‘Get Curious’: Skirball’s Fall Programming Promises Literature, Technicolor and Copulating Moles

Showcasing the experimental works of artists from across the globe, as well as introducing a pre-show ‘book club,’ Skirball is as weird and wonderful as ever.

Promotional imagery for Philippe Quesne: The Moles, to be performed at NYU Skirball. (Photo via NYU)

“Every year we kind of have a new motto,” explains NYU Skirball Director Jay Wegman. “This year it’s ‘Get Curious.’”

Featuring shows tackling modern media coverage through the lens of Greek mythology, drawing on postmodern novels, and borrowing the aboriginal notion of the ‘songline’ or ‘dreaming track’ — the repetition of a song through one’s navigation of a landscape as a means of accessing ancestral connections to that land — the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts promises adventure and unorthodoxy with its Fall 2019 programming.

“It’s not stuff you’ll see on Broadway,” Wegman said.

On Philippe Quesne’s “The Moles,” a performance which will venture beyond the confines of Skirball’s 850-foot theater, Wegman notes, “They’re from France, they’re seven big moles and they’re going to go tour Greenwich Village. People are going to think it’s like 42nd Street. But no, this isn’t Elmo.” Be forewarned: the evening performance is R-rated, while the matinee is family friendly. “Basically, the moles have sex in the night show,” Wegman said.

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“The Moles” will run from Sept. 13-14, one of the first productions of the season, following “Bad News! I Was There…,” a site-specific processional performance from JoAnne Akalaitis.

On Sept. 16, Skirball will present “NYU Writers: A Celebration of Writers and Writing at NYU,” which will showcase some of the university’s most esteemed creative writing talent, including Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeffrey Eugenides, among others.

Come December, you won’t want to miss “The Builders Association: Elements of Oz,” which is not so much a retelling of Oz as it is a multimedia experience of the film’s production and of the myriad cultural responses to the film, from Youtube videos to fan theories to critical interpretations of the text. The audience will also be asked to download an app on their phone which will “deliver the Technicolor Land of Oz direct to our devices.” (For example, flying monkeys will dash across the screen when you open it.) The performance will explore the moment in which the film transitions from black and white to color, as well as delve into the personal life of Judy Garland.

Skirball is also launching a weekly “book club” series to take place before each Friday night show. Handpicked by Director of Engagement J De Leon, each book has been chosen as a kind of companion piece to the night’s event; the texts all connect to the performance in some way, whether that connection be rather straightforward or more tangential.

The pairing of Don DeLilo’s “White Noise” and Tony-nominated Daniel Fish’s performance piece — freely inspired by Delilo’s seminal novel — of the same name, for example, is a rather obvious choice; Helen Oyeyemi’s inventive novel “Gingerbead,” on the other hand, is a more open-ended selection to accompany “The Builders Association: Elements of Oz.”

All of the texts have been published in the last year, excepting “White Noise.” The book club picks are meant to open up different interpretations of the performance, and encourage associative thinking. “We’re trying to make as many connections as possible, to offer as many points of entry as possible,” Wegman said.

Wegman attributes student interest in Skirball programming largely to the efforts of the faculty, who have begun putting Skirball events on syllabi or even just encouraging their students to attend a show. Last year, every incoming first-year in Tisch had to attend a Skirball performance and write a response to it.

While shows like “The Moles” are wacky and fun, other performances, such as “ICE: George Lewis’s Soundlines” — Lewis’s musical interpretation of Steven Schick’s 700-mile walk from the U.S.-Mexico border to the San Francisco Bay Area — offer nontraditional ways of seeing and internalizing the complexities of the crises facing the world today.

In “to come (extended),” described on Skirball’s website as a “sculptural performance”, Danish choreographer, dancer and performance artist Mette Ingvartsen explores sexuality and intimacy, specifically in regards to sexual representation, through the movement of 15 discrete bodies as they morph into one formation.

“There’s a huge surprise at the end [of “to come (extended)”] that we can’t talk about,” Wegman said. “You don’t see the last 20 minutes coming, so the last 20 minutes I just love.”

You can buy tickets to Skirball Events at the box office on LaGuardia Place, or online at its website.

A version of this article appears in the Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, print edition. Email Julie Goldberg at [email protected]

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