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Monday, March 31, 2014

Twyla Tharp—On the Limit

by Susan Yung

Twyla Tharp. Photo: Gjon Mili
Twyla Tharp's new Cornbread Duet, danced by New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, premieres at BAM on April 10 on a bill with Carolina Chocolate Drops, who will perform live. The following is from BAM: The Complete Works.

Twyla Tharp may have more popular breadth than any of her choreographer peers, though it’s hard to say how she is best known. It could be for her Broadway shows, such as Movin’ Out, for which she won a Tony Award; for the films she’s choreographed, including White Nights; or for the three books she has authored. Or because she has embraced all types of music, from classical to chart-topping pop. What is certain is that she has never compromised on concept, technique, or principle throughout her prolific career.

In her early work from the 1960s, Tharp disassembled, analyzed, and re-created conventional jazz and modern movement, turning it inside out, running it in retrograde. She crafted roiling, cursive phrases that flowed seamlessly or darted unpredictably. It was too technical to be called strictly postmodern, despite the loopy, relaxed demeanor and the dollops of pedestrian movement.

In the 1970s, she began working with Mikhail Baryshnikov—then a guest principal with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT)—who, with a similar compact build, mop of hair, and physical genius, became a male doppelgänger for Tharp. On him, she could satisfactorily combine jazzy, pelvis-swiveling movement with bravura ballet, topped off with his irresistible charisma. She choreographed Push Comes to Shove, featuring Baryshnikov, for ABT in 1976, and began choreographing more with ballet.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Summation Dance—Please Standby

Updating Route, Please Standby. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Summation Dance is presenting two premieres choreographed by Sumi Clements at the BAM Fisher from April 2 to 5. Clements' style is bold, visceral, fearless, and often involves nuanced relationships and partnering experiments between the dancers.

The company's nine dancers will perform Updating Route, Please Standby, to a mixed score by DJ/electronic musician Lorn. The work "considers how society, the media, literature, and visual culture have molded our understanding of who, and what, we are and reasons that we contemplate dismissing these preconceptions in favor of simple re-evaluation and advancement." A version of this piece was recently presented as part of the Dancing Literate Festival, growing from an initiative advanced by Summation to make modern dance relatable by all.

Also on the April program is Hunt, for eight dancers, which looks at the persecution of witches from a feminist perspective. The soundscape is by Kyle Olson, who has previously collaborated with Summation. Costumes for both premieres are designed by Brigitte Vosse.

The company was founded in 2010 by Clements with fellow NYU alum Taryn Vander Hoop (executive director and associate artistic director). It may be young, but its foundation and mission are impressively clear-eyed and well-reasoned in this hypercompetitive dance ecology. The troupe has a modestly ambitious five-year business plan which it has stuck to; it employs women as the vast majority of able dancers are female; and dancers are paid for each performance. Summation self-produces at venues that in addition to BAM, include Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Dancing Literate Project at Judson Church, which allows them to control factors including house size and location; thus far, they have sold out all of their performances.

Click here for more information on April's performances.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Christian Rizzo's Quiet Daring

by Susan Yung

Lyon Opera Ballet in ni fleurs, ni ford-mustang. Michel Cavalca

Lyon Opera Ballet returns to BAM this spring with a quietly daring work by polymath Christian Rizzo. The company’s classical name is, by now, somewhat of a misnomer (although the dancers are remarkably fluent in ballet). The troupe was formed in 1969 by Lyon Opera director Louis Erlo; in 1984, under Françoise Adret, its focus became contemporary dance. Since 1991, Yorgos Loukos has been artistic director (preceded by several years in which he was associate director), commissioning and reviving dances by some of this era’s leading choreographers.

Reflecting on his ongoing mission, Loukos said recently, “I’m trying to expand the repertory and have different approaches by artists without excluding anything—neo-classic, modern, post-modern, more theatrical, and whatever young people are trying to do and show through a personal vision of dance and performance.” The list includes such varied visionaries as William Forsythe, Mathilde Monnnier, Trisha Brown, Rachid Ouramdane, Merce Cunningham, and Jiri Kylian. You’d be pressed to find a better, more multi-faceted representation of the current and past half-century of dance repertory.

Lyon Opera Ballet will perform Rizzo’s ni fleurs, ni ford-mustang, his first commission from the company, from May 7—10 in the Howard Gilman Opera House. The original score is by Gerome Nox, and the subtle lighting design by Caty Olive. Rizzo began his career by founding a rock band, and then designed clothing, pursued visual art, and over the last decade plus has created performance work and choreography.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fresh Hamm: Small Finds From Large Collections

Processing the papers of former executive director Harvey Lichtenstein and the BAM prints collection as part of the Leon Levy Digital Archives grant is no small task for the archivists here at the BAM Hamm Archives. The hard work of sorting through the papers and boxes does have its rewards, especially when it results in some interesting finds.

Archivist Michael Messina caught in the act of processing boxes of Harvey Lichtenstein papers.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Places to See Folk and Country Music in Brooklyn

by Kerri Lowe

Greenwich Village may have been the start of the 1960s folk music revival, but today, Brooklyn is holding down the fort as the best place to get your folk and country music fix in New York City. Below you’ll find the best venues in Brooklyn to listen, watch, square dance, and maybe even play a little tune yourself.

