“WINGING IT” IN HIGH HEELS AND A BLINDFOLD: A Discussion with Ishmael Houston-Jones, Mark Russell, Terry Fox, and Lucy Sexton
September 24 2010
Over the course of an extended rehearsal process at the New Museum, director/choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones revisited the seminal work THEM, an intensely visceral interdisciplinary collaboration with Dennis Cooper (text) and Chris Cochrane (music), originally presented at Performance Space 122 in 1986. Presented as part of RE:NEW RE:PLAY Performance Residency Series, the rehearsals at the New Museum culminated in a series of programs collectively titled THEM AND NOW, exploring the artistic impulses that propelled the creation of this “aggressive and vital” (Village Voice) performance work and its reconstruction twenty-five years later. Immediately following the New Museum residency, THEM received its 2010 premiere at Performance Space 122, October 21–30, 2010. The production was included on several “Best Of” lists in dance press, including The New York Times.
Part of THEM AND NOW, “WINGING IT” was a presentation and panel discussion around the performance works of master improviser Ishmael Houston-Jones, which included a screening of scenes from Houston-Jones’s past works, followed by a discussion moderated by performance artist of Dance Noise fame Lucy Sexton with Houston-Jones, Under the Radar Curator and former P.S.122 Artistic Director Mark Russell, and Philadelphia Dance Project Executive Director Terry Fox.
Ishmael Houston-Jones is a choreographer, author, performer, teacher, and arts activist. His improvised dance and text work has been performed in New York City, across the United States, in Europe, Canada, Australia, and Latin America. Houston-Jones’s Nowhere, Now Here was commissioned for Mordine and Company in Chicago in spring 2001 and Specimens was commissioned for Headlong Dance Theater in Philadelphia in 1998. In 1997 he was the choreographer for Nayland Blake’s Hare Follies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From 1995–2000 he was part of the improvised trio Unsafe/Unsuited with Keith Hennessy and Patrick Scully. In 1990 he and writer Dennis Cooper presented The Undead at the Los Angeles Festival of the Arts. In 1989 he collaborated with filmmaker Julie Dash on the video Relatives, which was aired nationally on the PBS series “Alive From Off-Center (Alive TV).” In 1984 Houston-Jones and Fred Holland shared a New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award for their Cowboys, Dreams and Ladders.
Terry Fox, Executive Director of Philadelphia Dance Projects, is a former choreographer and dancer. As an artist she was one of the first in Philadelphia to explore postmodernism with improvisational structures in performance as well as a pioneer of the Old City loft district that later was developed into an arts district. She often collaborated with choreographer/dancer Ishmael Houston-Jones and musicians Charles Cohen and Jeff Cain. As curator she founded the Dance With The Bride series at the Painted Bride Art Center, where she was on staff from 1977–83, and again from 1993–2000. In the interim she was Managing/Artistic Director of Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. She has served on numerous boards and panels and taught as adjunct faculty at various colleges and universities. She has a BA from New York University (’83) and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program (’84).
Mark Russell works with the Public Theater In New York City as an Associate Artistic Director and is the head of the Public’s new Devised Theater Initiative. Russell produced the Under the Radar Theater Festival (UTR) in collaboration with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters premiering at St. Ann’s Warehouse in January 2005. The festival moved to the Public Theater in 2006. In 2007 UTR expanded to a two-weekend format and it continues on as a core part of the Public Theater’s season today and a valuable pre-conference event for Arts Presenters. The next festival is January 5–16, 2011. From 1983–2004, Russell was the Executive Artistic Director of Performance Space 122 (P.S. 122). He was lucky enough to work with Ishmael Houston-Jones throughout that tenure, including him in the P.S. 122 Field Trips touring program as well as many other adventures.
Lucy Sexton has worked in the performing arts in different capacities for more than twenty-five years. She recently developed and directed Tom Murrin’s The Talking Show; The Magical Ridiculous Journey of Alien Comic at Performance Space 122. With Anne Iobst, she co-created the award-winning dance-performance group DANCENOISE, which performed extensively in New York (Pyramid Club, LaMama, Performance Space 122, Lincoln Center), in the UK (The Green Room, Duckie, Glasgow’s Mayfest, national tour with Queer Up North), and around the world (Israel, Mexico, France, Germany, Japan). In 2007, working with Kathleen Russo, she developed and directed the Obie-Award winning off-Broadway show, Spalding Gray, Stories Left to Tell. Sexton also produced Charles Atlas’s documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery for the BBC and Arte, and is currently producing a new documentary by Charles Atlas on Antony and the Johnsons. She has also recently taken on the task of producing the NY Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards. As a performer she has appeared in the work of Alien Comic, Charles Atlas, David Gordon, Jo Andres, Mimi Goese, Heidi Dorow, Steve Buscemi and Mark Boone Jr, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Richard Move, Sarah Schulman, and Alain Buffard among others. Performing as The Factress for the past ten years, Sexton hosts a randomly occurring live talk show, The Lucy Show, with co-host Mike Iveson, a.k.a. Vendetta “Baby Asparagus” K. Starr.