A choreographer revamps "Dog Day Afternoon"

Raja Feather Kelly was in college when he saw the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon”. At this point, he had a lot of catching up to do. Pop...


Raja Feather Kelly was in college when he saw the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon”. At this point, he had a lot of catching up to do. Popular culture – an important part of his work, whether he embraces it or eviscerates it – slipped away as he grew up.

He found the film, inspired by an actual bank robbery, incredible. And inspiring. “You say to yourself, Whoa, this all happened overnight,” Kelly said in a recent interview. “It sounded like theater to me. It is in the same place. There is no music. And the movie itself feels like a documentary – it looks super real. “

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kelly was acclaimed as an Off Broadway choreographer in plays like “Fairview” and “A Strange Loop” and was in the process of developing a new version of “Dog Day Afternoon”. In the movie, Sonny (Al Pacino’s character) needs money to pay for gender confirmation surgery for his partner, Leon (Chris Sarandon).

Kelly, who grew up in Fort Hood, Texas, before moving to Long Branch, New Jersey, bonded with Leon’s character. Her parents were divorced; he did not know his father. He was bullied, and even in his dance world, he felt separated and stuck as the only boy, once again on the outside. For Kelly, now 34, the film isn’t just a storytelling lesson, it’s also a show of love – queer love, too. What if, he thought, “Dog Day Afternoon” could be recreated from Leon’s point of view?

“I was captivated by the performance and also very upset by it,” said Kelly, “because what’s interesting is that it seems like this whole movie is about this character, or depends on the needs of the person. that character, but Leon is only in the movie for four minutes.

Leon was based on Elizabeth Debbie Eden, a trans woman who was portrayed as a man in the film. For “Wednesday, the multi-layered, conceptual, very funny and visually gripping story of Kelly, he immersed himself in the life of Eden. Kelly separates “Dog Day Afternoon” and reconstructs it as a meditation on his connection with Eden, which he considers to have been erased from popular culture. He can identify himself. The new show functions as a speculative stage documentary or, as he put it, “a documentary of our process”.

The production opens Wednesday at New York Live Arts, where Kelly was the 2019-2020 Randjelović / Stryker commissioned artist in residence. Its premiere was postponed for a year due to the pandemic, but Kelly and her group continued to work on it. Drama ensued within his company, the Feath3r Theory – Kelly called it a revolt. He started with a cast of seven, which grew to 18; in the end, there were only seven left.

The central question in “Wednesday” is relevant to the turmoil: who has the right to tell anyone’s story? There were times during the process when Kelly learned that he was not allowed to tell Eden, including from some of his dancers. He said, “They say, ‘That’s a white trans woman and you’re a queer black man. This is not your story to tell.

But it’s also Kelly’s story, as well as that of the dancers, in a way. There are times in “Wednesday” when the actors challenge the performers about what they are doing while they are doing it. “I would never rob a bank,” said one of them. “But I would definitely let someone rob a bank for me.” The kicker: “It’s very Madonna, Blond Ambition – but I’m just trying to understand the difference between a bank heist in 1972 and a GoFundMe in 2021.”

Kelly can be scathing and funny at the same time. Bill T. Jones, the artistic director of Live Arts, knew him well; As part of her residency, Kelly requested periodic interviews with Jones. “I ask him: ‘Why do you feel like a dance artist? “” Jones said. “Do you have loyalty to dance as a form?” And he has a way of answering these things like, “Why not? In a way, it turns out that all theater has some things in common and all theater can be used as some type of tool. And that’s why I find it fascinating to see what his projects are. He really thinks about them very freely.

Ultimately, Kelly said, he knows his attempt to tell Eden’s story will be unsuccessful. “That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to do it,” he said. “That I shouldn’t experience the humanity of taking someone else’s point of view in mind. And that this idea is bigger than me. And this idea is bigger than Eden. And if we use that in our process, it’s more important than the show. “

And the spectacle is also impressive. Kelly likes to saturate a space with color; “Wednesday,” with its red columns and hanging silver balls, features a modular set by You-Shin Chen “that lets us be,” Kelly said, “in a bank, rehearsal studio, club of cabaret, a queer fantasia “.

Janet Wong, Associate Artistic Director of Live Arts, admires how Kelly’s work is “so highly produced in a world of scarcity,” she said.

And, she noted with something like awe, he even managed to create new works during the pandemic: “Hysteria (ugly part 2). “Performed in the lobby at Live Arts in April, with small crowds watching from the sidewalk, he further explored the effect of pop culture on queer black identity. “He toured it to seven cities,” Wong said. “While Covid. He even took him to Vienna. Hopefully “Wednesday” propels him to the next part of his career. “

Kelly has other projects related to “Wednesday,” including a full-length documentary, titled “Any Given Wednesday,” which tracks the rise, fall and rise of her business again. It will be directed by Kelly and Laura Snow, his video collaborator; they met while they were students at Connecticut College. Snow, also director of media at the New York City Ballet, has been filming Kelly’s company since 2012.

During the pandemic, when Kelly and Snow wondered what the future of the business would be, or if it even had one, they realized that Snow had “hard drives and hard drives of footage” that they had. could study to find out, “How do we end up right now? “

The process helped Kelly bring the company together again – and “be her boss and admit I’m wrong,” he said. “How do you ask people to go into a process that is going to hand them a mirror, then ask them to do it to an audience and not have an extreme desire to take care of themselves as people? “

Something else came to light in the process: what the Feath3r theory represents. While the “3” refers to dance, theater and media, “feather” has to do with the idea of ​​”how people come together and why they fall apart or fall apart,” Kelly said, ” what the feathers do ”.

That he would be able to mend his quill was crucial. For him, having a business allows his ideas to grow. “I don’t think I can do what I do otherwise,” he said. “I’m learning to be an experimental artist by having a business. And I take risks because of what we build with our business. I don’t think we could have recovered, in terms of a pandemic, in terms of revolt, in terms of enthusiasm for this story that continues to fold in on itself – without it.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A choreographer revamps "Dog Day Afternoon"
A choreographer revamps "Dog Day Afternoon"
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