Pioneers Go East Collective’s “Lucky Star (0.3)”: A Review

As the incoming audience for Pioneers Go East Collective’s Lucky Star (0.3) found their seats in Manhattan’s legendary Judson Memorial Church, they were treated to a variety of retro yet timeless hits from such pop culture divas as Grace Jones and Donna Summer.  The aural stimulation enjoyed an intoxicating synchronicity with the visual atmosphere of the sprawling performance space: The entire “stage” was bathed in fluorescent light, with a few eye-popping set pieces for adornment and some nightlife-inspired visuals courtesy of a huge video projection screen.  What followed was a conglomerate of sight and sound which was sexy, enlightening, and fiercely provocative– and, coming on the heels of a year of lockdown, just a tad “verboten”! Through film, spoken word, and dance, the creative team and cast never wasted an inch of the physical space or a minute of opportunity to tell their own stories– some of them, we learn, from decades ago. There is also a generous dose of good-natured camp later in the show as the performers explore the future– spacesuits and all!  Put another way, Pioneers Go East Collective’s new show is the essence of live theater– and a reminder of what we have been missing over the past year. 

Despite its many homages to past decades, largely thanks to the transgenerational choices of music and the contributions of downtown icon and Stonewall riots witness Agosto Machado, Lucky Star (0.3) features many themes which couldn’t be more emblematic of 2021: In one of the early segments of the piece, Machado speaks indepthly, via voice-over, about the unique state of the performer in our age of social media: 

“What a shame – no one has a camera to record me, us, this exhilarating moment? You do? You have your iPhone? Oh, wonderful!  Take a video, and it becomes real. Post it, and you are loved. A lot of artists don’t seem to exist until they hit 1000 Instagram likes, sometimes. It’s political, it’s argumentative, it’s disingenuous, it’s understanding the algorithm, sometimes.
Now, are we recording? Thank you, darling! Without this recording, I don’t exist! Who’s going to listen to all of this, over and over again? Without recording, you don’t exist!”

That said, this performance piece indeed accepts the concept of recording and sharing our experiences in “real time”; in fact, one of the performers even incorporates the very modern phenomenon into his solo number. Lucky Star [0.3] opens with the short film I Am What I Am, starring choreographers and filmmakers Shaina and Bryan Baira. In its brief running time, the film explores the nature of intimacy– the intimacy between two partners, between a performer and their audience, and how the two sometimes merge.  We then meet cast members Bree Breeden, Daniel Diaz, and Joey Kipp.  Via dance, video, and spoken word– often presented simultaneously– the three performers explore serious themes about identity and self-acceptance.  Given their commitment to their performances, I’m gonna make a bet that the trio of performers either chose their songs because of a deeply personal affinity (Kipp’s choice of Queen’s I Want to Break Free), and/or contributed a great deal of personal input to the show’s original monologues (Diaz’ Beautiful Spanish Matador, Breeden’s Home).  The attention to costume and personal visual style– particularly with Diaz in his homage to Josephine Baker– is astonishing, as is the cast’s level of energy whether they are solo or performing together. All three get their chance to shine (or sparkle, or bubble…) Breeden, Diaz, and Kipp do come together for the show’s cosmic climax: an exploration of the future imbued with a fantastic queer sensibility– complete with aliens!  Agosto Machado returns to join the trio, sharing his inimitable experiences in the ’60’s and ’70s as a performer in “the oasis of downtown Avant-Garde”: The Playhouse of the Ridiculous, La MaMa, Café Cino, Club 57, The Pyramid Club, and… Judson Church!  Machado again emphasized the importance of enjoying the “live” aspects of live performance:

“Don’t try to control your thoughts. Just watch – WATCH what happens!
The things you do, are just happening…”

As mentioned earlier, Pioneers Go East Collective’s Lucky Star (0.3) is a flashy combination of sight and sound.  But the essence of the show is more than that.  If there was a sixth sense in existence, Lucky Star (0.3) found it that night.  That sixth sense was the aura the audience gets when the past, present, and future blend together.  This writer, for one, is determined to find a name for it…

Lucky Star (0.3) continues through July 30th at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, New York City .  Tickets are on a “pay what you can” basis, with tax-deductible donations in lieu of ticket costs encouraged. 100% of the proceeds will directly support the artists. For tickets and more information, visit here.

Choreographers and performers on stage and on video: Daniel Diaz (writer), Bree Breeden, Joey Kipp. Video performances: Shaina and Bryan Baira (film-makers & choreographers), Beth Graczyk, with a cameo appearance by downtown icon and Stonewall witness Agosto Machado (voice-over & narrator). Writer & creative director Gian Marco Riccardo Lo Forte. Production designer & writer Philip Treviño. Choreographer (ensemble) Ori Flomin. Film-makers: Jon Burklund and Kathleen Kelley. Video designer Kathleen Kelley. Set designer and fabricator Mark Tambella. Sound designers Ryan William Downey and Marielle Iljazoski.

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