Volume 18 • Issue 51 | May 5 - 11, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Jefferson Siegel

3-Legged Dog’s hallway at 80 Greenwich St., site of the group’s new center. The arts group had an opening party on Friday.

Experimental art center opens south of the W.T.C.

By Jefferson Siegel

It may be time to re-draw the cultural maps, as experimental art and theater is now in Downtown’s southern tip. Last Friday there was an opening-night party for 3-Legged Dog’s new performance and art space at 80 Greenwich St. 3-L.D. is a non-profit arts group that creates original theater and performance works.

Politicians, artists and locals filled the spacious hall, enjoying a first look at the recently-finished space and sampling some of the cultural offerings the group promises to bring to the area.

“We finished Phase 1 of construction and got to the point where we could make art in here,” said Kevin Cunningham, executive director. He was standing in an area that just four months ago was raw space, lined with metal studs, covered in construction dust and filled with workmen. On this night, however, finished rooms with polished hallways and soft lighting emitted a welcoming, comfortable ambiance.

“There’s a lot of Downtown artists and art groups represented here,” Cunningham said, standing by the door to a large theater where many artists, families and the occasional pet mingled at a party that had been percolating for several hours.

3-L.D. is working with Harvestworks, Eyebeam and Troika Ranch, three experimental media arts groups in the city, to expand the boundaries of conventional performances. “We’re here to propagate the New York experimental arts tradition of the next generation,” Cunningham said,  “and also to try to find new ways for experimental arts to survive.”

3-L.D.’s original West Brodaway space was destroyed almost five years ago when 7 W.T.C. collapsed. “Our marketing and our databases are seriously debilitated because we’ve never really been able to recover them from our loss on September 11,” he explained. “We had to lay off 25 people and I was down to two most of the time.” Productions were suspended for a time as the troupe temporarily relocated to Chelsea.

On this night, architect Thomas Leeser stood in the middle of the party and described how his vision came to fruition. “I saw that the existing structure would make for a perfect theater,” he said as video art played on a large screen overhead. Leeser previously designed a theater at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and he came up with the idea for the Greenwich St. location. “There’s no (other) theater that’s right on the street,” he said, pointing to people walking by the full-length street-level windows, adding, “You look in and say, ‘Oh, that’s the theater.’”

The cavernous space is on the ground floor of a multi-level garage, which means no neighbors to disturb. The one catch is that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has long-term plans for area improvements that may include demolition of the garage structure. However, those plans are not finalized and the garage’s owner, the M.T.A., said in December that it had no intention of selling the building.

Throughout the party, the long screen hanging overhead displayed various forms of video art. Made of rubber, it was designed by Jeff Morey, who also designed 3-L.D.’s current video project, “Degenerecy.”

During the presentation of the evening’s unusually-titled piece, “The Mystic Renaldo, The”, images of the performers were projected on the screen behind them, with multi-layered, polarizing, time-shifted effects catching the attention of the audience. The video art seemed to channel the “Joshua Light Show” of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which used a multi-media backdrop to compliment musical acts at the Fillmore theaters.

“We work with a lot of artists who create their own software programs,” Cunningham said of the computer-enhanced backdrop. “We’re using a software program called Isadora in our show, written by Mark Coniglio who’s an artist with a company called Troika Ranch in Brooklyn who also are our first resident company here.” 3-L.D. will also work with Troika Ranch on developing new technologies for the arts.

As guests filled the seating area, Michael Bell, one of the performers in “Renaldo,” described the evening’s show. “It’s a music farce parody of itself,” he said while pulling on a long-tailed tuxedo, “which stars a pompous ass and his valet.” As with all performance art, there is no catchall description for the talent that followed. Bell and Aldo Perez, another of the actors and composers, stood unmoving before the crowd. The audience wasn’t sure if they were waiting for silence, but the posing was actually a prelude to the show. After several minutes, the two turned to stare at each other for several more minutes.

After several brief performance pieces, the space proved an ideal venue for the group’s concluding musical performance. An interactive rap song had the two yelling out lyrics that inspired the audience to “holla back.” When the entire five-piece ensemble played a long, languorous, ’70s-style composition that included extended trumpet and guitar solos, the crowd, the space and the music all seemed in perfect sync.

Mari DePedro, an East Village artist and counsel to the Cultural Affairs committee of the City Council, was enjoying opening night. “I was able to view the space when it was just an idea,” she observed. “This is so important, in a time when all this money was supposed to go Downtown, now we see the efforts of the funding. We’re going to see more culture Downtown than ever before.”

“Next week begins Phase 2 of construction,” Cunningham said. “What was a large, empty room with no floors will become a 90-seat theater and a 75-seat cabaret space for late-night theater, with late night shows Friday and Saturday nights.” He was describing a second area in the back of the building that was recently a raw space of exposed cinderblocks but is now taking form as a more intimate theater.

“What we can do is to bring in these larger-scale, more ambitious projects and actually allow them to happen here in New York,” Cunningham said.

On of the first productions to be staged at 3-L.D. in May will be the New Georges Theater Company’s presentation of Sheila Callaghan’s “Dead City.”


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