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Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day at BAM in 1886

Courtesy: BAM Hamm Archives
For going on four decades, the BAM community has equated Memorial Day weekend not only with remembering those who have served our country, but also with the DanceAfrica Festival. But an item from BAM Hamm Archives reminds us of the organization's longstanding civic commitment.

This May 31, 1886 handbill details "exercises" at a Decoration Day program. Decoration Day was begun in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran's group, to decorate the graves of soldiers lost in the Civil War. It became Memorial Day in the early 20th century.

The Grand Army of the Republic oversaw the event at the Academy. The veteran's group comprised soldiers who fought in the Civil War, primarily for the Union. In fact, Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza was named to commemorate this organization.

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher presided at the 1886 gathering (to which admission cost 50 cents). This brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe was a clergyman and abolitionist, and a prominent speaker sent abroad by President Abraham Lincoln to advocate on behalf of the Unionist cause. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

The Decoration Day slate included patriotic music with audience members joining on the choruses, as well as poems and prayers. While this event took place at the Academy's first hall, on Montague Street, it serves to remind us of the long, rich history that BAM occupies in the city and in America.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pape Moussa Sonko of WAATO SiiTA

Pape Moussa Sonko. Photo: Richard Termine.
by David Hsieh

It is often said that dancing is an act of defying gravity. But watching the Senegalese dancer Pape Moussa Sonko, you sense that gravity is more like a trampoline, or energy he can harness so that every time he lands it propels him higher, or allows him to kick more fiercely or tap his feet faster. This month, the BAM audience has had two chances to see this phenomenal dancer. He was the backup dancer in BAM’s Youssou NDOUR concerts last weekend; this weekend, he takes center stage in DanceAfrica 2016

Sonko is the choreographer and lead dancer of Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine “WAATO SiiTA,” one of the two African companies in the 2016 DanceAfrica, which focuses on Senegal. WAATO SiiTA contrasts with the other Dakar-based company, Compagnie Tenane, a modern dance troupe. While core members of Tenane—the four Gomis sisters—studied with this year’s special guest: Germaine Acogny, often called “the mother of contemporary African dance,” Sonko didn’t need to seek instruction outside his family. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let's Get Critical: Part III

Late last month, we launched Let's Get Critical—a three-part series highlighting film criticism generated as part of BAM Education's Young Film Critics program. After the jump, immerse yourself in our final installment, featuring writing on 1933's Zéro de conduite.

Photo: Photofest

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A New Experiment in the Next Wave: Brooklyn-Paris Exchange

This year’s Next Wave Festival marks the arrival of a new experiment. The Brooklyn-Paris Exchange is the creative brainchild of BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo and Théâtre de la Ville director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. The conceit is simple: four companies or artists, chosen by Melillo and Demarcy-Mota, make their respective Paris or Brooklyn debuts as part of the other institution’s season. Melillo’s selections—the explosive Zimbabwe-born choreographer Nora Chipaumire and innovative theater troupe The Civilians—embody the breadth of the borough’s current creative output. Demarcy-Mota’s selections are similarly expansive, bringing celebrated circus artist Yoann Bourgeois and the hip-hop-inflected movement of dance duo Wang Ramirez to Brooklyn for their Next Wave debuts.

The exchange was born organically out of conversations Melillo and Demarcy-Mota had when their globe-trotting itineraries aligned. Demarcy-Mota has been to BAM with Théâtre de la Ville for galvanizing productions of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author; Melillo travels frequently to Paris and has showcased many French productions throughout his three-decade tenure as BAM’s programmatic steward. Together they celebrate the many similarities between these two great cities, witnessing firsthand the creative energy and output emanating from both. And despite the great responsibility of their “day jobs,” both men are, at heart, artistic explorers, seeking out work that surprises and upends preconceptions of genre, content, and form. They are further connected by a shared belief in the importance of each institution’s smaller, more flexible spaces—the BAM Fisher here in Brooklyn, Théâtre de la Ville’s Théâtre des Abbesses (plus its other intimate venues throughout Paris)—as integral to an overall mission of cultivating and showcasing artistic innovation.

In the end, this new exchange is about trust. Melillo and Demarcy-Mota are, in essence, giving one another carte blanche to program a section of their corresponding artistic seasons, while also placing trust in the artists, and audiences, that the work will transcend cultural barriers.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In Context: DanceAfrica 2016

America’s largest festival of African dance returns to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House and beyond this weekend from May 27—30. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already attended an event, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below and by posting on social media using #DanceAfrica. Ago? Amée!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

DanceAfrica Visual Art: Omar Victor Diop's The Studio of Vanities

by Holly Shen

While DanceAfrica is anchored in the tradition of dance, the festival is also an opportunity to celebrate other vital components of African culture and diaspora, including visual art. In 2014, BAM Visual Art began an initiative to bring fine art into the DanceAfrica mix, inviting artists to create a new piece or exhibit work during the festival weekend. This year, BAM is thrilled to present a series of four recent photographs by Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop.

Aminata, 2013, from the Le Studio des Vanités series, 35.4 x 35.4 inches, pigment inkjet print
© Omar Victor Diop / Courtesy Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris.

