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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Notes on Crossing

Composer Matthew Aucoin's Crossing, a new American opera directed by American Repertory Theater's Diane Paulus, comes to BAM on October 3. A note from Aucoin follows.

by Matthew Aucoin

“But for the opera…I could never have written Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman reminisced late in life. It’s perhaps surprising that the quintessential American poet, the writer whose signature bard-call is a “barbaric yawp” rather than a refined warble, spent his formative years—before setting off to cross a wild, apparently “formless” poetic frontier—absorbing the bel canto operas of Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini, and the young Verdi. I share Whitman’s opinion that the essence of opera has nothing to do with the stuffy salons and social one-upmanship of the Americans who imported it to New York in the 19th century: opera is a primal union of animal longing, as expressed in sound, and human meaning, as expressed in language. Indeed, Whitman considered opera the pinnacle of human expression, something beyond the powers of language alone. And in his best poems, Whitman operates like an opera composer: he carries the English language into a new musical landscape. Whitman’s “melodies” surge boundlessly, spilling over the side of the page; his exclamations are wild and craggy. His poetry is both the waterfall and the rocks on which the water crashes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

For Ahkeem

For Ahkeem is an affecting coming-of-age documentary that shines a light on what it means to grow up poor and black in 21st Century America. Below, former White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer shares her thoughts on this powerful film.

By Deesha Dyer

I knew something good would come out of my insomniac Twitter scrolling. A few months ago I came across the trailer for the documentary For Ahkeem. I had never heard of the film but watched the trailer and was completely taken back. I saw myself in Daje, the teenage girl whose story it follows. While circumstances are quite different between us, the parallels were strong. The most striking was the balancing act she struggled to master—being labeled a "bad kid," an unstable family structure, and poverty.

Not long ago, this was my reality. It’s how I felt growing up in Philadelphia and later at a boarding school in Hershey, PA. I was a loud kid, and I mean loud! While my parents always encouraged me to stand up for myself, this attitude and communication method was not highly accepted in an academic or residential environment. Every time I got in trouble, I would get more defensive because while I took responsibilities for my actions, I didn’t understand why the world was afraid of me. I watched Daje go through these same emotions.

When I finally watched the complete film, I wanted nothing more than to hug Daje and let her know that it is okay and she is okay. I say this from experience because I ended up okay—actually more than okay, working for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House for almost eight years. Looking at headlines, it is easy to see how the stigma attached to young black girls still exists. I don’t know why I was naive to think it didn’t. For Ahkeem moved me to start focusing more on the narrative labeled around young black girls who are perhaps deemed too loud, too sassy, or too grown. I started to have open conversations with young girls—even taking some to see For Ahkeem—about how they are beautiful, assertive, bold, and courageous. How they can use their voices for good, as I had.

I encourage everyone to go see For Ahkeem. It gives a human glimpse into a perspective that may have you questioning if Daje needs to change, or the system needs to change. Daje is hopeful and that shines through the whole movie. It’s hard not to catch that same feeling when watching this brilliant film.

For Ahkeem screens Oct 13—19, and tickets are on sale now.

Starting with a White House internship at age 31, Deesha Dyer rose to become White House Social Secretary to President and Mrs. Barack Obama from 2015—17.

In Context: My Lai

Jonathan Berger and Kronos Quartet's fevered character study featuring tenor Rinde Eckert and Vân Ánh Võ considers the line between duty and conscience. 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 #BAMNextWave.

Monday, September 18, 2017

In Context: Olivier Py Sings Les Premiers Adieux de Miss Knife

A beguiling chanteuse with a voice of honey and barbed wire, Miss Knife oozes grit, glitz, and old-world glamour. 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 #BAMNextWave.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Performing My Lai

Below, My Lai's Rinde Eckert reflects on the creation of a work wrestling with the repercussions of atrocity, duty, and conscience nearly five decades after an international tragedy.

Photo: Zoran Orlic

By Rinde Eckert

On March 16, 1968, C Company of the United States Armed Forces marched on My Lai, a hamlet within the Son My village complex near the border of what was then North Vietnam and South Vietnam. They killed more than 500 civilians: women, old people, children, and infants. It was to be the first of a series of search and destroy missions called Task Force Barker. Hugh Thompson, a helicopter pilot, realizing what was going on, landed his helicopter, imposed himself between the berserk soldiers and the remaining villagers, and stopped the massacre. Shortly after Thompson’s irate report to his superiors immediately upon his return to base, Task Force Barker was suspended. It is safe to say that Thompson saved many more than the dozen lives he and his crew (gunners Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta) are credited with saving that day.

