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Friday, January 27, 2017

In Context: Last Work

The otherworldly dancers of Batsheva Dance Company return with the latest creation from choreographer Ohad Naharin. An open-ended meditation on the humanism inherent in the body’s motion, Last Work veers explosively between the political and the excruciatingly personal. 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 #Batsheva.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Escaped Alone—Dark Imagination

Linda Bassett. Photo: Johan Persson
By Rob Weinert-Kendt

“And I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” a line from the Book of Job that Melville used to begin his epilogue to Moby-Dick, hovers questioningly over Caryl Churchill’s new play Escaped Alone, which opened a year ago at London’s Royal Court Theatre and comes to BAM’s Harvey Theater from February 15 to 26. Does Churchill’s title refer to Mrs. Jarrett, played by Linda Bassett, who for roughly half the play’s 50-minute running time stands in abstractly framed darkness downstage, coolly describing a series of ecological and social disasters that only she seems to have lived to tell about?

According to the play’s director, James Macdonald, the title may also suggest a more general state of being and nothingness among a quartet of women, including Mrs. Jarrett, who are seen in the play’s other half chatting amiably, if often at cross purposes, in a sunny backyard.

The Man of Good Hope

In A Man of Good Hope, coming to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House February 15–19, the Isango Ensemble takes up Jonny Steinberg’s riveting book about a young Somali refugee who fled his country’s civil war, only to find himself in a new violent reality in South Africa. A note from Steinberg follows.

Photo: Keith Pattison

By Jonny Steinberg

I had little idea that I would write a book about Asad Abdullahi when I met him. I had in mind a very different project, one that would take in many times, people, and places. I imagined that Asad would occupy 10, perhaps 20 pages of the work.

It was at our second meeting, I think, that the book I actually wrote was conceived. Asad and I were walking through the Company’s Garden, one of Cape Town’s oldest and loveliest public spaces, when Asad picked up a twig, snapped it open and smelt it. I will never forget the expression that came over him—the surprise, the wistfulness, the knowledge that what he was experiencing would soon disappear. The fragrance had transported him more than two decades back in time. He was six or seven years old in a madrassa in Mogadishu, Somalia copying out the Koran line by line. The smell of the twig had reminded him of the narcotic sap of the agreeg tree he had used to bind ink; he was reliving a forgotten high.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Darrell McNeill, A Decade with BAMcafé Live

Darrell McNeill. Photo: Sally A. Foxen
By David Hsieh

Darrell McNeill remembers the first time he walked into the Lepercq Space on the second floor of the BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building. “I came up, walked out of the elevator, turned a corner, and saw this ridiculously beautiful room—unobstructed space throughout, arched beams, glass pane windows. I said to myself, ‘How wonderful it is to perform in this majestic room!’”

Fast forward to 2017. For 10 years he has been the programmer of BAMcafé Live, which takes place in the Lepercq Space on selected weekend nights (official anniversary: December 4, 2016). He has brought in artists both established and up-and-coming, such as Marshall Crenshaw, Grady Tate, Kyp Malone, Graham Haynes, Hank & Cupcakes, Sasha Dobson, Jen Chapin, Gordon Chambers, Wyatt, Onaje Allen Gumbs, David Ryan Harris, Jay Rodriguez, Howard Fishman, Elliot Sharpe, Theo Bleckmann, Fred Ho, Sophia Ramos, Aabaraki, Joanna Teters, Blak Emoji, Model Decoy, Tamar-kali, Marcus Machado, Addi & Jacq, and others.

To welcome the new season of BAMcafé Live, McNeill talks about his decade of programming live music acts.

