Building Community with CONTRA-TIEMPO

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In a few weeks, LA’s own CONTRA-TIEMPO will premiere their newest work, Agua Furiosa.   It will be the first time they’ve appeared on the CAP season, but it’s far from our first partnership. Since 2008, the company has been an important part of the Education programs here at the Center.  From capacity crowds at our Demonstration Performances to long-term classroom residencies, they’ve helped us fulfill our mission of making the arts accessible and inspirational for young people across our city.

With CONTRA-TIEMPO, Students learn how to work together, as dancers and as classmates
With CONTRA-TIEMPO, students learn how to work together, as dancers and as classmates.

In our ongoing work with CONTRA TIEMPO we strive to give students an opportunity to not only observe a performance as audience members, but also respond to what they’ve experienced, and become active participants in the creative process.  This idea was at the heart of Design for Sharing’s Residency program which launched in 2009.  Working closely with the faculty of the about-to-open UCLA Community School, and Ana Maria Alvarez, CONTRA-TIEMPO’s dynamic Artistic Director, we developed a year-long series of in-class dance, movement, theater, creative writing and visual arts activities led by teaching artists from CONTRA-TIEMPO and Design for Sharing.

For the next five years, hundreds of 4th, 5th and 6th graders explored big ideas of community and identity, resistance and engagement with us.  How do you get a 10-year-old to tackle these huge concepts? With kindness, enthusiasm, high expectations and mutual respect.  Ana Maria and the teaching artists of CONTRA-TIEMPO are an irresistable force, drawing even the shyest kids in, and creating the space for students to share their thoughts and make themselves heard, vocally and physically.

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The foundation of this group work is the salsa rueda, a form of salsa danced in a circle with a leader calling out the steps.   The dance seems simple on the surface—the movements aren’t complicated, the caller keeps everyone on track—but a successful rueda demands that the participants, both individually and communally, choose to be fully present with their best selves. It’s a challenge that year after year, classroom after classroom, the students rise to meet.

Ana Maria also challenges students in DFS Performance Workshops, small-group activities that are part open rehearsal, part movement class, part discussion. For the high school students that participate, these programs offer a window into the process of creating art and an opportunity to respond directly to what they’ve just seen. For Ana Maria and the dancers, they offer a fresh perspective and re-energize the creative process.   It’s quite a thing to witness a room full of anxious, self-conscious teenagers being asked to think abstractly, express themselves honestly, and creating a community where everyone feels safe enough to do so.

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CONTRA-TIEMPO is dedicated to transforming the world through dance, to the growth and development of more self reflective and engaged young artists. We’ve seen first-hand how successful they are at achieving that mission.

Come see them in action in Kaufman Hall, and experience their unique kind of alchemy, turning strangers into a community, no matter how old, or how young.

You can join us in welcoming CONTRA-TIEMPO back to the Center in a new capacity. Get your tickets for Agua Furiosa here.

Center receives NEA grant

In its first 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded more than $5 billion in grants to recipients in every state and U.S. jurisdiction, the only arts funder in the nation to do so. Today, the NEA announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million in its first funding round of fiscal year 2016, including an Art Works award of $20,000 to Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA to present Phantom Limb’s Memory Rings.

The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “The arts are part of our everyday lives – no matter who you are or where you live – they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society. Supporting projects like the one from CAP UCLA offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

Memory Rings is a multi-disciplinary theatrical presentation that tackles nearly 5,000 years of human and environmental change from the perspective of the Methuselah tree, the world’s oldest known living tree. This performance is a part of a greater trilogy that examines ecological and environmental threads of narrative and research. Defying categorization, the ensemble uses dance, puppetry, mask, installation, music, projections, and costume to transport the audience.  Phantom Limb is known for its work with marionette-puppetry and focus on collaborative, multi-media theatrical production and design. Co-founded in 2007 by installation artist, painter and set designer Jessica Grindstaff and composer and puppet maker Erik Sanko, Phantom Limb has been lauded for its unconventional approach to this venerable format.

To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAFall15. For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov

Who’s Afraid Of The STRAIGHT WHITE MEN?

