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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dracula’s Biting Appeal

TR Warszawa and Teatr Narodowy's Nosferatu. Photo: Stefan Okolowicz

Excerpts from an essay by Clemens Ruthner

“This is the textbook of vampirism, but the journalist Bram Stoker has turned it into a typewriter ad,” wrote the Austrian Alfred Kubin, himself a master of uncanny art, in a letter full of contempt in 1915. He has not been the only critic since who tried to desecrate the tomb of the Anglo-Irish author. However, this has done little damage to the undead popularity of the literary work in question: Dracula (1897), apart from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) probably the most successful undead monster of world literature; a novel that has never been out of print in its more than 110 years on the book market.

Its ingredients are simple and fairly tradtional: the Transylvanian nobleman Dracula first threatens the bourgeois British business traveler Jonathan Harker, and later the wife-to-be of the latter, Mina, until the vampire is eventually hunted down by male bonding. What is really new about this vampire villain from the depths of eastern Europe is that he does not only assault women, but covers all of Britain with a veritable undead D-day invasion: a (latently racist) horror scenario as a consequence of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” Whatever you may think about the political correctness of vampire tales, Dracula is pretty much written in the spirit of the English fin de siècle, insofar as the novel foreshadows the military confrontation with Germany and the multi-ethnic state of Austria-Hungary in World War One.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Lindsey Jones and Sarah Stanley of Dance Heginbotham

by Lauren Morrow

Sarah Stanley on the tension grid (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Dance Heginbotham makes its BAM debut this week with Dark Theater. In this BBQ, I spoke with dancers Lindsey Jones and Sarah Stanley about working with John Heginbotham, their favorite Fort Greene eats, and what they’ll be wearing to the BAM Halloween Happy Hour at the BAM Fisher on Thur, Oct 31.

How has the Dark Theater experience been different from that of other works John has created for the company?

Lindsey Jones: Dark Theater is site-specific to the Fisher and uses the complete black box architecture as a stage for the work. The stage is in the center of the audience, below, and also above! There are so many contrasting layers to this piece, and John is allowing numerous sources and inspirations to manifest in Dark Theater.

Sarah Stanley: This is only my second project with John, but it feels like there is more fantasy in Dark Theater than his other work. He has created a very specific world in the BAM Fisher, really taking advantage of the flexibility of the space, and it is made all the more surreal by Maile Okamura's amazing costumes. 

Sarah, you dance on the tension grid in this show. What was your initial reaction when you were told this, and how do you feel about it now?

I was very excited about the grid when I heard about it.  I like climbing around on things, and it feels like a kind of playground sometimes. I have really enjoyed creeping around up there and interacting with the other dancers from a different plane, stretching the performance space.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Unchaining the Devil

by Susan Yung

Photo: JC Carbonne

Ballet Preljocaj, the name of Angelin Preljocaj’s company based in Aix-en-Provence, France, pinpoints his stylistic roots. Yet his movement, while maintaining the elegant lines of ballet and an inherent structural grace, is hardly limited to the ancient dance form. Thematically, as well, the French choreographer ranges widely, from classic story to pure form. From November 7 to 9, Preljocaj’s And then, one thousand years of peace will be performed at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. The work takes cues from the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St. John) without becoming literal or linear. It shares DNA, but contrasts sharply with the company’s last BAM presentation in 2010, Empty Moves I & II, a pared-down evening of riveting movement experimentation.

Such variety can be an artistic catalyst. “I need to stimulate my creativity to go to the extreme limit of my style,” said Preljocaj in a recent interview. “Let’s say that I have a kind of laboratory work on one hand, for example, in the work of Empty Moves, to the music of John Cage—I also sometimes like to use all that I learn from this laboratory experience and use it for something more narrative. I think it’s like in the field of science. You have the fundamental research on the one hand, and on the other hand, the fundamental research is completely abstract—numbers, mathematics. Then later come things that can maybe help people, like technology and medicine.” The studio becomes a lab to make building blocks that fascinate on their own, or become the solid foundation on which to stack a story.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Questlove: GIF the drummer some!

