ways to have those things inform their movement, their manner, and their embodiment. In this overarching physical inqueery, Pyle has altered balletic movement to account for and incorporate two female-assigned bodies. Physical strength, power, and position are more equally distributed amongst the dancers, breaking from the more traditional gendered movements found in ballet. Inspired by modern ballet formulations, she and her dancers are working to discover and refine a kind of physics-based partnering that allows female-assigned people, of various sizes, to lift one another. Throughout this process, questions arose about how queer experience creates alternative alignments, movements and patterns of interaction within bodies, thus creating a kind of re-imagined choreography that showcases the imperfection of untrained, queer bodies.

Lesbian feminist writer, Monique Wittig, refers to society’s heteronormative schema as the “Straight Mind” whereby all social and psychic phenomena are interpreted through a heterosexual lens[1]. Ballez is a direct challenge to the “Straight Mind” but also to what we could term the “Straight Body.” Pyle uses Ballez to explore the alternative idiosyncrasies of the queer body. These are bodies “trained” and shaped via other, marginal means, revealing a virtuosity and grace, perhaps not legible through a normative gaze. Pyle wanted to know,         

       What does ballet look like inside of a genderqueer body?

       What does ballet DO in a queer body?  

These bodies are sly and slouched. They have binded breasts and a calculated way of hiding their hips. They are masculine, but petite. Years of living as sexual minorities manifest as a kind of armored resiliency, a learned toughness and campiness that is revealed in every one of their off-beat movements.

This Firebird has a campy, Do-It-Yourself, basement feel to it. It features Hedia Maron’s video installation with silhouetted, cut-out, paper figures traversing an enchanted forest and Mikki Olson’s costumes, which have both a homemade and grandiose quality to them – paper mache hats and red-painted football pads. And there are 15 queer bodies in a space together, approaching the problem of being in a ballet, while not being fully equipped to perform its original expectations. What ensues is beautiful, funny, and devastating. Ballez features many different body types, each with varying degrees of dance training and yet Pyle has managed to incorporate them all into semi-coherent patternings. But when these dancers move together, there is a striving for something that cannot be fully realized. When they stand next to one another, the lines are loose and incongruent. Uniformity is attempted, but heart-breakingly impossible. Pyle has intentionally allowed for the discrepancy between actualized formalism and the lack of dance training to be evident, front and center. What emerges in a different kind of vocabulary, where lifts are not as high, lines are not as straight, timing is less exacting. The rigor of formal ballet training is replaced with the failure to meet these standards.



Yet, in this failure, there is a contagious, charged energy that pervades the Ballez space; not that everyone is sleeping together, but that they could be. And that, maybe you would want to join them. Ballez challenges the heteronormative gaze by bringing queer desire to the fore without any apology or reticence, without any covert coding that keeps everyone safe from discomfort or inquisition. The femme-top lesbian princess desires the tranimal in all of his various incarnations and in-betweeness. She reaches out to him in his fire red, fringe-leather jacket, and pulls him close, before lifting him up near her head. Later, with her dark, severe eyebrows and long lean body, the sorceress is like a dominatrix who loves all the princes in a crazysexycool, sado-masochistic manner. They obediently hold her up above them while she punishingly pushes them away. And finally, all the freshly shorn, spandex-clad, polyamorous princes lust after one another, unapologetically.

In one scene, The Corps de Ballez — the cast of twelve “butch princes” enter the stage after the opening solos, with fruit/phallus in hand. They proceed to dance in a line, touching each other’s fruit, picking it up and dropping it in each other’s tights, smelling, tasting, affirming one another’s desire. The first time I encountered these princes, I was overwhelmed with both excitement and pangs of grief because it is such a rare experience to see female masculinity[2] afforded so much space and attention. The princes are soft, handsome, funny, and full of faggotry. They are adoring and adored. They exert a gentle strength, holding one another’s heads, lifting, carrying, and attending to one another. The princes’ choreography inscribes a kind of tender, vulnerable masculinity that at times takes on maternal qualities. In this welcoming tenderness, this Corps de Ballez offers a soothing, pedestrian relief to an otherwise intense story of love and loss. They function like the queer commons; it’s a place to see ourselves reflected back with a kind of kinetic mirroring and twinship. Yes. We are all princes. We are all Ballez.

