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AliceGraceAnon Does the Jefferson Rabbit Hole

With leaves falling and Halloween around the corner, the Irondale Center in Brooklyn has the feel these days of a recreation-center haunted house: Strangely costumed actors usher visitors through an amorphous paper-mache forest, where curious snacks are offered and odder contraptions set in motion. No shivers are intended by New Georges Theater, however; their tongue-in-cheek “happening” opens the door onto a different kind of peculiar, with the company’s current production, AliceGraceAnon.

Not a rehab for girls with awkward names, the show splices Alice of the Looking Glass, Grace as in Slick (of Jefferson Airplane fame), and the Anonymous protagonist of a once racy, cautionary tale for teens. Accurately describing this oddball show is almost as perilous as playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts, even while—and perhaps because—the text, by Kara Lee Corthron, is stitched together by two common yet distinct threads: Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story and the altogether different iconic quality of the American ’60s. In real life, Carroll’s fantastical heroine inspired Slick’s hit about drug use, “White Rabbit,” a line of which became the title of Go Ask Alice, which made a splash in 1971 as the purported diary of an adolescent addict but would later be revealed as the work of the psychologist Beatrice Sparks. In Corthron’s play, this sometimes perplexing amalgam cobbled together by narcotics is a pretext for examining questions of women’s liberation from male oppression. “Twas brillig,” right?

Indeed, like guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, audiences of AliceGraceAnon are best advised to leave reason at the door. The production is the first in New Georges’ “Germ Project,” the goal of which is to make “BIG, crazy imaginative plays” by commissioning playwrights “to pursue their most ambitious impulses.” AliceGraceAnon rises to the occasion; Corthron imagines a psychedelic time-space telescoping where a rebellious Alice, a frustrated Slick, and the clueless Anonymous meet in the White Rabbit’s hole to compare notes on life under men’s thumb, whether as the fictional creation of a male or his unequal partner on stages both real and metaphorical.

Director Kara-Lynn Vaeni and her design team recycle a recognizable Wonderland fashioned from reclaimed plastic ponchos, old sheets, and faded artificial turf, the band The Tuned-In does a serviceable job as the long-grounded Jefferson Airplane, and the Spectacle Brigade of stage-hands and extras keeps the action moving around the three solid heroines (Teresa Avia Lim, Carolyn Baeumler, and Christina Pumariega, as AliceGraceAnon, respectively).

As an exploration of female empowerment, however, the production’s premise feels not only forced (for Corthron to make her point, Sparks becomes a man here) but also dated: Go Ask Alice no longer shocks even as a discredited memoir, and Grace Slick, while a pioneer on the all-male music scene of her day, has faded into the kaleidoscopic mists of two acid-rock hits. The play is punchiest in its depiction of a plucky, real-life Alice Liddell, who “writes back” at Carroll to reclaim her identity, but draws wearily on his much theorized, never proven pedophilia. To paraphrase the Virginia Slims ads also of the 1960s: Is this as far as we’ve come, baby?

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The Bald Soprano: Return of the Brain Frazzler

Let me begin by quoting an expert: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more, nor less.” The statement is of course ventriloquial: Since Mr. Dumpty was in no position to speak for himself, the above words were put into his mouth by a certain Lewis Carroll, who in real life was not actually named Lewis Carroll. You might remember that the same semi-fictitious Lewis Carroll put into yet another fictive figure’s mouth another expert statement regarding poetry: “Take care of the sounds, and the sense will take care of itself.”

Are we all now thoroughly disoriented? Good. Because, just as Tennessee Williams claimed that dialogue was only one of a playwright’s means of communication, I contend that words used rationally are only one of a critic’s means of communication. Unhooking them from their sequential links to common sense might be an excellent way to begin discussing Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano (Pearl Theatre).

When Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano in 1950, the stage was still an orderly place. The world had been through a traumatic upheaval, with the Holocaust and the atom bomb left as permanent scars on its conscience, but in the theater, playwrights were still supposed to question the human condition civilly, through plays in which somebody confronted its challenges straightforwardly, in a sequential narrative. Modernism had brought other kinds of plays, decades before, but they had been absorbed into the system as dressy “experimental” oddities, to be staged occasionally by college theater departments as a way to show how “advanced” their administrators were, and how eagerly they accepted “the new.”