Electronium: The Future Was Then opens tonight, the latest project for musician, entrepreneur, and author Questlove. We know he's got more things going on now than we can keep track of, but we had illustrator Nathan Gelgud take a look at his memoir Mo' Meta Blues to see how he got started.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Talk to the Hand: Dr. Shep Sheepish on Puppets on Film

This weekend, BAMcinématek partners with the Jim Henson Foundation to present the return of the annual program Puppets on Film. We recently checked in with our resident expert in the illustrious fields of Puppetology and Puppet Studies, Dr. Shep Sheepish, to discuss the epistemology, puppetology, sockology, and general awesomeness of this year’s festival.

By Jessica Goldschmidt and Tamar MacKay

A Portrait of Dr. Sheepish. Photo: Ben Cohen

BAM: Thank you so much for meeting with us, Dr. Sheepish. You’re looking great, by the way.

Dr. Shep Sheepish: Oh, shucks.

BAM: Oh dear, I didn’t mean to make you blush!

Dr. Shep Sheepish:  Oh, no I’m sorry! It happens so easily for me. It’s a little embaaaa-rrassing.

BAM: That’s really okay. It’s thrilling to have a real expert here in the BAM Rose Cinemas. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re looking forward to most in the lineup?

Dr. Shep Sheepish: Ah. Yes. Well, at the risk of jumping the proverbial fence, I’m inclined to say this might just be the best year ever for this festival. And I mean ever! Oh, my, I think I’m getting carried away….what I’m saying is that there is a great variety of programs.

BAM: Anything in particular that intrigues you professionally? I know that you're the best in your field, both literally and figuratively.

Dr. Shep Sheepish: The Little Shop of Horrors Sing-Along should prove very informative as a subject example of puppet/human relations turned a little … well, ram-bunctious. I’m quite shy and don’t usually like to sing in public, plus it’s past my bedtime, but this is such an exciting event that I will be attending.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Brian Brooks—Wizard of Invention and Movement

by Susan Yung

Brian Brooks Moving Company brings a new piece, Run Don't Run, to the BAM Fisher on October 22. Here are a few examples of Brooks' previous works to give a sense of the 2013 Guggenheim fellow's imagination, range, endurance, and obsessiveness.

WHEEL—This performance in Santa Barbara, CA made a stage of the whole gorgeous city, and the dancers bicycled between locations over the course of a day.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Five Easy Reasons to Love Karen Black

by Jessica Goldschmidt

Some go for Shelley Duvall. Some say Mia Farrow. But goddamit if Karen Black isn’t our favorite creepy-pretty gal ever to grace a 1970s-era movie screen.

A serious actor tragically relegated to B-movie horror flicks, our girl K.B. made her name as a self-described “freak” in the counterculture classic Easy Rider, bringing a surprising vulnerability to her role as an acid-dropping prostitute. After that she became a sort of 70s It-Girl, winning an Oscar nomination for her heartbreakingly dim Rayette in Five Easy Pieces, and working with Hitchcock, Altman, and other greats.

Our Lady of the Voluptuous Hair died this past August. So we salute her here with, in no particular order, Five Easy Reasons We Love Karen Black.

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Raja Kelly, dancer with David Dorfman & Reggie Wilson

by Lauren Morrow

Kendra Portier, Raja Kelly, and Karl Rogers in Come, and Back Again. Photo: Ian Douglas

For this week's BBQ, we talk with Raja Kelly, who dances with David Dorfman Dance (Come, and Back Again) & Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group (Moses(es)), both featured in the 2013 Next Wave Festival. In addition to this busy performance schedule, the Connecticut College graduate formed feath3r theory to perform his own work.

Which artist do you steal from most often?
My two favorite artists in the world are Andy Warhol and Anne Sexton; while I would never steal from either of them, I find myself referring to or quoting them quite often.

Any advice you've gotten and ignored?
I never ignore advice.

