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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Context: Qyrq Qyz (Forty Girls)

Qyrq Qyz (Forty Girls), a multimedia retelling of a ancient Central Asian epic, comes to the BAM Harvey Theater for two nights. Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #QyrqQyz and @BAM_Brooklyn.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Apartheid Swing: The Jazz Epistles’ Short-Lived Success

Superstar pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, a revered figure in jazz for over six decades, comes to BAM for two nights only to commemorate the short-lived, near-mythical South African group the Jazz Epistles. Below, learn more about the history of his group in the context of apartheid–and why the government elected to shut it down.

A teenage Hugh Masekela admires the shine of his trumpet, 1956
By Robert Jackson Wood

A “popular, sex-stimulating music” that gratifies “the baser impulses” and “penetrates the soul quicker than more advanced forms.” That was jazz in 1955, at least as described by Dr. Yvonne Huskisson, one of the main gatekeepers of culture in apartheid-era South Africa. She didn’t mean it as a good thing. For a government intent on repressing black unity to preserve white minority rule, any music with such a capacity to rouse—particularly one that symbolized racial integration—was considered a threat. Apartheid meant “separateness,” and it was only four years later, in 1959, that the government would begin forcibly segregating black South Africans by ethnic group, relocating them to the townships or to one of 10 different Bantustans, or “homelands,” far from their actual homes. Encourage allegiance to tribe and not nation, the thinking went, and dissent could be minimized. Jazz was out; the indigenous music of the tribes, disseminated by state-controlled radio stations, was in.

Yet there were the Jazz Epistles, breaking attendance records in Cape Town and Sophiatown, playing to mixed audiences, and making them swoon. Composed of Abdullah Ibrahim a.k.a. Dollar Brand (piano), Hugh Masekela (trumpet), Kippie Moeketsi (alto saxophone), Jonas Gwangwa (trombone), Johnny Gertze (bass), Early Mabuza (drums), and Makaya Ntshoko (drums), the group had formed as an offshoot of two other pioneering all-black South African groups that had somehow managed to thrive: the popular vocal outfit Manhattan Brothers, which featured a young Miriam Makeba, and the pit band for the jazz musical King Kong, about the life of boxer Ezekiel Dlamini.

Friday, March 9, 2018

In Context: Cellular Songs

Context is everything, so get even closer to the production with this curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #CellularSongs.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

BAMcinématek's Beyond the Canon—Les Saignantes + A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange and Les Saignantes. Photos courtesy Warner Bros. / Quartier Mozart Films
It is no secret that the cinema canon has historically skewed toward lionizing the white, male auteur. This monthly series seeks to question that history and broaden horizons by pairing one much-loved, highly regarded, canonized classic (A Clockwork Orangewith a thematically or stylistically-related—and equally brilliant—work (Les Saignantesby a filmmaker traditionally excluded from that discussion.

By Violet Lucca

There’s youthful indiscretion, and then there’s the darkly comic delinquency on display in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes), which has the ability to turn the world upside down. With titles that associate their young protagonists with a subversive juiciness, both films comment upon the present through fiction set in the future. In these artful visions of “the same but worse,” ineffectual, corrupt governments have overstretched themselves to the point of controlling the brains and bodies of their citizens—solutions that solve nothing at all. Although one openly lampoons the failed utopianism of Welfare State Behaviorism and the other covertly carves out dissent inside a post-colonial kleptocracy, it’s the violence, sexiness, quick-wittedness, and wildness of youth that breaks down these zombified orders.

Monday, March 5, 2018

In Context: RadioLoveFest

Context is everything, so get even closer to this year's RadioLoveFest with a curated selection of related articles and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought by posting in the comments below and on social media using #RadioLoveFest.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Playing Lear

Antony Sher as King Lear, Graham Turner as the Fool. Photo by Ellie Kurttz
By Christian Barclay

Shakespeare’s tragic monarch is one of the most coveted roles in the classical theater canon–– and it is also one of the most demanding. King Lear’s delirious journey through the play calls for an actor who can plumb the depths of human suffering, portraying a betrayal of both the body and the mind. It has challenged no lesser actors than Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield, Geoffrey Rush, and in recent seasons at BAM, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, and Ian McKellen.

The process that goes into inhabiting a character like Lear is often all-encompassing. For Antony Sher, the acclaimed British actor who will portray the monarch in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear (April 7–29 at the BAM Harvey), the work took a familiar form––he wrote a book. Sher has documented his character development for several of his roles with the RSC. The books read like diaries, covering not just in-depth rehearsal work, but the everyday occurrences that can lead to unexpected insights.

Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries (Nick Hern Books) begins during the summer of 2015 and covers the year-long process of bringing the monarch to life. (A doubly difficult effort considering Sher was also playing Falstaff in the RSC’s King and Country history play cycle (BAM, 2016) during the same time; he received rave reviews in the role.) Here are some excerpts from the soon to be published book.

Performance as a Life Science

Photo: Julieta Cervantes
By Bonnie Marranca

“As artists, we’re all contending with what to do at a time like this. I wanted to make a piece that can be seen as an alternative possibility of human behavior, where the values are cooperation, interdependence, and kindness, as an antidote to the values that are being propagated right now.” After a half-century as an influential figure in the creation of contemporary performance culture, Meredith Monk goes right to the heart of the challenge.

Her spare new work, Cellular Songs, is conceived for five women performers—Monk and her vocal ensemble consisting of Katie Geissinger, Allison Sniffin, Ellen Fisher, and Jo Stewart. Dressed in layers of white and beige-toned clothes, the women sing, dance, play the piano together, and lie on the floor, all the while modeling behavior of care, comfort, companionship, and collaboration. Glorious colors of sound arise from the intricate musical textures. The only words of the piece are in Monk’s song of wisdom, “Happy Woman.” Bodies alone make the landscape.

Cellular Songs inhabits its own special realm of music-theater in its soulful interweaving of music, theater, image, and movement. Monk describes her process in spatial terms: “Some of the pieces have much more dissonance and chromatic kind of harmonies, and the forms are almost like three-dimensional sculptures. Earlier, my music had much more to do with layering. Now you can almost see or hear the piece rotating as if it were a sculpture in space, though it’s just a musical form.” A visual architecture is built into its rigorous structure, which may look deceptively simple. The 75-minute work is scored for piano, keyboard, and violin and the shimmering chorus of women’s voices that animate the space.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Behind the Scenes—Noel Vega, BAM ticket services

Noel Vega. Photo: David Hsieh
Noel Vega is a grandfather, a writer, a life-long Brooklynite, and a 20-year-old veteran of BAM’s ticket services. The staff of ticket services has grown three-fold since he started in 1997, forcing it to move out the Peter Jay Sharp Building to larger offices in downtown Brooklyn. Technological advancements have made remote working possible. But the core of the work remains the same: to ensure ticket buyers have the best answers to their questions, whether by phone or by email. Vega tells us how that’s done.

David Hsieh: What does the ticket services job encompass?

Noel Vega: Our responsibilities include taking orders from people, answering their questions about current and upcoming events, giving them suggestions on where to eat, park, directions to the theaters, etc. People call us for everything—I can’t buy a ticket on the Website, I can’t use my ticket tonight, what do I do? What movie is playing?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Introducing Beyond the Canon

BAM’s senior programmer of cinema Ashley Clark talks about the impulse behind this new, monthly repertory event. Screenings take place at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue.

Chantal Akerman on the set of Golden Eighties

Starting in February, BAMcinématek invites audiences on a journey beyond the canon. Through a new monthly program, we investigate and challenge how traditional histories of cinema—best-of lists, awards, academic recognition, films deemed worthy of “serious” discussion—have tended to skew toward lionizing the contribution of the white male auteur while overshadowing other groups.

Beyond the Canon will feature two films back-to-back, in an old-school double-bill format. The second film to screen will be an established, well-known classic, more than likely directed by a white male. It will be preceded by a stylistically or thematically linked film that is directed by a filmmaker from an oft-marginalized group: women, people of color, queer people, and the intersections thereof. 

It is worth making one point clearly. There is no slight intended on these canonical titles—they are great films crafted by eminently skilled filmmakers, and they have unquestionably been formative in our film education: that’s why the series is not called “Destroy the Canon”! Rather, a key aim of this program is to place the films in dialogue with each other, spark ideas and discussion, highlight some overlooked gems of world cinema, and provoke thought about how a future, more equitable canon might look. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fight the Power: Black Superheroes Trading Cards

This February, we celebrate the under-appreciated black screen heroes and heroines who challenged the establishment power structures through their sheer existence. From blaxploitation icons to supernatural avengers to anti-colonial outlaws, Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film spotlights industry-defying images of black heroism and empowerment in films that are as socially and politically subversive as they are downright fun.

To kick off the series, we collaborated with illustrator Nathan Gelgud to create ten digital trading cards for some of the films' superheroes. Catch them in action Feb 2—18 at BAM.