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Friday, December 30, 2011

2011's Most Memorable Movie Moments

Between the daily screenings of our repertory program BAMcinématek and our new releases, BAM plays roughly 350 movies a year. 2011 was a jam-packed year that included in-person appearances by Catherine Deneuve, Benicio del Toro, John C. Reilly, John Turturro, Noah Baumbach, Peter Bogdanovich, John Landis, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Auster, Harry Shearer, Elmo, Barbara Kopple, Robert Downey, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, super furry animals, burlesque dancers, former Attica prisoners, Muppet puppeteers, and Susan Sarandon.

Now that 2011 is eating our dust, I've asked members of the BAMcinématek team to send me some of their favorite BAM film moments of the year.

How about you, intrepid BAM filmgoer? What were your favorite BAM film moments of 2011 and why? We'd love to know!

Florence Almozini, Programming Director

Le rayon vert/Summer / Eric Rohmer

Drive / Nicolas Winding Refn

Mysteries of Lisbon / Raul Ruiz

Repulsion / Roman Polanski

Body Double / Brian de Palma

Sometimes a Great Notion / Paul Newman

The Elephant Man / David Lynch

Some Came Running / Vincente Minnelli

Young Girls of Rochefort / Jacques Demy

Gentlemen Prefer Blonds / Howard Hawks

Brigadoon / Vincente Minnelli

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 2011 BAMblog Awards

Every year, BAM is lucky to play host to world-class artists on its stages, artists whose inspired performances deservedly garner the lion's share of critical and popular attention. But for every dramatic turn by a Cate Blanchett or Kevin Spacey, there's a breathtaking performance by an unsung player that gets forgotten amidst all the praise for the marquee names. In what follows, we slice the critical pie a slightly different way in order to honor the subtler moments and supporting voices that helped to make 2011 a great year on the BAM stage.

Best performance by a pine tree branch

Best performance by a wad of tape
Gaffer tape balls in I don't believe in outer space
Runner up: wadded-up chartreuse tape in Canyon

Best performance by a self-propelling box

Best performance involving writhing around in fake poop
Cries and Whispers

Best solo performance on a radiator
Kronos Quartet violinist David Harrington in Awakening

Most convincing ping pong match without a ball
I don't believe in outer space

Best Brooklyn cityscape painted live from scratch
Danijel Zezelj's in Brooklyn Babylon

Most inventive use of a brassiere
John Malkovich in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a serial killer

Best smoldering intensity and yearning heart
The musicians in Tudo Isto É Fado

Best performance by a banana in a supporting role
Banana #1 in Krapp's Last Tape

Most resourceful inanimate objects
The puppets in 69°S

Best performance by a captain of a P-Funk Mothership 

George Clinton at the BAM R&B Festival at Metrotech

Best acapella performance by descendants of Haitian sugar plantation workers
Creole Choir of Cuba, performing during ¡Sí Cuba!

Best performance by 20,000 gallons of water
The orchestra pit in The Nightingale and Other Short Fables

Best performance by a self-aware exoskeleton
Marcel the Shell at BAMkids Film Festival

Best live and filmed performances by burlesque dancers 
Dirty Martini, Mimi Le Meaux, Kitten on the Keys, and Julie Atlas Muz, performing in the BAMcinemaFest feature Tournée and afterwards in BAMcafé

Best Shakespeare crossdressing
Theater troupe Propeller in The Comedy of Errors

Most competent eye-gouging

King Lear

Most hypnotic use of hips and a maypole
Ballet Folklorico Cutumba

A heartfelt congratulations to all of the winners!

BAM’s Prehistory, Part 2: Brooklyn BIAS

Between 1825 (the year the Apprentices Library was founded) and 1861 (the year the Brooklyn Academy of Music was founded) Brooklyn’s population jumped from 15,000 to 267,000, making it the third largest US city (after Philadelphia and New York City). As industry grew throughout Brooklyn, so did the demand for cultural institutions to serve its population. Until BAM was founded, the concert- and theatergoing public of Brooklyn had to take the ferry into New York City’s theater district, then centered in the area of lower Manhattan around City Hall. Between 1825 and 1861 there was a proliferation of ever-expanding cultural institutions, out of which the Brooklyn Academy of Music arose.

