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Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.

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11/16/07 01:35:41 pm
'Review: Wow and Now'

Wow and Now: A Celebration of Feminist and Queer Performance at Joe??s Pub, Nov 10.
Featuring Lois Weaver, Carmelita Tropicana, Holly Hughes, Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, and Kalup Linzy. Hosted by Karen Finley and Nao Bustamante.

???I know I??m Wow,?? said Carmelita Tropicana, an explosive Latina performer in a blue and gold jumpsuit, ???But am I Now???

Carmelita Tropicana was the first act in Wow and Now, a cabaret night of feminist and queer performance at Joe??s Pub on Saturday 10th November, and she got straight to the point. There was plenty of ???Wow?? on show ?? both in terms of the lineup (featuring legendary performers Karen Finley, Nao Bustamante, Holly Hughes, Lois Weaver, and Carmelita Tropicana herself, and hot new stars Kalup Linzy, My Barbarian and Dynasty Handbag) and in terms of the ???WOW Caf???, the New York venue and arts collective that has nurtured and played host to many of these artists.

But the ???Now?? part was harder to define. Presented by Performance Studies International, whose academic conference was being held at NYU from 8th ?? 11th November, and bringing together artists who burst onto the scene in the 1980s, the evening was also a celebration of performance in history. At one point, while a technical fault caused a lull in the momentum, an audience member shouted out that the WOW Caf? was in fact still running, even if, as she said, ???the title of this show doesn??t make that at all clear.??

Carmelita Tropicana (aka Alina Troyano) answered her own question by showing a You Tube video ?? which is 2007 shorthand for ???current??. In Use Tube, a work in progress, Tropicana played to the academic ear of the audience, many of whom had come straight from three days of conference discussions. She deconstructed ???Chunkalicious??, in which two teenage girls parody (knowingly or not) the misogynistic tone of R&B music videos. But this was deconstruction with a heavy dose of fun, encouraging the audience to sing along to the catchy tune.

Kalup Linzy also used song to skewer serious issues. Performing as Taiwan, a long-haired, leotard-wearing singer with a flower in her hair, Linzy belted out beautiful melodies about his ambitions to win an Emmy and his doomed love affair. Recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, Linzy is perhaps better known for his video works, and his spot on Wow and Now was not quite long enough to get an understanding of his style, or his humour.

My Barbarian treated us to an abridged version of their show, Non Western: Our Western. There wasn??t enough time to follow the plot, but amidst the giant Pterodactyl and the singing nuns it was clear that this idiosyncratic blend of American musical theatre, Californian mysticism and global politics was both rammed full of meaning and shamelessly fun.

Dynasty Handbag, the real-life ventriloquist??s dummy created by Jibz Cameron (she mimes to her own pre-recorded voice) sang, ???I would like more memories??, a song that was unwittingly apt for the occasion. In an evening tinged with nostalgia for the 80s New York scene (whether or not members of the audience had been there), Dynasty Handbag wished for the memories of things, without having to do them in the first place. Meanwhile, some of her older colleagues were labouring under the weight of performing their own histories.

Holly Hughes ducked the ???now?? imperative of the evening??s title, claiming that her performance looked ???back?? to ???something dark??. Her haunting and hypnotic monologue was an invocation of the power and danger of desire. The evening??s hosts, Karen Finley and Nao Bustamante, performed an awkward skit in which they tried to recreate aspects of each other??s work. At one point Bustamante poured honey over her fingers and asked her co-host to make ???Karen Finley noises??. Later, Finley bared her breasts as she announced another act.

Somewhere between the WOW Caf? on 11th street and the art theories pored over at the PSI conference, transgression and spontaneity had been ironed into history. Twelve of Holly Hughes?? students stood at the back of the room, cheering and whooping. But to them (as to me), Finley and Hughes and the NEA scandal that branded them ???controversial?? is part of the structure of performance history, and the stuff of dense academic essays. Some of Hughes?? students lined up by the bar with their coats on, as if they were visiting a museum.

Lois Weaver finished the evening by bridging this gap between new and old ?? putting the ???wow?? back into ???now??. Introduced as ???fifty-eight and counting??, she strode on stage naked, and stepped into her Tammy WhyNot costume in a reverse strip-tease. She tackled the challenge of the evening??s title head on, and demonstrated how ???now?? the issues explored in this kind of performance can be ?? even if their effect has already been theorised in the history books. Transformed into character before our very eyes, Lois Weaver showed the defiance it takes for a woman and a lesbian, and for a woman who is no longer young, to get up on stage and assert her identity.

Mary Paterson

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