Initially working in commercial photography and fashion, Diop established himself as a fine artist with his first major series, Project Diaspora, a collection of striking self-portraits that explore personal identity and collective narrative in African history Diop’s latest project, The Studio of Vanities, is an attempt “to portray a generation which endeavors to showcase the African urban universe and its blossoming art production and exchanges.” Four portraits from The Studio of Vanities series will be on view in the Dorothy Levitt Lobby of BAM's Peter Jay Sharp Building (30 Lafayette Avenue) during this year’s festival.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Let's Get Critical: Part II

Last week, we launched Let's Get Critical—a three-part series highlighting film criticism generated as part of BAM Education's Young Film Critics program. After the jump, immerse yourself in writing on 1973's American Graffiti and 2013's Fruitvale Station.

Photo: Photofest

Friday, May 6, 2016

Kamikaze '89

Kamikaze ’89 screens in a new 4K restoration at BAMcinématek from June 3—9.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Kamikaze '89. Photo courtesy Film Movement
By Nick Pinkerton

Kamikaze ’89 is a science-fiction whodunnit set in a near-future that sits awkwardly between utopia and dystopia. It was directed by Wolf Gremm, a gigging journeyman whose critical reputation at the time of its release was basically dismal. The film’s eyesore costumes and neon-wreathed production design suggest that it belongs to the same extended cinematic universe as Menahem Golan’s West German kitsch classic The Apple (1980). And playing the central role of burly, alcoholic police detective Lieutenant Jansen is one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

At a remarkably young age Fassbinder had digested the whole history of literary, theatrical, and cinematic modernism, but he preferred the jostle and stink of the street to a quiet ivory tower. He believed that while making tough, rigorous, complicated films, he could function as a popular artist, and to a remarkable degree his faith in himself and his public was rewarded. Nothing was beneath him. On New Year’s Eve, 1980, two days after the last episode of his opus Berlin Alexanderplatz had aired on German television, he appeared on Stars in der Manege, an ersatz Deutsch Circus of the Stars, doing a stage magic act in which he passed a levitating Hanna Schygulla through a metal ring to the strains of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity.” Portraying a kind of cyberpunk Sam Spade was all in a day’s work.

In Context: The Judas Kiss

Celebrated film and stage actor Rupert Everett captures the brilliant gay aesthete Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s 1998 play The Judas Kiss, directed by Neil Armfield and coming to BAM May 11—Jun 12. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, sounds and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #TheJudasKiss.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

DanceAfrica: Opening Doors

DanceAfrica master class. Photo: Whitney Browne
By Susan Yung

Since its founding in 1977, DanceAfrica has continually been about the rich and variegated tradition of African dance, and also the rites and heritage passed down through generations. In that respect, this year’s festival (running May 25—30) will be a continuation, focusing on dance and culture from the country of Senegal. It will, however, for the first time be under the sole artistic direction of Abdel R. Salaam, who succeeds festival founder Baba Chuck Davis (who will make a guest appearance).

Salaam founded his New York-based company, Forces of Nature, in 1981. The company has since been a vital presence on the dance scene, sharing Salaam’s unique, impressively dramatic vision. The repertory often concerns our relationship with the planet, the environment, or our fellow creatures. Salaam—whose troupe has been a frequent presence in DanceAfrica— brings his years of creating narrative through-lines and thought-provoking allegory to DanceAfrica. This year’s thematic subtitle is Senegal: Doors of Ancient Futures.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Turning Points: The Judas Kiss and Wildean Imprisonment

By John Cooper

The Judas Kiss, coming to the BAM Harvey Theater May 11—Jun 12, marks a historic return to BAM of the Irish poet, dramatist, and wit Oscar Wilde. This is not, of course, a return of Wilde the playwright, whose works have been staged several times at BAM over the years. It is a return in the sense of the reappearance of Wilde on stage.

No one has appeared as Oscar Wilde at BAM since Wilde himself spoke 134 years ago on a nationwide lecture tour. It is a fitting parallel because Wilde was actually playing a part—masquerading as the poster boy for Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, a comic opera poking fun at the aesthetic movement.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Labor of Love: 100 Years of Movie Dates

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, courtesy Photofest

By Mal Ahern and Moira Weigel

There are plenty of movies about dating. And a trip to the movies is a classic first date. Yet when a romantic prospect asks us if we want to “Netflix and chill,” he or she rarely suggests that we watch something about romance. It would be far too awkward or intimate to see, right there on the screen in front of us, all the hopes and anxieties our culture has about love and sex as we try to negotiate what we want IRL. It is easier to binge-watch gritty dramas about Men Who Cannot Love while we silently calculate whether our date is going to make a move. Or should we? How, and when?

Romantic comedies are better for starting a conversation than for setting a mood. Many are structured like philosophical dialogues. They introduce a proposition—“Men and Women Can't Be Friends”—then show how a couple tests it. We decide which characters, pick-up lines, or grand romantic gestures to damn or praise—and in the process we figure out what we value in a romance.