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Friday, October 24, 2014

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Zvi Sahar of Salt of the Earth

Zvi Sahar is an actor, director, and puppeteer living and working in Israel. He comes to the BAM Fisher Oct 28—Nov 1 with Salt of the Earth, a story told with puppetry and hand-painted miniature sets combined with live film-making, projected video, and a thousand pounds of salt. Sahar’s creative company, PuppetCinema, investigates the relationship between puppetry and live-action film-making.

Which artist do you admire from a field other than your own?
David Bowie, William Kentridge, Quay brothers.

Which artist do you steal from most often?
Ayah, my 3 year old daughter

Any advice you've gotten and ignored?
“Don’t touch that!”

What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Left an active career as an actor in Israel and came to NYC for three years to explore puppetry. Those were probably the most productive and interesting years I've spent as an artist in my career. Scary as hell, but worth it. The next biggest risk was moving back to Israel.

What food are you looking forward to eating while in Brooklyn?
Ribs at Fette Sau, and a lemon tart and coffee at Colson Patisserie in Park Slope.

What ritual or superstition do you have on performance days?
I used to have a few... Today, I have none and feel much more free. So I guess...having no ritual is my ritual.

What inspired you to create Salt of the Earth?
One day my wife, Daphna, came home with a small blue book and said: “You have to read this.” The book was The Road to Ein Harod and, in a way, I’ve been reading it for the last two years.

On Pina Bausch and Killer Heels

Kontakthof at BAM, 2014. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Pina Bausch's Kontakthof is at the Howard Gilman Opera House through Nov 2. We asked Brooklyn Museum's chief designer, who designed the exhibition Killer Heels, his thoughts about high heels and the legendary German tanztheater choreographer/director.

By Matthew Yokobosky

Christian Louboutin. Pumps, 2007. © The Metropolitan
Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
To see a performance by Pina Bausch is always a memorable experience. Even years later, they live on in your mind. You can even describe them to friends, which is unique among avant-garde theater works, because she used set and costume elements that can be easily identified: a waterfall, an enormous boulder, a mountain of carnations, long silk dresses, or high-heeled shoes, for example. It was Pina Bausch’s ability to give those familiar objects a twist of the unexpected that created those memories.  

Going to see a performance where women wear high heels is, of course, not unique. But, I remember sitting at BAM one fall watching her company dance in high heels and thinking about how interesting it was to watch what was essentially a modern dance work, and yet none of the performers were barefoot or wearing “dance shoes.” And it was not ballroom. The way each performer slipped the heels on and off over the course of hours kept blurring the zone between modern dance, ballroom, and in a sense ballet, since the high heels gave the performers an incredible feeling of lift, balance, and an exquisite body shape that can only be created by raising the heel of the foot. I felt that she had substituted the high heel shoe for the ballet shoe.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Sweet Memories of Angels in America

by Louie Fleck

Louie Fleck in the early 90s.
In 1993, I was making music in my little West Village home studio and producing multi-image slides for Fortune 500 companies. A good friend of mine told me I should not miss the most important play to ever hit Broadway: Angels In America by Tony Kushner. I went to see the first part: “Millenium Approaches,” and was blown away. I had never seen theater before that was this epic, moving and compelling. A close look at the program revealed that my friend, Scott Lehrer, was the sound designer. The next time I saw Scott, I begged him for an opportunity to assist on the second part, “Perestroika,” which was about to begin rehearsals. As fate would have it, Scott needed some help for a few weeks, so I was hired to work on my first Broadway show as assistant sound designer.