In the early 1840s, as Augustus Graham renewed the charter for the Apprentices Library, it merged with another local institution, the Brooklyn Lyceum. Founded in 1833, the Brooklyn Lyceum was located among the homes of Brooklyn’s wealthiest residents, at Washington and Concord streets. Catering to the business class, the Lyceum sought to “stimulate intelligent discussion of science and the arts.” The Apprentices Library moved into the Lyceum’s Washington Street location, and for a short time the two institutions offered their separate programming designed, on the whole, for separate classes of citizens. In 1843 the Apprentices Library changed its name to the Brooklyn Institute, and the Lyceum donated its library to the Institute. This combined library, renamed the Youths’ Free Library, became one component among many other cultural resources the Brooklyn Institute offered, which included lectures on arts and sciences, concerts, art and natural history exhibitions, and nighttime classes for women.

After a decline lasting several decades, the Brooklyn Institute was revitalized in 1890 and renamed the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (BIAS). By the mid 1890s, after its own building burned down, BIAS was using the Academy of Music halls for its programs, and the activities of the two institutions became increasingly intertwined—so much so that BIAS bought BAM outright in 1936 to save it from financial ruin. Also during the closing decades of the 19th century, BIAS established a museum of art and science (the Brooklyn Museum), the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children's Museum.

Here is an only slightly confusing graphic charting the relationships between Brooklyn's cultural institutions in the 19th century:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Legacy Tour Vlog

Merce Cunningham Dance Company made its final appearances at BAM in December in The Legacy Tour. The depth and variety of the three programs showed why he is revered as one of the all-time greats, and the impending finality made the incomparable company's performances all the more precious.

Here, we share some highlights from the run. May they tide you over for the week if you're lucky enough to have tickets to one of the very final Events at the Park Avenue Armory Dec 29—31, and if not, take a few moments to revel in these sublime performances and rerun them ad infinitum.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Harvey Oral History: Harvey Courts Pina

1984 BAM Promotional Brochure

Listen to Harvey Lichtenstein talk about getting to know Pina Bausch:

“So I went over to see her in Wuppertal. She didn’t acknowledge me. I mean, it took about two or three trips before she finally said, 'Okay, you join the family.'”

HarveyOralBlog 014 HarveyCourtsPina-1 by slehner

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Week in BAM History: The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud

The week before Christmas in 1969, BAM was feeling adventurous. Earlier in the year its president, Harvey Lichtenstein, caught Robert Wilson’s The King of Spain at the Anderson Theater on the Lower East Side, and he felt conflicted by it. But he also felt compelled—enough to give the 28-year-old Wilson and his Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds the entire opera house for what was billed as a “three act dance-theater play,” The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud. It was the first of (thus far) 21 productions Wilson has staged at BAM.

Wilson has said that Freud is “not a historical but a poetic presentation of his life.” The setting of each of Freud’s three acts meant to suggest the progression of his life: a sunny beach (Freud’s childhood) gave way to a grey Victorian sitting room (Freud’s middle years), which in turn gave way to a dark cave (Freud’s final years).  Avant-garde director Richard Foreman, in a nod of approval, wrote in the Village Voice that “Wilson has created one of the major stage works of the decade, based on an aesthetic quite different from … most of the current work of the theatrical avant-garde.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pina & Merce—Critical Pixie Spirits

Pina, courtesy of IFC Films
Pina, Wim Wenders' 3-D tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch (1940—2009), opens December 23 at BAM Rose Cinemas—a most fitting theater, since BAM was the sole New York venue for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's many enthralling live performances. The company appeared at BAM a dozen times starting in 1984, and most recently in 2010 with Vollmond, featured prominently in the film.

There are countless reasons to see it, foremost among them that it's by the remarkable German filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose films include Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire, and Buena Vista Social Club. A primer on Bausch's ravishing brand of tanztheater, Pina also provides fascinating insight into the minds of current and past company members. And unless you've danced with Tanztheater Wuppertal, you've never been more immersed in the onstage (and outdoor) action, plunged into a world of intoxicating color, depth, and emotion.

The film also brings to a drawn-out close a particularly poignant period at BAM, in a December which also saw the final mainstage New York performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Cunningham and Bausch passed away within the span of a month in 2009, and the dance world spun off its axis for many moons after that. In a sense, it's still off-kilter. BAM happened to be a nexus for both Merce and Pina, and their deaths shadowed that bright, hot summer with a profound sadness.

