June 12, 2007
Lee Nagrin, 78, Innovator in Performance Art, Dies
By JENNIFER DUNNING
Lee Nagrin, a noted Off Broadway performance artist, director and member of Meredith Monk’s theater company, The House, died Thursday in Manhattan. She was 78.
The cause was colon cancer, said Barbara Busackino, a colleague.
Ms. Nagrin performed with Ms. Monk from 1971 to 1981, appearing in “Vessel,” “Education of a Girl Child,” “Quarry,” “Ellis Island” and other works.
She formed her own company, the Sky Fish Ensemble, in 1979 and presented performance-art pieces that tended to unspool like fairy tales, filled with mysterious, archetypal imagery. Her own presence was mysterious, too, both on and off the stage, often conjuring up the sense of a keen-eyed, all-seeing, benign witch.
She created some of those images midperformance, as when she traced a landscape along brown paper that ringed the stage space of Silver Whale Gallery, where much of her work was performed.
For her last piece, “Behind the Lid,” she collaborated with the puppeteer Basil Twist on a story in which a woman looks back on her life through a dream. Performances are this month at the Silver Whale.
Ms. Nagrin grew up in Seattle, where she worked with the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. She moved to New York in 1950 and produced, directed or performed in 10 Off Broadway production over the next 13 years, including work by Eugene Ionesco, then little known in the United States. She trained with Kathleen Lawler, a Metropolitan Opera voice coach, and developed a style influenced by the vocal work of Alfred Wolfsohn. In 1958 she was offered a four-year studio contract by Paramount after appearing in the cult film “The Blob.”
Ms. Nagrin also collaborated with the performance artist Margaret Beals and had long associations with La MaMa and the Women’s Interart Center. Her “Bird/Bear” (1986) won an Obie Award for best new American play.
Ms. Nagrin’s survivors include her companion, Bruce Hutchinson.
see my item remembering Lee Nagrin
(photo of Lee Nagrin, via the Listen to Women blog)
And (following my own tradition), here's posting an email I sent just now to a friend (Janet Fine) elaborating on some current activities.
Thanks for pointing to the NYTimes obit for Lee. I'm very glad she was able to do and wrap up so much in her last couple years. I think she was satisfied by that, and must have been happy that her final theatre piece went into performance.
Lee is one of the first people I met in New York -- I went to a dinner-party for Thanksgiving at her place on Bleeker Street (1987). I think I met you in 1990, -- first we spoke on the street, when you (and some companions) were asking the way to the theatre (Symphony Space, or somewhere else?) where Salamat Ali was going to be performing. I sat on the stage -- and some days later, via Emily Mayne, I invited you to a dinner-party at my MacDougal Street apartment. Or that's how I recall it. I believe I also had Lee at one of my dinner parties -- not sure it was the same one you were at, possibly. I gave a few such dinners (maybe 3 or 4) in those days.
I'm still in Bangalore -- making good progress with editing a film. Its title now is this: "PADMA BILAWAL -- a dhrupad master class" I interfuse footage from two sources: a Hindustani vocal teaching session (mainly alap -- also jodh & jjhala) involving a long "musical conversation" between a talented student (Amita Sinha) and her dhrupadiya guru Ramakant Gundecha, plus footage shot early in the morning on the lotus-rife lake, beside Professors' Colony in Bhopal. The way I've done this, the lotus images serve as a form of visual interpretation to the musical notes and phrases . . . in a manner that develops as the work unfolds. Am happy with how the edit is going, inshallah will be finished (and Fedexed, albeit late, to Yamagata) this weekend. I'm today couriering a CD with a couple minutes of Hindi dialogue to my Hindi-language guru in Bhopal (Sangeeta Gundecha) with request for translation. The film is 98% no words (all music), but I think I'll go ahead and offer subtitles for the few parts where words do intrude.
There exists no such raag as Padma Bilawal. The raag they are elaborating is, rather, Alhaiya Bilawal. The "Padma" [lotus] part is visual. But by my theory, the film serves to create "a new raag" as an audiovisual experience (interfusing the visual padma with the audio alhaiya bilawal). Kindly wish me luck with completion of this -- which may be my "first serious, feature-length film" (other than the At The Hawk's Well that you've seen -- which in some respects was not perhaps so well-finished a work as this may prove to be). The music is exquisite, and the footage of the morning-blooming flowers in May dawn light -- thanks to the expert navigation skills of a local boatman (who slowly glided the rowboat amid the lilypads and lotuses for an hour of shooting) -- is likewise exquisite. The fusion of the two is done in a range of ways that I've developed over the years (mainly involving so-called alpha channels -- with partial transparency in one scene, with another scene bleeding through and blending in . . . ) Once this is finished, I have in mind to send it to a good handful of international festivals. This curator chap in Bangalore, Akumal Ramachander, also said he wants to arrange a screening for me in Calcutta, so his group of painters can see it. But first things first . . . I was so lucky that the project survived a harddrive crash. I had get a new computer built, to complete the editing -- also got a nice high-def monitor. And my frirends' house, here in the south, has proven a haven for this phase of work.
Went yesterday to a noted local Hanuman temple -- his image carved out of black stone that seems to be in its original place; the stone is then "clothed" with metal-work for crown and raiment. An arresting sculpture. It was under lock & key till 6 PM, then they open it up for view, and one hears recorded "Aum"ing to complete the audiovisual darshan.
I think not so far from this temple is another where Nandi (the bull) is said to have done his austerities! -- in mythic antiquity. This is a famous temple (found in tourist info); but I was more drawn to see Hanumanji.
Now better get back (from cybercafe) and see if / when my computer expert shows up with new copy of Norton Antivirus.