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Monday, September 30, 2013

Documerica, Then and Now

by Jessica Goldschmidt

With the U.N. pronouncements on climate change as a backdrop to this third week of the Next Wave Festival, it seems the time is right to do some soul-searching about when and how our country's relationship to the environment got so convoluted. Cue Documerica, a world premiere by string quartet ETHEL that takes as its inspiration an EPA project of the same name.

Documerica (the project, not the production) was a landmark collaboration between government and visual artists, echoing the Farm Security Administration's documentation of the Great Depression.

On the surface, Documerica was meant to portray what project director Giff Hamilton called "the human connection" to the environment. More than 70 photographers were contracted by the EPA over a period of six years (1971—1977) to photograph America's relationship to our land. Cities, farms, small towns, industrial hubs, and national parks: all were fodder for the artist's interpretation, and all were considered part of the American "environment."

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Will Bond & Jenna Riegel, A Rite dactors

by Rhea Daniels

Jenna Riegel and Will Bond in A Rite, photo by Paul B. Goode

Will Bond is an actor and a founding member of SITI Company and Jenna Riegel is a dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. They are both featured performers in A Rite, an incisive deconstruction of the riot inducing Rite of Spring. The piece is a collaboration between the BTJ/AZDC & SITI Company conceived, directed, and choreographed by Anne Bogart, Bill T. Jones, and Janet Wong in collaboration with the performers. As a product of this collaboration both Will and Jenna may now be referred to as dactors—a term coined by the companies to refer to the all-encompassing skills of the performers.

Did you have any preconceived notions about The Rite of Spring before you entered the studio? Had you seen/heard it performed before?
Jenna: At the time we started working on this I hadn’t ever seen a version. When we started working on it, I watched a few: the Joffrey Ballet version, Pina Bausch. In our workshop that we did at the beginning of the process we watched several excerpts of different versions. I was excited from the beginning that it would be a deconstruction, and about the question of whether it was necessary to even use all parts of the score or if we could use other sound.

Will: I'd seen The Rite of Spring as dance, and I've listened to it many times. SITI actually referenced it once in our production of Who Do You Think You Are, which is a lot about the brain, theory of mind, and neuroplasticity. I had some idea of what our A Rite might be like, but it hasn't turned out anything like that idea.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Star-Spangled Stravinsky

By Robert Jackson Wood

Stravinsky in his Hollywood studio

Few things seem further from purple-mountain-majesty America than sacrificial virgins and pagan Russian rituals, two things evoked by Igor Stravinsky’s modernist 1913 powder keg The Rite of Spring.  But as BAM raises the curtain next week on A Rite, whose brilliant makers, Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart, are both decidedly American, it’s good to remember that the émigré iconoclast made his home in the US for over 30 years.

1925 marked Stravinsky’s first visit, and it was an exhilarating, neck-craning affair. “Your skyscrapers impressed me as leading to new visions in art,” he remarked. “What work! What energy there is in your immense country!” In 1939, he returned for good, settling in Boston to deliver his Harvard lectures, where he spoke famously about music as something that could reference only itself, and to conduct the Boston Symphony at the behest of his great champion Serge Koussevitzky.

On at least one of those programs, Stravinsky had included his own arrangement of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” made, as he put it, out of a “desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.” But a police misreading of a law prohibiting national-anthem tampering led to a cease-and-desist, and Stravinsky—who had become a US citizen that same year—begrudgingly withdrew it from the bill.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Producer's Note: Wishes and Thieves & Margot B at BAMcafé Live

by Darrell McNeill

BAMcafé Live Week One: We started off with performances by Olga Bell (Dirty Projectors) and Heliotropes and the takeaway, for me, were two nights brimming with musical possibilities. Olga Bell, the veteran, musically shape-shifted in real time during her solo performance, using loops and synths to bend pop traditions at her bidding—giving a glimpse to the directions music can go free of constraints and clichés. Heliotropes, the newcomers, had all the freshness and exuberance of a young band starting up, beating the music down kinks and all, and taking it on as a united front—like your favorite rock/punk bands taking in the excitement of the uncharted road ahead.

