15 Moments in Artistic Experiences that Made Me Go “Oh S***t” in 2018

Everyone knows their usual reaction when a piece of art hits them. Some cry, some audibly go “mmmm”, and some get goosebumps. I get this warm almost anxious-juxtaposed feeling in my gut. This feeling can come from any form of experience so this list does as well. Sometimes there is a precise moment in an event when you feel it and other times it’s the whole dang thing. Additionally, rather than just what I think was “best,” it’s a reflection of my year, encompassing, moments and experiences that shaped me along the way. What shaped you?

In no particular order…

The Triptych of Girlhood in Dance Nation (Playwrights Horizons)

An entirely weird, relatable, and existential play about girlhood, exploring how our society simultaneously infantilizes girls and makes them grow up too fast. In its most stunning moment, a triptych of girls inhabited pools of light: one playing with a toy horse, another masturbating with a pillow, and a third experiencing her period for the first time. In one image, I felt like I understood the heart of the play.

Battlescar (Atlas V)

This was one of the most inventive uses of VR I’ve experienced. Battlescar is an animated punk rock story of NYC’s Lower East Side, but instead of immersing viewers in a full 360 environment, the creators directed our attention to distinct floating dioramas. I loved this guided gazed approach for VR, while still having a sense of freedom peering into the miniature sets.

BlakKklansman (40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks)

Spike Lee’s film is more than just a retelling of how Ron Stallworth infiltrated the KKK, it’s a reflection on the progress we still must make in the police system in America. This film made me reflect deeply on my Jewish heritage and how I can hide it with my whiteness, while others don’t have the privilege of obscuring the thing that people hate about them.

Dream Ballet in Oklahoma (St. Ann’s Warehouse)

While most of Daniel Fish’s pared down production leaned into the intimacy and buried emotionality of the story, the Dream Ballet, choreographed by John Heginbotham, went quite in the other direction. Featuring wild Jimi Hendrix-like orchestrations, this modern dance solo (mostly) was the explosive scream beneath the surface of a tension filled world.

When the Women Started Wrestling With The World in Autoreconstrucción (Art Basel Miami Beach 2018)

A performance activated installation I witnessed at Art Basel which had three female performers climbing, wrestling and spinning a heap of found objects while men improvised a chaotic score. It felt topical.

Sorry to Bother You (Annapurna Pictures)

To be honest, the entirety of Boots Riley’s film makes you go “Oh s***t.” Following the unlikely rise of a telemarketer in a world of in a world of rampant capitalism, it manages to speak to race and class issues all while being utterly hilarious and bizarre. It is fearless and entirely unique. You should watch it.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar Games)

This video game from the creators of Grand Theft Auto is more than just that game with a cowboy skin; it’s truly one of the most immersive experiences I’ve ever felt. Like some of the best immersive theatre, RDR2 teaches players the rules of the world and asks them to explore with consequences. These consequences, which greatly deter you from going on wild rampages, slow the game down, making it feel much more realistic. This feel combined with gorgeous graphics and impressive motion capture acting add up to an experience that transcends video games.

Opening Sequence of In the Penal Colony (The Tank)

A compelling visceral movement sequence seamlessly linking chain gangs, step dancing, and basketball, launched a tight play about the commercialization and profitization of the black male body. Directed by Miranda Haymon, was one of the most exceptionally clear moments I saw in a theatre all year.

Slave Play (New York Theatre Workshop)

Rarely does a play come along that so eloquently speaks about the current socio-political moment without feeling too self-important or on the nose. Jeremy O. Harris manages to hit the bullseye with this incisive drama that left me physically sore at the end. I hope this play wins the Pulitzer and it’s done all over the country. If it was mandatory viewing, the world would be a better place.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)

I don’t really follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe because I find it bloated and reductive, but this film, separate from the MCU, is none of those things. It’s fresh and alive and filled to the brim with creativity. When the universe glitches there is an animated effect that consistently made me gasp. Also the score, by Daniel Pemberton, is incredibly innovative and was made by recording the tracks then scratching them back in to the movie to match the movement. Pemberton has provided some sensational BTS on his Twitter that truly makes you go “oh s***t.”

The Wand Dance and Time Turner Magic in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Harry Potter Theatrical Productions)

I have to be careful and #KeepTheSecrets here…all the illusions and instances of magic in this production are mind-blowing. Not just “oh that was cool,” but seriously “WTF!?” There is one in particular involving a Time Turner that made the whole audience, and me included, YELP. Yet the magic didn’t end with the stage tricks as Steven Hoggett so artfully crafted a montage of young wizards learning how to use their wands. With jarring swoops and sweeping robes you felt the power these newbies were wielding. I cried.

photo credit: Matthew Murphy

The Chair Stacking in The Lucky Ones (Ars Nova)

In the middle of this eclectic rock musical a collection of teens build a bonfire. The bonfire, however, is made of school chairs, and its stacking and deconstruction was so effortlessly choreographed by Sonya Tayeh.

When The Building Transcended in The Let Go (Park Avenue Armory)

After performers were methodically dressed in fantastical structural garments in intense stillness, joyful expressive movement erupted giving life to these newly built creatures. A youthful choir exploded with sound creating an environment of communal religious ecstasy.

Superstar and Finale of in Jesus Christ Superstar Live (NBC)

At the end of the best attempts at creating a live musical theatre event for television, this sumptuous dance spectacle, choreographed by Camille A. Brown, was followed by the simple yet stunning image of a crucified John Legend flying into the distance through an opening in the set which created a cross in negative space with backlight. There was no rush of this simple moment that bridged commercial accessibility and theatrical ingenuity.

Glitching Out in Nervous/System (BAM)

Andrew Schneider and his collaborators consistently create mind melting theatre, but that reached new heights in his latest, which featured nearly a nearly non-stop strobe effect throughout the entirely of the 70 minute show. Performers used the light changes to imperceptibly move across the space and disappear in a blink. The effect successfully felt like your brain was glitching.