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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Shape to an Explosion: Sasha Waltz with Edgard Varèse

Continu. Photo courtesy of Alastair Muir
By Robert Wood

Sasha Waltz has a penchant for the spectacularly unnerving. In Gezeitenat BAM in 2010, dancers navigated a flame-licked bunker at the end of the world. The tectonic earth tore itself apart underfoot, threatening to swallow the dancers whole.

In Körper, at BAM in 2007, concrete walls towered as in some dystopian underground airlock. Human beings became strange inertial things, writhing in naked piles, pressed against glass.

In her latest work at BAM, Continu—playing the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House December 4 and 5—the world is no calmer. A volatile hymn to the creative-destructive potentials of desire, it begins by “giv[ing] shape to an explosion,” in Waltz's words, an “original violence” that might be interpret as one and the same with conception itself.

And yet in place of the end-times pyrotechnics of Gezeiten and the concrete dystopia of Körper is something perhaps more unnerving: nothing at all, accompanied by the music of Edgard Varèse (among others).

Friday, November 20, 2015

BAM Virtual Reality: our first 360° video

By Ben Cohen

Today BAM launched its first-ever virtual reality video. Not all guinea pigs can climb a rope and hang upside down while doing splits, so we’re feeling pretty lucky that members of the Australian cirque troupe Circa let us aim our virtual reality camera at them during their run at BAM earlier this month.

Press play to be transported to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House stage, and experience what it’s like to warm up with these incredible acrobats.

We have been experimenting with a new 360-degree camera rig for several months and when we shot this video a few weeks ago, there wasn’t yet a good way to share this kind of immersive content with our audience. That changed nearly overnight when YouTube launched support for Google Cardboard and VR headsets. Facebook added native 360-degree video support a few days later. We don't have to keep this experiment to ourselves any longer!

(scroll to the end of this post for viewing instructions)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Steel Hammer—So Many John Henrys

Photo: Michael Brosilow
By Robert Wood

It’s been said that you can never sing a folk song twice. Folk songs are living organisms, the argument goes, not reproducible objects, existing to perpetually renew the contract between universal myths and the gritty particulars of our lives. Sometimes, because songs migrate and the oral tradition gets creative, those particulars work their way into the songs themselves and variations proliferate. A Scottish glen becomes a Virginia holler, a silver dagger becomes a pen knife, rosy-red lips become lily-white hands. The details change so that the myths don’t have to.

Such is the case with the “The Ballad of John Henry,” whose 200+ documented versions form the basis of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe’s work Steel Hammer and its theatrical adaptation, which comes to BAM in December. The story of John Henry is a familiar one: a spike-driving railroad worker of Bunyonesque strength beats a steam drill in a contest to bore through a mountain, only to “die with his hammer in his hands.” That folk music historian Alan Lomax called the legend “possibly America’s greatest piece of folklore” is no wonder: the mythos of the railroad, man vs. machine anxiety, bootstraps individualism—the muscular American imaginary is there in its entirety.

But the details are predictably fuzzy. Was John Henry 5’1” or 6’1”? Was his wife Polly Ann or Sally Ann? Did his hammer shine like silver or gold?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

U-Theatre: Dancing Percussionists, or Drumming Dancers?

Photo: Lin Shengfa
By David Hsieh

Are the members of U-Theatre of Taiwan dancers who play percussion? Or drummers with fancy footwork? Or martial artists who also have modern dance rhythms in their bodies? Or full-body-movement musicians? Maybe the answer is all of the above. No matter what you call them, they are amazing. Their shows, which combine all the above elements, plus a modern theatrical flavor, have wowed BAM audiences starting with Sound of the Ocean (Next Wave, 2003). But this kind of integration of dance, music, and martial arts requires rigorous training. The company is known throughout Asia for living in semi-seclusion from the metropolitan Taipei area, and taking on marathon walking treks (sometimes lasting for days) as part of their training. Yang Meng-ju, one of the newest company members who makes his debut appearance at BAM on Nov 19 in Beyond Time, talks about his experience.

Friday, November 13, 2015

In Context: Real Enemies

Real Enemies, from Darcy James Argue, Isaac Butler, and Peter Nigrini, comes to BAM on November 18. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles and videos related to the show. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #RealEnemies.

