One of the centerpieces of this year’s Art Week is not a static art work, and it is also one of the most sensuous and disorienting.
Lebanese performance artist Tania El Khoury is producing her “Gardens Speak” for the week, courtesy of MDC Live Arts, a piece that has been applauded in cultural capitals throughout Europe and the United States. “It is a work,” she says, “that can only come alive with an audience.” She is asking her audience to listen to the voices of the dead. And not just hear them, but to lie on the graves of them, and literally dig through dirt to be able to listen more carefully.
These stories came from the apocalypse that is Syria today, but El Khoury understands that destruction on this scale is largely incomprehensible. So she has chosen to tell the stories of ordinary folks – 10 of them -- caught up in the brutal war.
Still, how to make even these few stories sufficiently tell the tales?
In Syria, burial itself has become politicized. Before a body can be interred in a cemetery, families may be asked to sign a paper stating that state security forces had nothing to do with the death. Often this is blatantly untrue. In acts of resistance, families began burying their lost ones in back-yard gardens.
It was witnessing this first-hand that inspired El Khoury to create “Gardens Speak.”
And so, in what is a polar opposite from the glam world of Art Basel, the audience enters a darkened anteroom at the Gleason in the Fillmore on South Beach. You are accompanied by no more than 10 others. Off to the side is a rack with hooded rain gear. Put on a cloak, then sit on a rough wooden bench. A basket will be passed around. Choose a card from it. This is the woman/man whose story you will hear.
Go further into the dark; in the center of this second room are 10 modest grave-stones. You are asked now to seek the one whose name you hold in your hand. This alone is unsettling, but nothing like what comes next, in a “field” of loose earth.
One can read about lying on ground atop a grave, but these accounts can’t describe how cold the earth feels. As one unburies the story underneath, as one listens to a story, told as it is in the first-person, as five, ten, fifteen minutes pass, the earth seems to become increasingly cold, unrelentingly so. Finally there is grace, as the sound of something holy fills the room, a chant, a cry for mercy or perhaps the promise of it. You are able to linger in it. Then, as the penultimate step in the ritual -- for sacred rites are surely what are evoked here -- one is invited to leave a note in the earth for others who will come to listen as well as for the family of the dead to read.
As the audience returns to the ante-room, small basins of water have been prepared to wash feet and hands. However practical and even generous this is for festival goers, it didn’t really make this reviewer feel clean. I felt more melancholy after the performance than others who spoke of being energized for “the good fight” against authoritarianism wherever it is found.
Leaving aside the themes of her work, El Khoury’s use of embodied symbol is nothing less than a tour-de-force. It places her in the tradition of another female artist, Miami’s icon Ana Mendieta.
El Khoury has a second installation at Art Basel. This one --“As Far as My Fingertips Take Me” -- is smaller, quieter and less well-known. Here you’ll be on your own. No group, however small, can support your experience. There is a small room with an oval opening in a wall, where you insert your arm. While hearing a story of a young man, a refugee, unwelcome in the U.S., you feel slight pressures on those out-stretched fingers. Then come the tiny, barely noticeable pin-pricks up and down the arm. Islamic calligraphy, one wonders? You can’t see what is happening since all this occurs on the other side of the wall. When you can see, it is a linear silhouette, one so lovely it looks at first like the designs applied to the skin at the time of a marriage in many cultures -- again, it is easily washed away. Or is it? On closer inspection, the drawing is a line of refugees, some with children. The allusion to the Holocaust is unmistakable.
I found this installation both more terrible and more hopeful than “Gardens.” Perhaps because while war and Syria seem intractable, the refugee crisis does seem like something one can affect in whatever small way.
In any case, I cannot quite bring myself to wash off El Khoury’s drawing.
IF YOU GO:
What: “Gardens Speak”
Where: Gleason Room at the Fillmore, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
When: Dec. 7-8 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.;
Dec 9 at 12. pm., 1 pm, 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Info: only 10 tickets available for each show; cost $28
What: “As Far as My Fingertips Take Me”
Where: Clinton Room at the New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach
When: Dec 7-8, 5:30 -7:30 p.m., 8 -10 p.m.; Dec 9: 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. and 4 – 6 p.m.
Info: very limited tickets available per time block. Performance is one-on-one and lasts approximately 15 minutes; cost $15.
With the closing of Tigertail Productions last year, Miami lost one of its preeminent artistic champions. Under the direction of founder Mary Luft, Tigertail brought an endless parade of boundary-..
