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Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd

Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez

A living legacy of dance.

Venue

Christ Church Neighborhood House
20 North American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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“[The collaborators] have woven material from seven of Mr. Bernd’s pieces into a fresh, funny and profoundly poignant new work … they treat Mr. Bernd’s legacy lovingly but not too preciously, imparting a roughness that suggests it could keep evolving forever” The New York Times

“The thrust of the piece is not about John’s illness, but about his work, and what his work and the work of many from his generation could have become.” Ishmael Houston-Jones

Photo by Ian Douglas.

Until his death from AIDS in 1988, multidisciplinary choreographer John Bernd stood at the forefront of New York’s experimental dance scene. Discovering a piece of paraphernalia from that time, Bernd’s onetime friend and collaborator Ishmael Houston-Jones asked: What would contemporary dance be like if the gay/dance communities hadn’t lost a whole generation of creators to the epidemic? Together with choreographer Miguel Gutierrez, Houston-Jones mashed up Bernd’s work into a wholly new piece which proposes enticing answers to this question.

Houston-Jones and Gutierrez reconfigure excerpts from the last seven pieces that Bernd made to create a new vision of his work that captures the vitality of his vision, demonstrates how his influence lives in modern-day dance, and serves as a blueprint for what his work might have become. As an artist and musician as well as a choreographer, Bernd pioneered interdisciplinary dance performance. This work incorporates his signature artworks and original music compositions, reimagined and enhanced by composer Nick Hallett.

The performance on Sept 15th at 8pm will feature ASL interpretation by Hands Up Productions.

 

Performances of Variations of Themes on Lost and Found are accompanied by an exhibition presented in collaboration with David Acosta, a Philadelphia-based poet, cultural scholar, and co-founder of Casa de Duende. The presentation displayed in the lobby of Christ Church Neighborhood House charts the AIDS crisis in Philadelphia, providing city-specific context in relationship with John Bernd’s own personal history. The exhibition utilizes material from the John J. Wilcox archives held at the William Way LGBT Community Center, with a focus on the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP and local initiatives within the dance community such as Shut Up and Dance (1992). The exhibit will be open one hour before performances begin through one hour after performances end.

Sunday, September 16 following 2pm performance: Post-Show Conversation with Miguel Gutierrez, Ishmael Houston Jones, David Acosta, and John Anderies
Estimated Length: 45 minutes

$35 general / $24.50 member
$15 student + 25-and-under

Conceived by Ishmael Houston-Jones Co-directed by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Miguel Gutierrez Choreography, Drawings and Compositions John Bernd Music Direction Nick Hallett Consultation Jennifer Monson Lights Carol Mullins Production Management Sarah Lurie Video Design Alvaro Gonzalez Performed by Toni Carlson, Talya Epstein, Alvaro Gonzalez, Charles Gowin, Madison Krekel, Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Alex Rodabaugh.

Photos by Ian Douglas

Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally made possible with support from a commission from Danspace Project, as well as support from Mert Gilmore Foundation, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, James E. Robison Foundation, Lambent Foundation and an Emergency Grant from Foundation for Contemporary Art.

Festival Co-Producers
Sissie & Herb Lipton
Christie Hartwell
Judith Tannenbaum
Tony Forte & Ryan Hummel
Festival Producer
Bob Dever


About John Bernd

John Bernd (1953–1988) was an interdisciplinary artist working with original text, music, vocal work, projections, choreography and improvisation. He was one of the first persons with AIDS in the Downtown Dance scene, was a “Bessie” Award- winning choreographer, performer, and “ethical guiding light.” He presented his first evening-length work, A Personal Landscape, in 1978 and continued to create solo and group projects for the next ten years including Surviving Love and Death, Lost and Found (scenes from a life), Be Good To Me, and many others. He performed his work in a variety of contexts and venues, such as PS 122, Danspace Project, Dance Theater Workshop, Theater am Turm in Frankfurt, Tangente in Montreal, as well as The Pyramid Club and Club 57 in New York. He collaborated with Tim Miller on a yearlong autobiographical duet called Live Boys. He received fellowship support from New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. He performed and toured with Meredith Monk/The House, and performed in New York with Jeff Weiss, Jane Comfort, Molissa Fenley, DANCENOISE, Anne Bogart, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Fred Holland. According to his resume: “I go to the beach or movies, read books, take naps—whenever possible.” He died in New York on August 28, 1988 of AIDS- related complications, at the age of 35.