When it was actually time to begin, the show was terribly behind schedule on several different fronts. The script wasn’t finished, and it was timing out long, at about five hours! Instead of having me work at the Walter Kerr Theatre, where the show was installed, Scott sent me home to create some sound effects. I spent some time working with samples and synthesizers to create cues called for in the script as “musical thunder.” This was for the very first scene in “Perestroika,” right after the cliffhanger in “Millenium Approaches.” The angel has just descended from above and Prior Walter (Stephen Spinella) is fighting with what he thinks is a hallucination. The angel (Ellen McLaughlin) reacts by arguing back and throwing thunderbolts. Absolutely thrilling! I created more cues for a few days and presented them to Scott. He thought they were fine, but the next step was to see if the director, George C. Wolfe, would like any of my sound effects.

Pina Bausch's Kontakthof—Innocence Regained

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch performs Kontakthof from Oct 23 to Nov 2 in the Opera House. BAMcinématek will screen a documentary called Dancing Dreams on Oct 27, including a Q&A with one of Bausch's best-recognized dancers, Dominique Mercy. Writer Marina Harss will moderate the talk; here, she recounts some of the dance's storied background.

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Kontakthof. Photo: Laurent Phillippe

By Marina Harss

“When I see them, I see myself,” says the choreographer Pina Bausch with a note of wistfulness as she watches a group of teenagers rehearse in the film Dancing Dreams. The 2010 documentary, directed by Anne Linsel and Rainer Hoffman, chronicles the year-long process of teaching Bausch’s 1978 work Kontakthof to a group of 40 local kids between the ages of 14 and 18. Many of them admit to never having heard of Bausch until the audition. From the beginning, though, it’s clear that Bausch’s approach to art is, equally, an approach to life. “Dare,” coaxes Bénédicte Billet, one of two devoted dance captains charged with teaching the steps and the intentions behind them, “let yourself go.” “I don’t know if I can do it,” a girl responds, fear, embarrassment, and a slight resistance registering in her eyes and cheeks.

The setting of Kontakthof—which translates roughly as “contact zone”—is a dance hall, a large unencumbered space that at certain points becomes a battleground, at others a torture chamber, and at yet others a place of hope and attraction and nascent love. The music consists of sentimental German ballads and tinny tangos from the '20s and '30s. Men and women, dressed in party clothes, pair off, flirt, slow dance, mistreat one another. A girl is poked and jabbed until her eyes spill over with silent tears. Two women dance a sweet, carefree jitterbug in tandem. A couple undresses, with aching slowness, each staring at the other from across the room, giving full meaning to the expression “to undress with one’s eyes.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Source: An Interview with Director Daniel Fish

by Morgan Green

The first time I worked with Daniel Fish, I was an intern on his production at the now defunct Incubator Arts Space. The full title of the piece was: Tom Ryan Thinks He’s James Mason Starring in a Movie by Nicholas Ray in Which a Man’s Illness Provides an Escape From the Pain, Pressure and Loneliness of Trying to Be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further Into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary. At one point in this production every evening, actor Christina Rouner would turn to actor Thomas Jay Ryan and dump several gallons of milk over his head. It was my job each night to mop up this milk, scrape away the calcified residue from between the floorboards and repaint the stained portion of the set. I was the milk girl. The play was powerful, the concept strong, the cast excellent, and the mop pungent.

Ryan Hatch, Culturebot writer, aptly described Daniel’s work as “something actually, categorically new taking place... some unfamiliar idea about the theater.” This was true of Daniel’s work then and it is true now.

Daniel Fish is a rigorously inventive American auteur director at BAM for the first time this week with The Source (Oct 22—25). This piece uses the content leaked by Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning to WikiLeaks. It is a convergence of Ted Hearne’s music, Mark Doten’s libretto, Daniel’s direction, and video made with Jim Findlay. I had the chance to talk to Daniel earlier this year about the piece.

The Source. Photo: Ed Lefkowicz

In Context: Six Characters in Search of an Author

Six Characters in Search of an Author runs at BAM from October 29—November 2. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of original blog pieces, 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, October 21, 2014

The Source source material

Material for The Source (Oct 22—25, BAM Fisher) was drawn from primary source texts by librettist Mark Doten and set to music by composer Ted Hearne. Four singers housed in a visual and sonic installation bring the work to life with direction by Daniel Fish. The company inhabits a multimedia assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, court testimonies, and chat transcripts in a multimedia oratorio that investigates media hysteria, secrets, and identity amid digital chaos. Mark Doten provides context for excerpts from his libretto.