It is through this unmitigated eros and community recognition that Ballez undermines the normative, buttoned-up, ethereal aspirations of traditional ballet and replaces them with queer elements of perversity, marginality, fluidity, and failure. Queer challenges the strive for universalities and disrupts the order of things. It is antagonistic and provocative. It complicates the ease in which we come to “know” things. Queer is the failure to adhere or assimilate to social mandates. It fails. Queer is already always failure. And Pyle and company have created an epic spectacle of this queer failure. These performers fail time and time again at balletic expectations. The fail at compulsory heterosexuality. They fail at socially constructed gender binaries. And they fail at normative, narrative resolution. Ballez performs on its own failed set of terms while also revealing the failures of the forms that try to constrict it.

After failing at my original essay, I then felt empowered to write whatever I wanted. Similarly, Pyle and company are free to create something different, something way out of bounds. This is the unsanitized queer experience. Failing so good, together forever.









[1] Wittig, M. (1992). The Straight Mind: And Other Essays. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


[2]  Halberstam, J. (1998). Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Filed under queer theory queer failure ballez the firebird Cassie Peterson Katy Pyle dance performance ballet writer criticism queer queer bodies queer dance

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    This dance review was originally published in the Brooklyn Rail


1. The soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities.

2. The intestines.


Juliana May’s newest work, Commentary = not thing is pure viscera. Guts. It is an exercise in the literal guts of the human body, the metaphoric guts of a choreographic process, and finally, “the guts” it takes to do what she and her dancers do in this piece. Observers might feel moved. Transformed. Nauseated and strangely aroused. Gutted. Her work registers at low-lying longitudes where innards and entrails reside. It all spills out and nothing is left imagined.

Benjamin Asriel and Kayvon Pourazar in Juliana May’s Commentary = not thing. Photo: Ian Douglas.

Commentary = not thing, which premiered in February at New York Live Arts, is a gutsy regression into the primal, pre-conscious human body; a visceral journey whereby the base functions and impulses of the body are mapped in space. These are bodies before “appropriate” social conditionings. Bodies before “right” or “wrong.” Bodies beyond reproach and repression. Beyond shame. Beyond guilt. These are bodies uncensored. May’s choreography reads like a non-linear stream of corporeal consciousness. It’s a discursive swirling of irrational physical gestures, beyond thought. These are bodies that feel the contours of Self and Other without the intellect to complicate or mitigate the experience. Dominant notions of thinking Self quickly dissipate and are replaced with the form and function of the feeling body.

In her work, May employs these feeling bodies to populate and create what she calls a “postmodern aesthetic-ritual.” Specifically, in Commentary = not thing, she says she is most interested in “language and the naked body and how abstraction can distort and frame meaning.” To this end, she directs her dancers to manipulate their own internal/external organs and to publically experiment with their correlating feelings of self-consciousness. These bodies are curious. Excessive. Exposed. Uncontained and leaking out into what May terms, “incredibly close encounters.” In this way, Commentary = not thing is both an innocent and violent exploration—one that reveals human desire as being absolutely lawless.

Lawlessness rules as May closely examines the “ins and outs” of the body and “the psychological systems” that control these kinds of internal shifts. She returns to the earliest phases of human development to investigate our most basic drives. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development put forth a template for what he deemed “normal” human development, starting at birth. Between birth and one and a half years, infants experience what he termed “the oral stage.” The oral stage is marked by experiences of pleasure and aggression through the mouth orifice. May’s dancers (Benjamin Asriel, Kayvon Pourazar, and Maggie Thom) explore this orality throughout the piece by sucking in their own breath, and by savoring words and utterances. Orality is characterized by the need for instant gratification. May’s dancers never stop moving or hungering or touching. They are in search of something to fill an unknown, yet unyielding need.