A Very Leenane Glossary

There’s some terminology in The Beauty Queen of Leenane that might sound a bit, well, foreign to your U.S. American ears. But fear not! We’ve compiled a list of vocabulary to help you navigate McDonagh’s script with ease. No need to smutter—peruse this post a few times and you’ll be ready for your next cèilidh in just a biteen.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Martin McDonagh Weighs In

Illustrator Nathan Gelgud explores Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's thoughts on theater, music, literature, and more, drawing from interviews in BOMB, The Irish Times, The New Yorker, and The Guardian. See his pitch-black comedy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, at the BAM Harvey Theater through Feb 5.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Frederick Douglass at BAM

By 1860, Brooklyn had become the third largest city in America. As a thriving port city with significant trades in sugar, tobacco, and cotton, but also the location of Weeksville, one of the earliest settlements established by free slaves, Brooklyn’s relationship to slavery is as complicated as the nation’s as a whole. Throughout this period, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass came to speak against racial injustice. A new book, Frederick Douglass in Brooklyn by historian Theodore Hamm, recounts his traverse in the “City of Churches” with many original source materials, including excerpts of his speeches. Many of Douglass’ messages resonate as much today as 150 years ago. And as part of this year’s Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., BAM has invited the multi-talented performer Carl Hancock Rux (The Exalted, Next Wave 2015) to read excerpts from the book, with Hamm providing commentary. Here, Hamm highlights Douglass’ four visits to BAM, which has served as the nexus for public gatherings in Brooklyn.

Frederick Douglass made four notable visits to BAM during the 1860s, its first decade of existence. Academy’s first location, on Montague Street near what was then City Hall (and is now Borough Hall).

Douglass’ first appearance—on Friday evening, May 15, 1863—was widely promoted, and also featured a performance by the Hutchinson Family Singers, a popular musical act of the era. Douglass delivered his speech “What Shall Be Done with the Negro?” to a packed house of 3000 people. As reported by Sydney Howard Gay (a key figure in the Underground Railroad) in the New York Tribune, “the beauty and fashion of the City of Churches were largely represented in the audience, with here and there a colored lady or a colored gentleman sitting in the audience,” thus illustrating Douglass’ call for racial equality.

“Can the white and colored people of this country,” Douglass asked, “be blended into a common nationality, and enjoy together, in the same country, under the same flag, the inestimable blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I answer most unhesitatingly, I believe they can.” (Read the full transcript of Douglass' speech here.) After his well-received speech, the Hutchinson Family closed the performance by leading the audience in a chorus of “John Brown’s Body.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hope, Unwavering

Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir, 2016. Photo: Elena Olivo
By David Hsieh

There are years of triumphs and years of setbacks. There are years of prosperity and years of reckoning. There are years when the country is at war. There are years when the country seems lost.

But throughout the years, people have come to BAM to pay respect to a person who embodied integrity, perseverance, and an unwavering moral compass. They come to give thanks to a person who symbolized the stigmata they have borne and the spirit to rise above the worst human impulse. They come because they all share this man’s dream that freedom will one day ring in all the land. They come to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Iconic Artist Talk: Declan Donnellan

On Wednesday, December 7, co-founder and joint artistic director of Cheek by Jowl Declan Donnellan joined Shakespeare scholar and Columbia professor James Shapiro for a conversation that reflected on Donnellan’s more than 20-year history at BAM. This talk was part of BAM’s Iconic Artist Talk series, which started during BAM’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. The series uses archival footage and images from the BAM Hamm Archives as a jumping off point for discussion, allowing audiences insight into the range of an artist’s work and relationship with BAM. Donnellan, who joins Peter Brook, Bill T. Jones, Laurie Anderson, and others in the rank of BAM Iconic Artists, made his BAM debut in 1994 with his direction of As You Like It. Since then, he has returned with six Shakespeare works, including last season’s The Winter’s Tale, among other seminal theater productions. In this dynamic conversation, Donnellan and Shapiro provided insight into six of Cheek by Jowl’s iconic productions—As You Like It (1994), Much Ado About Nothing (1998), Othello (2004), Cymbeline (2007), Macbeth (2011), and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore (2012)—and reflected on some of the fundamental truths of directing, theater, and human experience in the process.

Friday, January 6, 2017

In Context: The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Ireland’s esteemed theater company Druid makes its BAM debut with this 20th anniversary revival of Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning pitch-black comedy and the first in a trilogy of plays set in the sodden Irish backwater of Leenane. 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 #BeautyQueenofLeenane.