An Attempt to Fail at Groundbreaking Theater comes to Philadelphia

By Merilyn Jackson for The Dance Journal

If you’ve ever been to a MiRo Mash-Up, you know that the deal is a weeklong workshop between a local band, a guest artist and the five-member dance group, which then shows what they have made in weekend performance. The company, however, has Un-Mashed its name to spell it out for us: it’s Miller Rothlein now, for dancer Amanda Miller and her partner, videographer Tobin Rothlein. And, for the first time, they’re presenting an outside show, An Attempt to Fail at Groundbreaking Theater, with Tony Rizzi and Irene Klein — both formerly of the Frankfurt Ballet. Both take place over the weekend at Crane Arts Old School White Space.

“It’s a pseudo-lecture on the avant-garde of the past and present,” said Miller. Rizzi, along with Klein, play the roles of his icons, Pina Bausch and Penny Arcade, and through video, bring back to life the artist Jack Smith. Inspired by an unlikely encounter with a group of nuns in Rome, “this piece is an uncanny ode to Rizzi’s artistic role models.”

In 1993 Rizzi began his long-term collaboration with the Belgian visual and performing artist, Jan Fabre, beginning with THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING, created for the Frankfurt Ballet. Fabre recently created a solo theater and dance monologue for Mr. Rizzi called DRUGS KEPT ME ALIVE. Rizzi has collaborated with several other noted artists. He played the role of James Joyce in DeadDogsDontDance, a piece from Bessie Award winning director Jan Lauwers from Brussels and has worked for Robert Wilson in the 2011-2012 production of The Life and Death of Marina Abromovic, where he played the role of a young Abromovic.

Rizzi started choreographing at the age of 23 and has since been invited to create work on Bayerishce Staatsballet, Munich Dance Theater, Pennsylvania Ballet, Scapino Ballet and the Royal Ballet of London. He choreographed the opera Life by Ryuichi Sakamoto which premiered in Osaka, Japan in 1999 and was asked to dance to a text written and performed by Pina Bausch. Recognizing his talents, Bausch invited his work Snowman Sinking to her last festival and invited him to guest teach for the company, where he still teaches today. With Snowman Sinking Rizzi formed his company, Tony Rizzi and the Bad Habits. Rizzi’s visual art works have appeared in many of his performances and have been exhibited in galleries and museums in Europe, Canada and Japan.

The character he and Klein created, Pina Arcade Smith, is kind of a Mash-Up in itself. Rizzi, a performance artist, will speak and impersonate Pina Bausch wearing a point shoe and Penny Arcade in a spiked heel. The work has played in Boston, Montreal, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Koln, and Munich and will go on to San Francisco after its Philadelphia premiere.

“Irene (who is the ballet mistress at Frankfurt Opera) plays Pina and does technological stuff,” said Miller. Attempt to Fail features the video of underground film director Jack Smith. “Smith was an underground filmmaker,” said Miller, “a gay icon and precursor to Andy Warhol. He was the first artist to shoot art projects in color in the late 50s early 60’s.”

“We’re presenting Tony’s piece and following it up by a Mash-Up with Irene. Tony, while he’s in town, will be teaching at four different universities.”  Miller says the show is for mature audiences.  “There is nudity and explicit imagery. You’ll see some of Tony’s video art projects. It’s inspired by an unlikely encounter with a group of nuns in Rome.”

For the Mash-Ups, the company usually uses five dancers plus the guest artist.  “Whoever takes charge depends on with whom we’re working,” said Miller. “Toby and I direct them. Usually the initial spark comes from the guest artist and then it just goes from there and all happens within a week. We do 16 hours of rehearsal and it’s all about the excitement of collaboration.”

This Mash-Ups features Mark McCloughan’s and Rosie Langabeer’s band, Totally Super Pregnant with Josh Machiz, Chad Brown, and Andrew Marsh.

Antony Rizzi, An Attempt to Fail at Ground-Breaking Theater with Pina Arcade Smith
Thursday, January 31, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, February 1, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 2, 7:30 p.m.

MIRO Mash-Up
Sunday, February 3, 2 p.m.

Crane Arts Old School White Space 1417 N. 2nd Street Single tickets to MIRO shows are $20. MIRO is offering a $65 Season Pass that includes all-access admission to all MIRO productions, exclusive events for season pass holders, and a ticket to Cinco de MIRO, the company’s annual fundraiser. Ticket and subscription information is available online at or by calling 267-888-MIRO (6476)


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