Next is what Freud called “the anal stage,” which unfolds from ages one and a half to three years old. This is known as a time of gaining internal control and achieving a sense of autonomy over one’s own body. This is also the time of testing the boundaries of emerging Self and Other. In this dance, themes of anality are evident in these boundary testings and repetitions—holding on and letting go. Pushing and pulling. And again.

Next is the phallic stage whereby the child begins to have sexual and romantic fantasies.  This is an exploratory phase of pleasure and pain and desire. The performers become preoccupied with the genitals and arousal becomes a possibility. What will be the plight of three?

Commentary = not thing inhabits the spaces of these three, initial developmental moments. Three adult bodies make a brave return to something buried, deep within us all. It is a return to something that perhaps we have no memory of in our own selves. It is a return to the material of Self before the Self is known on its own, individuated terms. It is a return to an infantile cauldron of sensorial chaos.

In addition to testing the limits of the body, May’s process is also testing the limits of the public sphere. She charts an exploration into urges, impulses, and feelings that are unacceptable to the conscious mind and to the public domain. These are the private, even secret aspects of having a Self. But May lets it all hang out, rendering Commentary = not thing with no thick skin or armoring to defend against social inquisition and judgment. Rather, the piece asks us all to push through our own moments of shame to reach some kind of energetic, ecstatic climax. It is an unforgettable development.

                    by Cassie Peterson

Filed under Juliana May Cassie Peterson Commentary=not thing Viscera dance criticism writing The Brooklyn Rail

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                                               by Cassie Peterson

(This piece was originally published on culturebot on January 10th, 2013.)

“Can a dominant regime of representation be challenged, contested, or changed? What are the counter-strategies which can begin to subvert the representation process?”

—Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations & Signifying Practices

 Every January, The Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) holds its annual conference in New York City in an effort to further develop and support the performing arts industry. The APAP website claims that “More than 3,500 presenters, artists, managers, agents and emerging arts leaders from 28 countries convene in the city for five days of professional development, business deals and exciting performances.” More than 1,000 artist showcases make up a mini festival that takes over performing arts venues throughout the city.

One such showcase is Dance New Amsterdam’s LateNite series. According to DNA’s website, the LateNite series is a “triannual event that gives a voice to artists working within the mediums of performance art, burlesque and experimental theater.” This year’s series features emerging curator, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, who has selected an assortment of movement/performance-based artists in this two-part event called other.explicit.bodies. Kosoko’s curatorial statement says that he is “exploring the work of artists who deal explicitly with themes of eroticism, gender, and otherness in live performance.”

But what is this Otherness? What is the Other?

In his famous chapter, The Spectacle of the ‘Other,’ critical theorist Stuart Hall writes about the operations of difference, noting that “Difference has been marked… difference signifies. It speaks.” He goes on to say that, “Marking difference leads us symbolically, to close ranks, shore up culture and to stigmatize and expel anything which is defined as impure, abnormal. However, paradoxically, it also makes ‘difference’ powerful, strangely attractive precisely because it is forbidden, taboo, threatening to cultural order.”

Each of the artists featured in other.explicit.bodies play with this paradox of difference and threaten cultural order, both in content and in choreographic practice/production. They call attention to the “markings” of difference and complicate dominant representations of “otherness.” For example, artist Lawrence Graham-Brown says of his work, “I deal explicitly with themes of Black male sex/sexuality, notions of beauty, desire, public display of Black male affection, cleansing, nurturing, consumerism and at the foreground asking a larger question about the Black male body in the public domain.” And artist Kate Watson-Wallace says of her work, “I consider being an artist, period, an act of social change, especially a female artist.”

 As a whole, all of the featured artists are working collectively to explore and contest various identity tropes by employing the presence of the erotic body as a political and performative tool. For example, artists Jasmine Hearn’s piece asks, “Why has the female sex been so over valued but her sexuality so underappreciated? Each work is asking, What does this body mean? And how does it read? In this way, other.explicit.bodies plays in what Kosoko calls the “material of dissidence and unrecognizability” and subverts dominant representations in multiple ways. Artist devynn emory “makes space for gender variant and transgender bodies on stage” and artist Jen Rosenblit calls for, “weathered bodies whose weight and complex identities carry rural notions to urban time frames.” It becomes clear that Kosoko’s collection of artists is creating the counterstrategies necessary for teasing apart notions of otherness. In this way, other.explicit.bodies re-animates the notion of “outsider” art in this rigorous, two-part curatorial project.

In addition to exploring and challenging markers of race, class, gender, and sexuality, each artist was asked to take on something new in their own performative practice. Kosoko describes each of these artists as having a “post-disciplinary” practice because of the ways they continue to blur the boundaries between art forms. Thus, each artist has pushed themselves to explore new terrain for this platform and to further defy categorization or distillation. Artist Rebecca Patek says of her experimentation, “I am interested in reclaiming elements of performance that are considered wrong, awkward, uncomfortable, overlooked and that are frequently dismissed. “

 To push otherness even further, Kosoko also deliberately curated artists from outside the often insular New York performing arts world. In addition to a couple of New York-based artists, he primarily culled from around the Northeast region, in general, as a way to confront and counter New York-centricity. He hopes to have this platform comment on New York’s preference for New York-based artists and he aspires to break this particular mold. He asks, “How can the conversation broaden and expand, and work to include others who are making work in cities and venues that are not necessarily in New York?” Thus, his is an effort to take other regions more seriously and to potentially call attention to the ever-present hierarchy or canon of contemporary dance/performance. Even in this alternative artistic economy, there still remains a hierarchy, a consolidation of resources, and an underlying investment in celebrity. Performing arts writer/critic Andrew Horowitz recently wrote, “There is a class system in the arts  – it is real and it is significant and gets worse every year.” There exists a very real scarcity of resources and accordingly, this platform presents artists who HAVE to do other things in order to support the production of their works. Kosoko’s curation inevitably brings up economic questions… How can a dance artist/choreographer make it in NYC? How can someone maintain a life in the arts while also supporting themselves? other.explicit.bodies features artists who are forced to wear multiple hats — “multi-taskers” as Kosoko calls them. How does this “multi-tasking” inform the work?  How is the creative process informed by the daily grind of searching for material resources and social legitimacy?  What day jobs do artists/performers/dancers/choreographers actually have and is this balancing act sustainable? Is it possible to still “make it” in New York? These questions pull the curtain back to reveal the vulnerability of the performance arts community and speak to the realities of many working artists within it. Kosoko observes a kind of “grunge aesthetic” in the curatorial project, in that it questions these hierarchical models of production and explores the margins of the contemporary dance scene(s). Kosoko asks each of us, “How can we collectively create opportunities for artists to make work, instead of subscribing to an older, competitive model that isn’t working anymore?”

 other.explicit.bodies artists include:

Lawrence Graham-Brown, Kate Watson-Wallace, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Rebecca Patek, Marjani Forte, Holly Bass, Megan Bridge, devynn emory, Jen Rosenblit, Jasmine Hearn 














Filed under Cassie Peterson other.explicit.bodies dance new amsterdam dance performance culturbot writer Stuart Hall Otherness Spectacle of the Other

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“Talking about my generation”: Jill Johnston and the Critic as Subject

Movement Research in Residence

Presented in conjunction with Rethinking the Imprint of Judson Dance Theater Fifty Years Later: Movement Research in Residence.

Critical Correspondence is an online publication by Movement Research. For this program, Critical Correspondence coeditors Aaron Mattocks and Marissa Perel honor the celebrated writer and critic Jill Johnston, whose experimental and personal voice communicated the culture of the interdisciplinary 1960s art scene. In light of Johnston’s innovative contributions to the form, this conversation considers contemporary criticism and the writer as subject. Speakers include David Velasco (editor of and Claudia La Rocco (founder of The event culminates as Movement Research artists perform readings of reviews on dance and performance.

Thom Donovan
Ariel Goldberg
Cassie Peterson
Christine Shan Shan Hou


This program is made possible, in part, through the support of the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Education and public programs are made possible by a generous grant from Goldman Sachs Gives at the recommendation of David and Hermine Heller.

Filed under Cassie Peterson New Museum Jill Johnston dance critic criticism writer reading performance Critical Correspondence Judson Dance Theater

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                                             Emptiness & Ephemera

                                                     by Cassie Peterson

Please read my newest essay about Tere O’Connor’s choreographic processes. This essay was originally published as part of New York Live Arts Context Note commission and was re-published by Bomb Magazine, online.                                                 


And yet, in these rigorous poststructural processes, O’Connor is not afraid to make beautiful dances. Using all the tools available to him, he seamlessly moves from prosaic movements to virtuosic ones. From fixed, technical movements to loose improvisational structures, his choreography embodies high velocities and a quiet spaciousness, never imposing narrow judgment or hierarchical value on any part of the choreographic realm. Peggy Phelan trenchantly writes, “Performance’s only life is in the present.” O’Connor is preoccupied by this notion of presence and contends with the ephemeral nature of performance by playing in what he calls the “unending drama of dance.” Dance is always temporary, always disappearing as it appears. Coming to us then leaving us in the same moment. O’Connor elevates dance’s dramatic mortality by constructing ultra artisanal, hyper-designed elements into it. He builds sophisticated, complex architectures into crumbling, temporary spaces to highlight this strange juxtaposition between the created and the decreated. The beautiful details of his authorship unfold into emptiness and impermanence.

Filed under Tere O'Connor Cassie Peterson dance writer emptiness and ephemera criticism Peggy Phelan

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                                  What is the Price of Inequality?

This piece was originally published as part of New York Live Arts Context Notes.

This month, artists, Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero and Commons Choir/Daria Faïn & Robert Kocik are each premiering performances that ask this very question. These movement artists are invested in exploring the effects of our enduring economic crisis and the problematic ideologies that have caused it. Both Hennessy and Faïn demonstrate a commitment to engaging with current social conditions, using their platforms as artists as a way to contemplate, critique, and heal our collective wounds.


Hennessy’s Turbulence and Faïn’s E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E feature collectivity, collaboration, and the social body by utilizing huge, unwieldy casts to represent the magnitude and power of the populace and to counteract the effects of insidious individualism, privatization, and alienation. Both performances are heavily process-oriented and experiment with what happens when you bring a mass of people into a studio and set a kind of collective intentionality. These performances strive to call attention to the ways that economics live inside of our bodies and are embedded in our relationships. They strive for a togetherness that transcends our prescriptively limited ways of knowing one another, which is often dictated by capitalistic, market-driven, transactional exchanges.

Thematically, the shows are very similar, but the results of their investigations manifest very differently. Turbulence feels like a rowdy, ecstatic ritual that is busting at the seams with dissident energy and discontent. Hennessy uses ‘queer’ resistance and love as his vehicle for this dissidence. In this frame, queer operates as an act. A strategy. A practice. A disruption to business-as-usual. Queer both blurs and challenges normative assumptions about the world and our place(s) in it. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is a more contemplative, spiritual ritual with a slow building of an energetic “common” space. Faïn uses this notion of “the commons” as an antidote to rugged individualism and works to create a new human architecture that questions our current ways of being in the world.

Both performances challenge dominant modes of production, thinking, being, and living. Hennessy’s is a public protest. Faïn’s is a deep mourning. What transpires in each performance is a kind of ritualistic transformation. An exorcism. A creation of alternative space and time. Each is a reparative gesture and an offering; a much needed social experiment and salve.

- Cassie Peterson

Filed under Daria Fain Keith Hennessy Cassie Peterson New York Live Arts dance writing economy Turbulence E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E

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                         Turbulence, a dance about the economy

Please read my essay about Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero’s performance, Turbulence (a dance about the economy.) This piece was originally published as part of New York Live Arts Context Notes.

“The possibility of destruction is always implicit in the act of creation.”

From Saul Alinsky’s, (1971) Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals.

Keith Hennessy’s performances suggest that anger should be understood as a critical tool and site of resistance, rather than as an affliction; and he celebrates anger’s power to move things. Hennessy’s work unearths the power in refusing the very things that have been refused to us. And then, we are also asked to find love inside of our anger and resistance. Perhaps it is a tall order, but at this point, postponements are inappropriate and dire. As a queer, anarchist-feminist, dancer, performer, scholar, community-organizing-circus-freak, Hennessy is demanding a confrontation and ready for a revolution.

Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero’s performance, Turbulence (a dance about the economy) is a critique of current political and economic lunacies. Turbulence is a politic, a protest, a ritual, a cleansing, and a “coming out.” The piece features unstable superstructures, with one body clamoring around on the backs of many. Performers are blinded by their own grandiose, golden masks as they climb over one another in the most precarious fashion; it’s an image resonant of greed, of unsustainability, and of human torture. In a fit of ecstatic rage, the performers scream about inane sub-prime rates and transnational working conditions and the never-ending state of war that we can’t ever seem to find our way out of. Turbulence is an exercise in brute force, coercion, and inexcusable excess. It is a picture of poverty and depletion. It is class warfare. It is a kind of embodied resistance against nonsensical exertions of power and enduring economic inequities. Our once infallible socioeconomic superstructures are now crumbling all around us, revealing capitalism as fragile, unstable, and vulnerable. Instead of saving it, maybe we should push it over the edge? What will it take?

Hennessy is calling us to the crumble.

So-called “political art” is often misunderstood as intrinsically didactic, heavy-handed, and somehow in opposition to “pure” aesthetics and practices in abstraction. However, Hennessy’s work cuts right through these unfortunate and outdated polarizations. Hennessy, like most contemporary performance artists, clearly understands his work as more than just a spectacle for an audience. He approaches performance not as an isolated domain but as an integral part of the sociopolitical terrain from which it arises. Aesthetic practice is political practice. Artistic process is social process. Thus, audiences are neither “safe” nor separate from Hennessy’s blazing inquisitions. His is a socially engaged art practice that understands and presents itself as a channel for connection, in a way that transcends traditional performing arts forums. Thus, Hennessy is both an artist and a community organizer in that he has installed a nomadic, performance-protest-occupation that moves and takes over…

Movement out of stasis. Out of status quo.

Turbulence is the provocation instead of the answer. Can we resist the humanistic compulsion to telegraph or prescribe what comes after the revolution? Maybe the revolution is already happening. Maybe it is not a consolidated event but things that happen in tiny pockets of time and space. Maybe this night, right here in the theater is part of the revolution. It is an urgent beckoning. Are you ready?

In his own urgent beckoning for a revolution, the late, great community organizer, Saul Alinsky wrote, “Together we may find some of what we’re looking for –laughter, beauty, love, and the chance to create.”

-Cassie Peterson

Get your tickets now!

Turbulence (a dance about the economy)
Oct 4-6 at 7:30pm

Join the conversation:
Oct 4 at 6:30 Come Early ConversationResistance (A conversation about the economy) with Amy Whitaker, author of Museum Legs
Oct 5 Stay Late DiscussionCreating “Turbulence” with Keith Hennessy and Carla Peterson (Artistic Director, New York Live Arts)

Filed under Cassie Peterson New York Live Arts context notes Keith Hennessy Turbulence dance writer economy