What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Deciding to dance was the biggest risk I ever took, (cliché maybe, but it's true). I studied acting as a child and young adult and thought I'd be an actor as a professional. When I applied to college I applied to three dance schools and three theater schools, and chose dance—giving myself no other choice.

What food are you looking forward to eating while in Brooklyn?
 I really love BK Thai. When I am in town I try to eat as much Thai food as possible, the best vegan and gluten free food ever!

What ritual or superstition do you have on performance days?
 I have to listen to one Top 40 song (Currently HAIM's "Don't Save Me"), an entire Fiona Apple album, and Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G Minor before each performance.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Producer’s Note: Claudia Acuña, Numinous, and a note about Fred Ho

By Darrell McNeill

BAMcafé Live Week Four: We hosted our two best attended shows of the season last weekend. It started with in-demand contemporary R&B singer/songwriter Gordon Chambers, whose lush sounds had the room standing, and wound down with the willowy vocals of Magos Herrera celebrating the richness of the Latin jazz traditions of Central and South America.

Week Five of BAMcafé Live brings two more acclaimed artists to the Lepercq stage. On Friday, October 18, award-winning jazz chanteuse Claudia Acuña draws from a rich, star-studded discography dating back to her 2000 Verve debut, Wind from the South. Born in Santiago, Chile, Acuña moved to New York in 1995 to pursue a career singing the jazz and standards she loved growing up, but infused with her rich culture. Over the years, Acuña has held court with such notables as George Benson, Billy Childs, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Christian McBride, Danilo Perez, Arturo O’Farrill and many others, yet has never strayed too far from her roots.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Internet Danst Rosas: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker for the YouTube Generation

by Claire Frisbie

"We look at each other, and we nod to each other, as if we agree to dance together. We come back to the center. We turn to the other person, and we also nod.” —ATDK on YouTube

So begins movement two of iconic Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s seminal piece Rosas Danst Rosas. Created in 1983, this repetitive, minimalist choreography established 23-year-old De Keersmaeker as a promising, important artist, and put her on the map for audiences worldwide. Set to a hypnotic, percussive score by Belgian composer Thierry De Mey, Rosas Danst Rosas was admired for its seemingly mundane gestures arranged in complex combinations. It was celebrated as a feminist piece, but also deemed difficult, overly repeating, and dark.

De Keersmaeker made her US debut at BAM as part of the 1986 Next Wave Festival with Rosas Danst Rosas—which translates to “Roses dances roses”—and name-checks De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas. The New York Times review described the chair sequence as “a ritual expressing the agony of waiting. Each dancer kept crossing her legs, turning her head expectantly, holding her head despairingly in her hands, sagging forward and twitching back to attention."

Everything You Wanted to Know About Contemporary Circus, and More

by David Hsieh

Hans was Heiri. Photo: Mario Del Curto

Its influence can be seen from movies to Broadway shows to Céline Dion concerts to performing arts with a capital “A”. It has even made its more tradition bound older brother a bit jittery by adopting some of its stock-in-trade. But what is “contemporary circus”?

According to the national director of the advocacy group Circus Now, Duncan Wall, who will conduct a talk on contemporary circus at BAM on Oct 24, contemporary circus is the name given to the evolutions in the circus arts over the last 40 years. Beginning in 1970, the codes of the circus cracked, allowing for a greater infusion of creativity and the inclusion of other art forms, especially theater and dance. “Today, contemporary circus is an international movement, with tens of thousands of companies and schools around the world,” said Duncan.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Choreographer David Dorfman

by Lauren Morrow

David Dorfman; photo by Adam Campos
David Dorfman Dance returns to BAM this week with Come, and Back Again, a new work that explores how hope and humility help to manage the messiness of daily life. Dorfman, who is also the chair of the Connecticut College dance department, took some time to answer the BAM Blog Questionnaire.