As for this month... We saw Merce's modern invention one last time, and gave the company's singular dancers a proper send-off before they disband in January. And although Pina's company continues to operate and tour, Wenders' Pina is a huge parting bouquet to Bausch. She spent so much time in the Howard Gilman Opera House—conducting rehearsals, chain smoking (years ago), giving notes in her shy but magnetic voice. It's tempting to imagine that during MCDC's run, her spirit lingered in the opera house—the tech table, the flyspace, the apron that her dancers so often crossed—alongside that of Merce, who, too, logged some serious hours in that theater. I picture them huddled together, critical pixies, wafting from Opera House to cinema to watch over their respective companies, exchanging notes and giggles.

(See Evan's staff pick here).

Monday, December 19, 2011

BAM Holiday Reading List

Reading with the family and pets is always encouraged.

Here we are as in olden days: knee deep in yule, decked halls, and viscous egg-based drinks that both terrify and delight. Debit cards have worn thin, as has patience for that drummer boy song, and nothing sounds more appealing than settling down on the couch for a long winter’s read. Here’s a list of 13 books, all related to recently past or upcoming BAM events or performances, recommended for fireside reading this holiday season.

Richard III  |  By William Shakespeare
Recommended reading for: Richard III (2012 Winter/Spring)

Granted, you probably won’t be able to get much out of this one if you read it while little Timmy is lobbing digital grenades in Call of Duty 3. But steal away at some point for some quiet time with Richard, Gloucester, and the rest of them so that, come the BAM production beginning in January, you spend less time trying to figure out whose winter is discontented and more time soaking up the fabulous Kevin Spacey.

Luna Park  |  By Kevin Baker. Illustrations by Danijel Zezelj
Recommended reading for: Brooklyn Babylon (2011 Next Wave)

If you caught Brooklyn Babylon last fall, you were treated to a beautiful tale, animated by Danijel Zezelj and accompanied by Darcy James Argue’s big band, about an elderly carousel builder tackling one final assignment in a future Brooklyn.Without ruining the story, let’s just say that the carousel ended up at its rightful if unintended place: on the beach at Coney Island. As it turns out, Zezelj’s gritty graphic novel Luna Park takes place there, too, and it’s a great way to get to know his other work if Brooklyn Babylon left you wanting more.

Incest and Agency in Elisabeth’s England  |  By Maureen Quilligan
Recommended reading for: 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (2012 Winter/Spring)
Ok, admittedly we haven’t read this one. But it sounds positively juicy, and might just be the perfect thing to read before seeing John Ford’s controversial ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, coming to BAM this March. According to the book, the play’s Annabella wasn’t the only sister in early modern England jonesing for her brother.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare  |  By Stephen Greenblatt
Recommended reading for: Being Shakespeare (2012 Winter/Spring)

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re fans of the Bard’s work around here. And if proof were ever found that someone else actually authored them (as the recent film Anonymous claims), we’d probably just blink a few times and get to staging the next one. For the time being, though, we’re going to assume that Shakespeare was indeed Shakespeare, as does Stephen Greenblatt in his rich book. Read it to lay the foundation for Shakespeare biographer Jonathan Bate's Being Shakespeare, coming to BAM in April.     

Being an Actor  |  By Simon Callow
Recommended reading for: Being Shakespeare (2012 Winter/Spring)
It’s only fitting that the star of the upcoming one-man play Being Shakespeare is also the author of a book entitled Being an Actor. For the play, Callow plays a man who plays other men—Macbeth and Henry IV to name a few—while occasionally playing the man behind those men: Shakespeare himself. You see, then, why it’s good that he’s written the book on the subject. As for the book itself, it was apparently written in a three-week fit of inspiration, none too fast to garner Ian McKellen’s approval, who said that it was “the most honest book ever written about us all.”

The Artwork of the Future  |  By Richard Wagner
Recommended reading for: Götterdämmerung (The Met: Live in HD)
Germany, 1849:
revolutionary sentiment dripped from every pen, and none more so than Richard Wagner’s. Marx had finished his Communist Manifesto a year earlier, and Wagner—in exile because of his own participation in the revolutions—was busy on this breathless paean to the “complete artwork” and its place among the German folk. If said folk's revolution ultimately fizzled, the musical revolution flourished, resulting in works like the mighty Gotterdammerung, the final opera in the Ring cycle. Read Wagner’s manifesto while listening to Siegfried’s funeral music, and you might begin to feel as though you can raze Valhalla yourself.