Ionesco did not bother claiming to be the new, or the old, or anything else. He simply wrote what he wrote. Of binational parentage, he had spent his childhood in France, had come of age in Romania, and had gotten back to France in time to avoid Bucharest’s adventures with both Fascism and Communism. Thinking to learn English—in modern times, you never know when you might need to find a new homeland—he found the characters in his textbook’s drab dialogues taking on a terrifying three-dimensionality, and The Bald Soprano was born.

Nonsense has always been part of theatrical experience. The verbal extravagance that tips words over into meaninglessness, the physical subversion that renders them pointless as they’re being spoken, the reduction of them to inanely reiterated syllables by music, are all standard components of popular entertainment. Ionesco, however, was the first to present nonsense as the substance of a serious theatrical work. In The Bald Soprano, nonsense is reality—the reality of upper-middle-class English suburban life, circa 1950. The scene being England, appearances are kept up—the civility with which the insane conversation is carried on is often its most jaw-droppingly funny aspect—but their meaning and the purpose behind them have vanished, like treasures lost in the last wave of wartime bombing.

Language, which formerly conveyed fact, now offers only contradiction and irrelevance: The everyday world has become ominously arbitrary. Not surprisingly, Ionesco followed The Bald Soprano‘s leap across the sanity barrier with plays in which language itself gets physical; in one of them, the word “knife” becomes a murder weapon. In The Bald Soprano, words don’t yet kill, but they destroy everything as it’s being built up.

In their placid suburban English home, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Bradford Cover and Rachel Botchan) are enjoying a restful after-dinner chat, but when their dinner guests, Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Brad Heberlee and Jolly Abraham) arrive much later, Mr. Smith complains furiously about having delayed dinner so long. The Martins, it develops, have been waiting on the doorstep for hours because Mary (Robin Leslie Brown), the Smith’s maid, wasn’t there to let them in. Naturally, the Smiths scold Mary for having taken the evening off, even though they gave her permission. (At times, the dialogue sounds eerily like contemporary political discourse.)

The Martins never do get any dinner. Instead, the two couples gnaw awkwardly on slim conversational pickings till the unexpected arrival of the fire chief (Dan Daily), who’s either the rescuing life of the party or the embarrassing bore who wrecks it, and who also might or might not be Mary’s long-lost lover, just as the Martins might or might not actually be each other’s spouse. It depends not only on whom you believe but also on which line of dialogue you believe when. Trust, in Ionesco, is a consistently misplaced object.

Once the fire chief’s gone, either to start a fire or to put one out (we’re never quite sure), all hell breaks loose verbally, in a phrase-flinging free-association sequence, utterly hilarious in the French original that’s every translator’s despair; it famously includes the reiterated remark, “What cascades of caca.” The bedlam climaxes in a total breakdown, leading to a conclusion, of sorts, in which order, of sorts, is restored. One leaves exhilarated, brain-frazzled—and a great deal more cautious about one’s word use.

Hal Brooks’s Pearl revival, using the old Donald M. Allen translation in which America first made the play’s acquaintance, pays Ionesco’s script the compliment of taking it seriously, thus firmly eschewing the misstep that trips up so many directors. Trying to make this play funny tends to make it seem pointlessly facetious. While stylizing the banal gestures, and inventively orchestrating the verbal rhythms, Brooks plays the substance for real. The result, as Ionesco intended, mixes the ha-ha funny with the disquieting and the scary. Only rarely does anyone onstage give a slight hint that these shenanigans might not be wholly in earnest.

Botchan and Brown are fine, as expected, Abraham delicately amusing. Cover takes another strong step in the steady growth of his range of characterization; Heberlee, new to the company, is a distinct find. And Daily, drolly resisting all self-conscious humor, makes the fire chief yet another of those roles he was apparently born to play. But the real star, as befits the Pearl’s mission, is Ionesco, who had the gall to understand that people who always say exactly what they mean don’t necessarily mean anything at all. At least, I think that’s what I believe he thought he meant. Maybe you’d better go and ask Lewis Carroll. Words are not always a critic’s optimal means of communication.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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‘Blkmarket Membership Presents Rebel Rave’

A tour led and curated by Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus would have to be great: The Lewis Carroll fan has an impeccable ear for unusual techno, and signings such as Jamie Jones don’t disappoint. Egyptian Lover-collaborator Jones has found a way to graft funk back into techno’s DNA, as his 2009 anthem “Summertime” proved. And Seth Troxler pushes Detroit/Berlin techno to its interstellar depths. With Deniz Kurtel and residents Taimur & Fahad.

