Scorching ‘Nanook Of The North’ Heats Up Public Theater’s 2016 Under The Radar Fest

Nadya Kwandibens

EXCLUSIVE: There was a time when reality TV and mock-docs like This Is Spinal Tap and Best In Show not only amused us but made us consider the fuzzy line between truth and fiction onscreen. But the discussion goes back nearly a century, to the 1922 documentary and sociology-class staple Nanook Of The North, a silent film showing the survival struggles of an Inuit man and his family in the Canadian Arctic that included a number of fabricated elements and staged scenes.

Which, strange as it may seem, brings me to the Public Theater’s Under The Radar, and Tanya Tagaq In Concert With Nanook Of The North. The event promises to enliven the New York theater’s Dead Season, the post-holidays lull that culls Broadway weaklings while most of us divert personal funds from entertainment to bill payment. One cure — a panacea, really — for both after-New Year’s ennui and self-imposed penury is this invaluable, inventive and always energizing theatrical Woodstock. Running January 6-17, Under The Radar is broad, bold and cheap: $20 a ticket for Public Theater members, $25 for non. This year’s edition — the 12th — includes the work by Tagaq, an Inuit throat-singer who has toured with Björk and whose 2014 album Animism won the $30K Polaris Music Prize, along with artists from across the U.S. and Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, and Rwanda. (There’s a complete schedule at the end of this story.)

Deadline met recently at the Public, in the East Village, with UTR co-directors Mark Russell and Meiyin Wang.

Mark RussellMARK RUSSELL: I think this is the most adventurous year we’ve pulled off. It’s got expansiveness, and some of the pieces — like Tanya Tagaq, and the Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble — are really stretching the idea of what a theater event is, even though they all happen in theaters.

DEADLINE: I noticed when I was going through the schedule that there were fewer names that I recognized.

RUSSELL: This is a good thing.

MEIYIN WANG: It means we’re doing our job. Because it really is about discovery, right? There are artists that we support and have come back. But one of the things that is different is like Tanya Tagaq is a great discovery. She comes from the music world, we didn’t discover her, but trying to put her into a theater context and expanding what we’re saying that theater is, is very exciting.

DEADLINE: So tell me about that particular piece.

Meiyin WangWANG: It’s called Tanya Tagaq In Concert With Nanook Of The North. A couple of years ago the Toronto Film Festival invited her to do the sound score for that faux documentary. What she did is reclaim those images, and it’s such a powerful powerful experience to one, see her perform, and two, her presence, her body, her music and her whole being in contrast, in juxtaposition and enveloping of the movie…

RUSSELL: She goes into this different state, she goes into this state for 55 minutes and most of it’s improv.

WANG: It’s her voice, drums and strings. It’s in the Newman, the biggest theater.

DEADLINE: The Laurie Anderson slot?

WANG: (Laughing) Their souls may be very similar but they way they attack the world is very different. And Tanya definitely attacks the stage, the audience.

Maria Baranova Maria Baranova

DEADLINE: And at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of theatrical experiences?

WANG: I think Royal Osiris, which is ritual performance and is very inventive, very appealing. It’s inspired by Elliot Rodger and the killings at Isla Vista.

DEADLINE: Very appealing? About the guy who murdered six people before committing suicide?

WANG: The task they set themselves is, how do you heal with ritual and performance? At one moment he is just a strange weird guy who just wants attention and the next he becomes a murderer. And it’s about that liminal moment. They’re doing a ritual cleansing…

RUSSELL: It’s a little bit about how he’s in all of us to some extent. That part — most of us don’t turn into murderers — but, especially in men, it’s a lot about men’s sexuality and men in the world. We’re giving them the Anspacher Theater, which normally holds about 270 people and it will hold 75.

WANG: It’s immersive.

DEADLINE: Under The Radar runs at the same time as the Association for Performing Arts Presenters annual meeting in New York. That means a lot of your audience is agents, producers and APAP folks looking for bookings to fill their houses around the U.S.

RUSSELL: When I started it, we had funding through APAP. We’ve made it a success here — successful enough that they couldn’t ignore us — and we’re still here. We’ll continue to be timed to the event, it’s an easy time for presenters from around the country to come to the city. It is now totally a project of the Public.

DEADLINE: What’s the largest-scale performance?

