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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

2018 Next Wave Preview—Stories = Life

The Good Swimmer. Photo: James Matthew Daniel
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” —Joan Didion, The White Album

One of the hallmarks of the Next Wave Festival, now in its 35th year, is blurring lines between traditional arts. And the shows comprising the 2018 Next Wave (Oct 3—Dec 23) test the elasticity of genre definitions more than ever, in the final Next Wave Festival curated by outgoing executive producer Joseph V. Melillo. The 27 events, while each unique, all tell a story or reflect some aspect of being human in the world today, sometimes through an ancient filter, and other times using modern technology (or both).

In Voyage of Time, filmmaker Terrence Malick’s ravishing visuals unfold on a huge scale while the Wordless Music Orchestra plays the inspiring, evocative classical score live. The viewer is immersed in Malick’s signature gorgeous visuals, and the sounds of our planet and its putative creation. Composer Ted Hearne, slam poet Saul Williams, and theater director Patricia McGregor in Place, refine the focus to Chicago and Brooklyn, and to concepts of territoriality and mapmaking with the help of six singers and 18 musicians. The Sai Anantam Ashram Singers will lead the audience on a journey of the spirit, performing the ashram music of the late Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, the jazz musician, spiritual leader, and wife of John Coltrane.

Humans. Photo: Pedro Greig
In the music work Almadraba, Oscar Peñas takes inspiration from a traditional Spanish sustainable fishing method. Douglas J. Cuomo’s Savage Winter (American Opera Projects/Pittsburgh Opera) revisits Wilhelm Müller’s poetry cycle Winterreise through the eyes of a contemporary junkie. His attempt at redemption is told through a jazz/punk score. Heidi Rodewald’s paean to a brother lost in Vietnam is conveyed by a lifeguard in The Good Swimmer, with resounding rock songs (libretto by Donna DiNovelli) including the vocals of the Chicago Children’s Choir. And on a more whimsical note, ETHEL focuses on the now-defunct Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey enterprise in Circus: Wandering City, with the help of anecdotes from performers who lived every kid’s dream—to run away and join the circus.

The Greek classics have had a prominent place in the development of Western culture, and surface in several Next Wave productions. Steven Berkoff’s play Greek is the basis for a raucous opera adapted by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Jonathan Moore, with music by Turnage. Set in London in the 1980s, the protagonist is inexorably drawn into an Oedipal relationship with his mother, a waitress, despite its foretelling. Euripides’ The Bacchae is told anew in a SITI Company staging directed by Anne Bogart in which Dionysus (a woman) unleashes wrath on the royal family as tyranny looms.

London’s Cheek by Jowl and Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre perform Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, in which a nun redeems her virtue for her brother’s life. The company’s sleek, austere productions pare down plays to their essence and have gained countless devoted fans along the way. Marianne Weems directs the Builders Association in Strange Window: The Turn of the Screw, a modern, chilling take on the gothic novel that continues to haunt readers 120 years after publication. An ancient text—the Bhagavadgita—was tapped by Constance DeJong for the libretto of Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha (“dedication to the truth,” civil disobedience practiced by Gandhi), interpreted this fall by Sweden’s Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkör, a nouveau cirque troupe.

Kreatur. Photo Sebastian Bolesch
Circa, of Australia, also communicates through physical theater. In Humans, we as interdependent bodies become the subject matter and the vehicle. Circa’s performers test the body’s absolute limits in a dazzling display of bravura. Andrew Schneider offers glimpses of the neurological and perceptual impulses that power our minds and bodies in NERVOUS / SYSTEM, with the aid of technology and phenomenal visuals. In Interpassivities, filmmaker/artist Jesper Just plays with migration, territory, and mapmaking on a large scale, integrating ballet movement and set elements with Kim Gordon’s sound.

Socio-political issues hover close to our collective consciousness, and a few Next Wave shows deal with some in depth. In Jack &, Kaneza Schaal collaborates with Cornell Alston, who was incarcerated for 33 years. With the help of Alston’s personal experiences, they take a look at life-shaping issues of imprisonment, rehab, and debts owed and repaid. In Falling Out, visionary theater/puppet/music-makers Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko focus on environmental destruction through the lens of the Fukushima nuclear spill and its devastating consequences, with collaborator Dai Matsuoka of Sankai Juku. Lars Jan directs Early Morning Opera’s interpretation of Joan Didion’s The White Album, a time capsule essay packed with characters who embodied the tension simmering, and sometimes bubbling over in the volatile period between 1965—70.

Living in close proximity to others offers endless challenges and rewards, and dance in the Next Wave becomes a way to explore our place in society. In Kreatur, German choreographer Sasha Waltz, collaborating with innovative costume designer Iris van Herpen, offers a glimpse at an alien world where beings are swathed in metallic clouds and scored plastic sheaths, both attracting and repelling one another. Choreographer Kimberly Bartosik brings it close to home in I hunger for you, drawing on her examination of radical collective practices, ecstasy, ritual, and desire. And in Halfway to Dawn, choreographer David Roussève pulls back the curtain on Billy Strayhorn—not only a legendary composer/piano player, but a gay political activist whose enthralling music accompanies the work.

Three choreographic legends visit the Next Wave. A trio of Trisha Brown’s circa 1970 works based on suspension and banal movement are performed by her company. Mark Morris’ dazzling version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, The Hard Nut, returns in December, resplendent with Charles Burns’ comic-inspired sets and plenty of sparkle, snow, and sass. In honor of Jerome Robbins’ centennial, his visual/kinetic ode to a place and moment in time, Watermill, is rethought in the Fisher by choreographer Luca Veggetti.

Did percussion or dance come first? The debate is endless, but clearly both are integral to the Next Wave dance works of Seán Curran and Michelle Dorrance. In Everywhere All the Time, Curran presents two repertory dances and a premiere, driven by the rhythms of Third Coast Percussion. In her BAM debut, tap revolutionary Dorrance premieres a piece showcasing her singular skill in using bodies to create and shape beats and space, in the process binding a community of performers miraculously tuned in to one another.

An array of humanities events provides context and insight into the Next Wave. The Speaking Truth to Power series, co-presented with the Onassis Cultural Center, spotlights issues of resistance (fear and governance, the silencing of women’s voices, and more) through talks and film screenings. BAM Visual Art gathers a group of artists who evaluate the history of material culture in their work in Towards a New Archaeology, and in the Fisher Lower Lobby, time and movement based work is considered. To kick off the Next Wave in a proper fashion, on Sep 26 an Unbound talk will mark the publication of BAM: The Next Wave Festival, a lavishly illustrated book that looks at the first 35 years of the festival. It will be an opportunity to hear Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo discuss his invaluable role at BAM in his final season. Visit for full festival information.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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