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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 BAM Blog Awards

Best performance by a string of sausages in a supporting role: the red sausages in The Old Woman

2014 was a big year at BAM, not in the least in terms of numbers. The Next Wave Festival grew to 47 productions from 34, Matthew Barney's River of Fundament almost topped six hours, 11 pianists performed all 20 of Philip Glass' piano etudes, and Zvi Sahar's Salt of the Earth used 1,000 pounds of salt to conjure a stark Middle Eastern desert. But who are we kidding? It's the qualitative, not the quantitative, that truly floats the BAM boat. It's in that spirit, we present the BAM Blog Awards, our annual celebration of quizzical directorial choices, double-take-inducing performances, and scene-stealing quirks from a year's worth of BAM productions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 BAM Holiday Reading List

Here we are as in olden days: in a vortex of yule, clamoring for nog and listening to Bing and Mariah, with so many holiday-related things to read, do, see. On the reading front, we suggest consolidation. Get your literary fix during the downtime while covering subjects that will resonate with BAM productions coming up in the winter/spring. Below are a few recommendations, dealing with everything from director John Carpenter to venereal diseases to rodeos in prison.

A Very Sufjan Christmas

Sufjan Stevens and friends.
by Chris Tyler

“You know, to be honest, I hate Christmas,” a tinseled Sufjan Stevens would often remark during his Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice tour back in 2012. Indeed, for Stevens, Christmas proves a contradictory tradition: it is, after all, the focal point of a season marked by equal parts spirituality and consumerism. But given the Round-Up artist’s affinity for the carol—he’s released exactly 100 Christmas tunes over the last 10 years—it’s a delightful tradition at that. As described by Mark Hinog for The Verge, “Stevens' yuletide catalog transcends the treacly holiday tunes favored by easy listening radio stations and musty shopping complexes. It borrows hyperbolic enthusiasm of obligatory pop star holiday albums, while highlighting the season’s social, economical, and existential pressures." In anticipation of Stevens’ upcoming run at the BAM Harvey Theater January 20–25, we've rounded-up (so to speak) some of our favorite video tidings of ambivalent (but whimsical) holiday cheer:

Friday, December 19, 2014

BAMcinématek's Best of 2014

Ellar Coltrane and Richard Linklater at the opening night of BAMcinemaFest 2014/New York premiere of Boyhood at the BAM Harvey Theater.

The best-of-the-year list is back at BAMcinématek, and we have a whole lot to celebrate about film in 2014. We’ve made our parameters looser than ever, so below you’ll find lists short and long, including favorite TV shows, music videos, and more alongside repertory and new film picks. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Iceman Cometh in Production

Photo: Liz Lauren
by Steve Scott

The Iceman Cometh is often regarded as a modern masterpiece, but like many great works of art it was eschewed by audiences before eventually achieving popular and critical acclaim. Even its progression from page to stage got off to a slow start: although Eugene O’Neill had completed the initial draft of The Iceman Cometh by late 1939, the play wouldn’t make its official premiere for nearly seven years, due both to the author’s failing health and his reluctance to produce anything during the “damned world debacle” of World War II. But by the winter of 1946, O’Neill’s spirits had revived to the point that he once again looked forward to the rigors of rehearsal and production; by the spring, plans for the New York debut of Iceman were under way. The playwright had initially championed actor/director Eddie Dowling to both direct the production and play the central role of Theodore “Hickey” Hickman, after viewing Dowling’s triumphant work in staging and starring in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life. Soon after work on O’Neill’s play began, however, Dowling realized that he couldn’t do both, and he engaged former vaudevillian and film character actor James Barton (formerly hired for the role of Harry Hope) for the daunting role. By all reports, Barton was overwhelmed by the demands of the part, and had difficulties both learning and delivering Hickey’s mammoth confessional monologue in act four. On opening night, October 9, he also spent the dinner intermission entertaining friends in his dressing room, leaving him exhausted and nearly voiceless by the play’s climax. Perhaps as a result, opening night notices were mixed, and the production ran for a disappointingly short run of 136 performances.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Context: VIJAY IYER: Music of Transformation

VIJAY IYER: Music of Transformation runs at BAM from December 18—20. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of articles, interviews, and videos related to the production. Once you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Mariinsky at BAM

Danila Korsuntsev in Swan Lake. Photo courtesy Mariinsky Ballet
by Susan Yung

January can be a long, cold month, but here’s some heart-warming news: the Mariinsky Theater is in residence at BAM from January 14 to 25 with three ballet programs and an opera. We’ll get a quenching fix of both the seminal early work (Swan Lake) and its contemporary offerings. The company performs Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella, in addition to the three-part program Chopin: Dances for Piano, with choreography by Benjamin Millepied and Jerome Robbins, alongside Michel Fokine’s Chopiniana. In addition, the Mariinsky Opera will perform the rarely-seen The Enchanted Wanderer by Rodion Shchedrin. Maestro Gergiev will conduct select performances by this legendary St. Petersburg institution renowned for its emphasis on artistry and musicianship, and now in its 232nd season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Design King—Richard Hudson Creates a New Beauty

The Nutcracker show curtain, designed by Richard Hudson.

by Mario R. Mercado

While it’s the final season to enjoy Alexei Ratmansky’s wondrous staging of The Nutcracker for American Ballet Theatre at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from December 12—21, happily, the production will live on in West Coast performances each December beginning in 2015. For audiences on both coasts, there is more happy news to celebrate as Ratmansky and the ballet’s designer Richard Hudson get set to collaborate again. This time it’s an all-new production of The Sleeping Beauty, premiering early March at the Segerstrom Center in Orange County, California and in New York City in May 2015.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Going Gaga with Batsheva

by Rhea Daniels

On November 14th, I participated in a master class led by Batsheva company dancers Bobbi Smith and Ian Robinson at the Mark Morris Dance Center. Batsheva company classes teach Gaga technique, the movement language developed by the company’s Artistic Director Ohad Naharin. The workshop was presented in conjunction with the company’s US premiere of Naharin’s Sadeh21 at BAM.

