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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

In Context: The Exalted

The Exalted, featuring Theo Bleckmann and Carl Hancock Rux, comes to BAM on October 28. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles and videos related to the show. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #TheExalted.

Program Notes

The Exalted (PDF)


On Carl Einstein (
Count the introduction of African sculpture to Europe as among Einstein’s many contributions.

African Influences in Modern Art (
More on the influences of Negerplastik in modern art from the Metropolitan Museum.

Watch & Listen

Carl Hancock Rux, Renaissance Man (NPR)
An Obie-winning playwright, poet, novelist, and recording artist, Rux does it all.

Carl Hancock Rux and Gerald Clayton in WNYC’s Greene Space (WNYC)
Rux lays spoken-word poetry over a bed of lush jazz piano.

Theo Bleckmann sings “Lili Marleen” (YouTube)
An ambient sound cloud swirls behind Bleckmann’s arrangement of the German love song, made famous by Marlene Dietrich.

Women in Theater: Anne Bogart (YouTube)
“If the act of fighting back is an act of winning,” says Bogart, “then making theater in this country is also an act of winning.”

Classic Clips: Anne Bogart (YouTube)
The director discusses directing philosophies and a life in theater.

Now your turn...

What did you think of the show? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #TheExalted.


  1. I hated this show. The only way I can make sense of most of the movement pieces within the performance is if the show was intended as a comment on "primitive" black arts vs. "advanced" white arts. If so, done already and done better. Taking Einstein's words out of context makes it impossible for us to actually interpret his words. So, while Rux presented this a story of Einstein, he likely misappropriated his work. And why was the section on the Herero Genocide so explicit. Did I miss something about how Wikipedia fits into the black/white debate? A shallow effort posing as something deep.

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  3. Perhaps I shouldn't have read all the IN CONTEXT essays before seeing The Exalted. I came in with high expectation, the pedigree of the artists involved, the premise, the fascinating subject Carl Einstein...but alas, in my opinion, The Exalted did not fulfill the potential of its compelling thesis to be a poetic reflection on the life and work of Carl Einstein and the 1st genocide of the 20th Century from 1904-7 by the Germans in what is now Namibia. Sadly, The Exalted does not build on this premise. I did not learn anything about either Einstein, his writings about African Art and its impact, or the genocide that wasn't in the essays above or on Wikipedia.

    The Exalted is beautifully staged by Anne Bogart, both Theo Bleckmann and Carl Hancock Rux are very watchable and present performers but the subject has so much potential, and I was disappointed. I was also shocked that the only moment in the show when Bleckmann seemed to be speaking some of Einstein's text about African Art in German, the screen of what I assume was some of the same text in English, stopped scrolling long before it reached the end of what he had said, so the non-German speakers among us were deprived of any meaningful engagement with Einstein's important writing on African Art in the show. If this is what makes Einstein so important, wouldn't it make sense for the show to share with the audience that material and engage with it somehow? I did love the final moment of the production, in which Carl Einstein is looking at a piece of African Art. No art is shown - a stool stands in evocatively, and he wonders whether this African goddess was a subject of ecstasy or terror to the people who worshiped her (I may be mis-remembering the two possibilities). With those two possibilities in the balance, Carl Hancock Rux and Theo Bleckmann start spinning in a circle around the stool, as if becoming those two ideas. I wish there were more of that type of physically manifesting Einstein's thoughts and ideas in the show, It is a powerful starting point. I hope they continue developing it further. I look forward to reading Carl Hancock Rux's book The Exalted when it comes out. Perhaps it offers a more penetrating and rigorously engaged look at his subject then this stage production.

  4. I saw this show tonight and was blown away by it's elegance and beauty. Because of how BAM promoted it, I expected it to be a play about the German Jewish art critic Carl Einstein but it actually turned out to be something deeper that...for me, it was a meditation on atrocity and how we become personally affected by histories knowmn and unknown. Anne Bogart's staging was brilliant, especially in that she seemed to pay careful and close attention to the Cubist/Surrealist world in which Carl Einstein lived. The video design was lovely. The text was absolutely breathtaking and the sound design beautifully disturbing...evidence of a cruel and bloody conflict kept trickling in, like isolated raindrops from a storm. It’s not so much the sound of gunfire as it is the sound of the cyclical nature of history. The play is not conventially structured. In fact, it was not a play as much as it was a performance piece or an experience, focusing on Einstein's escape from the Spanish civil war and his trek acoross the mountains and eventual suicide. The suicide is constantly repeated, as are other scenes in Einstein's life, and it seemed to be no accident of the text or direction. Theo Bleckmann's music was lovely. Carl Hancock Rux's performance was absolutely powerful. He seemed to come undone as he chased an idea and a thesis...and that was in fact, more powerful than anything I think he could have written. Thank god Rux and Bogart decided to be neither overtly sentimental or hit us over the head with atrocity. The entire time I felt like I was inside a dream, both ugly and beautiful. Excellent work.