Tragedies of such magnitude cannot be approached with the brash velocity of the photographic. An almost pornographic nakedness in the document of the atrocity impresses us with its horror at the same time it distances us from that horror—makes it impossible to engage with, to stay with long enough to understand something of redemptive value, something to improve our understanding of ourselves and the world. The broad brush of revulsion paints us into a familiar (and therefore comforting) corner from which we look with a kind of hauteur. We are sympathetic while remaining essentially aloof. “We cannot possibly be that!,” we tell ourselves. The interviews with survivors of My Lai are heart-rending; there are no words… But they are not art. And art is often what we need most when the world has turned ugly and crazy. Documentary history tells us what happened, but art allows us to enter the past fully, to be made wiser by it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In Context: Café Müller/The Rite of Spring

In 1984, Tanztheater Wuppertal made its New York debut at BAM, performing what would become the two most iconic works of Pina Bausch’s extraordinary repertoire. More than three decades later, the company returns with a landmark restaging of that historic double bill. 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 #PinaBausch.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Jamaa Fanaka: L.A. Rebel

By Jesse Trussell

Born in Jackson, Mississippi but raised in LA’s Compton, Jamaa Fanaka is a key figure in the group of filmmakers that emerged from UCLA in the 1970s, known as the L.A. Rebellion. Recent rediscovery efforts have elevated Julie Dash and Charles Burnett (who shot Fanaka’s first feature) into the pantheon of American filmmakers, but Fanaka’s films—an elemental mixture of an entertainer’s drive for narrative with a neo-realist focus on place and social relations—are still wildly under-seen. Financially successful yet forgotten, labeled Blaxploitation while recalling Cinema Novo as much as Super Fly, the work of Jamaa Fanaka is still hard to pin down today, five years after his passing.

For the first time in New York, BAMcinématek’s retrospective tribute Jamaa Fanaka: L.A. Rebel (Sep 22—27) brings together all of Fanaka’s work—from his first short film A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan (starring Fanaka himself) to his final feature, 1992’s Street Wars. Though stark in his depiction of the struggle and violence his characters must endure in their daily lives, his sense of the African-American community as a family is key to the overarching humanism of his work. It’s not for nothing that the filmmaker, who was born Walter Gordon, chose the Swahili words meaning "togetherness" and "success” for his nom de cinema.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fall Dance Insider

This fall, BAM Education partners with Mark Morris Dance Group to present a free workshop series designed especially for teenage dancers and choreographers. Three companies featured in BAM’s Next Wave Festival—Marc Bamuthi Joseph/The Living Word Project, ODC/Dance, and David Dorfman Dance—will lead immersive sessions in technique, composition, and improvisation, igniting students’ imaginations through movement. Meanwhile, participants will engage in direct discussion with the artists and attend performances, gaining unique insight into the creative process. The 2017 Fall Dance Insider application deadline is Sept 18—apply now!

Below, BAM Education & Community Program's own Eveline Chang reflects on the program in this piece originally published back in 2014.

Fall Dance Insider with Ivy Baldwin Dance. Photo: Piotr Redlinski

by Eveline Chang

This Fall, BAM Education partnered with Mark Morris Dance Center to present Fall Dance Insider, a free workshop series for 40 dance students grades 9—12. In conjunction with the 2014 BAM Next Wave Festival, participants learned from and engaged with some of the festival’s most renowned dance artists. Bénédicte Billet—who worked for years as a dancer with Iconic BAM Artist Pina Bausch and Tanztheater Wuppertal—and the 2014 Artist in Residence Ivy Baldwin led immersive workshops for these aspiring dancers and choreographers.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Whitman, Across the Divide

Photo: Gretjen Helene
By Robert Jackson Wood

“Since I have sat where you sit and breathed the air you breathe, I know you will hear me,” sings the poet Walt Whitman at the beginning of Matthew Aucoin’s opera Crossing, at BAM from October 3 to 8. It is, in our time, an almost perversely optimistic sentiment. Yet in the context of Whitman’s exuberant oeuvre, it’s maybe fitting. Whitman was an idealist, whose ebullient verse betrayed a sprawling fantasy of human communion—of bodies and souls merged, of distances overcome—sanctioned by an erotic metaphysics of shared experience. “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” he wrote in “Song of Myself.”

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The People Spoke

By Nora Tjossem

Sitting in the red plushness of the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, facing the proscenium arch, the weight of tradition climbs into your lap and takes its seat. But on Tuesday night, March 24, it was not the legacy of Pina Bausch or Robert Wilson that sat with us. It was the history—fraught, inflammable, and frighteningly present—of the United States of America.

The People Speak uses the work of historian Howard Zinn to bring life to the revolutionaries that have ignited social justice movements in the United States. “I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy,” Zinn once proclaimed. Directed by longtime Zinn collaborator Anthony Arnove and performed by a lineup of actors, musicians, poets, and writers, the words of some of the most radical and transformative voices in this country’s history are unearthed from the oppressive, topsy-turvy status quo and given a stage worthy of their present import.