Tag Archives: brooklyn academy of music

Come, and Back Again by David Dorfman Dance at BAM

David Dorfman Dance’s Come, and Back Again is a beautiful showcase of reflection through dance and multimedia.

A wall of stuff, fossilized in white frames the stage. A band, also in white, sits upstage, playing songs of “poetic rock and roll.” Four dancers and David energize the space with the weighted – but not heavy – and entangling choreography. Real-time projection, text, and the presence of David’s wife and son convey the powerful symbols of clutter, preservation, and what we leave behind.

All in all, the high intensity piece was a touching reminder that there are those moments in life, those emotions that are worth experiencing, worth feeling. But what I enjoyed the most about the piece was David’s ability to tell his story, so beautifully, so poignantly, so joyfully.

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Dread Scott: Decision at BAM

Dread Scott Decision Brooklyn Bred

Dread Scott: Decision curated by Martha Wilson and directed by Mallory Catlett at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new Fishman Space was a powerful piece of theater about oppression.

As a world premiere and what Dread calls his “first indoor performance,” I had no real idea what to expect. When we entered the black box theater, there were four naked performers sitting on chairs (Clifford Owens, Lawrence Graham-Brown, Wilmer Wilson IV, Rocheford “Roc” Belizaire), voting booths along the back wall, and a podium with teleprompters. The room was well-lit and members of the audience found seats on the ground.

Once we were all somewhat settled, we heard high pitched squeals and barks followed by two security guards walking two German Shepherds into the main space. They quickly rounded up the performers to the side and Dread Scott walked up to the podium in full politician attire. He thus began reading the Dred Scott Decision as stage hands created a roped queue where members of the audience would line up. The dogs took their post on either side of the stage while the performers stood in front of the line, just in front of the voting booths where the audience was led.

I went up with the first batch of people, wanting to fully participate in the performance. What lay behind those curtains? What was it like to stand in line with everyone else and listen to Dread speak over the howling of the dogs? What was he saying and what was the significance of it in this setting? How were the performers engaging the audience? I shared a very intense moment with Clifford Owens. As I stood at the front of the line, waiting to enter the voting booth, he locked his eyes on mine. However uncomfortable I was, I stared back trying as best I could to understand what he was trying to convey to me. I believe he was trying to tell me, think of what it’s like in my position, my history.

I entered the booth, which had instructions to read the ballot, vote, place it in an envelope, and then put it in the ballot box. Upon doing that, you received a screen-print made by Dread just for this performance.

The ballot described the statistics of imprisonment of African-American men and how neither presidential candidate had that issue on their ticket this election. Then it asked – knowing that information – would we vote?

It was not an easy decision to make given the circumstances. The new knowledge from the reading of the Dred Scott Decision, the extremely loud barking dogs, and the performers you knew were part of these statistics. Would I vote? I never thought differently. Is Dread Scott trying to persuade me not to vote? But wait, I am a woman whose reproductive rights are on the ballot (without even discussing healthcare reform). So yes, I need to vote.

As I returned to my spot, I began to look upon the other audience members, those waiting in line not knowing what to expect, and those who were leaving the voting booths. I wondered if everyone else was feeling the same as I was – disenchanted with a country that has given me and my family so many opportunities.

All in all, the participatory nature of the piece lent itself very well while imparting knowledge of the Dred Scott Decision and its lasting effects, Dread Scott: Decision asked the audience to question their sense of patriotism and civic duty.

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Einstein on the Beach at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Somehow I feel like I spent the past three years waiting for the opportunity to see Einstein on the Beach by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass with choreography by Lucinda Childs. That opportunity came the other night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

I say that I have been waiting that long because I was first introduced to Robert Wilson when I started my career working at the Watermill Center, “Bob’s” experimental theater residency program in the Hamptons.

Einstein on the Beach was a huge cultural success when it premiered in 1976 but a commercial disaster, sinking Wilson into debt and essentially running him out of New York. Since then, he has hailed critical success for his avant-garde theater and made his gradual return to New York.