In contrast, Week Two features two straightforward musical presentations from the worlds of pop/rock and R&B/soul, respectively. Wishes and Thieves, a smart quartet that employs modern electronic sounds married with live accompaniment, will be showcased Friday, September 27. Singer/actress Margot B is featured Saturday, September 28, working a fluid contemporary soul-jazz flow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Rare Jem

by Adriana Leshko

Jem Cohen is a filmmaker, photographer, teacher, and activist whose career has been inexorably intertwined with music—from his earliest years forging an artistic identity in the DC punk scene, to the non-traditional “documentaries” about bands like Fugazi and Smoke that put him on the larger cultural map, to his long term relationships with musicians Patti Smith (an executive producer of Cohen’s recent, rapturously reviewed feature film Museum Hours) and Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto, both frequent collaborators.

What he is not is a music video director. Or, as he puts it: “It was always my intention to pull ‘music videos’ as far away from being commercial promos as possible.” Still, over a long and varied career, he has made numerous short films set to the music of artistic friends and colleagues, including R.E.M, Elliot Smith, Jonathan Richman, and many, many others.

Here, in honor of Jem’s BAM mainstage debut at the BAM Harvey this Thursday with the film and music hybrid We Have an Anchor—featuring live performances by Guy Picciotto (Fugazi), Jim White (Dirty Three), T. Griffin (The Quavers),  Efrim Manuel Menuck (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Jessica Moss (Thee Silver Mt. Zion), Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You! Black Emperor), as well as special guest vocalist Mira Billotte (White Magic)—we present one of our utterly subjective favorites: an intimate, workaday domestic and artistic portrait of rock goddess Patti Smith at her most human, set to Smith’s mesmerizing cover of Nirvana’s "Smells like Teen Spirit" (with cameos by Smith’s cats and her son Jackson):

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Anna Nicole's Segun Akande

by Susan Yung

Akande (center) in Anna Nicole. Photo by Stephanie Berger.
This inaugurates a new series, the BAM Blog Questionnaire, in which we'll chat with visiting artists. Segun Akande, who plays a news reporter in Anna Nicole, is from Fort Greene, and came to BAM as a child. After performing in regional theater productions, he has moved back to the neighborhood, and is extremely happy that family and friends can see him on BAM's stage.

Which artist do you admire from a field other than your own?  
I admire any artist, as Don Was said, who reaches the height of their creativity, their freedom, their experimentation, and their fearlessness. Right now, I'm digging on The Funk Brothers, who basically created the musical foundation of Motown. Yet they aren't widely known today because they went uncredited during Motown's heyday. For example, the bass player, James Jamerson, was a musical genius who changed the chorus of bass forever. He received little recognition for his work, and still created something that never existed before. I admire that!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Anna Nicole: An Opening Affair to Remember

Last Tuesday, BAM and New York City Opera transformed the Lepercq Space into a playmate's paradise.

The evening celebrated the beginning of the 31st Next Wave Festival and the US premiere of Anna Nicole, an opera inspired by the life of the infamous stripper-turned-celebrity, Anna Nicole Smith.  The bawdy collaboration between composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas premiered at the Royal Opera House in London, where it was hailed by The New York Times as “a musically rich, audacious, and inexplicably poignant work.”

The night began in BAM's Lepercq Space, which received a playful pink and white treatment, courtesy of decor designer Fleurs Bella. Dressed in fabulous attire, guests tucked into dishes catered by Great Performances and inspired by Anna Nicole's Texas roots and favorite snacks.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Producer's Note: BAMcafé Live returns with Olga Bell & Heliotropes

by Darrell McNeill

Olga Bell performs tonight at BAMcafé Live

As BAM kicks off the 14th formal season of BAMcafé Live, the entire landscape of music in Brooklyn has radically altered. Music goes to the consumer, not the other way around—“scenes” are now online communities, bloggers are tastemakers, and there are more venues within immediate walking distance. Brooklyn music is in its “show me” moment, when the scene has to prove itself as more than hype for a zip code—artists and venues need to deliver “the goods.”

The mandate for talent stewards like myself is not simply to deliver “the goods,” but to engage music lovers in a new relationship and create a community between venue, artist, and patron. For my part, BAMcafé Live will be aggressively seeking new ways of inviting our supporters, old and new, to connect with familiar and fresh talent and take part in a new, heightened live musical experience. Our community will be akin to a house party where good friends take turns as DJs, becoming enraptured with great new music while exchanging conversations and relishing the company—in other words, music as the communal experience it was always meant to be.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Q&A with Shredder Orpheus director Robert McGinley

By David Reilly

On September 23, BAMcinématek wraps up Skateboarding Is Not a Crime with an ultra-rare screening of director, writer, and star Robert McGinley’s gonzo Seattle skate punk rock opera Shredder Orpheus. For the occasion, McGinley dug out from his garage the only existing 35mm print of the film; he’ll appear at BAM for a Q&A following the screening. We spoke with him about some of the wild backstory behind this truly singular curio of skate cinema.