Fri., Feb. 12, 10 p.m., 2010

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A Wonderland Traffics in Nightmare Imagery

The 2009 Ice Factory series starts with A Wonderland, Anonymous Rock Ensemble’s adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. In this brooding rock version, Alice (Janelle Lannan) is not a girl in a blue dress, but a lounge singer in a sleazy club. Midway through a set, she’s plunged into Wonderland—by a drag queen bunny (Matt Mager). Thus begins this grim circus.

Director Eamonn Farrell has turned the Ohio Theatre’s stage into a runway, on which Wonderland’s denizens strut and preen. A druggy Hatter (Josh Hoglund) dances with a giant cap, while his leering Queen (Jessica Weinstein) swaggers overhead, perched atop stilts that render her terrifying and absurd. Beloved characters made grotesque: A Wonderland traffics in the imagery of nightmares.

The musical presents Carroll’s story as a metaphor for our celebrity-obsessed culture; everyone sings about money, and the Queen executes people for being more famous than she is. Big ideas aside, however, the production should focus on basics: The performance I attended was rough, with shaky entrances and a sound setup that drowned out lyrics and muddled the band’s music. Let’s hope the festival’s later shows—like The Little Lord Fauntleroys’ Babes in Toyland (July 22–25) and Banana Bag & Bodice’s Space//Space (August 12–15)—arrive better prepped.

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She Can Dream, Can’t She?

“Curioser and curioser,” Lewis Carroll’s Alice was wont to remark during the adventures following her tumble down a rabbit hole or passage through a looking glass. That’s how I’ve often felt watching Sarah Michelson’s work of the past few years. Her disturbing, witty dance-theater -architecture pieces disorient you from the get-go. For Group Experiences (2001) in P.S. 122’s small downstairs theater, the audience sat on platforms covered with white carpeting. The carpet re-appeared in the same black-box theater for the second part of her 2003 Shadowmann, where it anchored a suburban living room, flowered chintz curtains and all. Spectators entering the Kitchen for Part 1 of Shadowmann, found themselves sitting in what’s usually the performance space, facing the lobby, lighting booth, and the large doors opening to the street, through which several performers entered. Back at P.S. 122 in 2005 for Daylight, Michelson pushed the seating close to the back wall and created a shallow space that suggested an upscale hotel corridor.

Michelson sometimes introduces human activities into these fastidiously re-imagined spaces as modules, layered or strung together. Spoken text, props, dancing, and music combine to create a funky-smart world that has the illogical logic of dreams. In her new Dogs, the dream seems to be occurring in a sparsely inhabited mansion—a foyer out of a 1930s film. The fantastically beautiful visual design (by Michelson and Parker Lutz) softens the hard-edges of the BAM Harvey’s boxes and proscenium arch with pale beige drapes and extends the stage floor into the wings. A low curving bar supports footlights, and one row of theater seats has been removed to accommodate a row of upward-pointing spotlights (used only twice, as I remember). The black-and-white floor can dizzy both eyes and mind even before the piece starts. Look at the patterns one way, and you see four petalled flowers; blink and formerly negative spaces (curved-edge diamonds) zoom into prominence; look along a diagonal, and you see rows of lozenges. Two chairs and a white, faux wrought-iron table bearing a plate piled with roast chicken occupy center stage. Some distance away on either side stand two “trees” with spotlights blooming on curved metals stems.

