Touching on Everything, 2018
Commissioned by Steirischer Herbst
Graz, Austria

Theater performance - 60 min

We ask a lot of art these days. Art must generate crowds and be Instagrammable yet anti-spectacular, universal yet site-specific, topical yet timeless, political yet poetic. In short, art must touch on everything, and with its magical MacGyver fingers, gather up seemingly disparate fragments and make something of them… in other words, make everything better. Michael Portnoy’s new commission for steirischer herbst literally touches on everything. His performance is based on the remnants of the allegorical Yiddish play All Things Touch All Other Things Eventually (1928) by one Yosef Birnheim, which the artist found in a trove of documents recovered in Graz after World War II. The original play was never performed due to its scale, demanding as it did a cast of over seventy actors. While Yiddish allegorical folktales typically involve the conflict between one or two characters (Luck and Wisdom, Falsehood and Truth), Birnheim wanted his satirical play to represent an entire philosophical system of the interrelations between all ideas, each personified by his actors and the stage props. In Portnoy’s Touching on Everything the performers embody a range of abstract allegorical concepts. It is structured as a collection of short tales recited by a narrator about the inner lives and interactions between these notions (Nationalism, Identity, Politics, Justice, Gender, etc.), each of which is identified by an industrial felt sculpture worn around the neck of the actors. Every day we ask these notions to serve us in making sense of the world, but perhaps we should instead wonder what these notions want themselves, what demons they face when they’re alone, what strange language they speak to each other? Can we even understand it? With elements of contemporary dance, Yiddish song, variety theatre and physical comedy, Touching on Everything plays out the complex relations between these abstractions.

Concept and direction: Michael Portnoy
Cast: Magdalena Chowaniec, Marcus Ian McKenzie, Katharina Meves, Michael Portnoy
Text and music: Michael Portnoy
Choreography and additional text created in collaboration with the cast