About Ishmael Houston-Jones

Ishmael Houston-Jones is choreographer, author, performer, teacher, and curator. His improvised dance and text work has been performed in New York, across the U.S., and in Europe, Canada, Australia, and Latin America. Drawn to collaborations as a way to move beyond boundaries and the known, Houston-Jones celebrates the political aspect of cooperation. He and Fred Holland shared a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Cowboys, Dreams and Ladders, which reintroduced the erased narrative of the Black cowboy back into the mythology of the American west. He was awarded his second “Bessie” Award for the 2010 revival of THEM, his 1985/86 collaboration with writer Dennis Cooper and composer Chris Cochrane. In 2017 he received a third “Bessie” for Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other Works by John Bernd, having danced in Bernd’s original Lost and Found in the 1980s.  Houston- Jones curated Platform 2012: Parallels which focused on choreographers from the African diaspora and postmodernism and co-curated with Will Rawls Platform 2016: Lost & Found, dance, New York, HIV/AIDS, then and now. He has received a 2016 Herb Alpert, a 2015 Doris Duke Impact and a 2013 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Artists Awards.

About Miguel Gutierrez

Miguel Gutierrez lives in Brooklyn, NY. He creates dance-based performances, music and poetry that focus on desire, identity and the search for meaning. His work has been presented in over 60 cities around the world in venues such as at Centre National de Danse, Centre Pompidou, ImPulsTanz, Fringe Arts, Walker Art Center, TBA/PICA, MCA Chicago, New York Live Arts, Live Arts Bard, American Realness, and the 2014 Whitney Biennial. He has received support from Creative Capital, MAP, National Dance Project, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts and the Tides Foundation. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and United States Artists, and an award from Foundation for Contemporary Art. He is a 2016 Doris Duke Artist and he has received four New York Dance and Performance Bessie Awards. His recent work includes a commission for Ballet de Lorraine in Nancy, France, called Cela nous concerne tous (This concerns all of us), which was inspired by the French social unrest of May 1968. He has created music for several of his works, for choreographer Antonio Ramos, and in collaboration with Colin Self for Jen Rosenblit and Simone Aughterlony’s Everything Fits In The Room. He leads a music project called Sadonna: sad versions of Madonna songs. He invented (and recently killed) DEEP AEROBICS and he is a Feldenkrais Method practitioner. He is the program director for LANDING, an educational initiative at Gibney Dance Center. His book When You Rise Up is available from 53rd State Press. His new project, This Bridge Called My Ass, will premiere in 2019.


Interview with Ishmael Houston-Jones

FringeArts: What was your personal and professional experience with John Bernd?

Ishmael Houston-Jones: John and I were friends, colleagues and co-conspirators in the flourishing East Village experimental dance scene, centered around Performance Space 122 in the 1980s. I danced in all three iterations of his Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and he participated and supported several pieces of mine and my performance partner Fred Holland. He was an opinionated, vocal and sometimes stubborn artist who also was very transparent and valued honesty both in his art and in his everyday life (if one can separate those). Our “official” relationship was “not boyfriends”.

FringeArts: What inspired this piece?

Ishmael Houston-Jones: I found a photocopied zine that had been printed by a group of about fifteen friends and me who were caregivers during the last seven years of John Bernd’s life. This led to a discussion about loss with Judy Hussie-Taylor, executive director at Danspace Project. Specifically, we talked about what effect the loss of so many from the gay/dance community has had on choreography being created today, especially by queer choreographers.

FringeArts: How do you frame and present Bernd’s work in this piece?

Ishmael Houston-Jones: Since I had danced in three of John’s pieces, my initial impulse was to “revive” one of his works. Carol Mullins, the current resident lighting designer at Danspace who had lit John’s work there in the 1980s, told me that that was a ridiculous idea since John was the center of all his work. I then began to look at videos of the body of work he made between 1981 and his death in 1988 and decided to bring in Miguel Gutierrez to help make a mash-up of these seven pieces to make something that wasn’t exactly John’s nor Miguel’s or mine. I brought in composer Nick Hallett to translate John’s original music into the 21st century.

The authorship is shared between John and Miguel and I and the audience seeing it. It is not a memorial. Although the original impulse came about after a conversation about loss in general and losses from AIDS specifically, the thrust of the piece is not about John’s illness, but about his work, and what his work and the work of many from his generation could have become. Miguel often speaks of finding in John Bernd an unknown ancestor.

Excerpt. Read the full interview on the FringeArts Blog.


Further Reading

In Performance: Variations on Themes from Lost and Found (American Realness) by Philip Gates, Contemporary Performance

Excerpt:
“As performed by seven charismatic dancers… the performance overflows with a joy so simple and profound it feels holy.”

Read the full article