THE BLOG

First NIghter: Basil Twist in Manhattan, IPA in Brooklyn

09/20/2013 12:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2013

Anyone looking around New York City for something to do this weekend might want to check out the Japan Society in Manhattan and/or the Brooklyn Museum.

Basil Twist's Dogugaeshi, at the Japan Society, is not so much a puppet show--as Twist fans will suspect--as it is a series of mesmerizing projections designed by Peter Flaherty. Commissioned 10 years ago by the Society to bring in a piece, Twist instantly remembered being captivated by dogugaeshi--the name designating, as the program explains, "the stage mechanism that serves as a background to traditional Japanese folk puppet theater."

Part of the tradition is the opening of doors behind which are other doors. The effect of doors opening to reveal other doors is that the promise of something revealed is not immediately fulfilled. (Life as a continuing, tantalizing mystery is the notion.) Intrigued by dogugaeshi, Twist builds on it, first by puling aside curtains to a screen on which intricately designed two-part doors glide aside and only occasionally give way to anything other than more two-part doors.

For a few minutes, footage of older Japanese women discussing beauty appears. Only two puppets, if I'm not mistaken, make themselves known--or is it the same puppet? The one with the lengthiest routine resembles a white feather boa sporting a wolf's head. The coy creature dances over to attempt engaging with shamisen player Yumiko Tanaka, who's perched, poker-faced, stage left through the entire 60-minute show.

It would be going too far to term the now-brought-back Dogugaeshi emotionally involving, but decidedly lento in mood, it's ravishing to look at.

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In Brooklyn, the amusingly named Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure (IPA)--which is founded by four members of Brooklyn College's Performance and Interactive Arts Media program--is indulging in Experiment #23b as part of the BEAT (Brooklyn Emerging Artists in Theater) Festival 2013. All that means is, the IPA is running a mock study meant to encourage participants to open themselves to being "free."

The process has three stages. The first is filling out a questionnaire asking for "Spiritual Name" and, for instance, the longest you've ever had to wait for something. (I used the spiritual name "Cosmo Naut" and wrote that the longest I've ever had to wait for something still obtains: Death. I didn't put down that I don't mind waiting longer.)

The second part of the process is walking through a first-floor exhibit with a guide who asks questions based on the answers you've given on the questionnaire. The third is taking a longer tour of the museum with guides who switch off as they lead you through various upper-floor rooms. My favorite, Lisa, chatted about the ability crows have to recognize faces while she led me to Valerie Hegarty's "Still Life With Crows." My, but Hegarty does seem completely in tune with the crow-plagued Alfred Hitchcock flick where crows menace Tippi Hedren and anyone unlucky enough to associate with her.

I need to say I'm on record as disliking interactive theater, and so my resistance to the expedition was strong. By the time, our small group of 15 or so went through a wedding ceremony on a service elevator, I was looking for the nearest exit. Then I recalled we'd been admonished to be ourselves, to "be natural." So I became myself and, as a former history of art minor, began paying attention to the Museum's collection, which I hadn't visited in some time.

I was especially happy to see a few Rembrandts newly on view, and, not to scant many other items, I liked an Alice Neel portrait I'd never seen. In the Luce center, I also came upon a drawer of miniatures well worth perusing.

In other words, the IPA may be on to something, after all: Do what you like and like what you do.