Only one dancer (Lutz) inhabits this vast space. She’s wearing a filmy white robe with streamers at the wrist over a white unitard (costumes by Deanna Berg), and her hair is corn-rowed and pulled into a high bun of the sort Martha Graham used to favor. She dances and dances and dances (there’s more energetic choreographed movement in Dogs than in any previous Michelson work). The steps are mildly, softly balletic, but, given the floaty costume, they also have a Duncanesque aura. Lutz, barefoot, is almost always erect and on half-toe; she spins, gestures fluently, lightly flings a leg high—a lone, small figure doggedly sending an enigmatic, subtly varying message. From time to time a front drop descends and almost immediately rises to reveal Lutz in a different spot onstage. As she persists, the clever thrumming guitar music by Bert Janusch disappears (it has already slowed down to a roar while she eats a few bites of chicken, then speeded up again). In its place, we hear the first of many selections from Léo Delibes’ score for the ballet Sylvia—bombastic marches, sweet waltzes, foreboding horn calls, oriental reveries, the lot. Lutz loosely acknowledges the music’s tempo and phrasing but never its dramatic mood changes or the shifts in Davison Scandrett and Michelson’s stunning lighting.

The choreographer and Jennifer Howard make several forays into the space, dressed and coiffed like Lutz, but in black. Delibes’s fateful passages definitely suit these weird, coolly seductive sisters, as they flourish around each other in a near corner, exit, and return, first wearing only their unitards, then gold-belted tunics. Lutz expands her territory with skips and mazurka steps; later she falls and rolls on the floor. Echoes of another theatrical world permeate the first act of Dogs; the black and white dance-alikes, the 19th-century music, the pools of light, the smoke, and the precise, airy steps allude to ballet. But other, stranger elements crop up, like the projected head of a black, glowing-eyed cat. Michelson collapses over the table, and Lutz shakes her violently, while, in the distance, Howard holds an arabesque penché. My mind snaps back to Alice, the Cheshire Cat, and the drowsy Dormouse. Black and white figure in chess as well as among ballet swans.

I hear later that tables decorated with the reverse of the floor design offered free chicken in the lobby at intermission. Another calculated surprise. And that’s nothing to those in the second half. The curtain goes up, and smoke billows out. A lot of smoke, tinged with red lighting. Through it, we can barely see two women galloping around in filmy white—Lutz and Howard, we presume. But wait! As the fumes abate, these women appear slightly younger. A rock beat pushes under Mike Iveson’s music, and they reappear, busily dancing, in leotards that are backless way down past the start of their buttocks. When the lights brighten at the back of the space, we can see that the people sitting at either end of the table, wearing pink skirts and in a pink glow, are Michelson and Lutz, soon joined by Howard. This isn’t Carroll’s mad tea party, but it’s mad enough. In smart, funny, dislocated dialogue, the women talk and argue. The food “tastes like dog” (the only outright reference to the title). Michelson is both disdained and defended as a “cripple.” They complain about the rain (sound design by James Lo). Lutz wants a new window installed, preferably tomorrow, to catch more light. There’s some dissension and confusion among the women as to whether a hoped-for dessert is actually leftovers. Greg Zuccolo, dressed as Lutz was at the outset of the piece, recaps her style, but ends collapsed after crawling around the table on his belly. Downtown dance writer Henry Baumgartner—white-bearded, and wearing a suit—serves wine from a rose bottle, and offers a run-down of dessert possibilities. The dancing clones return, and zebras frolic on the back wall as the curtain descends.

On the way out, we’re handed information about those performers deliberately not listed in the program: Baumgartner, Alice Downing, and Laura Weston.

It may be that with Dogs, Michelson—who’s been waylaid by injuries and says this may be her last dance—is revisiting her career in supremely oblique ways. The production is provocative as well as spectacular (her BAM budget was $157,000)—eliding theater life and real life, facts and dreams. Michelson risks much in her willingness—her desire—to baffle and startle us with this brainy, exasperating piece. Because of her meticulous constructions, we have to believe that there’s a reason for everything we don’t understand, and simply let her postmodern reverie delight our eyes and tease our minds.

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God’s Justice May Be Eternal, But in Guirgis’s Judas, It’s Interminable Too

Despite its title, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot takes place in an endless Purgatory where there are no days or nights. There is, however, a juridical system, although you’d think everybody involved has already faced their last judgment. If this suggests Lewis Carroll’s nonsense logic (“Come, I’ll take no denial/We must have a trial/For really this morning I’ve nothing to do”), the comparison fits: The one good thing about Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play is its Alice-in-Wonderland willingness to turn sense upside down and go wild with language. Unfortunately, unlike Carroll’s witty foolery, Guirgis’s street-smart playfulness never leads you anywhere except down another rabbit hole of illogic.