How has the choreographic experience of Come, and Back Again been different from other processes?
Well, the biggest thing is that we began with Patti Smith’s music and made numerous sketches to her fine work. Then we switched to Smoke—almost like a choreographic exercise I'd give my advanced comp class at Connecticut College. But besides the music factor, we’ve returned to a smaller group—a quartet, for the first time in a decade, and that’s been intimate and fulfilling. And it’s the first time in longer than a decade that we’ve had a live band by our side throughout the process and performance—completely delightful! CABA, although sensitive and inspired by music every step of the way, has really been a return to a more personal way of working on a dance, mining what issues are coming up for me and for the company as the center of the evening. With CABA we’ve moved from larger social issues to more intimate, personal issues.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spin Doctors

by Susan Yung

Photo: Mario del Curto

Zimmermann & de Perrot dream up ridiculous situations that act as comedic crucibles in which quirky performers communicate through action. In Hans was Heiri, at the BAM Harvey from Oct 23—26, a four-room apartment building suddenly starts tumbling like a dryer. What to do? If you’re one of five who perform with Swiss directors Martin Zimmermann (choreographer) and Dimitri de Perrot (composer), you go with the flow, wholeheartedly embracing the chaos and conjuring felicitous art. As you fall through doorways into adjoining units, you become chummy with your neighbors—an intriguing rubber-limbed bunch that, stripped to underwear, attempts a yoga class in the tumbling edifice.

The artists discussed the importance of the set in the development and rehearsal process. “Since we work without language, the stage settings are a key element in the stories we want to tell,” said Zimmermann & de Perrot recently by email. “First we have to create a world into which we then introduce our dancers and actors. They interact directly and physically with this world, they need to confront it again and again until they grow accustomed to it and internalize it.” This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in a scene featuring Mélissa Von Vépy, an elegant woman in floral leggings and pumps who hangs from a corner rod as the building rotates, causing her to dangle dangerously, like ballet’s Don Quixote caught on the bladetip of a windmill.

Who is Benjamin Smoke?

by Ryan Mauldin

Donning a frayed, cotton dress and a shabby beehive wig, she drags on her cigarette and teases the audience with intermittent flashes of skin, if only they will pay for a glimpse. Ms. Opal Foxx, né Robert Dickerson, queen of a thriving, close-knit music scene in Cabbagetown, a former mill town in Atlanta, Georgia, is the inspiration for David Dorfman's production Come, and Back Again, which explores "the mess we create and the mess we leave behind."

In the late 1980s Benjamin, Dickerson's elected moniker, fronted the Opal Foxx Quartet, then the premier group of Cabbagetown’s underground music scene, which included the Jody Grind with Kelly Hogan and Chan Marshall (Cat Power). Opal Foxx, between 10 and 14 members, was a junkyard jamboree of rock, blues, and honkytonk filtered through a punk ethos and the gravelly baritone of its cross-dressing frontman, a confluence of Flannery O’Connor and the Cockettes. The band’s debut album, The Love That Won’t Shut Up (an allusion to Lord Alfred Douglass’ line, “the love that dare not speak its name”), included songs produced by Michael Stipe, who saw them perform in Athens.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Q&A with the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company riggers

by Claire Frisbie

Photo by Mauro Dann

Buenos Aires-based choreographer Brenda Angiel draws from elements of tango, hip-hop, and modern dance, taking them into the air and up the wall in her innovative style of aerial dance. But her dancers' movement and safety would not be possible without the strength, talent, and extreme concentration of three key members of the company: Andrés Puertas, Laura Casalongue, and Alejo Gago, the riggers.

The company is in town this week as part of BAM and the State Department's dance diplomacy initiative DanceMotion USAsm, performing in the Next Wave Festival with New York-based company Doug Varone and Dancers. We caught up with the Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company rigging team to talk harnesses, carabiners, and exactly how one becomes an aerial dance rigger.

How did you start working as a rigger and how did that lead you to dance?

Andrés Alejandro Puertas: I’ve been a climber for over 15 years now, and now I have a climbing gym in Buenos Aires called Realization. I run the gym, and do rigging for aerial and theater shows. I started working with Brenda’s company 10 years ago.

