(New York Jewish Week) — Are we humans all parts of a meticulously crafted machine? Or are we independent beings, chaotically disrupting one another’s trajectories through time and space? Is there a difference between intentional and unintentional impact? Does it matter whether our movements are prompted by internal or external forces?
These are just some of the questions that surfaced as I watched footage of “Rube G. — the Consequence of Action,” a new work by acclaimed New York-based choreographer and dancer Jody Oberfelder. The piece — at once whimsical and thoughtful — explores the mechanical motions inherent in a classic “Rube Goldberg machine” (a chain-reaction contraption that typically involves levers swinging, cogs twirling, bits and bobs knocking each other on predetermined courses) as expressed through the human form.
Over four years in the making, the piece will make its debut March 4 at the Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan. It will be performed for three consecutive weekends, culminating in a gala event on March 19.
The genesis of this 50-minute piece began four years ago, when musician Frank London of The Klezmatics was organizing an event celebrating 15 Jewish thinkers and creators — from philosopher Hannah Arendt to composer Morton Feldman — at the New York Public Library. Oberfelder, a director, choreographer and filmmaker dedicated to site-specific works that “expand how one experiences dance,” was invited to create a piece inspired by the work of Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), the Jewish cartoonist who drew his eponymous machines starting with Collier’s Weekly magazine in 1929. According to the Rube Goldberg Institute for Innovation and Creativity, these machines “solve simple problems in the most ridiculously inefficient way possible.” A classic example is the “Self Operating Napkin,” which wipes an eater’s face by using a combination of strings, counterweights and even a scythe.
Oberfelder was intrigued and, initially, a bit surprised by the assignment. “[Frank] said, ‘God, you’re Rube Goldberg! This is perfect for you!’ But it wasn’t until I started going deeply into research that I realized [he was right],” Oberfelder told the New York Jewish Week.
Oberfeld has had a long and illustrious career: She’s danced with and for the likes of composer Meredith Monk and choreographer Sally Silvers, and has traveled the world as a performer, guest choreographer and lecturer, from the University of Hawaii to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Still, this new prompt captivated her. “I realized we’ve been living the Rube Goldberg life all along,” she said, referencing the ways in which people are all tied together, an intricate array of human cogs. Soon, she was hooked on the ideas behind Goldberg’s fanciful genius.
The resulting piece for the NYPL event was, according to Oberfelder, “a four-minute blast” that explores this idea. “We were running through the audience,” she told me, remembering that first dive into the world of order and chaos that is Goldberg’s philosophy. “[It seems like] a whole lot of something for nothing. But it is something — the joy of the moment to moment, while a marble is rolling down a slide, knowing that it [was there] and it worked.”
After that initial performance, Oberfelder wanted to explore more but, of course, the pandemic soon swept away any performance plans. Inventive as ever, she took the ideas she’d workshopped for London and created a second iteration: a film that combined over 300 clips of dancers responding to prompts like “spin” and “pop up.” Dancers and laypeople the world over, despite the social isolation, came together into a global Rube Goldberg machine.
Eventually, as COVID-19 restrictions lifted and the world began to open up, she took her new understanding of the themes and translated the film into a site-specific work that showed at Roulette, a Brooklyn theater, in 2021. That work was really the proto version of this newest take. It had the playfulness, the fun, the tumbling, the twirling. It wasn’t quite there, though. Not yet.
With “Rube G. — the Consequence of Action,” Oberfelder digs even deeper into her big idea — that everything we do is both influenced by others and influences others in both predictable and unforeseeable ways. To her, this idea has a philosophical connection to Judaism: “Everything here on earth happens and [it’s our lot] to live it to the fullest,” she said, adding that “the way in which we help each other along” is part of a Jewish ethos.
In the current iteration, four performers (including, briefly, Oberfelder herself) move in the space with a curious mix of clumsy and graceful motions. They are the machine — pushing, pulling, whirling in tandem — but their gestures seem, at times, independently determined. Are we all simply reacting to the actions of our peers? I wondered, as I watched one dancer dribble another one across the space like a basketball. Or do we have a choice in the matter?
While the dancers on stage explore the relationship one human has with another, a wild card, in the form of improvised audience participation, is added to the mix. Viewers who attend a performance of “Rube G. — the Consequence of Action,” may, at times, be called to interact with and define the direction of the piece. This element of the unknown will be folded into a meticulously planned piece which, like a Goldberg Machine, has a zillion moving parts that all seem random but somehow fall perfectly into place.
“During COVID, I got to a point where I was really analyzing the nature of performance and what I missed about it,” Oberfelder said. “What I felt was lacking was the effervescence of people coming together with different ideas to present something new…. I’ve tried to create an environment where we’re all here.” To Oberfelder, “all of us” includes the audience — and maybe people everywhere, too.
“It’s sort of like singing in the shower,” she added. “It’s nice, and it’s a great release. But actually, I would like these vibrations to go past my bathroom walls.” To that end, she’s brought her work to a simple space (“it’s just a big white box studio with very simple lighting”) and is welcoming audience members into the dance. As a result, each performance will be one-of-a-kind.
“What would a Rube Goldberg machine look like if it was performed by humans?” Oberfelder wondered aloud when we spoke, mulling over the various possible iterations. Now is our chance to find out.
“Rube G. — the Consequence of Action,” will be performed at The Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, inside the Gibney Dance Center, at 280 Broadway on March 4-5, March 11-12 and March 18 at 7:30 p.m. A gala performance will be held on March 19 at 6:30 p.m. and will include post-performance food, drinks and a live auction. For tickets (from $15) and info, click here.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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