LA has a theater problem. That should come as no surprise: LA is primarily a music and visual arts city, and it’s hard to compete with the plethora of beautiful museums and concert halls scattered across the map. Anthony Byrnes goes into greater detail about LA’s theater problem in his article for KCRW, but also into possible solutions. He highlights our recent co-presentation of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company as an example of reaching across the void to connect the city’s theaters. We are co-presenting Lee’s play Straight White Men in collaboration with Center Theatre Group, who also co-commissioned the work.  Our director Kristy Edmunds was recently featured alongside Lee on a podcast from Center Theatre Group, with the discussion led by CTG’s associate artistic director Diane Rodriguez. If three intelligent, driven women discussing avant-garde theater, collaborative power, and exchanging silly stories sounds like something you’re into, click here to listen online.

Lee recently spoke to the LA Times about the production, describing her creative process and the birth of this production. There is always a subversive element to Lee’s work, and she continues that trajectory by tackling the responsibilities of straight white men as an Asian-American woman.

“It’s the question of, ‘What do we want straight white men to do that they’re not doing? And what happens when they do that?'” Lee told the LA Times . “It’s a very current question. Because being a straight white man is a relatively new thing, historically. For years, they got to be the default human. And now, suddenly, they’re being slapped with labels, and they hate it. So it’s sort of approaching a timeless question from a slightly different perspective.”

We were thrilled to collaborate with CTG and Young Jean Lee on co-presenting Straight White Men, and not simply because we are always happy to have our name associated with an exciting and provocative event. It’s not the first time we’ve worked with Young Jean Lee—you may remember her cabaret performance WE’RE GONNA DIE in our 2013-2014 season. Lee is doing brave, outspoken work on gender politics and personal identity, and we are proud to support it. But our true excitement stems from working alongside Lee and CTG to bring awareness of the production to an audience that might be unfamiliar with the company. LA’s theater problem isn’t insurmountable. We just all have to be willing to put the strength of the community above the desire to be number one.

Straight White Men runs at the Kirk Douglas Theater until December 20th.

To read more about our collaborations, visit http://cap.ucla.edu/artinaction/special_initatives/15_16_program_collaborations

Beyoncé danst Rosas

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It seems as though the artistic community must have the same discussion every few years (and presumably will continue to do so ad infinitum) – where do we draw the line between inspiration and theft? Every so often a song will top the charts or a video will go viral that prompts us to ask what may have inspired it. These conversations are happening on the local and national levels, and never seem to come to a satisfying conclusion. An artist can win a case saying that what some call “inspiration” others call “copyright infringement,” but where does that leave us after the settlement? However it may have been born, that art is now alive and out in the world, affecting moods and sometimes effecting change.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker entered the conversation a few years ago. A prolific and stimulating dancer and choreographer, De Keersmaeker has been active in her work since the early 80s, and received numerous international accolades. One work in particular, Rosas danst Rosas (1983), is one of her more well-known pieces, winning a Bessie award for choreography in 1987.

Well-known enough, in fact, that it would appear somebody in Beyoncé’s creative team was “inspired” by it. According to De Keersmaeker, Beyoncé and director Adria Petty lifted moves, costumes and staging from Rosas danst Rosas as well as elements from 1990’s Achterland. “I’m not mad, but this is plagiarism,” Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker told Studio Brussel in an interview. “What’s rude about it is that they don’t even bother about hiding it.” After the news hit, the Queen Bey and her creative team admitted to being “inspired” by De Keersmaeker’s work.

What was impressive was De Keersmaeker’s follow-up in 2013. She could have been litigious, but instead she decided to open up the conversation to everyone. In celebration of the work’s 30th anniversary, De Keersmaeker uploaded a series of videos on her website that allow a viewer to learn part of Rosas Danst Rosas, and invited all of us to film our performances and upload them. Thousands of people, of all ages and from all over the world, have taken her up on the offer. A trailer for this “remix” features little children, pregnant women, even teenage girls in their school yard in India. What started as a statement on theft turned into a dialogue on the right to participate in art. Sometimes participation is simply spectating, holding a space for it to occur. Sometimes it means imitating a style. In this case, however, it meant teaching the process to the world.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is here with Rosas, her company, for a four-night extravaganza of different works—including Rosas danst Rosas on November 12th. We would love for you, as a part of our community, to learn the compelling movements and film the outcome to share in a similar “remix” video. The onus is on all of us now here at UCLA to participate in this international dialogue on who can perform and take ownership of somebody else’s artistic creation. We invite you to speak with us.