Laura Sofia Casalongue: I joined the company in 2006. I’m an actor, and I started taking aerial dance classes at school to complement my acting training. Then the company presented a work at the Konex Theater (in Buenos Aires) and they needed a tech assistant, and years later I learned how to rig and ended up being part of the crew.

Alejo Gago: I played in trees a lot as a kid, and I lived in a nautical neighborhood, so you could say my contact with ropes and cords started there. Later on, I ventured into climbing, and started working with Brenda through a friend. Doing rigging for dance is artistically gratifying, which you don’t get from other kinds of rigging work.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Frances Chiaverini with The Forsythe Company

The Forsythe Company in Sider. Foreground, l-r: Dana Caspersen, Fabrice Mazliah, Frances Chiaverini. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Frances Chiaverini is a dancer with The Forsythe Company, performing Sider at BAM through Saturday, Oct. 12. This Pittsburgh native and new company member was kind enough to answer the BBQ (BAM Blog Questionnaire).

Which artist do you admire from a field other than your own?
I'm really fascinated by Werner Herzog. That guy really nails it when it comes to the simplicity and comedy of humans. I wonder what kinds of thoughts he has when he wakes up everyday.

What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Anytime I signed a lease on a New York City apartment.

What food are you looking forward to eating while in Brooklyn?
Talde in Park Slope. Doughnuts from Dough and Doughnut Plant. Grady's Cold Brew. Ramen at Chuko. I'll forever miss the Cake Man.

What ritual or superstition do you have on performance days?
I'm into the anti-ritual. Nothing can stay the same from day to day because no two performances can or should ever be the same.

What are you looking forward to most about the run at BAM?
 I'm looking forward to seeing my family and my oldest friends. Aside from that, performing with the company is really surprising and uncertain in a very inspiring way. As a result, a particular sense of suspension can occur that I find really exciting to share with the New York audience.

Q&A with Trouble Every Day star Tricia Vessey

Beginning Friday, October 11, BAMcinématek brings back the most notorious film in the revered career of French auteur Claire Denis. A dark, gory meditation on cannibalistic lust, Trouble Every Day immediately followed the widely acclaimed Beau Travail and was met with uncomprehending reviews upon its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, ultimately receiving only a brief run during its release in New York.

Years later, it’s been praised as one of the top films of the 2000s by Film Comment and recognized as one of the most enigmatic works in Denis' oeuvre. Programmed in conjunction with the release of her latest film, Bastards, our week-long run of Trouble Every Day in a new 35mm print is an opportunity for a long-overdue reappraisal.

Brooklyn-based actor Tricia Vessey, who stars in the film as a newlywed American in Paris named June (married to Vincent Gallo's flesh-eating protagonist), took the time to speak with us about her experience making the film. She will be at BAM in person on Friday to introduce the 7pm screening.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Context: Sider

Sider runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from October 3—5. Context is everything, so get even closer to William Forsythe's beguiling Elizabethan foray 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.

William Forsythe, contemporary master

by Rhea Daniels

With the majority of choreographer William Forsythe’s professional work happening in Europe, anytime he brings his company to town is an exciting opportunity to see what this contemporary master has been up to. On the occasion of The Forsythe Company’s return to the Next Wave Festival with Sider we highlight some of Forsythe's productions at BAM.

Forsythe debuted at BAM with Ballet Frankfurt who performed EIDOS : TELOS in 1998. The piece cemented Forsythe’s status as a contemporary master and an heir to Balanchine. The dance pulls established ballet structure apart and reassembles it with onstage musicians and bits of quirky deconstructed ballet vocabulary. It truly seemed to transport ballet into the modern era.

Producer's Note: Gordon Chambers and Magos Herrera return to BAMcafé Live

by Darrell McNeill

BAMcafé Live week three: We are on the verge of complete righteousness—two amazing shows played to packed houses! BCL is definitely hitting a mid-season groove.

What can be fittingly said about Hank & Cupcakes? Simply, they dropped a bomb on the Lepercq. Close your eyes and you were transported back to the Ritz when bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Thompson Twins, and Modern English ruled the dance floors. And the following night, blues was conjured at its most uplifting and communal as International Blues Express, featuring Sidi Toure and Cedric Watson, elevated the room with a night of culturally and spiritually transcendent music.