In addition to making less theological sense than any dramatist who ever tackled the Christ myth, Guirgis is a classic case of the emperor’s new dramaturgy, having been acclaimed as a major playwright without ever producing what could justly be called a complete play. He has a high-powered verbal imagination, a flair for effective strokes of character, and in this piece reveals even some knowledge of history. But the result never adds up to anything more than a string of flamboyant rhetorical stunts and actors’ party pieces, a sort of metaphysical cabaret show. And a two-hour-40-minute cabaret, with the most substantive subject in Western culture always offstage, seems as interminable as Purgatory. Director Philip Seymour Hoffman hinders Guirgis’s case very badly by having all the lawyers’ proceedings conducted in a nonstop scream. A few of the better actors escape into something like a performance: Jeffrey DeMunn as Caiaphas, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pilate, and most of all Eric Bogosian as Satan, who in Guirgis’s version apparently picks Judas up in a Judaean gay bar.

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Theater

OK, female readers, you tell me: If your ex of three years ago wakes you up at 3 a.m. by knocking on your bedroom window, and after climbing in immediately starts to rant about the ending of The Mill on the Floss, do you let him spend the night? If enough of you write in saying yes, I’ll believe the opening scene of Julia Jordan’s Boy. Maybe then, on the Lewis Carroll principle of “six impossible things before breakfast,” I can go on to believe the rest of the play. Till then, however, Boy ties with Prymate to take this season’s prize for factitiousness.

Once we get past the tree-climbing George Eliot nut, Jordan wants us to believe lots more, like a depressed Minneapolis shrink who has psychosomatic asphyxia seizures in front of his patient—not wholly implausible, except the patient also, conveniently, turns out to be the shrink’s wife’s most talented student and the shrink’s son’s best e-mail buddy. Have the Twin Cities suddenly become depopulated? It’s time for Jordan to throw away her books (especially her playwriting textbooks), get out, and meet people.

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Show World

“Moti Mentali,” the title for the savvy show of photographs of children and adolescents at the Marvelli Gallery (526 West 26th Street, through November 15), comes from Leonardo da Vinci. Though its literal translation from the Italian—”the motions of the mind”—is rather clumsy, it does suggest da Vinci’s use of the phrase to describe portraits that allow us some insight into the sitter’s state of mind. Even if that insight is fleeting and mostly imaginary, the photographs Marvelli has chosen to evoke it are provocative, and the conversation he sets up among them is especially compelling.

The exhibition was apparently inspired by the obvious affinity between the work of several contemporary female photographers—Hellen van Meene, Rieneke Dijkstra, and Ingar Krauss—and their Victorian forebears Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll. But Marvelli’s sensitive juxtaposition of the work renders this intricate web of attraction and influence anything but routine. Several of Cameron’s dark-eyed maidens appear to have been reincarnated in Krauss’s and van Meene’s young girls and one strikingly androgynous boy. Every flash of impudence, inwardness, and soulfulness finds its reflection within the room. Whether they were photographed in 1869 or earlier this year, all these subjects share a gravity and grace so lovely their impression is hard to shake.

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Pursued by Chords

Lewis Carroll, who wrote math textbooks as well as Alice in Wonderland, loved to concoct specious math problems. Like: “If one cat can kill one rat in six minutes, how long would it take a million cats to kill one rat?” In answering, he admitted that most of the million cats would probably never even see the rat. September 25 at the Winter Garden I encountered my own version: If one critic can review one pianist in two hours, how long will it take him to review 21 pianists at once? Because from where I was sitting I could only see 15 of the pianists stationed at the two immense semicircles of gleaming Fazioli pianos, and only eight of their keyboards. And who knows how many I was really hearing as the massive welter of sound came slouching toward me?