Visit http://cap.ucla.edu/calendar/details/rosas_remix for the full details.

We Need to Talk About Tina Benko

We are in the final throes of preparation for Desdemona, in its Los Angeles premiere Thursday night.

Thus far, we’ve talked and heard a lot about the creators of this exceptional work of theater, with Toni Morrison receiving the UCLA Medal just yesterday, and Rokia Traore returning to CAP UCLA after a triumphant concert experience last spring.

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It’s time to talk Tina Benko. As the company has come back together over the last few weeks, remounting this work for our stage, we have been overwhelmed by the absolute greatness of this gifted actress.

Morrison’s language is as gently evocative and eloquent as you might assume, Traoré’s powerful ,musical presence and voice provides emotional tethering and texture, but Benko’s performance is what allows us to traverse time and space, to defy the laws of mortality and to experience the richness that is inherent in this quiet, but unmistakably potent piece of theater.

Benko stars as Desdemona, alongside Traoré as Barbary, but there are other characters in this play, other voices, all of whom are embodied and enlivened and shared with us by Tina Benko alone. It is a feat of performance that not just any actor could bear.

Tina is a stage actor who has performed worldwide, and is a consummate and commanding presence. She was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for playing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Elfriede Jellinek’s solo play Jackie. She won the Bayfield award for her portrayal of Titania in Julie Taymor’s production of Midsummer Nights Dream at Theatre For a New Audience. Other theatre credits include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s commissioned play Informed Consent, Katori Hall’s Whaddabloodclot!!!, Wallace Shawn’s Marie and Bruce, David Grimm’s Tales From Red Vienna, as well as Not About Nightingales and Irena’s Vow on Broadway. She’s appeared in several hit films and television shows including The Avengers, “The Good Wife,” “Blue Bloods,” “Mysteries of Laura,” “Person of Interest,” “Brotherhood” and “Flesh and Bone.”

In Benko, as Desdemona, worlds collide; Morrison’s words find heightened consanguinity with Traore’s lyrics. Inside this remarkable artist the centuries of ill-fated love between Shakespeare’s tormented Othello and Desdemona alchemize into a new reality, a new truth.

I feel confident in promising that her performance will be a gift we will carry with us long after the curtain has closed. Don’t miss it.

There are a few tickets still available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday performances.

And then it’s gone.

Join us, and help us applaud Tina Benko.

Diving Deep into ‘Desdemona’

If you’re the type who likes to take a deep dive into the story behind the story, take a minute to read this thoughtful and comprehensive essay from Desdemona director Peter Sellars, written for the program notes. If you’re the type who prefers surprises, stop reading now and simply purchase a ticket, you won’t regret it. 

Then join us next weekend. Just four performances of this elusive and magical work and it will be gone. 

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photo by Peter DaSilva

Desdemona Director’s Note

This project is a literary and musical collaboration between Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré, moving across continents, shared and divergent histories, imagined “other worlds,” and the darkly resonant, open-ended poetry of William Shakespeare’s Othello.

Writing from Bamako, in Mali, Rokia Traoré is one of a new generation of African women, a clear and courageous citizen of the world stepping forward into leadership, musical heir to the griot traditions of the Mandean royal courts and the particular alchemy of Malian music that gave birth to the blues in North America. Her music is a rich blend of cross-Atlantic traditions in a distinctly feminine voice.

Toni Morrison has created fiction that imagines, evokes and honors the missing histories of generations whose courage, struggles, achievements, loves, tragedies, fulfillments and disappointments have gone unrecorded, but are still very much with us.

Shakespeare’s Othello is a permanent provocation. For four centuries it has been the most visible portrayal of a black man in Western art. It is a play seething with innuendo, misinformation, secrets, lies, self-deception, cruelty, and strangely luminous redemption. It has been read by generations as a coded, indirect reference to the coded, indirect layers of justice and injustice that move across racial lines in Western societies. Because the play is so intricate and ultimately disturbing, much of its performance history has reduced it to a kind of puppet show of a brilliant but dangerously mad black man framed by a devil on his left (Iago) and an angel on his right (Desdemona).

