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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

From Olympics to Neither

Neither. Photo: Stephanie Berger
By David Hsieh 

In 2002, just two years after Shen Wei founded Shen Wei Dance Arts, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The New York Times: “If there is something to write home about in the dance world, it is the startlingly imaginative work of the Chinese-born choreographer Shen Wei.”

The verdict was prescient. As a dancer and choreographer, Shen Wei has performed on the world’s greatest stages and museums, including one of the biggest—the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, when he choreographed the segment called “Scroll” for the opening ceremony. With a single “qin” (an ancient Chinese plucked string instrument) providing the lean, spare music, a dozen dancers moved on a giant sheet of cotton paper laid at the center of Beijing National Stadium “Bird’s Nest.” As they spun and twisted, their paint-soaked sleeves marked the paper—mysterious until the end, when a giant Chinese landscape emerged.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tragedy, Power, and Catharsis: Ivo van Hove's Theatrical Humanism

Ivo van Hove's Kings of War. Photo: Jan Versweyveld
By Christian Barclay

For director Ivo van Hove, 2015-16 was a banner theater season. He made his Broadway debut in late 2015 with a hyper-minimalist staging of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, cementing his status as one of contemporary theater’s most distinctive directorial voices. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote: “This must be what Greek tragedy once felt like, when people went to the theater in search of catharsis.” Van Hove soon followed with Lazarus, at New York Theater Workshop, a collaboration with Irish playwright Enda Walsh and David Bowie, and The Crucible, also a hit on Broadway, with an ensemble cast including Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw. Call it a coincidence of good timing; the Belgian director was now suddenly a formidable presence in the theater capturing the notice of even the most casual theatergoers.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Battlefield with Deep Roots: Peter Brook's 30 Year Endeavor

Jared McNeill, Sean O’Callaghan, Ery Nzaramba, Carole Karemera. Photo: Caroline Moreau
By Jess Goldschmidt

Before it reached America’s shores, it was already a sensation. Making its world premiere in 1985 at the Avignon Theater Festival, Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata was performed in a massive, open limestone quarry filled with gleaming yellow sand. It shattered the limits of epic theater, sweeping audiences into an all-night staging of Hinduism’s most revered saga, with rivers of fire, hails of arrows, and an ensemble of actors and musicians from 18 countries. It has been said in various ways: “Everything that exists is in The Mahabharata... what isn’t in The Mahabharata doesn’t exist anywhere.”

Over the course of the production’s 10 years of development, Brook assembled some key collaborators, from musician Toshi Tsuchitori—who traveled to India for nearly two years to learn classical instrumentation—to the woman who would become his right hand for the next 30 years, Marie-Hélène Estienne. In the early 80s, Estienne went to India at Brook’s behest to simply observe and report back on the details of as many adaptations of the production’s source material as she could.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Moved by the Music: Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker's Choreographic Vision

Vortex Temporum in rehearsal. Photo: Anne Van Aerschot
By Anna Troester

Thirty years ago, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her company, Rosas, made their BAM debut in the 1986 Next Wave Festival with a deeply compelling work of driving intensity. Weaving repetitive, mundane gestures with moments of visceral spontaneity—in symbiosis with a similarly relentless, minimalist score by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch—four female dancers demonstrated a kind of stripped down movement idiom that audiences had never seen before. The piece was the now-seminal Rosas danst Rosas.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Dance—changing lives worldwide

BODYTRAFFIC in Jordan. Photo by Guzmán Rosado
By Susan Yung

Since its inception, DanceMotion USASM has reached more than 125,000 people in 49 countries, and an impressive 40 million online. Participants for 2017—18 are KEIGWIN + COMPANY, Stephen Petronio Company, and Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group. It’s a testament to the depth of American dance talent that these esteemed companies comprise what is already the sixth season of this international exchange initiative of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by BAM.

BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo notes, “DanceMotion USASM has had enormous impact on the global communities it has touched, and has inspired and enriched our dance-ambassadors.” The artists will embark on four-week residencies in different regions of the world, engaging in performances and outreach events—workshops, master classes, and press interviews—as well as sessions on production and arts management. Of particular focus are at-risk youth, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTI community.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

2016 Next Wave Festival—Shifting Borders

Company Wang Ramirez in Monchichi. Photo: Morah Geist, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance
By Susan Yung

The 2016 Next Wave dives into new genre amalgamations and forms that have been in flux throughout the Festival’s 33-year history. Collaboration is prominent, notably in the Brooklyn/Paris Exchange, which underscores the frequent comparison between creative nerve centers Brooklyn and the Left Bank, with exchange runs by four inventive troupes—two each from Brooklyn and Paris. Dance is robustly represented by nine exhilaratingly disparate companies. Theater includes searing reboots of classics, as well as five of the Bard’s plays rolled into one, plus inventive productions that push known limits. Music also defies standards with compositional daring and physical risk-taking.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day at BAM in 1886

Courtesy: BAM Hamm Archives
For going on four decades, the BAM community has equated Memorial Day weekend not only with remembering those who have served our country, but also with the DanceAfrica Festival. But an item from BAM Hamm Archives reminds us of the organization's longstanding civic commitment.