Images of America: Fort Greene  |  By Howard Pitsch
Recommended reading for: everything BAM!
Let's face it: it’s a big deal when burgers at Five Guys replace the mattresses at Sleepy’s or Blue Bottle coffee moves in to rewrite the rules on proper blood-to-caffeine ratios. BAM’s soon-to-open Richard B. Fisher building will be another exciting neighborhood addition, and all of this change has us wondering about Fort Greene’s days of yore. For the comprehensive scoop, read Fort Greene native Howard Pitsch’s engrossing history, where you can learn who General Fowler was (currently playing host to pigeons in the park across from the Smoke Joint), see pictures of BAM’s Lepercq space when it was grand a ballroom, and so much more.

The Weimar Republic Sourcebook  |  Edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg
Recommended reading for: The Threepenny Opera (2011 Next Wave)
In the eye of the great mustachioed hurricane that was Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler, German culture flourished. But so did an egregiously speculative kind of bourgeois capitalism. Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera was both a product and critique of that conflicted society (and not a bad work of musical theater, either). Read The Weimar Republic Sourcebook if your time with Macheath and Polly was too short-lived. Einstein, Rosa Luxemburg, Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, and others will pick up where they left off.

Recommended reading for: 2012 Tribute to MLK
On January 16, BAM will present the 26th installment of its Brooklyn tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., the borough's biggest celebration of the great civil rights leader. 44 years after his death, Dr. King's message of love and tolerance has lost none of its relevance, although the ways we conceive our racial identities certainly has. That's the point of writer Touré's book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, which considers how insufficient traditional identity politics can be in pinning down the nuances of black cultural allegiances. Read it with an eye towards the upcoming MLK celebration, where NYC school chancellor Dennis M. Walcott will speak and Toshi Reagon will perform

Open City  |  By Teju Cole
Recommended reading for: Eat, Drink & Be Literary
Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole is one of the authors coming this season to Eat, Drink & Be Literary, and we're extremely excited. His novel Open City recounts the lonely experiences of a Nigerian immigrant and psychiatrist in Manhattan, but it's also a book about walking and the bittersweet experience of seeking council with New York City from its sidewalks. Take to the streets with Julius, the main character, when your relatives have you pining for a more lyrical sense of dislocation, or you get homesick for a little vagabonding through the Upper West Side.

Mark Morris  |  By Joan Acocella
Recommended reading for: Mark Morris Dance Group (2012 Winter/Spring)

New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella wrote an early-career biography of choreographer Mark Morris long before Morris had his own dance center in Fort Greene. In other words, Morris was already an institution long before he had a building in his name. Part life story, part critical study, Acocella's book takes a nuanced, intelligent look at those early years while providing plenty for today's fan to chew on. Music, thematic elements, and technique are all broken down, giving readers a wealth of things to look for in future MMDG performances.

The House of Mirth  |  By Edith Wharton
Recommended reading for: The House of Mirth
Coming up in the Spring, BAMcinématek will be doing a series featuring director-screenwriter Terence Davies’ 2000 adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. You know what’s coming: you’ll go to see the film with some friends and inevitably end up at a local bar discussing whether book or film better captures the social mores of turn-of-the-century New York. Our advice is to do your homework now, so you can be particularly dismissive of your friends’ opinions later. Another possible topic of discussion: the motivation behind casting Dan Ackroyd in a dramatic role.

Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera  |  By Anne Carson
Recommended reading for: Supernatural Wife (2011 Next Wave) and Decreation (2009 Next Wave)

Two shows over the past two seasons have made use of the work of poet-essayist Anne Carson: choreographer William Forsythe’s 2009 work Decreation (a take on Carson’s essay by the same name) and last season’s Supernatural Wife (which used Carson’s translation of Euripides Alkestis). If you’re envisioning for yourself a particularly pensive holiday season, lost in lyrical labyrinths about the soul and self’s undoing, then hunker down with Decreation. Sappho, Simone Weil, and Beckett will all be there to provide food for thought in this ingenious blend of poetry and prose, heavily invested in that “ancient struggle between breath and death.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Next Wave Gala Producers Council Celebration

From left: BAM Executive Producer, Joseph V. Melillo, Krapp's Last Tape Actor, John Hurt, and BAM President, Karen Brooks Hopkins
Last week, BAM celebrated the 2011 Next Wave Festival with its' annual Next Wave Gala honoring our loyal BAM donors, the Producers Council.

