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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rigorous Rhythm: Kaoru Watanabe on Taiko

Kaoru Watanabe, courtesy the artist's website.

Drawing on the images, sounds, and techniques of ancient Japanese ritual, taiko drum ensemble Kodo melds rigor with grace in Dadan, coming to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House March 1—4. Led by artistic director Tamasaburo Bando, Kabuki theater giant and a national treasure of Japan, the troupe showcases its legendary drumming alongside virtuosic dance and instrumental performance.

To get a better sense of this athletic musical tradition, we sat down with Kaoru Watanabe—founder of the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Crown Heights. In 1997, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, Kaoru moved to Japan and joined Kodo—touring across the globe with the ensemble and even serving as one of its artistic directors from 2005—2007. It was, in the artist's words, "a truly transformative experience."

A Moveable Hemingway

Photo: TM Rives
By Robert Jackson Wood

As inspiration for a dance work, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea might seem strange. For much of the book, a fisherman sits nearly motionless in his skiff, waiting—for a fish to bite, for a fish to tire, for a fish to surface, for sharks to eat the fish. There is occasional shifting, knot-tying, and harpooning, but it’s largely the fish that moves—an 18-foot marlin, hooked but tenacious, slowly pulling the boat out to sea.

The dance muse needn’t be bound to movement, though. For Havana-based Malpaso Dance Company—which based its forthcoming BAM commission, Dreaming of Lions, on the novel—there were the book’s cultural resonances to consider. Hemingway was American, for example, but wrote the book during an extended stay at Finca Vigia, his Cuban home. The story is itself something of a Cuban-American amalgam, mixing the experiences of a real-life Cuban fisherman with Hemingway’s own maritime exploits. Add in the book’s themes—perseverance, loneliness, destiny—and its attraction becomes clear.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Life of a Kodo Apprentice

Ajara, Kodo. Photo: Takashi Okamoto
There’s much to love about Kodo: the ritualistic precision, the subterranean sounds, the tensed, muscular bodies poised with impossible control. But beneath the surface of those displays lies an entire lifestyle devoted to a holistic folk ethos of which drumming is an integral part. Before a performer can officially join the group (which comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House March 1—4), they must be vetted through an intensive, two-year-long apprenticeship on Sado Island. As touched on in our interview with former Kodo member Kaoru Watanabe, the daily routine of an apprentice involves drumming, dancing, singing, tea ceremony, woodworking, growing rice, and more...

Unsafe and Unwelcome: The Impossible Life of a Refugee

In A Man of Good Hope, the Olivier Award-winning Isango Ensemble takes up Jonny Steinberg’s riveting book by the same name. Following a young Somali refugee who flees his country’s civil war only to find himself in a new violent reality in South Africa, the production offers clear-eyed portrait of resilience amid the challenges of displacement. Here, illustrator Nathan Gelgud explores Asad Abdullahi's journey across Africa and beyond.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Harvey's Road to BAM

Harvey Lichtenstein, 2nd from right, dancing with Bennington College Dance Group in 1953.
Photo: Lloyd Studio
Sixty-two years ago, Harvey Lichtenstein (1929—2017)—in his dancing debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—could not have guessed that he would eventually transform the institution into a modern paradigm for performing arts. In 1955, he was performing with modern dance group Mary Anthony and Company on a program of four works. His experience as a professional dancer was one of several threads of experience, in addition to working in marketing, fundraising, and arts administration, that he would draw upon in the years prior to 1967, when he took over at BAM.

Malpaso Dance Company Embraces Cultural Hybridity in Cuban Art

Malpaso Dance Company in Dreaming of Lions. Photo: TM Rives
By Carmela Muzio Dormani

Members of Malpaso Dance Company will perform its new piece Dreaming of Lions at the BAM Harvey Theater this March. Osnel Delgado Wamburg and Daileidys Carranza Gonzalez, formerly of Contemporánea de Cuba, the island nation’s largest contemporary dance company, founded Malpaso in December 2012. Within two years of its founding, the company began touring internationally, pursuing collaborations with Brooklyn-based choreographer Ronald K. Brown and Cuban-American musician Arturo O’Farrill, among others. Several years later the company continues to successfully share a creative vision grounded in plurality and collaboration.

Delgado’s choreography incorporates elements of Afro-Cuban rhythms and movements, Cuban ballet, and a strong tradition of modern dance movement. Malpaso’s blending of various styles and influences builds on a long history of cultural hybridity and reflects the nuances of life and art in Cuba today. Malpaso’s upcoming work with Brown—which references the Yoruba deity Eleguá—reflects the company’s ability to expand its reach internationally and its commitment to collaboration across physical and metaphoric boundaries.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Caryl Churchill—Beyond Boundaries

Escaped Alone, a new play by Caryl Churchill, comes to BAM February 15—26. Illustrator Nathan Gelgud explores Churchill's expansive career and body of work.

In Context: Escaped Alone

Playwright Caryl Churchill returns to BAM for the first time in 15 years with this by-turns hilarious and unsettling daydream directed by frequent collaborator James Macdonald. Context is everything, so get closer to the production through our series of curated links, videos, and articles. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #EscapedAlone.

In Context: A Man of Good Hope

South Africa’s Isango Ensemble delivers a riveting adaptation of a young Somali refugee’s story, driven by the company’s powerhouse vocals and signature marimba. Context is everything, so get closer to the production through our series of curated links, videos, and articles. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #AManofGoodHope.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Stephanie Blythe Sings Dido

Mark Morris Dance Group in Dido and Aeneas. Tim Rummelhoff
By David Hsieh

“Opulent” and “majestic” are words frequently mentioned when people hear mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe sing. Since winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1994, she has been at the peak of her trade on opera and concert stages. New York has been her artistic home base for 20-plus years. This March, she finally appears at BAM in an iconic role—Purcell’s Dido in Mark Morris’ Two Operas, which pairs Dido and Aeneas with Britten’s rarely performed Curlew River. Here she talks about the role, Morris, and other musical favorites.

David Hsieh: “Dido’s Lament” is the most famous aria in the opera. Is it also your favorite passage?

Stephanie Blythe: It is certainly one of them. It is probably the first aria that I ever heard. “Dido’s Lament” is used as the premiere example of “ground bass,” so it is part of every music history curriculum. The bass line is so evocative—it brings the performer and the audience along for the emotional ride, and it does so with so few notes. One of the things that makes it so special, and indeed the opera so special, is its economy. The story itself is very compact, and Purcell allows it to remain so—the arias and the ensembles are all distilled to their beautiful essence.