    1. Thank you for helping me understand it more. Your review is very helpful

  5. My husband and I saw this play last night and thought it was absolutely breathtaking. Long familiar with BAM Next Wave I never expected this to be a traditional play in any sense of the word. Bogart crafts theater as a playful experience with elements of profundity. The play seemed to allude to the spirit of Carl Einstein rather than tell his story, and the two performers seemed to be acting moments of from his life as a way of understanding something about genocide. Bravo to Rux for his sensual language and heartfelt performance. He also seemed to understand the irony that a German Jew who championed African art eventually became a target of Germany itself. Carl Einstein actually became the hated African. I had no idea that Germany built the first concentration camps in Africa or that it the Nazis would use Namibia as their blueprint for how to exterminate the Jews. After the show I went online to read more about it and was appalled. The subtle brilliance of this work is that the playwright seems to get that irony. Beautifully done and very touching!

  6. I am really sorry to say that it was an excruciatingly long hour tonight. I really wish I had liked it more than I did, because Carl Hancock Rux has a reputation for excellent work. I saw Theo Bleckmann three years ago at BAM when he performed two dramatic song cycles -- Out Cold/Zippo Songs -- by Phil Kline. It was fantastic. I am also quite familiar with talented director Anne Bogart and SITI Company. So when I chose The Exalted as part of my Next Wave Festival subscription, it was a no brainer. Not so fast. Something about the performance seemed unpolished and repetitive. I loved Bleckmann's vocals and his sound-effects/musical compositions -- and I was touched by many of Hancock Rux's words. Unfortunately, however, the staging and movement seemed lackluster and although the video by Onome Ekeh was mesmerizing, it really did not help the performance very much. I knew that Carl Einstein's interest in African sculpture influenced the Cubists, and I knew he was a target by the right-wing Germans in the Weimar period. I was not aware of the genocide of the Herero and Nama people by the Germans in Namibia. But somehow this important information was rather lost in this dream-like performance and I left the theater feeling a little let down. I didn't dislike the work. I think it has value. I just think it needs refining.

  7. I love the feeling that there's more to get, Im comfortable with it, drawn to it. It is a gorgeous and heartbreaking piece. Those who are intimidated need to trust themselves more. Such wounds, and compassion and joy and high beauty. Simply beautiful.

  8. Congratulations on The Exalted -- a beautiful, poetic and elegaic piece of theater!

  9. The Exalted, written by the celebrated poet and performer Carl Hancock Rux is told in the spirit of German expressionism, centering on the anarchist German-Jewish writer Carl Einstein, today considered a founding voice in the evolution of seminal Modernist art movements.

    The writings of Einstein impacted and influenced Cubism and the European avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, as well as the Berlin caricaturist George Grosz and the French painter Georges Braque.

    The Exalted dramatizes the significance of Einstein's work on African art. In his literary expressionism, for which he was most proud, he critiqued the conceptual bases for Western culture. Similarly, contemporary dramaturgy has evolved under the pen of Rux, whose post-modern interpretation of German expressionism befits the historical basis for the narrative.

    Composer and performer Theo Bleckmann is a kindred spirit. Drawing from his German heritage, he performed Einstein in The Exalted with a moving impeccability, elevating the poetic language of Rux with an anarchic sensibility.

    Together, Rux and Bleckmann are strengthening the marginal zone where new aesthetic movements take hold. Rux is firmly rooted in the African-American literary tradition that began with Phyllis Wheatley and continued into the 20th century with Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka. The role he performs in The Exalted, and his script, gives voice to the African perspective, further glorifying Einstein as a man who enriched both Western and African culture through his arts' criticism.

    Einstein, familiar with the cultures of the Herero and Nama people who endured the first genocide of the 20th century in German-occupied Africa, lived one of those typical 20th century lives. The year he published Negerplastik, a book that would change the way Western culture appreciated art, he volunteered to serve in WWI. In the following years, he joined a militant anarchist trade union defending the Republican front in Spain.

    Einstein's example, intellectually and socially, has inspired contemporary neo-expressionism in Rux, whose forthcoming second novel is based on The Exalted. In certain ways, the play is both biographical about Einstein and autobiographical, for without the avant-garde, and without an appreciation for African aesthetics, Carl Hancock Rux and Theo Bleckmann would not be as appreciated for who they are today.

    Interestingly, Rux writes of the double-edged power of art to stimulate militarism, and encourage peace equally. The creation of art is a boon and conundrum to the Western intellectual. In his criticism, especially when drawing from his studies of African sculpture, Einstein asked important questions about aesthetic utilitarianism. His inquiries fortified the avant-garde, Dada, surrealist, and expressionist artists of Europe. Rux's play beautifully explores the history of this complicated character in a smart and insightful way.


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