What was the reality of Africa for Shakespeare?

Did he know any Africans? Clearly the man who called his theater The Globe was interested in Africa, and his two multicultural plays set in Venice, Othello and The Merchant of Venice, are filled with references to Africa.

This project grew out of an astonishing line which appears late in Act IV of Othello. Othello has just visited Desdemona in her bedroom and threatened her with terrifying and pointed menace. He leaves, and Desdemona, deeply shaken, asks her companion, Emilia, to help her get ready for bed.

Entering an eerily emotional twilight that will lead to her violent death, she tells Emilia that she can’t get a certain song out of her head. She learned this song, she tells Emilia, from her mother’s maid, Barbary, who died while singing it, of a broken heart.

In one line, Shakespeare has suddenly given us a series of startling images. The appearance of the word mother tips us off—Shakespeare’s plays are filled with mysterious, missing women and this is only the second reference to Desdemona’s mother in the entire play. But it is the word Barbary which triggers surprising associations. In 17th century London, Barbary meant Africa. The Barbary pirates were hijacking British vessels off the coast of Africa, enslaving their white, British crews.

In 1600, a delegation of ambassadors from the Barbary court, Africans of high degree, splendidly dressed, arrived in London to negotiate with Queen Elizabeth. That advent stirred much discussion in London. That Shakespeare, writing Othello in 1603, uses the name Barbary implies that there is another African character in his play.

Shakespeare has already been at pains to demonstrate in Act I that Desdemona’s parents don’t know their own daughter, and now as she sings her famous “Willow Song,” the quiet, dark, emotional still-point of the night, we are left to reflect that Desdemona—this tender, brilliant, courageous, generous young woman—was raised by an African maid with African stories and African songs. Barbary is one of Shakespeare’s powerful and enigmatic missing women—he did not write for her, but he imagined her. In Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré’s Desdemona, we meet her at last, and Desdemona meets her again.

As a young woman, Desdemona rejected the usual suitors from the Venetian court—it was a black woman who taught Desdemona how to love and now, Desdemona chooses to offer her love to a black man. In Act I of Othello, Shakespeare has Othello tell the Venetian Senate that he and Desdemona fell in love as he told her stories—stories of his youth as a child soldier, stories of suffering, reversal, privation, salvation, transformation, and unexpected human generosity. Stories of other worlds. And with the image of Barbary lingering in our minds, we can now imagine that Desdemona could have grown up hearing some of those stories.

And of course Toni Morrison wanted to write those stories.

In Desdemona, Toni Morrison has created a safe space in which the dead can finally speak those things that could not be spoken when they were alive. And finally, the women inside Shakespeare’s play and those in the shadows, just outside of it, find their voices: Othello’s mother and Desdemona’s mother meet, and hidden histories are shared and begin to flow.

Desdemona was Shakespeare’s ideal creation —like Dante’s Beatrice, a vision of perfection, a woman offering love and forgiveness in the face of hatred, mistrust, and murderous lies. In Shakespeare’s late tragedies, the ideal woman— Desdemona, Virgilia, Cordelia—was mostly silent.

For Toni Morrison, the ideal woman is not silent. Finally, she speaks. And as she speaks, she reveals secrets, hopes, dreams, but also her own imperfections. Shakespeare’s Desdemona is divine perfection, but Toni Morrison allows her to be human, to make mistakes, and finally, with eternity stretching before her, to learn, and then to understand. Shakespeare’s play spans two days. Desdemona and Othello elope Monday night at 2 a.m., are thrust into a wild media-centric marriage as they travel in the public eye into a theater of war, and he has murdered her by Wednesday night. The play strangely offers no one much room for reflection.

It is pointedly odd that the author of Hamlet affords the title character in Othello only a single 12-line soliloquy. For the rest of the play, this black man is performing in front of white people and we have very few clues about his inner life. Desdemona is an astonishing teenager but is suffocated before she or we have a chance to learn her thoughts or feelings. In Toni Morrison’s creation, Desdemona is no longer a teenager but a mature woman with perspective and the opportunity to gradually recognize and let go of her own illusions.