If more than spectacle, the 21-piano concert was still a little less than music. The program was three pieces, all for 21 pianos, by Italian composer Daniele Lombardi: two four-movement Sinfonias from the 1990s, and a brand-new Threnodia dedicated to the victims of September 11 premiered across the street from the tragedy site. Lombardi is no facile showman, but a historically savvy inheritor of the Italian and Russian Futurist traditions, and a pianist who’s made his own recordings of bangy, tone-cluster-filled music by Antheil, Ornstein, and others. The spirit of Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique pervaded the Sinfonias, with sweeping glissandos up and down the keyboard, fists pounding the highest notes, bass keys struck in unison on all pianos at once. Nor did Lombardi neglect subtle effects: Some of the headiest pleasures were fingertips strumming the strings, and canons of twinkly high notes roaming from piano to piano.

The problem was, some of these effects came back in every movement, making the whole 75 minutes too much of an undifferentiated wash of glissandos, clusters, and tinkly sounds. The Second Sinfonia was better delineated in this respect than the First: It opened with a long pitch row played in unison, was marked off by Bartókian melodies, and in the slow movement arrived at the lovely effect of chords changing beneath a high drone pitch. This work I heard from the back of the audience, where I could hear each piano equally well through the loudspeakers, necessary for cutting through Winter Garden’s boomy echo chamber. The other works I heard more acoustically from the edge of stage right, and I’m glad I did, for one effect in the Threnodia was by itself worth the trek to ground zero: a series of chords starting at the opposite side of the stage and ominously coming toward me, piano by piano. It is the general tendency of pianos to stay put, and to hear a piano chord sneaking up on me was deliciously creepy.

The 21 pianists—Mirian Conti, Kerstin Costa, Jed Distler, Stephen Gosling, Alpin Hong, Eri Kang, Sachiko Kato, Claudio Knafo, Jenny Lin, Anthony de Mare, Greg McCallum, Blair McMillen, Beata Moon, Lisa Moore, Marc Peloquin, Frederic Rzewski no less, Ronen Segev, Dmitri Shteinberg, Cristina Valdes, Olga Vinokur, and Miri Yampolsky—included a lot of dynamite new-music-scene figures, and one yearned to see them let loose in more virtuosically synchronized pyrotechnics than this. Antonio Ballista conducted heroically. One doesn’t attend a monster concert of pianos thinking that it’s going to be the most soulful experience of one’s concert life; as with similar 19th-century extravaganzas staged by Gottschalk and others, you expect a certain amount of noise and theatrical tricks. But Lombardi gave signs that he’s a good enough musician to know that there’s more he could do with this medium, and I hope when he comes back with his Third Sinfonia, it’s a little sharper on musical content. Being chased by pianos is wonderful, but they can do more than just growl.

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Listings


WEDNESDAY

AUGUST 20


 

Books

LOST TRIBE

Need a new selection for your book club? This anthology of “Jewish Fiction From the Edge” features b.c. mainstays Myla G-o-l-d-b-e-r-g, debutante-delineator Gary Shteyngart, and the illuminating Jonathan Safran Foer, cheek by jowl with some interesting unknowns. Contributors Jon Papernick, Nelly Reifler, and Ellen Umansky read from their work. DE KRAP

At 6, Eldridge Street Synagogue, 12 Eldridge Street, 212.219.0903

Dance

PHILLY FEET

Maybe it’s the relatively low rents, or the slightly calmer scene: Experimental dance thrives in Philadelphia. See edgy work by Phrenic New Ballet (many of whose members are or were associated with the Pennsylvania Ballet), the theatrical Moxie Dance Collective, and the compelling Myra Bazell, all for free, outside, and with plenty of time to catch dinner and a movie after. ZIMMER

At 5:30, Lincoln Center, 63rd Street between

Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, 212.875.5766.