Jump ahead to read more about this exciting, festive evening!
And check out all the photographs from the event here and here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brooklyn Reel Estate: Paul Auster's Park Slope

Picture this: a green-as-a-gremlin Brooklyn newbie, fresh off the Fung Wah Bus, dines at one of the many French bistros that punctuate Park Slope. Sitting with an old friend and picking at a  lackluster plate of coq au vin, this Boston immigrant (yes, me) has a flash of recognition when he notices the occupant of a nearby table. After a few minutes of discreet whispering and rifling through my mind's file cabinet, I realize that this handsome man with the wild mane and intense eyes is author Paul Auster. I had just read The New York Trilogy and quite enjoyed it, so I was delighted by this unexpected brush with literary celebrity right here in my new home.

At a recent interview with Mr. Auster at his Park Slope home, I recounted this story. He warmly expressed his happiness at being able to unwittingly welcome me to the neighborhood he loves. Here are some excerpts from that interview where he expounds on his love of cinema, Dutch cigars, Park Slope, and La Bagel Delight.

Paul Auster appears at BAM for a Q&A following a screening of Smoke on Monday, December 19 at 6:50pm.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BAM’s Prehistory, Part 1: The Apprentices Library

This is the first in a series of four posts offering a historical narrative of what led to the founding of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1861. The story of BAM’s beginnings involves a convolution of 19th-century Brooklyn cultural institutions. While each has its own story, we hope you'll sense how deeply and profoundly interconnected almost all of today’s major Brooklyn institutions are. BAM could not be what it is today without its past and present relationships to the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and many others.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

December Staff Pick: Pina in 3D

Photo: Pina in 3D, courtesy of IFC Films

This month's pick: Pina in 3-D (Opens Dec 23 at BAM Rose Cinemas)
Picked by: Evan Namerow, Marketing intern

1. Why Pina in 3-D? The first time I saw Pina Bausch’s work (Nefes, BAM 2004), I realized that I was not only watching tanztheater but also living it. Pina’s work can be scary that way; it’s very human and real, brimming with an array of emotions that you experience right alongside the performers. Wim Wenders’ film has that effect, too. It beautifully embodies the aesthetic of Pina’s work and the honesty of the dancers.

2. What makes it unique?:
Not many choreographers are honored with a visually stunning film that pays tribute to their life’s work—and in 3D no less. There are excerpts from several of Bausch’s works along with memories shared by the dancers and rare footage of Bausch in the studio. It’s a loving tribute to Pina that truly captures her pioneering contribution to the arts.

3. You might like this if you liked…
Any of Pina Bausch’s works at BAM, including Café Müller, Vollmond, and Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen. And remember the dance sequences in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2002 film, Talk To Her? Yep, that’s Pina’s tanztheater.

4. Guilty-pleasure reason for seeing the show/film:
The film was shot in Germany and wow, is it beautiful. Whether in an enormous valley, a lush green forest, or on the floating Schwebebahn (air tram) in Wuppertal, Pina’s work looks ravishing against the backdrop of her homeland. Also, the 3D effects are superb.

5. Final words:
Pina was a powerful force in the dance world until her untimely death in 2009. Wim Wenders’ gift to Pina’s memory is a gift to audiences as well. If you never saw her work performed live, Pina in 3D is the next best thing. And if you miss watching Pina’s work on stage, then you probably don’t need to be convinced that this is a must-see.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Free Music: Church of Betty at BAMcafé Live

Photo: Church of Betty, by Sibylle Jud
Any westerner who’s heard North Indian music knows that there’s often something uncanny about its rhythm. It’s all in the tabla—an indispensable Indian drum played using just the palms and fingers. Alternating between crisp-timbered highs and delicious liquid lows (think bowling balls being dropped into a vat of thick tar), the tabla’s sounds are alive and complex in a way that brings to mind hip-hop and R&B beats while evoking a cultural milieu distinctly apart from them. But however mediated, the groove is definitely there, and seductive in a way that its western equivalents aren’t. Which begs the question: in this age of anything-goes creative plundering, why haven’t more musicians embraced it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Free Ticket+ Thursdays: The Nutcracker Edition

Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg in The Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone. © American Ballet Theatre. 
All rights reserved.
What you see above is something very special: footage from an actual Free Ticket+ Thursdays award presentation ceremony. Captured perfectly here is the exact moment the prize is handed over to the lucky winner, whose friends look on longingly in regret of not entering themselves. As you can see, we’ve spared no expense.