And so in Desdemona, we begin to glimpse some of the mysteries of Shakespeare’s Othello with new insight in the light of deepened histories. What was the dark secret that held Othello and Iago in a bond of mutual dependency and hatred? What were the moments of happiness and promise and fulfillment in the great love between Desdemona and Othello before it was tainted by the world?

One other silent woman in Shakespeare’s play enters into a new dimensionality: Emilia, Iago’s terrified wife (“I nothing, but to please his fantasy.”). She appears in nearly every scene of Shakespeare’s play and she almost never speaks.

She is the one person who knows the truth of the lie of the handkerchief—at any moment she could speak up and prevent the injustice and bloodbath that overwhelm the play. Shakespeare creates a portrait of silence that is complicit with mass murder, that hopes by not uttering the truth to save its own skin, but that will in fact become the next victim when the lie follows its inexorable course.

Shakespeare’s foil for Othello, the gifted, inspiring black leader, is Cassio, an ambitious, glib, weak career politician with a crippling addiction to alcohol and sex. Othello’s first act as Governor of Cypress is to fire him, with cause. Desdemona, whose openness of spirit urges rehabilitation, redemption, and forgiveness, challenges her husband to reinstate Cassio, privately, and then in public. Shakespeare’s mature tragedies strike a bitter note on their last page—the future will be even more bleak—after the flawed greatness of Hamlet we get Fortinbras. After Othello’s death the terrible irony is that he is replaced as Governor by the mediocrity and venality of Cassio. Was Desdemona wrong to support Cassio at the cost of her own life?

Toni Morrison responded to lacunae and poetic ambiguities in Shakespeare and to her own sense of unspoken truths. In communication with Toni by email, Rokia Traoré responded to Toni’s unfolding story with songs that answered or deepened the human questions and the metaphysical aspects in an African context. Her work references African tropes and traditions. Dongori for example, refers to a woven cloth of thorns, a lament and an image that evokes a bitter African proverb for young women: your bridal veil will be your funeral shroud.

In Rokia Traoré’s new version, young women rewrite that proverb and defiantly, tenderly and respectfully claim a different future. The dah and kaicedrat in the overwhelming refrain of Dianfa are fruits with a pungent, acrid taste. The song “Kemeh Bourama” offers a brief sample of the centuries-old griot tradition. This is the way that the exploits of great warriors were recorded, sung and celebrated in the courts of Segou and Timbuktu, and we begin to hear the epic mode in which Othello’s story would have been told in Africa in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

In performance, dialogues spoken by the actress playing Desdemona are in dialogue with songs sung by Rokia Traoré as Barbary. The only song lyrics not written by Rokia Traoré are Shakespeare’s “Willow Song” and the pendant which Toni Morrison wrote in counterpoint to Shakespeare’s “Willow Song,” “Someone Leans Near.”

Four hundred years later, Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré respond to Shakespeare’s Othello, offering some missing pieces and wider perspectives.

Women now have the scope to speak their minds and their hearts, and Africa is real, not just imagined. The women speak to us from the other side of the grave, older now, no longer teenagers.

In African traditions, the dead are quite undead and very present, and for them, as Toni Morrison says, the past and the future are the same.

Desdemona and Othello meet again in the afterlife.

With difficulty, humility and remorse, a space of reconciliation is created. The apologies that we have waited four hundred years to hear are finally spoken. We are not simply left with tragedy. In a time outside of time that illuminates and infuses the present, Desdemona confronts her demons, reconciling the past, and now, no longer alone, prepares a future.

–Peter Sellars, June 2012

DFS: 45 (Years), Half a Million (Kids) and 4.5 (Bucks)

It’s Welcome Week on campus. Freshmen are moving in to their dorms, professors are returning to their offices, and the marching band is rehearsing every afternoon.  In just a few short days, UCLA classes will be back session, and Design for Sharing’s free K-12 programs will be officially underway, too.  