Batsheva's Zina Zinchenko and Bobbi Smith. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Monday, December 8, 2014

BAM blog Questionnaire:
Howie the Rookie's Mark O’Rowe

Mark O’Rowe is the writer and director of Howie the Rookie, a play chronicling the scabies-induced travails of two knuckleheads—the Howie Lee and the Rookie Lee—through a down-and-out Dublin. O’Rowe wrote the piece in 1999, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy. In this production, he teams up with acclaimed Irish actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, well-known to Irish audiences for starring in the crime drama Love/Hate. Vaughan-Lawlor plays both roles in a performance that called for the Irish Times to pronounce him “One of the most extraordinary actors of his generation.” O’Rowe also transitions fluently between stage and screen (one of his screenwriting credits is Intermission, starring Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy). Here he responds to a few questions about bringing his unusual and refreshing production of Howie the Rookie to BAM.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Mark O'Rowe. Photo: Ste Murray

Friday, December 5, 2014

Who Gets to Perform? The Ethics and Aesthetics of Social Practice

On October 25, Dance Umbrella and Dance UK hosted a discussion at King's College London called The Politics of Participation, part of Dance Umbrella's Body Politic series. A panel of guests in London and Brooklyn from across artistic disciplines discussed the use of non-professional performers in the arts. The event was livestreamed and can still be viewed here. Simon Dove, co-curator of Crossing the Line, and Julie Anne Stanzak of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch participated from BAM. Below, Dove elaborates further on some of the important topics that arose in the conversation.

Pina Bausch's Kontakthof (1978) has been staged with "non-professional" casts comprised of both senior citizens and high-school students (pictured above).
by Simon Dove

After decades of “community arts” experiences, and years of what the visual arts world terms “social practice,” many artists are now working together with the public as collaborators and participants—all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways. I reject the binary distinction between “professional” and “non-professional” as a false premise. The notion of “professional” is not about whether artists earn a living wage from their work (in the US, this is very rare). It is actually based on a very narrow notion of what “performance skills” are, and the specific training or education that produces them rather than the actual people who use these “skills.”

In dance and performance, this idea of “skills” has historically been a huge controlling force to promote and legitimize a certain way of moving (with many teachers’ and institutions’ income dependent upon it), or narrowly defining only a certain body type that can execute these skills “properly.” This exclusivity works against the reality of human diversity. Some commentators talk about this kind of engagement with “non-professionals” as a “de-skilling” of performers, but I see it more as a politicization of practice: a move to work with the rich history and vivid imagination that make a performer unique rather than the specific and narrow skill set that the performer may possess. William Forsythe, the innovative classical dance maker, once famously pulled out of a Royal Ballet commission in London, as he was faced with dancers he felt had nothing to contribute to the creative process.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Irish Tumbleweed

by Jonathan Kalb

Mark O’Rowe—Irish playwright and screenwriter—has said that he was inspired to write his remarkable play Howie the Rookie by Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy (1947). In a funk back in 1999 after a failed effort to write a conventional “Abbey Theatre play,” O’Rowe says he read Beckett’s book and immediately snapped out of his slump by borrowing its unusual two-part, two-protagonist structure for Howie. Both works consist of dual lengthy narratives by different men engaged in ambiguous quests who more and more come to resemble one another as their stories unfold.

Howie the Rookie's Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Context: Howie the Rookie

Howie the Rookie runs at BAM from December 10—14. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of articles, interviews, and videos related to the production. Once you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

In Context: The Ambassador

Gabriel Kahane's The Ambassador runs at BAM from December 10—13. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of articles, interviews, and videos related to the production. Once you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

BAM Illustrated: Freak Architects of Los Angeles

Each song in Gabriel Kahane's The Ambassador (December 10—13 at BAM Harvey Theater) was inspired by a different location in Los Angeles. More than a few of these buildings were designed by or feature contributions from the architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra (specifically the Schindler Chace House, Black Garden, Lovell Beach House, and Villains—reference The Ambassador Atlas for more details on the sites). The two architects were big personalities, unique characters, and close friends who eventually clashed. 

Recent Los Angeles transplant and former Brooklyn resident and BAM employee Nathan Gelgud was particularly interested in this strain of Los Angeles history, and looked into it to bring you a brief, illustrated version of the story of Schindler and Neutra, the "Twin Freaks of L.A." 

In Context: The Etudes

The Etudes, a performance of Philip Glass's complete piano etudes, comes to BAM on December 5 & 6. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of articles, interviews, and videos related to the production. Once you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gabriel Kahane on The Ambassador

Singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane's work The Ambassador, an imaginatively staged song cycle exploring the mythos-and-melancholy-laden topographies of Kahane's personal Los Angeles, runs at BAM from December 10—13. Kahane, who was born in L.A. but now lives in Brooklyn, describes his first encounter with BAM and The Ambassador's coming-to-be.
The Ambassador's Gabriel Kahane. Photo: Josh Goleman