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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Oh, the Stories You'll See!

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in The Rite of Spring. Photo: Zerrin Aydin Herwegh
By Susan Yung

An abundance of the 31 events comprising the 35th Next Wave Festival tell stories. There will be renditions of historical tales, classics from the cultural canon, and intriguing personal narratives. A number are based on diaries and journals kept by protagonists or observers such as Walt Whitman and Samuel Pepys. A few recount seismic events of geopolitical import. Several cherished companies make return visits, and as always, new talents will be introduced. Here’s a brief overview of the 2017 Next Wave, curated by Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo.

Dear Diary

A recurring theme in the 2017 NWF is work based on journals, diaries, and personal recollections. Suzanne Bocanegra’s Farmhouse/Whorehouse: An Artist’s Lecture starring Lili Taylor draws on memories of visiting her grandparents’ farm in Texas across from the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel. Bill T. Jones refracts recent sociopolitical strife through notes to his ailing nephew in A Letter to My Nephew, with powerful movement and striking video and set designs. Mementos Mori, by Chicago troupe Manual Cinema, imaginatively summons musings on death and dying, with nothing more technical than vintage overhead projectors. Crossing, an opera by Matthew Aucoin, takes as a source profoundly moving diary entries written by Walt Whitman while he was a volunteer nurse in the Civil War.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph filters volatile contemporary issues through one of his childhood passions, soccer, in /peh-LO-tah/, with dance and spoken word. Road Trip is a literal and figurative musical walk down memory lane by Bang on a Can, which celebrates its 30th anniversary. The vaunted diaries of Samuel Pepys are robust material for Big Dance Theater’s 17c, directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, and performed by the polymathic company. Songsmith Gabriel Kahane recounts his cross-country sojourn in Book of Travelers through his indelible ballads and songs. And the irrepressible Geoff Sobelle, who wowed crowds with The Object Lesson in 2014, brings HOME, in which he and a team literally construct a dwelling and inhabit it, raising questions about what makes a house a home. Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch performs Café Müller, taking inspiration from Bausch’s childhood, some of which was spent in a cafe run by her parents.

Toneelgroep in The Fountainhead. Photo: Jan Verweysveld
Historical Nods

A second Pina Bausch piece comprises the company’s double bill—The Rite of Spring, a savage, hypnotic staging of Stravinsky’s riot-inducing score. Germaine Acogny, in Mon élue noire (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2, offers a completely different take on the Rite in a fierce solo choreographed by Olivier Dubois of Ballet du Nord. Additional shows that draw from history include My Lai, by Jonathan Berger, played by Kronos Quartet—a musical meditation on the civilian massacre in Vietnam by US forces. Man to Man, from Wales Millenium Centre, tells the harrowing tale of a woman who assumed the identity of her dead husband to survive in Weimar Germany. Tragic episodes in Cambodian history are drawn upon in Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia, such as the fall of Phnom Penh and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, expressed in an orchestration by Him Sophy with filmed elements by Rithy Panh.

Like, Literally

A handful of productions adapt works of literature. Ivo van Hove directs Toneelgroep (Netherlands) in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, particularly germane in the current political climate. Albert Camus’ State of Siege, a 1948 treatise impugning totalitarianism written in the wake of Fascism, will be rendered by Théâtre de la Ville (France), directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. Sleep, by Haruki Murakami, is a short story about a woman whose life is ruled, and then transformed, by insomnia, interpreted by playwright Naomi Iizuka and directed by Rachel Dickstein. Shakespeare’s Richard III is ushered into the current fraught sociopolitical era by Thomas Ostermeier/Schaubühne with its signature electricity. Zvi Sahar of Tel-Aviv takes stories by Etgar Keret as a foundation for Suddenly, performed by PuppetCinema, in which a writer must produce amid a world of distractions and dystopia.

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener in Tesseract. Photo: Mick Bello
Who Am I, Where Am I?

Dancemaker Cynthia Oliver delves into concepts of gender and racial boundaries in Virago-Man Dem, with a riveting cast of four. Aroundtown, by choreographer David Dorfman, asks what it means to love through joyous kineticism and self-expression. The London-based choreographer Hofesh Shechter brings Grand Finale, with his sui generis style of unfettered, explosive movement, plus an original score, also by him. Rock legend John Cale celebrates the 50th anniversary of the album The Velvet Underground & Nico, as well as his 75th birthday, in two different programs. Thaddeus Phillips employs the pop-up book to share his entrancing vision in A Billion Nights on Earth, a kind of bedtime story for grown-ups. With cabaret-style trappings and insouciance, Olivier Py Sings Les Premiers Adieux de Miss Knife, an intimate evening of French avant-cabaret featuring a special New York guest star each night.

Next Wave newcomer MOVETHECOMPANY performs Saudade, a Portuguese term for a nostalgic yearning, in Joshua Beamish’s distinctive muscular, balletic choreography. Xavier Cha’s Buffer, co-presented with Performa, channels in movement and words the surreal flow and disconnect of digital life. Returning favorite James Thierrée and his Compagnie du Hanneton perform La grenouille avait raison (The Toad Knew) in his inimitable aggregation of physical theater, acrobatics, and illusion.

C’mon, Work with Me Here

The Next Wave’s middle name could be collaboration, and while most of the 2017 festival’s shows require this essential ingredient, some are particularly noteworthy. Merce Cunningham alumni Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener join formidable artistic forces with legendary video artist Charles Atlas on Tesseract, playing with theatrical proportions and live versus mediated dance imagery. Writer/illustrator Maira Kalman (who performs) and choreographer John Heginbotham share wry observations from 10 shared walks in The Principles of Uncertainty. boulders and bones, choreographed by Brenda Way and KT Nelson for ODC/Dance, is lent visual resonance by artist Andy Goldsworthy’s fantastic earth art, and aural cues from cellist Zoë Keating’s live score.

No matter what your personal theatrical preferences are, the 35th Next Wave has something to offer. See your favorite returning artists and take a chance on some new ones. They all have stories to share.

The 2017 Next Wave Festival runs from Sep 14—Dec 16.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.

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