Down here in the Center’s offices in the basement of Royce Hall, we’ve spent the last month getting ready to welcome a brand-new crop of students from public schools across our city. It’s a thrill to watch our inbox fill up with RSVPs for our free Demonstration Performances, and hear what teachers and kids are most excited about. 

 There is a lot of great art to look forward to this year, as always, but this fall we’re also looking back on how far we’ve come. For the last 45 years, Design for Sharing has brought a world of creativity and inspiration to public school students in Los Angeles. More than half a million students have experienced performances in Royce Hall or participated in a hands-on arts activity with DFS.

 Check out this photo, from one of our early years (circa 1973, guessing from the hairdos).

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 The striking thing about this shot is the familiarity of it, the timelessness.   It would be easy to recreate this scene out on the quad before a Demonstration Performance, even now.  The very first season of Demonstration Performances featured chamber music, ballet and Shakespeare.  It was just five performances, and brought around 3,000 students to Royce Hall.

Today, Design for Sharing performances and workshops attract close to 15,000 students a year for a diverse line up of world music, contemporary dance, and innovative theater.

We present artists and art forms that were practically unimagined 45 years ago. We’ve seen trails blazed and envelopes pushed, and we’ve shared it all with eager young minds. We’ve been surprised, an often moved, by how students connect with ideas that are not just new to them, but new to everyone.  And still, there’s a sense of continuity. The smiles, the uncertainty, the excitement and curiosity—we still see all of that at every event we host (and the UCLA students still lounge under the portico arches).

It’s still a little bit magical.

Over the years, we’ve had to evolve, not just artistically but logistically, too.  We’re not just providing free performances any more: we’re subsidizing buses. Transportation seems like such a boring, utilitarian thing when we’re talking about sharing inspiring art, but for most of our schools, it’s actually the least attainable item on their special activity budget.  So, it’s become a larger and larger portion of our budget. We’re aiming to offer 200 free buses this season!

You can help us celebrate our 45th year, and help us expand our legacy of generosity by adding $4.50 to any CAP UCLA ticket purchase. There is an automatic option to make this gift when you buy CAP UCLA performance tickets online, or you can add it to any phone order placed at the UCLA Central Ticket office.

 The cost of a DFS Demonstration Performance in Royce Hall—where kids often take their first seats in a professional performance space, have their first interaction with professional artists and get their first glimpse at a college campus—averages less than $20 per student, including bus transportation to UCLA.

 A lot has changed since our visionary founders started us on this journey back in 1969, but our core mission remains: we continue to make world-class performances available to young audiences; we continue to welcome thousands of students to our beautiful campus each year, and we will always be excited when a bus load of kids get to see something wonderful and new.

 Our next year of sharing the arts begins on September 25, with DakhaBrakha. More than a thousand students will experience this group from the Ukraine. They’ll see instruments and hear sounds and songs they’ve never encountered before.

You can check out the rest of our events here.  We hope you’ll join us–everyone’s welcome.

Ruminations on Creative Coding Lab

Linearity plus Travel Intensity plus Center of Mass plus Gaze equals…

Motion.

Movement.
Specifically…
bodies
in
motion.
in solo improvisation
enacting a written score
responding to visual prompts
navigating an aural landscape
mirroring another body
translating ordinary movements into 3D sculptures.

The final day of our Choreographic Coding Lab: CCL 5 was in many ways about capturing motion.

Motion.  /ˈmōSH(ə)n/ noun. The action or process of moving or being moved.

On Saturday afternoon, about 60 colleagues, friends, and observers moved through the EDA gallery space in the UCLA Broad Arts Center in an informal showing of projects, ideas, hypotheses, investigations and whimsy.  How does the body move – how does the structure of motion capture the intent of the one who is moving?   How does an audience or observer, interpret that intent?  In this final day of the CCL, movement was projected on screens, walls and floors, bodies caught by a thermal camera, a digital paint brush, or a series of lines and dots transmitted via sensors.  MōSH(ə)n.  We are captivated by it. We can’t look away.