After three straight weeks of artists making their BCL debuts, two very popular favorites return for week four. Award-winning soul singer-songwriter Gordon Chambers returns to the café on Friday, October 11, performing from his three independently released albums and his extensive catalog of hits with the biggest names in R&B music. On Saturday, October 12, Latin jazz chanteuse Magos Herrera continues her musical journey though the nations of Central and South America, marrying the indigenous rhythms and melodies of those diverse cultures to American jazz modes.

Subtle Decadence:
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Ars Subtilior

By Robert Jackson Wood

Baude Cordier's rondeau "Belle, Bonne, Sage"

Austere three-part harmonies intoning liturgies in Latin. Monks in robes copying out ledger lines by candlelight. Music notated partially in red ink and shaped like a heart?

It’s an extreme case, for sure. But the iconic musical valentine (shown above) by 14th century French composer Baude Cordier nevertheless fascinates in its flamboyance amid the more sober images we tend to associate with the musical Middle Ages. How to explain this quirky musical wink?

For one, as an example of the mannered style known as ars subtilior—“the more subtle art”—which forms the sonic and structural basis of choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s upcoming works Et Atendant and Cesena. A modern coinage, ars subtilior is the name used to refer to a small group of mostly secular works, created around the papal court at Avignon in the late 14th century, that attempted to push notational and rhythmic techniques of the time to their limits. A call to innovation had been made by a small coterie of court intellectuals for whom complexity in music was king. Composers answered, producing music that not only helped to flatter the cognoscenti’s arcane erudition but that also ushered in one of music history’s first periods of technical decadence. Innovation had been advocated not for expressive ends, but for innovation itself.

Monday, October 7, 2013

BAM Illustrated: Muhammad Ali Ascends the Throne

The Sweet Science Suite premieres at BAM this Friday. Illustrator Nathan Gelgud took a look at Muhammad Ali, the chief inspiration for Fred Ho's latest work, by reading David Remnick's excellent biography of the great fighter, King of the World.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Rite Opening Night Party

The BAM Lepercq Space done up for the 31st Next Wave, featuring the installation You Are Here by Ken Nintzel (Photos: Elena Olivo)

Last night, BAM celebrated the merging of two artistic powerhouses with the opening of A Ritethe dance theater celebration of the riot-inciting production that shook the Parisian art scene a century ago. Post show, artists from both Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Anne Bogart's SITI Company joined audience members and guests for an opening night party in the BAM Lepercq Space.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Float Like a Martial Artist

Fred Ho. Photo: Robert Adam Mayer

The Sweet Science Suite: A Scientific Soul Music Honoring of Muhammad Ali. The title spells out the essential intrigue of Fred Ho’s new opus, at the BAM Harvey Theater on October 11 & 12. But add to the mix martial arts choreography by Emmanuel Brown, one of the stars of Broadway’s Spider-Man and a previous collaborator on Ho’s projects, and prepare to be ultra-dazzled. BAMbill asked the pair a few questions.

Q: What inspired the inclusion of martial arts AND hip-hop in the choreography for The Sweet Science Suite?
Fred Ho: Since 1996, I’ve pioneered a new genre of performing arts, for which a variety of descriptors have been applied, such as “martial arts music/theater,” “manga opera,” “martial arts ballet,” etc. During that time, I was very bored by much of the performing arts—music, and especially dance—that refused to confront human conflict at the level of intensity of war and violence, and actually be bold about exhibiting such conflict.

In addition, my intention and desire to create a new Asian (Chinese) American expressive culture made me realize that Chinese—and Asian—martial arts could become the bold, new, and explosive performing arts movement expression; have tremendous appeal to young people; who, no matter how much we want to deny it, were being saturated in popular culture with the martial arts; and with which legendary, epic conflicts and clashes could be conveyed, just as they had been for centuries in Chinese (and Asian) literature, theater/opera, and legend.