Anytime would be a good time to devote a dance program to the works of Jerome Robbins, our most versatile and celebrated American-born choreographer. But, given that 2018 marks the centennial..
Due to winter storms in the Northeast impacting travel, with great regrets the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company announced the cancellation of the Saturday, Jan. 6 performance. At age..
It is fitting at this time of the year that our thoughts often turn to what connects us not what divides us. Whether we are driven by religious or secular motives, many of us are in the spiri..
The end of the 19th century was a golden age for ballet. In 15 years of collaboration, two great Russian geniuses – choreographer Marius Petipa, and composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky – produced ballet st..
Here’s a riddle – name the 1892 box office flop panned by critics for lack of seriousness and for casting too many kids, which has now transformed into a force of nature timed to occur yearly..
It happens every year, right around Thanksgiving, productions of the Nutcracker pop up from coast to coast, marking the start of the holiday season. But on Saturday, Miami audiences have the ..
As Art Week approaches, Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s Alma Dance Theater is getting ready to add its distinctive voice, rehearsing for the upcoming performance of “Flowers” at the C..
Promising a night of airiness and ardor, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami will bring “Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, where the company joins an att..
Great friendships can nurture and prod an artist to make greater work. Think Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Such is also the case fo..
It’s a tall order to present a season as surprising as it is moving, as disturbing as it is delightful. Miami-Dade College’s Live Arts 2017-2018 season -- Ojala/Inshallah: Wishes from the Mu..
It was only a few decades ago that finding a professional, locally produced performance was an aerobic dance in itself. But after the Miami City Ballet (established 1985), the New World Schoo..
A 50th anniversary calls for gold in celebration. But Balanchine’s “Jewels”—a sublime marriage of music and choreography from 1967—brings Emeralds, Rubies,and Diamonds. Those pre..
When the Limon Dance Company returns to Miami-Dade this weekend, it brings with it the powerful vision of founder José Limon. He was a man deeply concerned about and connected to the humanity..
When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit N..
Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera ..
Anniversaries usually celebrate the success of a partnership with symbolic gifts of crystal, china, silver and gold. For the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, the company celebrates 20 years of..
The songs are familiar; the love story is also familiar but made fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the musical biography that comes to Miami this week. The narrative of Emilio and Gloria Estefan meet..
Dance lovers in Miami know that for the past two decades the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) has made the city in September a magnet for the brightest stars in the world of bal..
Orlando Taquechel, dance critic for two decades at the El Nuevo Herald (and now a contributor to Artburst), will have a book signing and discussion of his new book, “La danza in Miami (1998-..
The name Flamenco conjures the machine-gun snap of heels, arms arched overhead, the flick of red fabric and laser-like glares from beneath the starched black brim of a Cordobes hat. At the ed..
Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban ..
Miami-based organization Delou Africa has been the ambassador of African dance and drumming in South Florida for the last 30 years. It started as a performing company, and has since expanded..
Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene -- a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling..
When Ballet Flamenco La Rosa takes to the stage this weekend, it will present a program based on traditions which were handed down through the ages. A program filled with the mysteries of fl..
With every great new love, the beginning is a crucible of extremes – will it endure for decades or permanently scar?The program for Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami’sJuly 8show, “Fiebre: A N..
With a heightened emphasis on “Noise” as an innovative musical genre, this sixth installment of the Miami Performance Festival International (M/P’17), running June 23 to 25, challenges South..
People often imagine new artwork is the product of the solitary artist genius slaving away in lonely studios. The South Florida Symphony’s 20th anniversary program foregrounds a different vis..
At an age when many are winding down their working lives, Ignacio Berroa eagerly anticipates a new stage in his career. It would be understandable if the 64-year-old drummer, recognized a..
We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..
Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..
Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..
Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..
When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..
They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..
There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..
El segundo programa de la temporada 2017-2018 del Miami City Ballet (MCB) dedicado a los 100 años del nacimiento de Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), el gran coreógrafo norteamericano que triunfó ..
2017 fue un buen año para la danza en Miami. El Flamenco Festival nos permitió volver a ver a Jesús Carmona, el Internacional Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) sobrevivió al huracán Irma, Dance..
El Miami City Ballet (MCB) presentó por fin en el Arsht Center la nueva producción de su gran espectáculo navideño, el “Cascanueces” de Tchaikovsky y Balanchine, ahora con diseños origin..
La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..
El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..
Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..
Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..
Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..
Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..