The Wooster Group has always been described as avant garde. This means that either the theatrical garde hasn't changed in 30 years, or the Wooster Group has. Last night at The Box for their annual benefit, Michael Stipe sat on a low sofa and watched Moby, a smaller, uglier him, massacre the 12-bar blues. Mikhail Baryshnikov turned out even cooler in person than we thought, and, as always, John Waters provided some of the only words of wisdom: "Avant garde is a dirty dirty word. I'd never call anything I liked avant garde." Nikola Tamindzic (his own gallery is here) and our own Joshua David Stein got all avant on the rest of them.
When we walked into the Box, John Waters was doing some gentle stand-up which, for him, includes many mentions of glory holes and butt sex. Jaded as we are, to walk into a bar and see John Waters is always very, very exciting. In the banquets, assorted wealthy patrons drank champagne. I tripped over some woman's wheelchair, something I'd do throughout the night. Waters introduced DJ Spooky, showed some videos from a film he made sure to mention a few times; it was about the KKK and he will be screening it at Ground Zero. Later, as we chatted with Spooky, a girl came around giving away his CD and offered him one. He said, "I am DJ Spooky" and then tried to convince the girl that she should pick up a copy of the album she was holding 30 copies of. "It's really really good," he said. "Are you into graphic design?" This drew a hesitant yes from the girl. "Yeah, you like the cover? It's really good. It's a pun."
Back on stage, Mikhail Baryshnikov was introducing an excerpt from the Wooster Group's La Didone. Baryshnikov makes us overcome: Not for Sex and the City but for the 11 pirouettes he does in White Nights. That shit is bananas. But then he left the stage and two opera performers dressed as spacemen entered.This heralded the beginning of a shitty feeling we'd carry with us all night. As they warbled the libretto, it occurred to us the avant garde was all a sham. What does it matter that these two were performing an opera dressed in a space outfits. Is that experimental or just weird? Does this tangle of supposed intended allusions and references carry any meaning? or is it just the right amount of excess, abstraction and incomprehensibility to lull and intimidate the viewer into declaiming the thing as "genius" with a lispy "s" on the end.
A "cooking" show by The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black in which a bloody vagina, body paint and a pot figured heavily did nothing to help the case. I guess there was some comment on gender issues. I like boobs, so there was that. I asked the guy behind me what it was about. He said, "I think it was about sexuality." Even Michael Stipe, the man who wrote Losing My Religion, had no takeaway. "I thought it was hysterical but I didn't come away with any lesson."
So, if it kinda sucked here, at least artistically, was there hope anywhere else? We decided to ask the attendees.
Nigel Barker, America's Next Top Model, judge: "I think the avant garde is too unknown and too underground. I wish it was more accessible, like Monty Python."
Richard Kimmel, Exec Dir. of the Box: "The avant garde needs more beer. That's what's happening at the Box."
John Helfst, "friend of the board": "It needs more tits."
Dominique Bousquet, choreographer: "O Brother."
Ludwig Kuttner and Beatrix Ost-Kuttner, Trillionaires: "It's alive and kicking."
DJ Spooky: "I could be a fiction. I know Nick Denton."
John Waters: "The Wooster Group is a terrorist organization. The best art is made by terrorists."