Choreographer Ani Taj found inspiration for her latest project after watching a series of bad blockbuster movies in the early 2000s. After each one, she left the theater feeling a mixture of frustration and pity. The female characters, it seemed to her, were treated as little more than window dressing or arm candy, lacking the complexity of the real women she knew and idolized as a young girl. “Even if a woman did get to have a movie about her, the climax often revolved around getting carried off by some guy at the end,” Taj told ALL ARTS.
With that lingering disappointment in mind, Taj and the rest of the team at the Dance Cartel created “Wet Clutch,” an interactive show that pays tribute to the strong, diverse female characters rarely seen in popular culture. The free show, which employs a set reminiscent of a drive-in movie theater, will be held this Saturday at 8: 30 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center.
Throughout the evening, dancers will dress in costume and attempt to channel female characters who, in some way, deviated from Hollywood’s status quo. Selecting the heroines to celebrate was a difficult process, Taj said, noting that some inclusions are intended to be silly references — like Pamela Anderson in “Barb Wire” — while others are “genuinely badass,” like Angela Bassett’s character in “Strange Days.”
“We actively try on these characters, seeing where they are inspiring and where they are, in terms of narrative journeys and identity and representation — and what it’s like to be a composite of them,” she explained. “There is a mythology that Hollywood disseminates, and while we’re not making a pat statement about it, we are opening a giant question about what that mythology does to inform our process of becoming in the world.”
The show incorporates video elements and, in keeping with its interactive nature, audience members are encouraged to participate and move freely. Toward the end of the evening, DJ Average Jo will deliver a performance that Taj hopes will lure people to the dance floor.
“Something comes so alive when we can look audience members right in the eye, and they have the agency to get up, or move around, or laugh too loud, or even dance with us,” she said. “It gives every performance a truly unique chemistry and imprint, and we like that wild card.”
Here are four other free events happening this week that should be on your radar:
Charlie Parker Jazz Festival
SummerStage, Tompkins Square Park
August 26; 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
The 26th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival kicks off on August 22 and runs through August 26. Designed to celebrate both its namesake and the younger generations that he has inspired, the events are held at a variety of venues throughout the city and feature an impressive roster of talent. Our pick goes to the closing night performance, which features the Garty Bartz Quartet, the Bad Plus, Amina Claudine Myers and more.
A Night at the Opera
Lincoln Center Plaza
August 24; 8 p.m.
As part of the Metropolitan Opera’s collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a free screening of the Marx Brothers classic “A Night At The Opera” will be held outside the opera house this Friday. There are enough seats for the first 2,800 attendees, but they fill up fast. If you miss the first showing, catch the screening of Charles Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” the following night at the same time.
Rooftop Films Presents: Pick of the Litter
Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn
August 23; 8 p.m.
Sundance Selects documentary “Pick of the Litter” follows a litter of puppies as they grow and learn to become guide dogs over the course of two years. The movie, which has been hailed by critics as “earnest” and “delightful,” examines the rigorous training the pups go through, while also investigating the emotional impact training has on animal handlers. Friendly dogs are welcome to attend the event. Seating is first come, first served.
Broadway Plaza between W. 46th and 47th Streets, Manhattan
Running through Sept. 5; 2 p.m.-8 p.m.
Imagine New York City completely submerged by water. That’s the future presented to viewers of “Unmoored,” an interactive art exhibition and virtual reality experience created by activist and artist Mel Chin and sponsored by Microsoft. The project, which includes digital work, uses climatologists’ research to create renderings of what the city could look like if global warming goes unchecked. Docents are on standby on select days to explain and help participants explore the exhibition. Check the website for details.
Top Image: Courtesy of Courtesy of Ebru Yildiz/The Dance Cartel