Einstein on the Beach, Knee Play 1

Knee Play 1.

Einstein on the Beach is an enormous undertaking with a large cast, live, layered music, intricate dance numbers, massive mechanical sets, and a 4 hour, 15 minute running time with no intermission. Utilizing repetition, the opera is at once incredibly complex and incredibly simple.

I found myself actively – and exhaustively – looking for changes throughout the four plus hours. What I found was that at a certain moment, one must surrender to the fact that there will be no conflict, climax or resolution. The opera will merely continue at the same tempo, with the same lighting, with the same dialogue, with the same lyrics, with the same movement with only subtle changes.

Einstein on the Beach Act I, Scene 2A Trial (Bed)

Act I, Scene 2A Trial (Bed).

The lack of change, that persistence of sameness, was absolutely amazing. The talent of the performers had me in awe. They must possess such discipline and hone incredible skills of voice, acting, and movement.

My favorite example of this was in Act II, Scene 1B, “Train” when two performers sang a song of love in the form of counting the beats, “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,” which changed rapidly to “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4″ to 5′s to 6′s and then back down without every catching a breath. Incredible.

Einstein on the Beach, Act III, Scene 3B, Field (Space Machine)

Act III, Scene 3B, Field (Space Machine).

And the Lucinda Childs choreography where the dancers chassé and leap and chaînés in spirals around each other was dizzying in a good way. How these dancers could keep track of where they were, was one thing. The other thing, was their precision and enduring rhythm even after 20 minutes of nonstop motion. Again, incredible.

Einstein on the Beach, Act IV, Scene C, Building.

Act IV, Scene C, Building.

Then of course, there were the marvelous tableaus that Wilson created with the outlandish sets, simple costumes, lots of smoke, and focused lighting plus the standard Wilsonian gestures with the hands.

The music by Philip Glass was a classical circular melody that pulsated. Driving the sameness with subtle changes throughout.

Einstein the Beach 2012. Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Lucinda Childs. Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Philip Glass, Lucinda Childs, and Robert Wilson on stage for the curtain call.

All in all, the whole opera was totally bizarre but somehow I found myself relating to it. I was so happy to see such a seminal work, and to see it in New York.

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Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Second Hand and BIPED at BAM

Merce Cunningham Second Hand 1970I finally saw the show I have been waiting for all season – Second Hand (1970) and BIPED (1999) by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Having spent a brief moment working for the organization, I had the enormous opportunity to see many of the works performed on the Legacy Tour – MCDC’s farewell two-year farewell tour. (At one point, I saw Pond Way performed in costume at the Westbeth studio as a tornado swept across NYC.) BAM’s performances marked the third to last stop before the Company disbands and I was happy to have the chance to see these pieces.

Second Hand was an exercise in shapes. The amount of shapes that these dancers were able to create was astounding and punctuated by the rainbow unitards designed by Jasper Johns. The solo by Robert Swinston – originally choreographed for Merce himself – was strong and stunning, opening the piece with a reminder of Merce’s foresight and flowing into a piece that worked with the shapes shifting throughout solos, duets, and group work.

Merce Cunningham BIPED 1999BIPED felt like a celebration of movement (though I saw someone sobbing after the curtain fell). It’s use of motion capture technology projected onto to a scrim in front of the dancers, adds a level of profundity to the work. Suddenly, these large shapes representing human forms, dance across the scrim and then disperse into fibers, accentuating the fleeting moments on stage. BIPED becomes a metaphor for life, illuminating the transitory existence we all share.

And in this case – it really hits home.

It is of course, a sad moment in dance to have the Merce Cunningham Dance Company disband, but it’s also a move to protect the artwork and its integrity. The Merce Cunningham Trust is set in place to preserve the Merce’s life-work and share it with those who are capable of performing and presenting it. In addition to maintaining artistic authority over the work, this will (hopefully) create the potential in the New York arts scene for other dance companies to find capital to create their own work and leave their own mark.

All in all, Merce Cunningham’s legacy will live on for generations.

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