« October 2014 | Main | December 2014 »

November 2014 Archives

November 3, 2014

Niki Tulk's Tender "Food" Buttons


The Dresser, not be trumped by the Steiny Road Poet's review of the Van Reipen Collective's theatrical interpretation of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons section 1 "Objects," offers her look and connections to Van Reipen's production of section 2 "Food" at the Theater for the New City in New York. First, Dear Reader, a little background.


What is Tender Buttons ? A book-length love poem in three sections that the Steiny Road Poet has been studying deeply inside the discussion forums of the Coursera massive open online course (MOOC) Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) by University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis. Steiny has documented that study starting with this blogpost: Stepping on Tender Buttons: "A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass." However, Steiny has only completed study of Tender Buttons "Objects." Full disclosure, Steiny has just begun study of "Food," so if this interests you, you can sign up for ModPo until November 15, 2014, and find the Tender Buttons study group inside the discussion forums. (Once ModPo ends, course enrollment ends, but the discussion forums and study of Tender Buttons will continue until the 2015 ModPo offering in the fall.)

Therefore, the Dresser is perfectly at her ease to make what anyone can of a dramatic interpretation of Tender Buttons "Food." One other thing to know is VP treated each of the three sections of Tender Buttons as separate theater productions. This means there were different directors for each production: Gary Heidt: "Objects," Cara Scarmack and Christopher Weston: "Rooms," and Niki Tulk: "Food."


While Gary Heidt's treatment of "Objects" was musical with another text underpinning how the dozen players and musicians moved, Niki Tulk's approach to "Food" was on the surface much simpler. In "Food," original recorded music by Mark Tulk with cello by Niki Tulk was used to introduce, shade, or transition from one part of the production to the next (well, except for Cupcake Gross' chicken striptease) and only three actors spoke the entire Steinian text. During the 90-minute production, Cassandra V. Chopourian impressively delivered the majority of Stein's words. Not only did she know the words, which are not logically written, but also she infused the words with feeling, just as Stein does when she opens the "Food" section:

In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling. In the evening there is feeling. In feeling anything is resting, in feeling anything is mounting, in feeling there is resignation, in feeling there is recognition, in feeling there is recurrence and entirely mistaken there is pinching.
Tender Buttons , section 2 "Food," first subpoem "Roastbeef."


TBF-MeatHook.jpegMemorably Chopourian, while simulating hanging from a meat hook, slowly recited the 36 stanzas (1757 words) of "Roastbeef." and then 13 stanzas (534 words) of "Mutton.". It was an uncomfortable stretch for one actor or even for an audience member, but it was a tour de force.

But wait, the Dresser emailed Niki Tulk and she said, "She [Chopourian] hung from the meathook for the first 10 mins or so of Roastbeef, and then hopped down, explored the dress, got dressed, plucked the chicken and set the table ... TBFChickPluck.jpgso most of her work was off the meathook, but the time at the beginning was very much a 'close-up' section and probably felt longer than it was, due to that intensity."

Allow the Dresser to give some examples of those lines:

Please be the beef, please beef, pleasure is not wailing. Please beef, please be carved clear, please be a case of consideration.

Search a neglect. A sale, any greatness is a stall and there is no memory, there is no clear collection.

(These two stanzas are 24 and 25 from "Roastbeef.")


Mouse and mountain and a quiver, a quaint statue and pain in an exterior and silence more silence louder shows salmon a mischief intender. A cake, a real salve made of mutton and liquor, a specially retained rinsing and an established cork and blazing, this which resignation influences and restrains, restrains more altogether. A sign is the specimen spoken.

A meal in mutton, mutton, why is lamb cheaper, it is cheaper because so little is more. Lecture, lecture and repeat instruction.

(These are the last two stanzas from "Mutton.")

Why does Chopourian carry so much of the text delivery? Well, besides being exceptionally good at memorization and delivery, one of her fellow collective members Lauren Farber has the dual challenge of muscular dystrophy and legal blindness. Nonetheless Farber's resume is substantial with fifty years experience in dance and movement theater that includes ballet, mime, and Butoh. She has worked with such experimental companies at Margolis Brown Adaptors, Joan Merwyn's Sound Image Theater, The Construction Company, and currently Van Reipen Collective. TBF-InPot.jpg

In an informal interview after the closing show on October 19, 2014, Director Niki Tulk said one of the interesting challenges for this production was how to use Farber's talents and limitations to best advantage. Two aspects of Farber's MS are she has limited capacity for memorization and she needs to rest with some frequency, meaning her lines needed to be short and during the intermissionless show, Farber needed an opportunity to lie down and rest. For example, as the text progressed to "Milk." and "Eggs." (subpoems 7 and 8), Farber climbed up on the table and got covered over by a cloth that Chopourian moved around and over her colleague.


Climb up in sight climb in the whole utter needles and a guess a whole guess is hanging. Hanging hanging.


Kind height, kind in the right stomach with a little sudden mill.

Cunning shawl, cunning shawl to be steady.

In white in white handkerchiefs with little dots in a white belt all shadows are singular they are singular and procured and relieved.

No that is not the cows shame and a precocious sound, it is a bite.

Cut up alone the paved way which is harm. Harm is old boat and a likely dash.