Since I was very young, black music and radical politics has greatly inspired and catalyzed my own unique role in life as both an artist and activist. My Afro-Asian political and cultural sensibility would connect urban hip-hop and the martial arts (e.g. Shaolin hip-hop), just as urban youth have been doing for several decades (cf. Wu-Tang Clan), finding Afro-Asian connectivity in a myriad of cross-fertilized forms.

In Context: A Rite

Photo: A Rite, by 

A Rite runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from October 3—5. Context is everything, so get even closer to the incendiary action 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.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shidaiqu Nostalgia

by Andrew Chan

For most contemporary listeners, classic Mandarin pop music (aka Mandopop) may be most interesting as a reflection of the seismic social and political changes that rocked the Chinese-speaking world in the 20th century. After all, nothing captures the cosmopolitanism and westernization of turn-of-the-century Shanghai, and that intoxicating feeling of a great city stepping into a new era, more vividly than the jazz and mambo-inflected shidaiqu of the 1920s and 30s, which guitarist Gary Lucas reimagines in his album and live show The Edge of Heaven.

It’s important, though, to remember that these songs carry so much emotional weight for several generations of Chinese audiences precisely because of their lack of social consciousness. These songs are intimate, romantic, and luxurious to listen to—qualities that rendered them unforgivably bourgeois in the eyes of the Communist government, which began shutting down nightclubs and record companies in the 1950s.

When you hear the birdlike tones of a brilliant vocalist like Zhou Xuan, or the alternately sensuous and abrasive alto of Bai Guang, you can understand why these songs are now the object of intense, fetishistic nostalgia. While shidaiqu continued to have an enormous influence on Chinese pop outside of the mainland (particularly in Taiwan, where the legendary Teresa Teng became the principal inheritor of the music’s unabashedly sentimental style), the PRC went through several decades in which nationalistic and propagandistic anthems completely dominated the music culture.

Producer's Note: Hank & Cupcakes and International Blues Express at BAMcafé Live

by Darrell McNeill

We’re starting to get our sea legs back after the annual summer hiatus—lots of faces turning out for the second weekend of shows, lots of energy in the room, and lots of great music played. Wishes & Thieves rocked with equal parts precision and abandon, bringing intense yet lively noise pop to the faithful, the curious, and the uninitiated. Margot B cemented her reputation as one of the more in-demand contemporary R&B/soul chanteuses in the local scene, with a rousing and nuanced set. And week three of BCL carries the momentum even further.

Cedric Watson and Sidi Toure

Wildly popular indie pop/rock duo Hank & Cupcakes makes its BAMcafé Live debut on Friday, October 4, promising vigorous, danceable lo-fi rock. Then Malian and New Orleans music traditions intersect with International Blues Express, pairing acclaimed musicians Sidi Toure and Cedric Watson on Saturday, October 5.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Rite, Remixed

by Brian McCormick

“I’m a post-modern constructionist. The Nijinsky version would be problematic to modern people.” — Bill T. Jones

When Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring, he set out to shock. Written for the 1913 Paris season of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the score featured provocative approaches to rhythm and tonality, with transitions that lurched wildly and aggressively between movements. The primitivism of Nijinsky’s choreography and Roerich’s scenic elements evinced the ballet’s subtitle, Pictures of Pagan Russia. The music, likewise, was heavily influenced by Russian folk songs, although Stravinsky denied it. While there may have been chaos in the audience on opening night 100 years ago, The Rite of Spring has  become one of the best-known and most recorded works in the classical repertoire.

Still, to many dance-makers, the idea of doing another Rite of Spring is practically taboo. “I’m a postmodern constructionist,” choreographer Bill T. Jones said. “The Nijinsky version would be problematic to modern people.”

“We come from the dance world,” added Janet Wong, associate artistic director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. “We don’t want to make this.”

This very reluctance opened the way for the creation of A Rite, a collaboration between Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and SITI Company, under the artistic direction of Anne Bogart. They came together at the University of North Carolina through a festival organized by distinguished musicologist Severine Neff.