Blockbuster shows tend to suck up a lot of oxygen and attention, but there’s a lot to be said for a succinct little exhibition that serves its purpose well. The “Kazuko Miyamoto: To perform a line” at Japan Society is a great example.
Miyamoto was born in Tokyo in 1942, and arrived on the Lower East Side in 1964, where she melded her Japanese cultural inheritance and family memories with her adopted New York City culture. She worked for decades as a studio assistant to the renowned minimalist artist Sol LeWitt, and absorbed lessons from the artists around her.
In her own artistic practice, Miyamoto made paintings, elaborate fiber sculptures that seem to shimmer and ripple as you move around them, performance pieces, and – from the late 1960s onward – a series of artistically rendered kimonos, fashioned from fabric, newspaper and other common material. The Japan Society show is her first solo exhibition at an institution. It’s smartly designed, elegantly organized, manageable in scope and dramatic in impact – and one of those shows that makes you feel like you’ve learned something fresh and important. japansociety.org
Playwright, composer and lyricist Michael R. Jackson introduced his flamboyant musical “A Strange Loop” with a super-hyped off-Broadway run in 2019, just before the pandemic shut everything down. The Pulitzer-Prize winning show is about a fat Black gay man named Usher, who works as an usher at "The Lion King," trying to write a Broadway musical that's possibly about being a fat Black gay man who's working as an usher while trying to write a musical. And now, finally – after several COVID-prompted delays – it opened on Broadway this month, directed by Stephen Brackett and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly.
“A Strange Loop” is a wildly subversive show about guilt, desire, longing and self-loathing, in which Usher interacts continuously with a campy chorus of his own doubts and inhibitions personified. It’s howlingly funny, unapologetically raunchy, not remotely safe for work – and also deeply moving – and Broadway newcomer Jaquel Spivey is brilliant as Usher. strangeloopmusical.com
The composers collective Bang on a Can has been bringing together all kinds of contemporary music – jazz, classical music, indie rock, electronica, you name it – in its trademark annual marathons since 1987. Even before the pandemic, the organization started imagining a big multi-venue festival that would be something like Big Ears down in Knoxville, and this weekend it’s finally happening. The festival is called Long Play, and it’s crammed with musical adventures literally around the clock. The finale is something extra special: a re-imagining of “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” a watershed 1959 album by the free-jazz iconoclast Ornette Coleman, played live on Sunday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Coordinated by Coleman’s son, drummer Denardo Coleman, the concert features a new Bang on a Can Orchestra augmented with special guests who worked with Coleman, including guitarist James Blood Ulmer and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. They’ll play the six strong, memorable tunes from Coleman’s album in new arrangements by six leading Black composers: Nick Dunston, Craig Harris, Nicole Mitchell, Carman Moore, David Sanford and Pamela Z. There’s no predicting what any of it will sound like, but the effect will be taking music that’s become extremely familiar over the decades and returning it to the edgy novelty it had when it first appeared. bangonacan.org/longplay