Tulk said that what kept the action moving forward and helped the cast remember their lines was a gaming strategy--"games (the ones that get passed on as if by osmosis from generation to generation of children) contain structures of movement and text--often nonsense text--that the smallest child can remember. They cannot always remember the words out of context, but once moving in that familiar pattern, the words come as if unbidden. There is a sense in which text and movement are both stored in muscle memory, and finding kinesthetic structures/choreographic forms that facilitate that is powerful in creating resonance with the audience on a visceral level, and also for actors learning 'nonsense' text (or any text)."

Continue reading "Niki Tulk's Tender "Food" Buttons" »

November 13, 2014

Mini Review of Big Concert: NSO's The Rite of Spring

The concert: National Symphony Orchestra
plays "Le sacre du printemps
("The Rite of Spring")

When: November 13, 2014

Conductor: Christoph Eschenbach

The Program:

Lera Auerbach: Eterniday/ Homage to W.A. Mozart

The Dresser's reaction: rich and layered with solo instruments featured, trance-inducing, made her think of Elena Ruhr's music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Flute concerto No. 2 in D major, K. 314
Solo performer: Flutist Aaron Goldman
Cadenzas by Lera Auerbach commissioned by NSO for all three movement

The Dresser's reaction: Uplifting with recognizable themes. The cadenzas were well integrated. Goldman was a pleasure to watch and hear.

Igor_Stravinskysm.jpgIgor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring: Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts

The Dresser's reaction: From the moment the bassoon ambushes the listener with its wistful call, attention never wanes. Stravinsky premiered this work with Diaghilev's Ballets Russe in the spring of 1913. One hundred years old and the work still sounds fresh and creates electricity. The brass and percussion sections are awesome. The size of the orchestration alone is a reason to attend this concert.

Related Concert Events

November 14-15, 2014 NSO Le sacre du printemps

January 27 - February 1, 2015 Mariinsky Ballet performs Le sacre du printemps

November 23, 2014

Balance and Dislocation: WNO Premiers Three Short Operas

On November 21, 2014, American Opera Initiative, Washington National Opera's, program to develop and produced new American operas, presented three twenty-minute operas employing the considerable talents of Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists and other established young talent including Alexandra Christoforakis and Andrew McLaughlin. Advising the composer-librettist pairs were conductor Anne Manson, composer Jake Heggie, and librettist Mark Campbell.

The Dresser's favorite and the best defined in the category of opera is "The Investment" by composer John Liberatore and librettist Niloufar Talebi. The musical opening of this opera features the rich voice of a cello quickly joined by bass, violin, flute, and percussion.

The story of "The Investment" revolves around a work of art that isn't what the husband of a couple who buys the work expected. He and his wife learn about the inspiration of the oil painting from the painter who has been invited to their house for lunch. The painter, an Iranian American, reveals that the work is a memorial to her mother who was born in Shiraz, Iran, a city of "poets and wine, gardens and nightingales." What the Dresser particularly liked about hearing these lines sung was the music and vocal performance (by soprano Raquel González) seemed infused with the song of the nightingale.

AOI 4 - Daughters of the Bloody Duke.jpg"Daughters of the Bloody Duke" by composer Jake Runestad and Librettist David Johnston is an entertaining comic piece that is a cross between opera and music theatre. On a much smaller and less complicated scale, the story of "Daughters of the Bloody Duke" reminded the Dresser of the musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which at its roots came from the ancient Roman legend of the rape of the Sabine women. In David Johnston's libretto, the story involves revenge. A man with 40 daughters commands them to marry 40 brothers and then to kill them.

Least developed musically in the Dresser's opinion but with a compelling libretto is "An American Man" by composer Rene Orth and librettist Jason Kim. The story revolves around the death of man who was a less than perfect father to a self-made man who has become rich and is running for public office and to a daughter who stayed with their father. The Dresser found the music to be more of an accent to the libretto and vocal line than a conduit holding the work together.

The Dresser considers it exciting to witness presentation of new work and to learn about the creators as well as anticipate future work from these artists. As Judith Bowles' poem "After Hopper's The Hotel Room" concludes about Edward Hopper's painting The Hotel Room and is pertinent to the WNO American Opera Initiative productions for 2014: balance and dislocation occur simultaneously such that the elements making up the works of art create their own standards and illumination.


A woman like a swimmer
at the edge of a pool
turns her back to the glare
looks toward a book,
heavy on her knees,
loose in her hands.
Her face so in shade
that only the angle
of her chin and the angle
of the book indicate
something besides its words
are on her mind.
She is nearly naked,
her full smooth legs
another kind of glow
against the white
anchored sheet.
A creamy pink chemise
wraps her torso
like another skin.
Why does it seem
something is going to happen
or has happened here?
Her dress lysing draped
across the heavy armchair,
two pieces of luggage
standing closed and tagged,
black pumps askew
on the carpet, deep green
like the chair
and the wall to the left.
A perfect kind of balance
is at play here, the dislocation
in an order of its own.
So much has gathered
in this room where colors
have their own sense of play
and relief, next to
a wide window
noisy with light.

by Judith Bowles
from The Gatherer

Copyright © 2014 Judith Bowles

Photo: Scott Suchman

About November 2014

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in November 2014. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2014 is the previous archive.

December 2014 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.