One of the participants, also a gymnast, attached some simple Go-Pros and sensor devices to her ankles and wrists.  Jumping on a trampoline, her splits, scissors, rolls and tumbles were rendered digitally on a screen – capturing her flight though space.  We watched a complex web of dots and lines in constant motion, and it was totally clear what she had been doing, how she had been moving.  Her intent was to capture the memory of her movement, so that when she can no longer move that way, a record exists.  “I wanted proof,” she said, “proof that I could do it.  I wanted to see what my body feels.”

Motion. The action or process of moving or being moved.

It was such a thrilling experience to be a part of this week, to watch ideas take shape, change, and assume a different shape. It felt like things were being made, sparks were definitely flying.  As the day came to an end and the projectors were turned off, and the laptops were closed and the extension chords were rolled and the ladders were struck, the EDA space – our home base for the week – regained its old shape. Empty and quiet, but ready for the next wave of motion.

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Gesture = Dance: Ann Carlson @ Creative Coding Labs

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Ann Carlson, our intrepid artist in residence and the creator of The Symphonic Body UCLA, joined the participants of the Fifth Creative Coding Labs on Wednesday to talk about her aesthetic, share insight into her approach to movement and explore what she calls “the movement of the movement.” Ann is the architect of a unique dance performance under construction that will be performed by workers from this campus on Nov. 21 in Royce Hall. (Check out videos of the progress of this piece here).

For Ann, the word “gesture” is synonymous with the word “dance.” Much of her work, The Symphonic Body in particular is focused on accumulation and inspiration, on “the aesthetic of the everyday.”

“The movement of the movement is taking a functional gesture of utility and moving it to something more abstract, metaphorical or ripe with symbolism,” she said.

Carlson talked about triggers in her conceptual development as an artist (hearkening back to moments that snapped her attention away from her childhood traditional ballet training). She talked about dismantling conceptions that surround what a dancer should look like and false constructs of what dance language should be comprised of.  She talked about movement as both a memory trigger and memory preserver.

CCL participants got a minimalist sneak peek at The Symphonic Body, with two performers rehearsing segments of the ever-evolving performance work in front of a rapt audience who seemed fascinated not only by the intricate and unique social structure of the project, but by the potential for emotion and self discovery that can be triggered by having an artist observe a person’s everyday movement and physical gesture and then collaborate with that person to manifest a highly personalized and idiosyncratic movement vocabulary based on it. This is what The Symphonic Body is all about.

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It’s interesting to watch Ann’s own gestures as well as they rehearse and create, to witness the gestural language she has developed that will allow her conduct the movement and score the physical symphony.

Her projects and presence seemed to energize the room and play on themes that had already started creeping in to this experimental space.

We’ve been working on this project with Ann for the better part of a year and have been enmeshed in the very UCLA-specific nature of this work, so it was also quite fun to see shades of Symphonic Body in a piece Ann created almost 20 years ago, titled Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg & Moore. For this, she shadowed four young lawyers in their daily work lives, then created a dance piece based on their movements, rooting their feet to the floor.

Here’s a look at an early performance in the mid 1980s

 

And the lawyers are still performing it. Here’s a 2007 interpretation of the piece.

“You can dance doing anything,” Ann said, quoting a lecture from Murray Louis that had inspired her as a child.

You can even dance while being a lawyer….

Who knew?

Photos by Calista Lyon

The ‘Artist-Centric’ Motivation

Around here we often use the phrase “artist-centric.”

We are an artist-centric organization.

What exactly does that mean?

There are a couple of things happening this week and in the near future that I think help to shed light on just what that phrase means, with two polar-opposite artist-centric commitments from the Center serving as great examples of the phrase.

First, starting today, is the Fifth Choreographic Coding Lab from Motion Bank, a project that grew out of work with the William Forsythe Company four years ago. It is a gathering of disparate artists/creators, some dancers, some choreographers, some video and graphic designers, some coders, some who dabble in multiples of these things.

Every day this week they will come together in the Experimental Digital Arts Space on the first floor of the Eli and Edythe Broad Arts Center, UCLA.

This gathering represents one extreme end of the artist-centric continuum. These individuals are here simply to collaborate, to explore, to dream, to understand and to inspire each other. There is no projected outcome. There is no performance pressure. Something tangible might come of it,  or even multiple things—some new technology or piece of visual art or movement vocabulary. Or not.  The point is not the end result, the point is creating and harboring a space where artistically inclined individuals can, without restriction or pressure, endeavor to build and traverse rabbit holes of possibility.