Could you tell us about your involvement in Seattle's skate, music, and art scenes at the time, and how this project came about?
During the 80s I served as On the Boards' founding artistic director and had a blast developing OTB's new performance programming, which included utilizing the space for punk rock shows (Dils, Dickies, Dead Kennedys, Sub Humans, etc.). I had a brief stint writing reviews for the Seattle rock magazine The Rocket and covered a lot of local new wave and punk music, so I knew my way around the scene. Around 1987 I co-produced a skate punk band called Agent Orange (they sounded a lot like a precursor to Green Day) that tore the theater/dance floor apart (by the way, it was a challenge cleaning up the sweat, puke, and urine after these shows before dance class the following morning, not to mention a Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane show the following weekend!).

If I wasn't doing a show I would meet my skate buddies downtown, sneak into parking garages, ride the elevators up 12 to 14 stories, and skate the ramps down—kind of like urban snow skiing on skateboards. It was insanely fun (sick), not to mention illegal, so the added danger of avoiding arrest by police and/or security ramped the adrenaline high. We were chased a lot but somehow we avoided getting caught.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Context: Anna Nicole

Illustration by Nathan Gelgud
Anna Nicole runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from September 17—28. Context is everything, so get even closer to big, brash, blond spectacle with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Meet a Friend of BAM: Gil

This month in Meet a Friend, we chatted with an Emmy-nominated film composer who specializes in sensitive, socially conscious material. He also happens to be a BAM member.

This month's featured Friend: Gil

Member since:
December 2012

Where are you from? What neighborhood do you live in now?
I was conceived in Manhattan and was born in Louisville KY. I grew up in London, Holland, and Israel. So I would say ... planet Earth, in general. I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

If you had to describe BAM to someone who had never heard of us, what would you say?
BAM is the mothership. She makes daily landings in Brooklyn, bringing the very best of intergalactic creativity, in all media, for the benefit of all of humankind.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

16 Ways to Annamate Your Life

Vicki Lynn Hogan (aka Anna Nicole Smith) did it. You can too.

Here are 16 tips and tricks from opera’s newest heroine to get you started:

1.    Get your start in a town nobody can pronounce.2.    Take the jobs as they come.
3.    Choose your idols wisely … 4.    … and don’t lose heart
when you can’t quite measure up.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Blue Dragon—now, a graphic novel!

by Susan Yung

Illustration by Fred Jourdain, from The Blue Dragon book
Turning a graphic novel or comic book into theater or film is a reliable method of producing eye-popping entertainment. Spider-Man and Annie, currently on Broadway, are two examples, not to mention all the superhero blockbuster movies. But can you think of a graphic book that was inspired by a film or show? (Add in comments, if so!)

Illustration by Fred Jourdain, from The Blue Dragon book

Friday, September 13, 2013

Shanghai in Next Wave—From Dragon to Heaven

by David Hsieh

Tai Wei Foo and Robert Lepage in The Blue Dragon. Photo: Louise Leblanc
Robert Lepage directs and acts in The Blue Dragon; his character Pierre is a Canadian expat living in present-day Shanghai. In The Edge of Heaven, Gary Lucas reinterprets Chinese pop songs created in 1930s Shanghai. Both shows filter this major Eastern metropolis through Western eyes—befitting, as the history of Shanghai is closely intertwined with the Western presence in China.

Situated at the mouth of the Yangtze River in the middle of China’s coastline, Shanghai’s strength lies in its ocean-facing harbor. But China didn’t have much use of it before the 18th century since the major north-south shipping route was the Great Canal linking the Yellow and Yangtze rivers inland. And except for some isolated periods, China was not a sea-faring empire.

