"This is how Johanna dances,"
Katrina Toshiko says. The petite woman arches her back and holds
out her arms like the wings of an eagle, demonstrating her friend’s
Johanna Linsley laughs, seeming more pleased than embarrassed by Toshiko’s elegant interpretation of her dancing.
Toshiko, a dancer and performance artist, will have plenty of opportunity to strut her stuff this coming month at UnionDocs, the Williamsburg art space where she, Linsley and seven other artists live and work. A gallery that has held exhibitions and video screenings, hosted a radio show and Web casts, UnionDocs will present two edgy concerts this month by artists with reputations for getting the audience on their feet and dancing.
On Saturday, Joe Lally, bass player of Washington D.C.’s avant-punk band Fugazi, will headline with a stripped-down set of new material. The concert will open with an acoustic performance by Don Zientara, whose audio engineering skills are apparent on Fugazi’s recordings.
For a second course of curiosity-satisfying new material, there will also be a set previewing an upcoming album by New York recording artist Craig Wedren, founder of the now defunct avant-pop band Shudder to Think, and of the successful disco-pop project, Baby.
In an interview in "Spin," Wedren said his upcoming CD is following in the footsteps of the spine-tinglingly atonal Shudder to Think but is "slightly mellower, clearer, and more organic/oceanic."
The crowning event, a preview of Lally’s upcoming solo album, promises to be a major draw for local Fugazi fans. Founded by Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, Fugazi is known as much for a rugged anti-corporate stance and politically charged lyrics, as for the crowd-stirring beat of its music.
One week later, UnionDocs will again offer the public a menu of avant-punk treats. This time the bands will be younger and the sounds heavier: if you like to dance to funky punk-core, this lineup is your ticket to pogo paradise. Headliners Japanther (Brooklyn’s Ian Varek and Matt Reilly), who gained notoriety for concerts featuring a backdrop video of giant hippie puppets doing the nasty, have been compared to Urge Overkill and the White Stripes.
The show will open with another two-man outfit, Mikaela’s Fiend, an arty Seattle-based pair who appear to be bent on reliving that city’s golden age of grunge. ("Oh, torn clothing" reads the mysterious title of this band’s web page.) Mikaela’s Fiend will be followed by Portland’s Show Me the Pink, a co-ed disco punk group whose members moonlight as a bicycle-dance ensemble, making rhythm-driven music with two keyboards, bass, drum and trumpet.
Further musical drubbing will be offered by The USAisAMonster, a Brooklyn duo whose heavy sounds combine horns and Native American chants with prog, punk and metal influences.
Judging by the crowd at UnionDoc’s Feb. 11 dance party, the concerts will likely attract an unselfconscious bunch of young artists and intellectuals ready to leave their hang-ups at the door and boogie down. That event featured a DJ and a video backdrop of everyday New Yorkers dancing to their favorite songs, part of a dance performance called "29 Friends" that included collaborative contributions by UnionDocs members.
Although held on the night of the biggest blizzard in New York history, it attracted a sizable crowd of 60 or more revelers. A festive, friendly atmosphere reigned, and although the coat area was the center of the mayhem, every kitten eventually located her lost mittens.
Founded by film director Christopher Allen in 2003, UnionDocs is a self-described "arts collaborative" whose members located one another on Craig’s List, the free internet classified ad site.
The three-story building at 322 Union Ave. in Williamsburg has been lovingly renovated by the members themselves, who live in the two upper apartments. The artists share the labor of running the 700-square-foot gallery space below, where their documentary video and performance works are made public. The events are held in UnionDocs’s clean, white-walled room, washed with sunlight. In the evenings, a large movie screen can be pulled down from the ceiling, hiding the office area in back, and theater seating materializes in the form of chairs and handmade wooden benches with red cushions. For big parties, the benches are lined up against the walls.
UnionDocs has also been home to a broad range of events involving artists outside of their collaborative group over the past two and a half years, showcasing work from Germany, the United States, Afghanistan, Iceland and Iraq. UnionDocs’s members traveled to Berlin to participate in the international documentary performance series, the "Rollende Road-Schau (Rolling Road Show)." Despite this global reach, UnionDocs events have repeatedly focused on topics that impact the lives of Brooklynites directly, such as public housing issues and police brutality, as well as those that engage us as Americans and as participants in a worldwide community.
The upcoming avant-punk concerts are a reflection of UnionDocs’s members’ current emphasis on performance.
"We’re having weekly workshops [within the group]," Executive Director Linsley says, "to focus on the development of a full-length performance," slated to occur next summer.
Videos of UnionDocs events are accessible to the public via "video podcast" on their Web site, www.uniondocs.org, and subscribers with Ipods "will be automatically informed of updates," says member Paul Kiel.
About the current dance and music event schedule Linsley says, "Our aim is to raise some money, but also to give our base of supporters a good time."
Joe Lally of Fugazi; Craig Wedren of
Shudder to Think and Baby; and Don Zientara will perform at UnionDocs
(322 Union Ave. between Teneyck and Maujer streets in Williamsburg)
on March 18 at 9 pm. Admission is $8.
Japanther, The USAisAMonster, Show Me the Pink and Mikaela’s Fiend will perform at UnionDocs on March 26 at 5 pm. Admission is $6. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the Web site, www.uniondocs.org.