Film

EAST VILLAGE FILM FESTIVAL

Less a traditional festival than an appropriately anarchic collection of autonomous events, the fledgling Howl festival has a film component that achieves continuity through its celebration of the hood’s rough-and-tumble past. Highlights include Richard Hell’s Scowl series of punk classics introduced by classic punks; the Avant-Garde(n), six screenings of experimental film in public gardens; and a tribute to Jack Smith. HALTER

Through Tuesday, various venues, howlfestival.com

NINE FILMS BY ROBERT BRESSON

From radiant literary adaptations (Les Dames du Bois du Boulogne) through pre-nouvelle- vague cornerstones (A Man Escaped, Pickpocket) to scalding latter-day damnations (The Devil Probably, L’Argent), Bresson’s is a unique body of work—astonishing in its rigor and congruence, at once ascetic and overpowering. The first local showcase since his death in 1999 (and since fistfights nearly broke out at MOMA’s hot-ticket retro that same year), this Anthology series is reasonably thorough (he made only 13 films over four decades) and an essential pilgrimage for acolytes and neophytes alike. If you’ve only seen these films on video, you haven’t really seen them. LIM

Through September 4, at Anthology Film Archives,

32 Second Avenue, 212.505.5181

Music

BIRD & DIZ

It’s a bebop week, and its alternating heartbeats are saluted by a quintet that includes altoist Charles McPherson, one of Charlie Parker’s savviest disciples, and Tom Harrell, who doesn’t usually make one think of Gillespie. The collaboration marries them and a book of roller coaster classics that still seem fresh. GIDDINS

Through Sunday at 8:30 and 10:30, Friday and Saturday

also at midnight, Iridium, 1650 Broadway, 212.582.2121

 

HANDSOME FAMILY

Rennie Sparks is a genius, a deceptively mellow American urban gothic noir poet with an alt-country heart and a husband with a baritone to deliver her most twisted missives like desperate love songs. Garnering sympathy for the devils they give voice to, her songs reveal the stumbling, innocent id as surely as they further the mythic promise of Hopper-esque darkest hours. If the latest recordings can be samey, live they never disappoint. SINAGRA

At 9:30, Time Café, Fez, 380 Lafayette Street, 212.533.2680


THURSDAY

AUGUST 21


 

Books

PETER KUPER

The Metamorphosis, Kuper’s second comic-book take on Kafka, captures the short classic’s creeping claustrophobia and waking-nightmare wooziness. This multimedia presentation will let the audience see Kuper’s varied, even violent illustration taking an ax to the frozen sea within, or at least scratching up the mental furniture of a salaryman’s damnation. “Please don’t make things harder than they are,” Gregor cries out to the clerk from his company who flees in terror, the letters rendered as horrid-pathetic wriggles. “Do remember my past accomplishments.” DE KRAP

At 7, Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street, 212.253.0810

Music

SEX PISTOLS

Twenty-five years after their historic breakup and seven years after their first reunion, cynicism is justified all over again. Expect no anarchy in the U.S.A., although perhaps a few inspiriting references to same. But expect proof once again that the Sex Pistols weren’t just an idea—they were music, music they can play like no one else. CHRISTGAU

At 7:30, Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Parkway, Wantagh, New York, 516.221.1000


FRIDAY

AUGUST 22


 

Film

DOG DAYS

It’s getting hot in hier: Shock-doc specialist Ulrich Seidl’s fiction debut is an abject—and pointedly Austrian—contribution to the heat-wave mini-genre, a startling anti-summer movie that observes the sunstroked dysfunctions in a Viennese suburb with a cold mortician’s eye. Seidl goes to great lengths to prove the film’s final line: “People are so cruel.” Karmic payback is enforced with sadistic zeal. The sleazebag who dunks his girlfriend’s head in the toilet is eventually sodomized with a candle at gunpoint and made to sing the Austrian national anthem. LIM

Opens today, Angelika, Houston and Mercer, 212.777.FILM

Music

TORI AMOS+BEN FOLDS

Ben Folds (né Ben Folds Five) and Tori Amos have combined their piano-playing powers for an evening of wacky behavior, eccentric storytelling, piano thumping, and song-singing in the Lottapianos Tour. Perhaps Amos, the quintessential chronicler of female experience, and Folds, the kid who got beat up after class, are the yin to each other’s yang, and vice versa? HAVRANEK

At 7, PNC Bank Arts Center, Exit 116, Garden State Parkway, New Jersey, 732.335.0400; Saturday at 7, Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Parkway, Wantagh, New York, 516.221.1000