This could be you. All you have to do is visit us on Facebook and answer a simple question for a chance to win. If you still aren't convinced, this week’s prize is a Friends of BAM membership and tickets to see American Ballet Theatre’s presentation of The Nutcracker, which, strangely enough, features a scene exactly like this one. But pay no attention to that. Just concentrate on getting to Facebook and answering our question, lest you miss The Nutcracker and the mystery of what a sugar plum fairy really is stays forever unsolved.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Andy Warhol's Silver Pillows

Brandon Collwes & Jennifer Goggans in RainForest. Photo by Rob Strong.

Ok, now that you’ve shared with us your fantasy artistic duos, let’s talk about one for the ages: Merce Cunningham and Andy Warhol. At BAM, we’ve had many art/dance alliances that have made our hearts palpitate, but this one takes the pop-art minimalist cake. In 1966, Andy Warhol created a legendary installation for the Leo Castelli Gallery called Silver Clouds. These helium-filled pillows created an ethereal atmosphere as they gently moved with the air currents, and viewers played with them like children.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jazz at BAM: 1861—1955

Colgate Mandolin Club, 1911. 
Jazz at the Brooklyn Academy of Music? At one time, it was unthinkable. When BAM opened in 1861, there was already controversy over presenting dramatic productions—even Shakespeare—that might even hint at being morally dubious. Since BAM was initially considered a “highbrow” institution, jazz practically had to sneak its way in.

Minstrel shows, once the country's most popular form of entertainment, are often credited as a DNA building block of jazz, and BAM presented a few of them. In 1910, the St. Charles Borromeo Holy Name Society hosted a minstrel show and reception featuring such songs as “When the Bell in the Light House Rings Ding Dong” and “Band! Band! Band!”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Iconic Artist Talk: Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Photo: Merce Cunningham, by Annie Liebovitz
We brag on about history and all that, but this truly is historical. Next week, BAM hosts Merce Cunningham Dance Company's final American proscenium-stage appearances—EVER—in The Legacy Tour, with three different programs. The company will disband in 2012.

And check out the Iconic Artist Talk on Thursday, Dec 8 at 6pm, where MCDC's Executive Director Trevor Carlson, collaborators, and members of the company will discuss Merce's incredible oeuvre from very personal standpoints. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from our new book, BAM: The Complete Works, on Merce, written by Nancy Dalva, producer/writer of Mondays with Merce. Be part of the legacy. —Susan Yung

* * * * *

Nancy Dalva on Merce Cunningham, excerpted from BAM: The Complete Works

Merce Cunningham stood at the nexus of classicism and modernism the way Russian-born choreographer Michel Fokine stood at the nexus of classicism and romanticism. Cunningham stripped his choreographic process of all but the essential element of movement, excluding decor, narrative, music—anything decorative or extrinsic. These were later added back, their invention left to others—including John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns—without much, if any, collusion. All but an early few of his 150 works were made in silence. The independence—indeed the primacy—of choreography thus established, Cunningham next began to break down movement into increasingly small increments and began to divide up the body as well. To the lower-body positions of ballet, he added a flexible and dynamic torso; later, he would choreograph for the arms without regard to the lower body, giving them “facings” and directions all their own. The same, too, for the head.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage, How to Pass, Kick, Fall, Run. Photo by James Klosty

Meanwhile, he broke dance out of the proscenium and began to assemble and reassemble his dances without regard to a “front,” fracturing and refracting the stage picture in the way that Cubists broke up the visual plane of a painting. This fragmentation mirrors the breakdown of syntax and the concurrent notions of simultaneity and multiplicity of associations that arose in modernist literature, and in computer coding the breakdown of information into digital bytes. Cunningham was also an early adopter of new technologies, including video and computer programming. All along, his use of chance procedures at some point in the making of every piece was a way to remove some of the effects of personal choice and habit and willful control, and can be viewed as a kind of personal Taoism.

Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington, one of three sons of a lawyer father and a gadabout mother. He first studied dance with the vaudevillian Maud Barrett, then studied modern dance at Seattle’s Cornish School, where he met Cage; in 1939, at the Bennington School of the Dance at Mills College in Oakland, California, he met Martha Graham, whom he followed to New York. In the summer of 1953, while in residence at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, he formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. More than a dozen company engagements at BAM over the years include the troupe’s venue debut in 1966; its first extended season in 1968; Split Sides (2003), with live music by Radiohead and Sigur Rós; and the celebration of Cunningham’s birthday with the premiere of Nearly Ninety in 2009. Two weeks before he died in July of that same year, at age 90, he was in his studio with his dancers, working on something new.