‘Haggaddah,’ A work by Witness Relocation based on the Passover Seder

The Blue Bird
Witness Relocation in The Blue Bird in January, 2009. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Audiences will be seated at a 50 foot long table, with the show happening on and around it. The traditional Seder is a ritual telling of the Exodus from Egypt on an intimate scale. This show examines the ritual in a large, post-modern context. There will be a spectacle combining dance, theater, music and design to immerse the audience in an intense re-envisioning of both the story and the act of coming together to tell it.

Though the word Seder literally means “order” in Hebrew, Dan Safer’s retelling of the Haggaddah will rely more on chaos with the potential for order to arise from it. There will be a montage of forms, including (but not limited to) narrative storytelling, rock concerts, lecture/demonstration-and dramatic scenes. Safer promises “an all out, dance/theater/spectacle, full of sex, violence, blood, guts, avenging angels, oceans splitting in half, slavery, plagues, etc.” He adds, “Lots of times the Seder can be incredibly dull, but its story kicks ass. We’re gonna make it kick ass.”

Dan Safer is a recipient of The Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists (a partnership of Avoda Arts, JDub Records, and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, made possible with major funding from UJA-Federation of New York). The culmination of this Fellowship will be the performance.

The actors are Abigail Browde, Heather Christian, Sean Donovan, Mike Mikos, Wil Petre, Sam Pinkleton, Orion Taraban and Laura Berlin Stinger. Director/choreopgrapher is Dan Safer. Set and lighting are by Jay Ryan. Sound design is by Ryan Maeker. Video and projections are by Kaz Phillips. Costume design is by Deb Oo. Dramaturg is Yoni Opppenheim.

No preparation is required, unless you want to rent The Ten Commandments, which isn’t a bad idea, actually.

Since the Seder is a ritual to pass the story on to children, the question naturally arises if this one is OK for kids. It is, but only for the teenage ones (who will rock on it). “I guarantee,” says Dan Safer, “it’ll make teenagers talk about the story and question it. We did.”


Witness Relocation (www.witnessrelocation.org) was formed in 2000 and has performed at The Ontological, La MaMa, Danspace Project/St. Mark’s Church, The Ohio Theater/Soho Think Tank (in the Koltes NY Festival and the award winning Ice Factory Festival), Clemente Soto Velez, The Revolutions International Theater Festival (NM), Dixon Place, NYU and Patravadi Theatre, Bangkok. Past projects between members of Witness Relocation include productions at Dance Theater Workshop, the Currican Theater, and Baltimore Theater Project.

From 2004-06, Witness Relocation engaged in an ongoing collaboration and residency with the renowned Patravadi Theatre of Bangkok, Thailand. From a rigorous exchange of methodologies, ideas and practices came a radical shift in direction for Safer’s troupe. The collision and collusion of different artistic as well as cultural perspectives yielded a unique interdisciplinary performance style that now combines Eastern and Western techniques of dance, theater and installation art.

Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment
Witness Relocation in Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment, choreographed by Dan Safer, La MaMa E.T.C. October 26, 2006. LR: Laura Berlin Stinger (back to camera), Mike Mikos, Sean Donovan, Abby Browde, Orion Taraban, Heather Christian, Emmitt George. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Kelina Gotman wrote in Performing Arts Journal, “Witness Relocation’s ‘Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment’ was like going to your first punk rock concert in the 1980s. It was raw, it was racy. If it was hard to follow at times, it was too lively for that to matter. The company has been compared to Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group, but Witness Relocation’s mobilization of the element of uncertainty, the sheer physical vitality of the performers, and the mixture of genres puts them more in line with the Andrei Serban, Jan Fabre, Frank Castorf, and David Bowie.”

Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker, “Ellen Stewart of La MaMa has helped launch the careers of Sam Shepard, Tom O’Horgan, Andrei Serban, and Candy Darling. It is a pleasure to add a new company – Witness Relocation – to Stewart’s roll call of magnificent acts. – While influences are clear – the genre-mixing works of Pina Bausch, Richard Foreman, and the Wooster Group are definitely in evidence – there is plenty of originality here, too, as well as youth, joy, vulgarity, and an ironic distance from the media saturated world that inspired the show.”

Witness Relocation in Vicious Dogs On Premises May 29 to June 14, 2008 at Ontological Theater, produced in association with OntologicalHysteric Incubator. Foreground:Laura Berlin Stinger. Behind: (R) Sean Donovan, (L) Mike Mikos. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The troupe’s most recent performance was “The Blue Bird” by Mikuni Yanaihara, translated by Aya Ogawa and Kameron Steele, at Clemente Soto Velez (CSV), 107 Suffolk Street, from January 7 to 24, 2009. The play, directed and choreographed by Dan Safer, was a Japanese postmodern adaptation of Maurice Maeterlinck’s “The Blue Bird” (1908), transformed into Witness Relocation’s rough-and-tumble style of physical theater. Eva Yaa Asantewaa reported in her blog, InfiniteBody, “There’s a thin line between zany and hysterical, and Witness Relocation — award-winning physical theater of multi-genre collage and excess — tramples that line with manic abandon – .Consider this one an assignment. Go!” The New Yorker (Goings On About Town) called it “ultimately inspired and fun.” Time Out (Helen Shaw) wrote, “thank heavens for Witness Relocation, a bunch of nuts who think that expressionism should be a wahoo with beer and wigs, and actors cracking up during the dance breaks.”

Dan Safer (Artistic Director) originally hails from New Jersey and has helmed every Witness Relocation show. His work has been presented at La MaMa, DTW (four consecutive seasons), Patravadi Theatre (Bangkok), Theater Krudttonden (Denmark), the 2007 CUNY Prelude Festival, Dixon Place and Danspace Project. He has choreographed operas, rock videos and fashion shows and has written a seven episode serial play with Pulitzer winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He performed with Ridge Theater, Jane Comfort, John Moran, Mabou Mines, the Blacklips Performance Cult, Hong Kong choreographer Dick Wong and others. Safer founded and directed the Bangkok Performance Boot Camp. He is faculty at NYU and teaches workshops across the US and Internationally. He received a 2007-9 Six Points Fellowship (Performance) from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and won two NY Innovative Theater Awards last year. He used to be a go-go dancer and once choreographed the Queen of Thailand’s Birthday Party.

Performances are March 19 to 29, 2009 at La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street Manhattan. The performance schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Tickets are $25/tdf. The box office number is (212) 475-7710, online ticketing is available at www.lamama.org.