Germinal review: Creating the world, in the Under the Radar Festival

Song from COIL

Song from COIL

The first shows of both the Under the Radar and COIL festivals – two of the dozen or so winter festivals that bring experimental theater from around the world to New York in January – began in darkness.

“Sound,” the first show at P.S. 122’s  COIL, more or less remained that way. The piece by Ranters Theater of Australia asked the audience to sit on the floor for an hour looking at a sun changing color, and listening to a sound track of crickets and folk songs.

In the 80 minutes of “Germinal,” the first show of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, four performers created an entire world.

Click on any photograph from Germinal to see it enlarged.

It was slow-going at first, as surely it is whenever a new world begins. The performers didn’t even have language. Their thoughts were projected onto the black backdrop, much to their own bafflement. (When they acquired language, it was French — it’s a French/Belgium production — with English surtitles.) Eventually an pick-axe materialized, and a microphone, a what looked like a computer tablet, and an electric guitar, each one put to use in clever or at least elaborate ways. The performers began classifying things based on whether they made a “pocpoc” sound when hit with a microphone — abstract ideas and feelings were classified as “not pocpoc”

Is it shameful to admit that the theatergoers around me seemed more taken by all this whimsy than I was?

That was true, anyway, until the last ten minutes or so, when the four performers of “Germinal” are sitting in a recessed tub full of packing peanuts and recounting what they, and we, have just experienced through the use of a timeline projected rapidly onto the black backdrop, from “darkness” through “pocpoc” and “not pocpoc” to “end,” with elaborate charts in-between. The scene was not only electrifying; it made the time that preceded it worthwhile.

Germinal,, has only four performances in the festival; the last one today (January 9th) at 3 p.m. But it surely it will return, someday, somewhere.  (Created by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoorta, it is a co-production of a long list of companies from a half-dozen different nations, the first two listed being La Biennale de la Danse de Lyon, from France, and Kunstenfestivaldesarts from Brussels, Belgium.)  In the meantime, there are dozens of other offerings at the winter theater festivals.


Winter Theater Festivals in New York City 2013

Winter theater festivals in New York: COIL, Under the Radar, American Realness, Frigid Festival

Winter theater festivals in New York: COIL, Under the Radar, American Realness, Frigid Festival

January is the month for theater festivals in New York, more than at any time other than the summer.  The offerings tend toward the avant-garde and the international and indeed many of the productions are more reliably classified as performance art, often incorporating more dance and music and….noodling around… than anything resembling traditional theater.

One might think that the reason for this surge of festivals during the frigid month is to make up for the fallow period of commercial theater. Maybe this is an indirect cause, but more direct is the presence of the thousands of attendees from throughout the nation at the annual convention of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, or, as it’s known this year, APAP/NYC 2013, running from January 11th-15th.

Performance Space 122
Thurs, Jan 3 – Sat, Jan 19

Twitter feed: @PS122

In the words of the festival organizers” full of contemporary, textured, global, local, contemplative, grounded, rigorous, and always very live performance.”

Of the 11 offerings this year, five are explicitly labeled theater:

RadioholeRadiohole’s Inflatable Frankenstein, about the “tumultuous and tragic”  life of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley.

Seagull (Thinking of You)

A meditation on Chekhov’s play, with “a Russian folk metal-influenced score.”


Peggy Shaw considers the lifetime of “crooners, lounge singers, movie stars, rock and roll bands, and eccentric family members living inside her.”

The Curators’ Piece: A Trial Against Art

There There

A “precarious bilingual performance duet” between a character substituting for Christopher Walken and her Russian interpreter.

Public Theater
Wed, Jan 9 – Sun, Jan 20

Twitter: @UTRFestival

13 works of cutting-edge theater from eight countries:

Hollow Roots (US) Solo show asks: Can someone live a life unaffected by one’s race or gender?

Ganesh versus the Third ReichGanesh Versus the Third Reich (Australia) The elephant-headed god Ganesh travels through Nazi Germany to reclaim the Swastika, an ancient Hindu symbol.

Minks: A Reply to Kathy Acker (Belarus) The latest theatrically vivid work from the heroic Belarus Free Theater.

The Debate Society‘s “Blood Play” (USA) A spontaenous grown-up part in the basement of a 1950’s suburban ranch house.

Leev Theatre Group‘s “Hamlet, Prince of Grief” (Iran)

“Zero Cost House” (U.S./Japan)

Elevator Repair Service‘s new work-in-progress “Arguendo.” — re-enacting the 1991 oral arguments of a high court case about the legality of nude dancing in Indiana

C’est du Chinois (Hungary/The Netherlands) Performers teach the audience basic Mandarin, “just enough to decipher their unfolding story.” (The title is a French expression that can be interpreted as “That’s Greek to me.”

A 20th Century Abridged Concert Of The History Of Popular Music One-night only from Taylor Mac


SoldierSongsatPrototypeFestivalJan 9 – 18

Twitter: @Prototypefest

Bills itself as the “premiere festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre” I’m not sure what that means, and this is the first year of the festival, so I guess we’ll all find out together. It includes five works for this year, including Soldier Songs, described combining “elements of theater, opera, rock-infused concert music, and animation to explore the perceptions versus the realities of a soldier…”

Abrons Arts Center
Thurs, Jan 10 – Sun, Jan 20

Twitter: @AmericanRealnes

An Attempt To Fail At Groundbreaking Theater, part of the American Realness festival

An Attempt To Fail At Groundbreaking Theater, part of the American Realness festival

Some 20 works, primarily dance, although theater is certainly an accent in some of these works, such as the all-male contemporary dance version of Sophocles’s Greek tragic drama Antigone at the Judson Church, entitled (I think) Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning

My favorite title though is
An Attempt to Fail at Groundbreaking Theater. Description; “Performer Tony Rizzi takes on the triple roles of German dance icon Pina Bausch, performance art legend Penny Arcade and queer filmmaker Jack Smith.”


Kraine Theater

February 20 – March 3

Twitter: @FrigidNewYork

30 shows! A festival of indie theater “where artists are chosen by lottery, and 100% of ticket sales are returned to artists!”