The Jalopy Theatre
315 Columbia St. (Red Hook)

The Fabulous Jalopy Theatre and School of Music, founded by Geoff and Lynette Wiley, is the hub of folk music in Brooklyn. From blues to country to old-time and more, Jalopy is the go-to place for folk enthusiasts from all walks of life. Enter the Jalopy and on the left you’ll see vintage guitars, banjos and ukuleles for sale. The blackboard above the bar highlights the drink menu and schedule of bands playing that week. Weekly shows, like the Tuesday night open mic and Wednesday night Roots & Ruckus (curated by master songsmith and Brooklyn folk staple Feral Foster) keep up a clientele of regulars and new faces. A bust of Thomas Jefferson watches over the audience from the side of the red-curtained stage.

Jalopy also offers affordable group music lessons for adults and kids, taught by some of Brooklyn’s most knowledgeable folk musicians. Eli Smith—who plays in The Down Hill Strugglers (that’s his voice singing “The Roving Gambler” on the Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack) and founded the Brooklyn Folk Festival—teaches banjo. Now in its sixth year, the Brooklyn Folk Festival (April 18—20) is co-presented by Jalopy and takes place over three days at The Bell House.

Friday, March 21, 2014

BAM Blog Questionnaire: the men of A Doll's House

Dominic Rowan, Steve Toussaint, and Nick Fletcher

Many conversations about A Doll’s House tend to center around Nora, and rightfully so, but let us not forget the men of the play! We caught up with actors Dominic Rowan (Torvald), Steve Toussaint (Dr. Rank), and Nick Fletcher (Krogstad) to learn more about their rituals, characters, and advice they’ve ignored.

The male characters in A Doll’s House are pretty unlikeable. How do you empathize with or relate to your character?

Dominic Rowan: Unlikeable? Torvald tries his best in difficult circumstances— all the characters do.

Steve Toussaint: Well, firstly I reject the premise of the question: I don’t believe that Dr. Rank is unlikeable, (can’t speak for the other two); of course, that could just be me. He is funny, smart, and in the terrible circumstance of having found a woman who enchants and delights him and yet is married to his best mate. I think most of us can understand an unrequited love…I’ll say no more…

Nick Fletcher: I'm a father like Krogstad. I'm lucky that I've never been in circumstances as desperate as his. Like him I can nurse a sense of injustice. The redemption that he and Kristine Linde experience in Act III is always a pleasure to play; all the pain and poison I have to carry for him is conveniently drained away at the exact moment I walk off stage!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

About Last Night: Next Society Celebration at River Café

The cast of A Doll's House poses under the New York skyline with Karen Brooks Hopkins and Joe Melillo.
The scene Sunday night was perfect for an event: a candle-lit restaurant overlooking the East River, the New York skyline looming, the Brooklyn Bridge overhead. After a matinee performance, the lauded cast of A Doll’s House joined BAM’s Next Society members at The River Café  for the annual dinner event.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Under the Influence—Scorsese / Walsh

by Stephen Bowie

James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in The Roaring Twenties. Photo: Photofest

Raoul Walsh was one of the great action directors of the Hollywood studio era, the swaggering, manly-man artist behind some of the best movies to star James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Errol Flynn. Andrew Sarris positioned Walsh as the third point of a triangle, alongside John Ford and Howard Hawks, and Martin Scorsese remains a staunch enthusiast. “Walsh’s explosive outcast characters were bigger than life,” Scorsese wrote. “Their lust for life was insatiable, even as their actions precipitated their tragic destiny. The world was too small for them.”

Walsh’s films provide a sort of hidden road map through Scorsese’s body of work. If the spectre of Ford’s The Searchers as a thematic blueprint for Taxi Driver (1976), for instance, is better known, Walsh was “probably Scorsese’s single most important influence” (Dave Kehr). This spring, BAMcinématek’s Under the Influence series aligns some of both directors’ key films as a way of illustrating the many homages paid within. Under the Influence: Scorsese/Walsh runs Mar 12—26.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Christine Gruder, Theater Manager

by Susannah Gruder

Christine Gruder and friends. Photo: Susannah Gruder

After working at BAM for 25 years, Theater Manager Christine Gruder has seen it all. She and her staff, which includes 200 ushers and an Associate Manager, serve as the front line when patrons come to the theater, assisting them directly with any issues they may have, directing the flow of the audience in and out of the theater, and liaising with the various departments at BAM to ensure a successful performance. She has fielded countless complaints as well as compliments from theatergoers over the years, which she recognizes as being all part of the job. Though I know her as my mom, she’s taken care of BAM patrons for longer than I’ve been alive.

Q: Your job can be understood as the manager of the fourth wall—the audience and the house itself—an integral part of the theatrical experience. Do you see yourself in that sort of role?

A: I do in the sense that the frame of mind of the audience member affects their enjoyment of the piece. If they come in and they’re confused, or they’re irritated, or they’re angry, or they’re cold, or hot, or nervous… If they have negative feelings it’s going to affect their enjoyment. And conversely if they come in and they feel welcome, and they feel like they’re coming to a place where they’re going to be cared for and things go smoothly, it does as well. If we’re doing our job right they shouldn’t even have to think about what we’re doing. It should be seamless. And if they do experience something less than desirable, the way we handle it affects how they feel. One of the things I love about the way my department runs, is that I have such an amazing staff that I’m often told by people that an usher helped them, and that they love coming to BAM because the ushers are kind and recognize them and they’re helpful.