BJÖRK

Our ethereal elvish sugar cube has come a long way since her sidecar-shimmy days. She’s a motorcycle mama, a movie star, a mash-up dance diva, and a sexier cyborg than that plastic T3 vixen any day. Always thinking and acting globally, of late she’s rocking an asymmetrical Japan-tastic robo-geisha hairdo—a sign perhaps, that the world is in a shaky state of flux. Her weird vespers, creepy and sweeping, seem the right tone for the times. With Sigur Rós and Bonnie Prince Billy. SINAGRA

Friday and Saturday at 7, KeySpan Park, Brooklyn


SATURDAY

AUGUST 23


 

Music

CHARLIE PARKER JAZZ FESTIVAL 2003

Two weekend afternoons of bebop splendor with the great drummer and Parker alum Roy Haynes, singer Carla Cook, saxophonist Wessell Anderson, and the 3 Altos—a trio de résistance with Gary Bartz, Sonny Fortune, and Vincent Herring that should rock the park—on Saturday at 3; and two more great altoists, Charles McPherson and the ardent, revived Arthur Blythe, plus drummer Jeff Watts’s band, on Sunday at 3. GIDDINS

At 3, Marcus Garvey Park, 124th Street between Madison and Park avenues, 718.622.7035; Sunday at 3, Tompkins Square Park, East 7th Street through East 10th Street, between Avenues A and B, 212.387.7685

R. KELLY

What’s the logical career move for a man facing child pornography charges? Write a song for the American Idol, of course—that guy is popular! And so it goes for the besieged R. Kelly, a man who never met an innuendo he couldn’t milk. The music is, as always, seductive (in the good way!), but try listening closely to the words without cringing. With Ashanti. CARAMANICA

At 8, Madison Square Garden, 31st Street and Seventh Avenue, 212.465.MSG1


SUNDAY

AUGUST 24


 

Dance

SWING CRASH COURSE

Is it just me, or is everyone going to lots of weddings these days? Here’s a chance to bone up on your Lindy Hop, at a four-and-a-half-hour session team-taught by three professional dancers. It happens monthly. See the website for discount coupons and lots of other class options. ZIMMER

At noon, Dance Manhattan, 39 West 19th Street, 212.807.0802, dancemanhattan.com

Music

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND+DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN

Baffling as it may seem, crossover jam potentate-turned-pop star Matthews continues his inexorable rise, despite the latent bwana vibe and the fact that his best work results from collaboration with legends (like the Waters sisters). DM remains but a tadpole compared to the ax-slinging High King of modern improvisational music Dickey Betts, a rock star so cool Billy Crudup played him as a celluloid antihero in Almost Famous. CRAZY HORSE

Sunday and Monday at 7, Continental Airlines Arena, Route 120, Rutherford, New Jersey, 201.935.3900


MONDAY

AUGUST 25


 

Music

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS

There aren’t many studio obsessives whose live shows are served up as raw and funny as this hookmonger cavalry’s. In person, you also get Neko Case’s hell-raising holler, Dan Bejar’s brainiac glam redistributed among touring Pornographers, and crate-digging covers (Sweet and the Donner Party last time). With Young and Sexy. WOLK

At 9, Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey Street, 212.533.2111

Photo

DREAMING IN PICTURES: THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF LEWIS CARROLL

When it comes to Carroll’s meticulously staged, late-19th-century photos of little girls, prurience is in the eye of the beholder. Many of these children—dressed up as beggar maids, exotic waifs, and Cinderellas—have a solemn, wise-beyond-their-years aura, but their sulky pouts and challenging stares are far more Alice than Lolita. Like Julia Margaret Carmeron’s, Carroll’s fantasies of innocence and experience are very much of their time, but shouldn’t be missed in ours. ALETTI

Through August 31, International Center of Photography, 1133 Sixth Avenue, 212.857.0000


TUESDAY

AUGUST 26


Photo

CMYK: CONTEMPORARY COLOR PART II

The second installment of this gallery’s survey showcases two established talents, Martin Parr and Massimo Vitali, and two newcomers, Karine Laval and Zachary Zavislak. The first two are predictably punchy and engaging, but their professional gloss is smartly matched in Zavislak’s trio of classically stylized tabletop still lifes and Laval’s handsomely bleached-out, neo-constructivist studies of people intersecting with architecture at public swimming pools. ALETTI

Through September 6, Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 52 East 76th Street, 212.517.3766