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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Executive Files: the first Next Wave show

Joe Melillo (center) with Bob Telson and BAM staff during Next Wave Festival 1983
On my first day on the job to produce the inaugural Next Wave Festival for the autumn of 1983, I arrived in President/Executive Producer Harvey Lichtenstein’s office to start my duties and responsibilities. I was handed a sheet of paper with a list of names of artists and productions. My first management decision was to make a manila file folder with each name from the list, and I began the task of contacting those individuals and researching those productions.

It was clear that I was going to produce The Photographer: Far From the Truth, a three-part, 90 minute work to a Philip Glass score, performed by his ensemble. The first section was theater, the second part a multimedia work of Eadward Muybridge images, and the final section was a dance work. JoAnne Akalaitis, a founding member of Mabou Mines, was engaged to be the director. She also happened to be the ex-wife of Philip Glass. I remember our first meeting to create the production. She had a notebook that she had filled with images, words, and designs. The Photographer had been produced in Holland, but her production was going to be a completely new interpretation.

She selected the writer Robert Coe to write the script for the first act which was going to reference sections from Muybridge’s biography. Wendell Harrington was hired to visualize the second section. She was going to use large-scale projections of the human figure in motion and actually also animate those still photographs. The third section would be choreographed by David Gordon.

Photo: Johan Elbers

Photo: Johan Elbers

It was very much like producing three different works of art, given the discrete art for each section. There were five weeks of rehearsal, a technical week, and the inaugural production of  the first Next Wave Festival opened in the Opera House. New York audiences had never seen a performance work on such a scale—the Philip Glass Ensemble performing his propulsive musical score, and the bombardment of visual material and the kinetic imagistic movement of David Gordon all contributed to a compelling, thrilling evening of contemporary, non-traditional art making that continues in the Next Wave Festival tradition today.

 —Joseph V. Melillo, Executive Producer, BAM

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