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The National Performance Network is Here

by Jerome Weeks 9 Dec 2010 7:28 AM

The National Performance Network helped launch early tours of such boundary-breaking artists as the Blue Man Group and Urban Bush Women. The 25-year-old network is meeting in Dallas this weekend – its first-ever national conference in Texas, which includes two public shows at the Majestic Theatre featuring performance artists and dance troupes.


Elia Arce rehearsing at the University of Texas at Dallas’ CentralTrak

The National Performance Network helped launch early tours of such boundary-breaking artists as the Blue Man Group and Urban Bush Women. The 25-year-old organization is meeting in Dallas this weekend  – its first-ever national conference in Texas. KERA’s Jerome Weeks has this report.

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Across the country, the 68 members of the National Performance Network vary in size from Opera America, the national service organization, to the tiny South Dallas Cultural Center. It’s the only NPN member in North Texas.

Vicki Meek manages the Cultural Center. She was eager to host the annual conference.

Meek: “To have a national organization committed to artists and making new work, that’s an unusual thing – especially given what happened with the culture wars of the ‘80s, when a lot of the NEA support for individual artists went out the window. NPN really stepped up and became an entity that artists rely on, those that were doing controversial work, particularly.”

[ambient sounds of Elia Arce – paper shuffling, clearing throat]

Elia Arce is one of the solo artists and dance companies who will be performing in two public shows at the Majestic Theatre during the conference. The others include the Pat Graney Company from Seattle (below) and Jane Comfort and  Company from New York. Arce herself is originally from a small town in Costa Rica.

Arce, reciting: “For me the jungle is a dark, thick and humid place. A place where sin has no translation. That’s the place where I fell in love” [continues under]

Arce’s piece is called First Woman on the Moon (right) and in the ‘90s, it was one of the first solo performance works to explore Latino identity in terms of class and gender. In it, Arce eventually covers her naked body with mud.

Arce: “[still reciting] I was going to move and live there amongst my people. And – who knows? – maybe even start a family. But the petroleum company from Chicago arrived to settle an old debt they had with the government.”

Arce came to Dallas this week before the conference to seriously re-think her staging. That’s because the Majestic Theatre has more than 1700 seats.

Arce: “My piece was created for no more than 100 people. And there are a lot of very small actions. And so I was told that the theater was very big, and I was shocked [laughs] when I saw it. So it’s gonna be a big experiment.”

Arce isn’t the only one reworking a performance. For its two shows at the Majestic, the National Performance Network has arranged a kind of ‘greatest hits’ package of touring artists whose work NPN has helped support over its 25 years. The Pomo Afro Homos, for instance, were a pioneering gay theater troupe in San Francisco in the early ‘90s. One of the original trio has died. But co-founder Brian Freeman has created what he calls a ‘remix’ of Fierce Love, one of the company’s best-known performances.

Meek sees this history of social activism and artistic risk-taking as a prime value to celebrate at the NPN’s anniversary conference.

Meek: “For 25 years, the National Performance Network has been a large supporter of the gay-lesbian-bisexual-and-transgender community. And I’m not saying all of it’s wonderful, but some of it has been very significant.”

It’s an anniversary celebration, but the NPN meeting is also a business conference. There’ll be workshops and tours and panel discussions. (Meek is hosting one called “Whining Never Helps: Thriving in a Down Economy.”)

And for a handful of North Texas artists, the most important moment will come – in a showcase when they’ll audition for NPN members (it’s not open to the public).

Meek: “From the standpoint of the national scene, NPN doesn’t really have competition as far as the ability to fund both its presenters and its artists. So for me it was a very wonderful thing to be able to take these artists I’m working with and say, ‘Hey, you know, guys, there’s a bigger world out there, and you could be a part of it — because our network has 68 members who could potentially book you.’ They could never pay for that. And we couldn’t pay for that.

So it’s an important kind of organization to be a part of.”

The schedule of public performances from the National Performance Network website:

FRIDAY DECEMBER 10 @ 7pm; Majestic Theatre
Fierce Love: Stories from Black Gay Life by Pomo Afro Homos (San Francisco)
Fierce Love: Stories from Black Gay Life by Pomo Afro Homos is a jazzy mix of wicked humor and personal narratives exploring the pleasures, pains and complexity of African-American gay life in the U.S. The published scripts of the Pomos are regularly taught in African-American, LGBT, and American theater history classes in colleges across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

First Woman on The Moon by Elia Arce (Houston)
First Woman on the Moon
by Elia Arce was one of the earliest performances to give a different voice to the Latino identity movement, focusing on issues of class and spirituality as it led the audience through a series of places both physical and emotional, using body language, sound and visual images.

Faith by Pat Graney Company (Seattle)
Seattle choreographer Pat Graney’s Faith Triptych (Faith, Sleep, Tattoo) explores the female sensibility in contemporary culture; it helped establish the contemporary dance scene in Seattle in the ‘90s.  Its remounting celebrates a 30-year partnership between Pat Graney Company and On the Boards.

SATURDAY DECEMBER 11 @ 7pm; Majestic Theatre
Faith Healing by Jane Comfort Company (New York City)
Faith Healing
by Jane Comfort and Company is a deconstruction of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. The work embodies Comfort’s long history of merging dance and text to make social commentary, in this case on the cultural fabric of the American South. Mark Dendy reprises his acclaimed interpretation of the Southern matriarch, Amanda Wingfield.

Word Becomes Flesh by Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Oakland CA)
Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s Word Becomes Flesh is a choreopoem presented as a series of performed letters to Bamuthi’s unborn son. Using poetry, dance, live music and visual art, it is considered to be the seminal work of Joseph and The Living Word Project, exploring the nine months of pregnancy from a young single father’s impassioned perspective.

  • Also presented by NPN, as part of their Performing Americas Program, is special one night only guest performance by Mexican dancer and choreographer Antonio Salinas, which will be held tonight (Thursday 12/9/2010) at 8:30 p.m. at the Latino Cultural Center.

    Toneladas de Luz (Tons of Light) by Antonio Salinas (Mexico)
    Antiono Salinas’ beautifully crafted solo is a furious portrait of heartbreak and self examination, utilizing voice and movement, as he sings along with an MP3 and recounts the curious story of a labrador that disappears in an internet cafe.

    General admission tickets will be available at the LCC tonight (1 hour before show).

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  • Jerome Weeks

    Oops, sorry, Maria, my apologies for overlooking the Latino Cultural Center’s show.