That changed in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanjing, after the British “fire-spewing ships” streamed up the Yangtze River and forced China to open five ports for trading, including Shanghai. Although not a sleepy fishing village like Hong Kong, which China ceded in the same treaty, Shanghai, by Chinese standards, was not a major city (its official status was a level below) nor a historical one. It had a population of about 200,000. The city wall, built 300 years earlier, measured only three miles in circumference. The landscape was as flat as a piece of cardboard and prone to flooding. But acting on the advice of William Jardine, a ship physician turned opium merchant turned parliament member, London decided this would be the base for its future operation in China. Modern Shanghai was born.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Executive Files: Casting pole dancers for Anna Nicole

by Alice Bernstein

From the 2011 Royal Opera House production of Anna Nicole
Photo: ROH/Bill Cooper

6 FEMALE DANCERS: All Ethnicities, height range: 5’2 – 5’6, dress size range: 4-6; dance detailed, unison, count-based contemporary dance material that's heavy on gestures and grounded weighty moves, although no floor work involved. Strong acting ability required.  Some, not all of the dancers will need to be strong Pole Dancers.  Please indicate on submission if client has pole dance experience.
That email was the start of another wacky chapter in my work as executive vice president at BAM. We needed to cast six pole dancers for our fabulous new opera, Anna Nicole. Pole dancing in Houston, TX as a means of providing for her son, Daniel, gave the real Anna Nicole Smith her start in show business.

We were two gay men, two straight women, and one straight man in a studio measuring a tiny 10' x 35'. Every 10 minutes a woman wearing nearly nothing would pick a tune and start writhing around and between the three poles, trying to be as provocative as possible while performing amazing gymnastic feats. It was fairly standard for them to be able to grasp the pole at a good height off the floor and position their body parallel to the ground. Uh, and then open their legs wide. I mostly avoided eye contact but our straight guy—oh okay, George Steel, artistic director and general manager of our producing partner, New York City Opera—was the focus of each dancer’s every move. He didn’t squirm. Much.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Great Scott

By Robert Wood

Warm birthday wishes are in order for composer and inventor Raymond Scott, who would have been 105 today. Best known as the go-to man for musical zaniness in the 50s and 60s—Looney Tunes purchased his entire back catalog for use in their cartoons—the Brooklyn-born Scott might be better remembered as one of the fathers of electronic music, responsible for such instruments as the Clavivox (co-designed by a young Bob Moog), the Videola (a film music recording tool), and, perhaps most impressively, the Electronium.

Designed to be an “electronic composing machine" and described by Scott as a “cockpit of dreams,” the hulking Electronium—bedecked with more buttons and switches than the dashboard of the Space Shuttle—is a partial inspiration for Questlove’s upcoming show at BAM, which will celebrate the history of electronic music as only the indelibly plugged-in drummer can.

We’ll have more to say about Scott later, but for now we say happy birthday, sir, wherever your current cockpit. Here's a video:

The Labors of Silence

Obie award-winner Ain Gordon’s new work, Not What Happened, fills a historical void by imagining what happened in a woman’s quotidian 19th-century existence. Forrest Holzapfel, a photographer and Gordon’s collaborator, also explores our forgotten history through stark images of obsolete objects and rural landscapes. These photos are imbued with memory due to Forrest’s keen eye and dedication to local history, and, as the backdrops in Not What Happened, give the main character, Silence, a greater voice. Below Forrest elaborates on his images, their relationship to Ain’s work, and his own personal search for what happened. A selection of Forrest’s photos will be on display as part of Next Wave Art in the Fisher Lower Lobby through December 22. He will also take part in a post-show discussion with Ain Gordon on September 27. 

Kin & Cup

The Labors of Silence
by Forrest Holzapfel

Inhabiting the mind of another person is a leap of imagination which demands empathy.

Silence is pregnant with meaning: a character from Ain Gordon’s theater work Not What Happened, a woman worn from the labor of existence and from the convolutions of her heart.

Silence is also our constructed, remembered sound of 1804. Feeling the character Silence’s place in the world however yields more: the scrape of iron on hot brick and the popping of split beech in the cavernous fireplace. The slide of a bead of sweat down the bridge of nose, crunching the lees of the woodpile underfoot, a gasp of crisp winter dawn air in the dooryard.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Looking for Lethem: A Field Guide

by Jessica Goldschmidt

Jonathan Lethem joins us next week to celebrate the release of his newest book, Dissident Gardens—and we couldn’t be more excited about it.

So, apparently, is everyone else.

To save you the hassle of wading through the wealth of Google results you’ll get back for searching “Jonathan Lethem Dissident Gardens” to prep for next Tuesday’s event, we’ve assembled the tastiest morsels of Q&A, critique, and cultural hubbub (the New York Times printed a sentence with f*** in it???) surrounding the book’s release.

  • The New York Times Book Review's in-depth, glowing review.
  • New York Magazine’s illustrated map of Sunnyside, Queens, annotated by the author;

Don't miss Unbound: Jonathan Lethem, an exclusive book launch with readings, discussions, and book-signing by the author on Tuesday, September 10th.