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Thursday, August 28, 2014

BAM’s Global Reach

by William Lynch

Chandler Williams (George) and Kevin Spacey (Richard III) in the Bridge Project production of Richard III.
BAM 2012 Winter/Spring. Photo: Joan Marcus

BAM has long been sought out by audiences from the metropolitan area and beyond as a destination for exotic fare not likely to be seen elsewhere in New York City. In any given season, one might witness dance from Madagascar, Swedish-language drama, film from Yugoslavia, and more. However, there is an important aspect of BAM that is little known to the public, but which is changing the way BAM does business and the way in which the world views this venerable institution. Whereas BAM is well-known at home and abroad as a leading presenter of contemporary international performing arts, it has also more aggressively begun to produce theatrical and other events for its own stages and for export to venues overseas. BAM has bundled all this activity under the moniker of Global BAM to provide it with an easily understood identity that encompasses the broad nature of its potential.

Perhaps the best-known example of this new phenomenon came about in 2008 with the inaugural co-productions of the three-year Bridge Project with London’s Old Vic and Neal Street, which brought Shakespeare and classical theater to audiences not only in London and New York, but also in such far-flung locales as Paris, Beijing, Madrid, Istanbul, Moscow, and Epidaurus, Greece. In keeping with the goals of the collaboration, each of the productions contained an equal complement of American and British actors. The reader may recall the culminating production of Richard III directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey, which played in Brooklyn in the winter of 2012, and which in part inspired Spacey's ravenous character in House of Cards.

In 2008, BAM began an ongoing and equally important though less visible initiative—DanceMotion USA, which was supported with major grants from the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program was designed to send contemporary American dance companies abroad while facilitating cultural exchange and mutual understanding. To date, Rennie Harris Puremovement, David Dorfman Dance, Illstyle & Peace Productions, ODC/Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Evidence, a Dance Company, and others have logged thousands of air miles and countless community classes, performances, and other services in Nigeria, Myanmar, Columbia, Turkey, and others.

DanceMotion USA July 2014 event at Turkish Cultural Centre, Queens, NY, led by Karen Khachatryan
from Armenia (grey shirt), and Evrim Akyay (Korhan Basaran Co., Turkey, black shirt) 

Several years ago BAM also began to work with its emissaries to identify local talent and to bring one dance company per year back to Brooklyn. Known as the US-Based Exchange Residency, since 2012 this program has seen three such residencies completed, the latest of which took place at BAM this summer. David Dorfman engaged Korhan Basaran of Turkey, who, along with dancers from Turkey and Armenia, completed a residency at the Bates Dance Festival and performed a collaborative work in the BAM Fishman Space. A website,, includes a blog with video and details of numerous aspects of these residencies. Next up for DanceMotion USA? BAM will send its neighbor the Mark Morris Dance Group to Burma, Cambodia, and Timor Leste.

One of the most venerable programs in the constellation of Global BAM is DanceAfrica, the annual celebration of African dance and culture which marked its 37th year in May. In each of those years, BAM has sent Baba Chuck Davis to Africa and other parts of the world to seek out indigenous dance companies that continue to extend and develop the vast diaspora of traditions to bring to BAM for performances and masterclasses.

Other programs under the aegis of Global BAM include TransCultural Express, BAM Travel, and an ongoing cultural exchange with Cuba, which is jointly undertaken by BAM and the Joyce Theater. TransCultural Express was created with support of the Mikhail Prokhorov Fund to facilitate cultural exchange between Russia and the US. To date, the program has included the import and export of dance, theater, visual arts, and film with activities in New York, Moscow, and Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. BAM Travel, which is open to BAM supporters, seeks out travel opportunities that include a tie-in with what is on BAM’s stages. BAM Travel tours have included Cuba, Greece, the South of France, and Russia. The Cuban exchange has brought Cuban dance companies to perform at BAM and the Joyce Theater; it also provides training in the form of internships to young Cuban arts administrators. Occasionally culturally-specific offerings such as Muslim Voices and Sí Cuba fall under the purview of Global BAM.

Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti, 2003 DanceAfrica. Photo: BAM Hamm Archives
How is all this activity coordinated? The impetus for all BAM does creatively springs from the office of Executive Producer Joe Melillo, who travels the world ceaselessly to bring exciting and adventurous presentations. But in order to create synergies and seek out opportunities BAM has created a committee of the board and volunteers known as the Global BAM Committee, which is charged with maximizing current opportunities and helping to seek out new ones. The committee includes BAM’s Executive Vice President Alice Bernstein, several board members, and BAM staff members Nick Schwartz-Hall, line producer, and Michael Blanco, DanceMotion USA project director.

When asked about his involvement in Global BAM, Pedro Ciliberto Torres, a BAM board member and native Spanish speaker who comes from Venezuela, said: “I’m very excited to be involved with BAM and especially with its international programs. Of course, New York is a world stage for culture and we are fortunate to experience art from around the world there. Now, we are building the BAM brand overseas and looking into new opportunities for co-production, sponsorship, touring, and even professional development and management consultancy.”

The future does indeed seem bright for Global BAM. Stay tuned for announcements soon about exciting events on the horizon.

William Lynch is BAM's Director of Leadership Gifts.

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