WOW Becomes Permanent

Queer-friendly space celebrates its self-determination

With East Village redevelopment speeding out of control, it’s nice to know that WOW Café Theater will maintain its humble, queer-friendly home at 59-61 East Fourth Street. WOW, created in 1980 as a women’s theater festival and operated by an inclusive, non-hierarchical collective, has claimed a few East Village locations over the years. Last October, WOW joined with a variety of Fourth Street nonprofit arts and housing groups to buy their buildings from the city for $1. Dancer-choreographer Jen Abrams, instrumental in helping raise WOW’s share of the $2.5 million needed to bring their building up to code, is showing an evening of new and developing dance and performance with colleagues Clarinda Mac Low and Tara O’Con through Saturday.

The program’s no-hype, low-tech modesty of means is a virtue. Small things can pack a wallop. O’Con’s brief, abstract solo, “Sternum,” does not need a large space—WOW doesn’t have it to give—but does require a skilled performer who can withstand the strain of tense moves that push the body to extremes, what yoga might look like in hell. In “Which,” Mac Low previews “DAGGER,” an evening-length performance and video work slated to premiere in Spring 2007 and has been described by her as “a surreal live horror film that digs into the inner life of tyrants” and addresses “the human lust for political power.” Dressed in chunky black boots and a jacket carefully constructed of ugly patches, Mac Low flings into stop-action motion, coughs out syllables, mutters and declaims, tears at dangling pieces of scrim, turns black walls into chalkboards, and appropriates nearly every inch of available space in the theater. Ultimately, “DAGGER” will move its audience from place to place, from one point of view to another, but “Which” forces us to twist around in our seats to keep an eye on this unpredictable woman, physically short but with a looming, unsettling persona. When a stranger (Lily Skove) slips from behind the theater’s curtain and saunters past her, Mac Low quietly asks “Why are you silent?” Skove, ignoring her, melts into the silent audience.

Abrams shares choreographic credits for “8:55 am” with current collaborator-performers Jodi Bender and Ariel Polonsky as well as performers Sara White, Jessica Dellecave, and Milka Djordjevich who appeared in earlier versions of the work. It looks as if all of them drew inspiration from everyone who has ever commuted to a Manhattan workplace. There we are on the subway platform–insert appropriate sound effects–equipped with backpacks, shoulder bags, shopping bags, straps going this way and that, and yet somehow also managing to wield notepads, beverages, make-up, and roll-on deodorant! There we are, grasping an imaginary pole, reading newspaper stories over our neighbor’s shoulder, swaying as the train races to its next stop. There we are again, milling about on the sidewalk—insert appropriate street sound effects—as three women work hard at looking like a bustling crowd and later plunge into mechanically repetitive and futile jobs. Clearly, we—well, Abrams, Bender and Polonsky, at least—are headed for a breakdown. If the movement lacks choreographic inventiveness, the performance has clarity and verve, and there’s amusement in the recognition of ourselves. The work’s conclusion offers a note of healing. “8:55 am” is a fitting presentation from an artist who surely has discovered in WOW’s improved fortunes a new reason to love working in this city.