Intersecting Landscapes: An Interview with Performa's RoseLee Goldberg

More up a Tree—opening at the BAM Fisher next Thursday, November 19—is BAM's third co-presentation with Performa. We spoke with Performa's Founding Director and Curator RoseLee Goldberg to get the inside scoop on the origins of BAM and Performa's relationship, the future of performance art, and more.

More up a Tree in action. Photo: Monia Lippi

How did the BAM + Performa collaboration begin?

RoseLee Goldberg: Joe Melillo and I go back a long way, in fact to the early Next Wave Festival, in 1985. The programming that he and then president and executive producer of BAM, Harvey Lichtenstein, put together came directly out of the downtown scene and included many artists with whom I had been working at The Kitchen—Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, and many more. Joe and I have maintained a close conversation throughout the years; he was one of the first people with whom I shared my earliest ideas about Performa 10 years ago. Let’s say we’ve been collaborators in spirit all along. 

RoseLee Goldberg. Photo: Patrick McMullan
Joe immediately said yes when I proposed a beautiful evening-length work by British artist Isaac Julien, Cast No Shadow, a Performa Commission featuring the work of choreographer Russell Maliphant which we co-produced with Sadler’s Wells in London and presented at BAM for Performa 07. Alexander Singh’s visually stunning and complicated play-musical-comedy, The Humans, another Performa Commission for Performa 13, was one of the first productions in BAM’s new Fisher space, and we’re onto our third project together, More up a Tree, Claudia de Serpa Soares, Eve Sussman, and Jim White’s collaboration. I can’t wait to see what we do next! 

Joe and I both have a high tolerance for risk, and total trust in the artists with whom we work, as well as a profound understanding of the details of producing. He has so much more experience than all of us, and I would ask him a million questions if only he had the time to answer them. Above all, it’s thrilling and very moving to have another person with whom one can share every aspect of what it means to place vital ideas in the middle of a community, and to bring people together through the arts to become more sensitive, more deeply caring human beings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

In Context: More up a Tree

Drummer Jim White, dancer Claudia de Serpa Soares, and artist Eve Sussman’s More up a Tree comes to BAM on November 19–21. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles and videos related to the show. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #MoreupaTree.

In Context: Beyond Time

U-Theatre’s Beyond Time comes to BAM on November 19. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of articles and videos related to the show. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #UTheatre.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Elvis Will Be in the Building

Elvis Costello comes to BAM on Nov 10 to discuss his new memoir, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. Sandy Sawotka, our Director of Publicity and a self-proclaimed Elvis fan-girl, reflects on how the musician has impacted her life.

A fan is born.

1978: Elvis Costello’s first album, My Aim is True, is released—a musical eureka moment. Filled with anger, frustration, clever lyrics, great melodies, killer bridges*, and punchy, stripped down arrangements, it spoke to me and my friends in a profound and exciting way. We read about him in Trouser Press magazine and bought nose-bleed tickets for his show at the (former) Palladium on E. 14th St. Elvis played for maybe 30 minutes that night and stormed off the stage, we guessed ‘in character,’ and it really didn’t matter. I was hooked.  

Over the course of many tours and many albums, I moved through Elvis’ prolific musical explorations with him. He immersed himself in musical history and mined every style for inspiration—R&B, country, classical, folk, art song, the American Songbook—and I grew along with him. He wrote/performed with Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Aimee Mann, Anne Sofie Von Otter, the Roots, and many other great musicians, creating music that perfectly melded their respective talents. And the best part is, he’s still doing that and I’m still eager to hear every new record. That’s a rare pop music relationship.

Monday, November 9, 2015

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Lindsey Turteltaub of Real Enemies

When Real Enemies comes to the BAM Harvey Theater November 18—22, audiences will be dazzled by hundreds of pieces of found video footage by film designer Peter Nigrini perfectly synced to an original jazz score by Grammy-nominated Darcy James Argue and his 18-piece Secret Society. The remarkable part? Each cue is called live, and there's no click track. Below, stage manager Lindsey Turteltaub explains more.

A technical rehearsal for Real Enemies. Photo: Lindsey Turteltaub