RUSSELL: Germinal. It’s a piece we’ve been working for two years to get here. We saw it together in the north of Holland, people were telling us this is the hot thing, you have to see it. It happens essentially on a blank stage and then four people slowly remake the world, rediscovering language, philsophy, muisc. It’s got a lot of whimsy to it. It’s from Belgium and France. It’s a very European piece and it’s been such a success that they ended up making two companies.

WANG: It’s the largest show, though the set is deceptively simple. It’s discovering the world through stage, theater, magic.

(See for performance schedules)

Employee of the Year
January 7-17;  600 HIGHWAYMEN (USA)

A play with children for adults. Five young girls tell the story of J., whose house burns down, taking with it everyone and everything she has ever known. From this moment, a singular journey begins. Performed in 600 HIGHWAYMEN’s arresting theatrical style and featuring the original songs of David Cale, Employee of the Year asks what it is to find your own way through life. 600 HIGHWAYMEN is an Obie Award-winning theater company creating works by Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone. They have made six critically acclaimed works since 2009, including The Record (UTR 2014). (Running Time: 70 minutes)

January 13-17;  Guillermo Calderón (Chile)

Chile, 1987. A group of young left-wing activists gather in a drab living room to receive paramilitary instruction aimed at overthrowing the Pinochet dictatorship. Wearing ski masks to conceal their identity from each other, they teach their respective skills: using a gun, political theory, clandestine organizational methods. With subtle humor and penetrating insight, Escuela illustrates the struggle and yearning of a generation prepared to use any means necessary to achieve justice and freedom. Writer/director Guillermo Calderón’s award-winning productions have been presented in over 25 countries. Diciembre was presented at UTR 2011, and the English-language version of his play Neva premiered at The Public in 2013. Performed in Spanish with English surtitles. (Running Time: 90 minutes)

January 6-9; Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort (France/Belgium)

On an empty stage, four performers begin to construct the world from scratch. With ingenious theater magic, they gleefully invent laws of physics, philosophy, music, language, and social interaction. One of the most talked-about pieces in the international performance circuit in recent years, Germinal uses the theater as a whimsical metaphor for human civilization. Defoort and Goerger are musicians, actors, philosophers, pranksters, artists, and inventors who meld genres and upend social codes. Their mix of visual art, theater, music, and sociology marked them as rising stars at the 2013 Avignon Festival. Performed in French with English surtitles. (Running Time: 80 minutes)

The Institute of Memory (TIMe)
January 8-17; Lars Jan / Early Morning Opera (USA)

Two men play with the past in the glow of a kinetic light sculpture signaling keystrokes from a hacked 50s typewriter. Featuring archival wire-tap transcriptions, the missives of communist spies, and MRI brain scans, The Institute of Memory (TIMe) conjures a portrait of director Lars Jan’s enigmatic father — a Cold War operative whose fascinating story prompts questions about privacy, memory, and fatherhood. Directed by Lars Jan, Early Morning Opera is a performance and art lab integrating emerging technologies, live audiences, and unclassifiable experience. EMO has presented its original works at the Whitney Museum, BAM Next Wave Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and more. (Running Time: 80 minutes)

Samedi Détente
January 14-17; Dorothée Munyaneza / Compagnie Kadidi (France/Rwanda)

“Samedi détente was a Saturday radio program. In Rwanda, it was the main event of the week. We danced, we sang, we memorized the songs.” How do you speak about the unspeakable? Dorothée Munyaneza was 12 when blood turned Rwanda red in 1994. Twenty years later, she invents her own Samedi détente. Accompanied by Ivorian dancer Nadia Beugré and French musician Alain Mahé, she returns to the memories of her childhood with potent music, electrifying movement, and dispassionate testimony. Rwanda-born Dorothée Munyaneza is a singer, dancer, actor, and choreographer who currently lives in France. She formed Compagnie Kadidi in 2013 to develop her original work. (Running Time: 75 minutes)

Now I’m Fine
January 12-17; Ahamefule J. Oluo (USA)

Comedian/musician/storyteller Ahamefule J. Oluo leads a team of talented musicians in a grand-scale experimental pop opera about keeping it together. Drawing from darkly funny personal stories about illness, despair, and regeneration, Now I’m Fine ranges from intimate to epic, featuring a 17-piece orchestra and a spectacular cast of performers. Ahamefule J. Oluo is a Seattle-based musician, composer, and comedian, whose storytelling was recently featured on This American Life. He co-founded the Stranger Genius, award-winning hard-jazz quartet Industrial Revelation, and has collaborated with Macklemore, Das Racist, Hey Marseilles, and many others. (Running Time: 100 minutes)