This May 31, 1886 handbill details "exercises" at a Decoration Day program. Decoration Day was begun in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran's group, to decorate the graves of soldiers lost in the Civil War. It became Memorial Day in the early 20th century.

The Grand Army of the Republic oversaw the event at the Academy. The veteran's group comprised soldiers who fought in the Civil War, primarily for the Union. In fact, Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza was named to commemorate this organization.

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher presided at the 1886 gathering (to which admission cost 50 cents). This brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe was a clergyman and abolitionist, and a prominent speaker sent abroad by President Abraham Lincoln to advocate on behalf of the Unionist cause. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

The Decoration Day slate included patriotic music with audience members joining on the choruses, as well as poems and prayers. While this event took place at the Academy's first hall, on Montague Street, it serves to remind us of the long, rich history that BAM occupies in the city and in America.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pape Moussa Sonko of WAATO SiiTA

Pape Moussa Sonko. Photo: Richard Termine.
by David Hsieh

It is often said that dancing is an act of defying gravity. But watching the Senegalese dancer Pape Moussa Sonko, you sense that gravity is more like a trampoline, or energy he can harness so that every time he lands it propels him higher, or allows him to kick more fiercely or tap his feet faster. This month, the BAM audience has had two chances to see this phenomenal dancer. He was the backup dancer in BAM’s Youssou NDOUR concerts last weekend; this weekend, he takes center stage in DanceAfrica 2016

Sonko is the choreographer and lead dancer of Les Ballets de la Renaissance Africaine “WAATO SiiTA,” one of the two African companies in the 2016 DanceAfrica, which focuses on Senegal. WAATO SiiTA contrasts with the other Dakar-based company, Compagnie Tenane, a modern dance troupe. While core members of Tenane—the four Gomis sisters—studied with this year’s special guest: Germaine Acogny, often called “the mother of contemporary African dance,” Sonko didn’t need to seek instruction outside his family. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let's Get Critical: Part III

Late last month, we launched Let's Get Critical—a three-part series highlighting film criticism generated as part of BAM Education's Young Film Critics program. After the jump, immerse yourself in our final installment, featuring writing on 1933's Zéro de conduite.

Photo: Photofest

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A New Experiment in the Next Wave: Brooklyn-Paris Exchange

This year’s Next Wave Festival marks the arrival of a new experiment. The Brooklyn-Paris Exchange is the creative brainchild of BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo and Théâtre de la Ville director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. The conceit is simple: four companies or artists, chosen by Melillo and Demarcy-Mota, make their respective Paris or Brooklyn debuts as part of the other institution’s season. Melillo’s selections—the explosive Zimbabwe-born choreographer Nora Chipaumire and innovative theater troupe The Civilians—embody the breadth of the borough’s current creative output. Demarcy-Mota’s selections are similarly expansive, bringing celebrated circus artist Yoann Bourgeois and the hip-hop-inflected movement of dance duo Wang Ramirez to Brooklyn for their Next Wave debuts.

The exchange was born organically out of conversations Melillo and Demarcy-Mota had when their globe-trotting itineraries aligned. Demarcy-Mota has been to BAM with Théâtre de la Ville for galvanizing productions of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author; Melillo travels frequently to Paris and has showcased many French productions throughout his three-decade tenure as BAM’s programmatic steward. Together they celebrate the many similarities between these two great cities, witnessing firsthand the creative energy and output emanating from both. And despite the great responsibility of their “day jobs,” both men are, at heart, artistic explorers, seeking out work that surprises and upends preconceptions of genre, content, and form. They are further connected by a shared belief in the importance of each institution’s smaller, more flexible spaces—the BAM Fisher here in Brooklyn, Théâtre de la Ville’s Théâtre des Abbesses (plus its other intimate venues throughout Paris)—as integral to an overall mission of cultivating and showcasing artistic innovation.

In the end, this new exchange is about trust. Melillo and Demarcy-Mota are, in essence, giving one another carte blanche to program a section of their corresponding artistic seasons, while also placing trust in the artists, and audiences, that the work will transcend cultural barriers.