The most staggering aspect of the classified materials that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning leaked is their almost ungraspable scope. They include 483,000 army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and 251,000 diplomatic cables; these were released, along with video of a US airstrike in Baghdad, by WikiLeaks and its media partners in 2010.

The reporting at the time focused less on what the leaks revealed about America’s conduct of wars and diplomacy than on the personalities involved. While I believe that the content of the leaks is more important than any individual—including Manning—there are several players who were integral to the events; brief descriptions of them are below. 

In Context: Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth runs at BAM from October 28—31. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of original blog pieces, 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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

BASETRACK Live—Virtually Home

The Afghanistan war, started after 9/11, is one of the costliest and longest wars our country has seen. While there has been no lack of coverage, unfiltered reports from people directly affected by the war are harder to come by. That is why the photojournalist Teru Kuwayama’s Facebook project Basetrack created so many waves in 2010. It provided a platform not only for marines on the frontline, but also for their families and friends to connect and tell the world what they saw and felt. Those first-hand accounts are now a theater work, BASETRACK Live, created by Edward Bilous and directed by Seth Bockley (Harvey Theater, Nov 11—15). Using words and images culled from the Basetrack archive and interviews conducted by the creative team, this multi-media work features two actors, four musicians, and a cascade of images and videos, telling the firsthand stories of marines and their families. For producer Anne Hamburger, to get it on stages around the country is as much an artistic adventure as a civic engagement. She discusses the genesis and goals of BASETRACK Live.

What are the challenges in bringing this show to the stage?

Anne Hamburger: As BASETRACK Live is a truly collaborative, multi-media piece, it can’t exist as a script on paper. It’s only when the elements come together that you know how they relate. In performances at the University of Florida in Gainesville we experimented with script and structure with the whole creative team. In a second residency at ASU Gammage in Arizona we focused on integrating the technological elements, refining the video, music, and live performance in relationship to one another.

The central characters are AJ, a Marine, and his newlywed, Melissa. Their lines are taken from interviews with them. They face difficulties because of AJ’s war experience. Is their story representative of military couples? How are they coping with having their lives seen by thousands of strangers?

AH: Their experience is typical for young recruits returning home. Many people enlist when they are very young, and then go overseas for multiple deployments, placing real strain on their families. The war also changes people and coming home is a huge, often misunderstood adjustment. This is one of the issues that BASETRACK Live vividly portrays. AJ and Melissa—thrilled and grateful that their story is at the center of BASETRACK Live—attended our world premiere in Austin, and BAM.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Puppets on Film 2014: The Dark Crystal Legacy

Next Friday marks the opening of BAMcinématek’s fourth annual collaboration with the Jim Henson Foundation on the ever-popular Puppets on Film, and we’re kicking off the festivities with an epic Dark Crystal fan fest extravaganza showcasing some of the film’s collaborators (the celebrated conceptual designers Brian and Wendy Froud) and the work of a few very talented fans.

Earlier this year, and the Jim Henson Company held two contests celebrating the film’s legacy: the “Create a Dark Crystal Creature” Contest for puppet designers and “Author Quest” for fiction writers. The winners of both contests will present their work at the fan fest, and we spoke to both of them about the experience of creating their entries.

Create a Dark Crystal Creature winner Jeff Brown

When I first heard about the contest, I was very excited to try my hand at it. The first few weeks were just spent watching the movie at any chance possible, listening to the soundtrack every day on repeat, and reading all The Dark Crystal books ever written.  I began building the creature and his story in my head.  I didn't actually start working on the physical sculpture until a week before the deadline.