The Art of Luv (Part 1): Elliot
January 8-17; Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (USA)

On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 13 in a rampage motivated by his lack of success with women. Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble responds with a ritual-performance based on a cycle of found love stories — a meditation on masculinity, love and longing that confronts humanity’s common search for love as we misunderstand it. Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble creates multimedia installation- performances that explore the metaphysics and mythologies of love, desire, and courtship. ROKE was a member of The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group, and has performed at FringeArts Philadelphia, UTR’s INCOMING! Series, Gibney Dance Center, and more. (Running Time: 60 minutes)

Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North
January 15-17; Tanya Tagaq (Canada)

In this live concert with film, Inuit throat singer and tour-de-force vocalist Tanya Tagaq creates a mesmerizing soundscape for the controversial 1922 silent film Nanook of the North. Along with percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, Tagaq appropriates—through explosive sound—this portrayal of an early 20th century Inuit community in Northern Quebec. Polaris Prize-winning Tanya Tagaq, known for her work with Björk and the Kronos Quartet, is a genre unto herself. Rooted in tradition, her unique vocal style also aligns with avant-garde improvisation, metal, and electronica influences. (Running Time: 70 minutes)


Re-engineering the intersection of music and theater, this new series highlights the multidisciplinary music/theater hybrids emerging from this venue’s trendsetting programming. These artists are re-engineering storytelling in this intimate space in a way that expands the audience and definition of theater.

January 12 and 14; DarkMatter (USA)

In a queer apocalypse where assimilation and white supremacy reign supreme, DarkMatter imagines alternatives. This trans spoken word duo speaks from beyond the gender binary in an explosion of queer rage, nursery rhymes, and unforgettable instagrammable fashions. #ItGetsBitter is their latest collage of camp, critique, and fluorescent lipstick created in collaboration with stage director Charlotte Brathwaite. DarkMatter is a trans South Asian performance art duo comprised of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. DarkMatter regularly performs to sold-out houses at venues such as La MaMa Experimental Theater, Nuyorican Poets Café, and the Brooklyn Museum, and was a member of The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group and presented in UTR’s INCOMING! Series.

pomme is french for apple
January 10 and 17 ; pomme is french for apple (Canada)

Pum (n): West Indian for a woman’s private parts. Comprised of a series of fast-paced vignettes, pomme is french for apple features a dizzying cast of charming and outlandish characters, in settings as diverse as the Caribbean, downtown Toronto, southeast London, and the too-tight crotch of the pants. pomme (sounds like…) is a fresh, funny and irreverent look at womanhood in all its glory: its perils, its pleasures and all kinds of madness in between. Liza Paul and Bahia Watson’s two-woman show earned a Best of Fringe award at the 2012 Toronto Fringe Festival, and has since won critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Joe’s Pub.

Bone Hill
January 13-16; Martha Redbone, Aaron Whitby & Roberta Uno (USA)

Renowned blues and soul singer Martha Redbone — with her all-star band — explores her Appalachian family’s history in an epic that spans generations and a breadth of music genres, revealing a great American story that has remained untold until now. A New York Voices commission with Joe’s Pub, this piece is written in collaboration with Aaron Whitby and director Roberta Uno. Singer-songwriter Martha Redbone’s music flows equally from her own unique, award-winning blend of Native American elements and her deep roots in Appalachian folk and Piedmont blues.


A Festival within a Festival. Rapid Response. Controlled Chaos. New Work.

This year, The PubIic Theater’s Devised Theater Initiative (DTI) hosts the second cohort of the Devised Theater Working Group. These artists will be presented as part of the 2016 Under the Radar Festival.


God Bless Baseball
January 14-17; Toshiki Okada (Japan)
Presented by the Japan Society
What does the sport of baseball mean to you? Visionary playwright/director Toshiki Okada explores this iconic American symbol and its popularity in Korea and Japan. Incorporating Okada’s distinctive style of hyper-colloquial speech and exaggerated commonplace gestures, the play examines influence and cultural assimilation on a global scale. Toshiki Okada is a Japanese playwright, director, and founder of the theater company chelfitsch. His work has been presented around the world and in the U.S. with Under the Radar, Japan Society, and the Play Company. Performed in Japanese and Korean with English surtitles. (Running Time: 100 minutes)

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