We had a casual meet-and-greet with the participants last night. There are a few former UCLA students involved, a few students from other design schools in the city, two coders and video artists from Seattle. Everyone I talked to admitted they were excitedly entering the project with few preconceived notions or thoughts on what will transpire. All are curious and open to whatever comes.

Here’s a quick snapshot of them all sharing space together today:

Bringing Motion Bank to campus has been a work in progress over the course of a year. And as Kristy Edmunds, artistic and executive director of CAP UCLA said last night, the Labs actually do have the potential to have a lasting impact on an art form—dance.

I spoke with Scott DelaHunta, one of the Motion Bank founders who said this will likely be the last Coding Lab for a while as the Motion Bank researchers step back to assess all they have learned and derived from this and previous gatherings. So it is a special thing to be involved in. It also marks our first official collaboration with the incredible Design Media Arts program at UCLA. We have been eager for some time to work with students and faculty in this unique program and Design Media Arts professor Casey Reas is one of the leaders of the Coding Lab.

The Labs have an open door policy. Members of the public can drop in throughout the week from 10 am to 5 pm. Days are loosely structured for maximum creativity but begin with a sort of roundtable discussion with all participants sharing a thought, idea or possible working project. But who knows?

On Saturday all will gather at 4 p.m. to share some final thoughts,  showcase any presentations or new material, and in general just celebrate the art of making.

On the other end of the artist-centric spectrum is our ongoing commitment to a master artist and solo performer—Canadian puppeteer and theater maker Ronnie Burkett.

I vividly recall,  in some of our earliest meetings with Kristy after taking her post here as our leader in 2011, she expressed a desire to greatly increase the visibility of Ronnie in the U.S. He is a beloved and well known creator and performer in his home country and other parts of the world, especially Australia, where Kristy spent four years as curator/director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. But, he is (was) less known here in the states.

In the 2013-2014 season we gave Ronnie his L.A. debut, with his masterfully dark narrative work Penny Plain. His performances here were met with enthusiastic response from the local theater community, comprised of arts lovers many of whom had never experienced his work, and the local puppetry community, which, we discovered quickly was already rife with avid Ronnie Burkett fans.

The following season, we were all very excited to have Ronnie back on the program, this time for a longer run and with a wildly different work of theater–the raucous and tender variety show titled The Daisy Theatre, created and again performed by a solo Burkett, (with a little help from a few audience members). It is equal parts witty and wicked, naughty and nostalgic and it could only have sprung from Burkett’s mind. The Center is a co-commissioner of The Daisy Theatre and as such we have an ongoing commitment to its success.

The same week The Daisy Theater opened at the Actor’s Gang space in Culver City, artists Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov were in rehearsal for another theater work The Old Woman, which would take place here in Royce Hall over the weekend, concurrent with The Daisy Theatre’s nearby engagement. We took this as an opportunity to introduce Mikhail Baryshnikov to Burkett’s work and to the artist himself.

Kristy Edmunds snapped this Instagram shot of Ronnie showing the performing-arts legend how to move one of the show’s most important and poignant character’s–Schnitzel.

RonnieandBaryshnikov

We are very proud this season to collaborate with the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City as they become home to the New York debut of The Daisy Theatre. Performances open Sept. 30 and run through October 10. Kristy Edmunds will be on hand for opening night to cheer on one of our favorite artists. If you have friends or family in the city, tell them to head to BAC and catch this show. They won’t regret it.

BAC is the realization of a long-held vision by artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov, who sought to build an arts center in New York City that would serve as a gathering place for artists from all disciplines. BAC’s opening in 2005 heralded the launch of this mission, establishing a thriving creative space for artists from around the world.

This is an important moment in Ronnie’s life as a performer. We’re thrilled and more than a little envious of the New York audiences who will have so many chances to experience The Daisy Theatre.

So, from the experimental confines of a campus collective to the high-concept solo masterwork performed against the glittering lights of the city that never sleeps–we take a moment to revel in our artist-centric nature.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA