Monday, January 17, 2011

The last few days have been perplexing. As with a lot of other "downtown" people, i was immensely saddened when i heard about the death of Ellen Stewart. She was a true pioneer, a cultural icon, and her death was another indicator of the inevitable passage of time. I was one of those people who really didn't have much to do with Ellen Stewart; when i was working off-off-Broadway, i was associated with Theater for the New City, but i always knew that the origins of off-off-Broadway were with The Judson Church, Theater Genesis at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, Caffe Cino (Joe Cino), and Cafe LaMama (Ellen Stewart), so you had two churches and two cafes. Joe Cino's death ended the Caffe Cino, but Cafe LaMama was transformed into LaMama E.T.C. (Experimental Theater Club); if i remember correctly, the first time you went, you had to pay a fee for membership, and by making the claim that this was a "club" Ellen Stewart was able to keep her place open without having to bring her space up to code as a theater. That fiction of the theater club lasted for only a few years in the late 1960s; certainly, by 1970, the reputation of LaMama had been established and the "membership" was no longer needed. Ellen Stewart was certainly resourceful, not only did she keep her theater open, but she made it thrive and she was able to create one of the essential theaters in New York City. But i knew her slightly, and i certainly appreciated what she did for American culture, i remember going to see many things at the various La Mama spaces. What was funny was that when La Mama was in full swing, with many different events, the openings were always staggered, so that Ellen Stewart could make sure that she would be there to ring that bell and give her little spiel ("Welcome to LaMama, dedicated to ze playwright and all aspects of ze theater").

On Sunday, i went to The Museum of Modern Art to see the film from Uruguay, "A Useful Life", and the dance concert by Trisha Brown. I'll try to get to "A Useful Life" later, but i wanted to say something about Trisha Brown.

This was the second "anniversary" concert that she gave at a New York City museum; the other was the concert at the Whitney in October 2010. As with that concert, she revived pieces from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the pieces which were more task-oriented rather than "theatrical". And (as with the Whitney concert) these pieces hold up surprisingly well. The concluding piece, "Roof Piece Re-Layed", was an exceedingly clever reworking of "Roof Piece", using the specifics of MoMA's atrium to simulate the expanses of the Soho rooftops. I was glad i'd made the effort to see this concert (and it wasn't easy, since the R trains weren't running in Brooklyn on the weekend).


Blogger Robert Patrick said...

My video memories of Ellen.
youtube dot com/watch?v=zz8ewuzJamw
--Robert Patrick

2:22 PM


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