Beyoncé danst Rosas


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 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.


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. 


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).


 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…


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.

FullSizeRender IMG_9878 IMG_9891 IMG_9900

Gesture = Dance: Ann Carlson @ Creative Coding Labs

LYON 2015-09-16 The Coding Lab 164

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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LYON 2015-09-16 The Coding Lab 261

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.


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.





‘Desdemona’ Director Peter Sellars Says It’s OK to Fall Asleep

Well, maybe not exactly asleep, but while experiencing  his theater work Desdemona, if you find yourself slipping into a sort of meditative trance, or feel yourself straddling other unearthly worlds and universes…you’re doing it right.

Peter Sellars visited our offices last week to talk about our upcoming performances of Desdemona, a magical and thoughtful re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Othello, written by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and the magnificent Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, who performs in the piece with exceptional stage and film actress Tina Benko and an ensemble of Malian musicians. As he reflected on the attitude of this quiet piece, he laughingly recalled a sentiment often expressed in Japanese Noh Theater—“dozing encouraged.”

One of the things Peter very eloquently conveyed to us was the powerful quietness and absolutely intimate nature of this piece of theater.


“It is one of the most elusive things I have ever put on the stage,” he said. “You do sort of feel like you are starting to fall asleep and dream…your heart rate slows until you are feeling differently and aware of this flowing space between waking and dreaming, and this beautiful work of theater touches the edges of the dream state.”

The physical staging is purposely simple, designed to evoke the feeling of traditional African mourning altars, he said. We enter into this benevolent graveyard to be greeted by the voices of women—songs from Rokia Traoré that defy translation sung softly, eloquent language from Toni Morrison spoken softly and with deep intent.  The technical sound requirements require precision instruments and exacting attention to detail so that every gesture, every sound, every movement from the stage may nurturingly welcome us deeper and deeper into a sense of otherworldliness, Sellars said.


The scope and shape of the play itself evolved organically over the course of its creation, Sellars said. There was no initial vision or design that the performers and writers were trying to match. Morrison essentially plucked one line out of the play, one line spoken quietly by Desdemona to the woman her husband was having an affair with, and amplified that one line into an otherworldly experience for us all, one that will change the way we think about the character of Othello, the historically revered man who invented him and the racial and social themes that continue to emanate through our society.

“In this age of big spectacle, what we are doing here is examining how valuable and rich is a single human being, and how many worlds reside within each of us,” Sellars said.

It is ephemerality laced with ephemerality packaged in ephemerality—and these are the trappings of transcendence.

We have a brief shining moment with these words and these exceptional performers. Just four performances in Freud Playhouse, a 500-seat theater. After that, the cast and crew travel to Australia for two festivals and it is not likely the play will be mounted again anytime soon.  Traoré is a rising force in global music and will be focusing on her recording career for the foreseeable future.  She is so integral to the casting, Sellars says she doesn’t see it ever being performed without her.

Be here with us. Let’s take this journey together.


Music is Life…

Update Your Playlist.

That’s just one of our rallying cries around our season programming. You’ll see much more of this and other statements that encapsulate our feelings about music, theater, dance and spoken word.

Music is such a huge part of our lives–as a performing arts entity, as humans living in a vibrant, music-rich city. No, make that a vibrant, music-rich world.

The way we consume music has changed dramatically over the last handful of years. It’s remarkable how much the playlist has taken over. Even for those of us, yours truly included, who still love to listen to and purchase whole albums of favorite artists, the concept of playlist is no longer as much of a labor of love as it once was. Raise your hand if you slaved over mix CDs for Valentine’s Day gifts, workout mixes, girls nights, baby showers etc? Now, a playlist is a daily occurrence, fueled as much by our own deep dives of discovery into the vastness of the music landscape as it is by the songs and sounds our social media platforms are building for us.

Here at the Center we are constantly and joyously having our collective playlist updated by the incredible artists from around the world we encounter. And they, each in their own form and culture are updating the playlists of their lineage, the history and legacy of their forms. And by bringing them here to our stages, we are seeking to update your personal playlist as well.

We recently added another great to this year’s lineup–Blues/funk/soul singer and guitar player Black Joe Lewis and his band will co-headline with modern soul great Booker T. Jones here in Royce Hall on Friday December 4. This is sure to be a  very special night as Lewis and his band open the show. His horn section will stick around and flesh out Booker T.’s band and there will likely be more on-stage collaboration between Joe and Booker throughout the evening. The two consummate performers have never worked together before, but are mutual admirers and we count ourselves extremely lucky to bring them together for the first time in an exclusive performance on our season.

Black Joe Lewis and his band.
Black Joe Lewis and his band.

This is just one example of a season full of concerts that are exclusive pairings of musicians and groups that will happen nowhere else in the world–creating a truly eclectic and unique live-playlist experience.

Our exclusive concert pairings include:

  • Grammy Winning jazz collective Snarky Puppy with eclectic local quintet Kneebody on Thursday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in Royce Hall.  (Kneebody will also perform a free outdoor lunchtime concert to welcome students back to campus).
  • Ukranian trance-like quartet DakhaBrakha will be joined by the revered Tuvan throat singers of Huun Huur Tu on Friday, September 25.
  •  Our exclusive Mardi Gras Bhangra event on Tuesday February 9 pairs the unlikely but equally thrilling sounds of New York “dhol and brass” ensemble Red Baraat with legendary New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9.
  • Regina Carter returns to Royce Hall February 26 with her violin to share her deeply personal latest album Southern Comfort. We’ve paired her with Los Angeles-based Sam Amidon, a singer, guitarist, fiddler and banjo player who creates “recomposed folk songs.”
  • March 5, 2016 we bring together North African griot and acclaimed ardine player Noura Mint Seymali and her band with Tal National, with its  blissfully hypnotic West African guitar music. Both bands transcend the suffering and turmoil caused by years of civil unrest with the sound of their defiantly joyous music.
  • We’re also one of just a few performance stops for Tigran Hamasyan, who will be bringing us sacred music from Armenia in a thoughtful and rare program that also includes members of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir–Saturday, December 5th in Royce Hall.

And,  couple of new albums from season artists are nearly ready for your playlists.

Buddy Guy, who kicks off our season in just a few weeks (August 13 at Royce Hall) has a new studio album arriving on July 31. “Born To Play Guitar,” features guest appearances by Van Morrison, Joss Stone, Kim Wilson and Billy Gibbons. Morrison joins Buddy on the heartfelt “Flesh & Bone,” a song dedicated to the late great B.B. King. On “Come Back Muddy” Guy reminisces about the good ole days with his friend Muddy Waters.

(We’ve also recently added local rock-blues trio The Record Company to the Buddy Guy show. They will open the night. Get to know them before you arrive, you won’t regret it.)

Anoushkha Shankar, who will be with us April 13 2016, with a Hang drum player, and live electronics, has a new album coming out this week, July 10 titled “HOME.”  Inspired by her classical upbringing and teaching by her legendary father, Maestro Ravi Shankar this album offers both meditative and virtuoso Indian classical raga for solo sitar with ensemble.

Recently, the Grammy Museum opened an exhibit devoted to Anoushka’s revered father, Ravi Shankar. It is the first time this acclaimed musician has been so honored in the United States and the exhibit runs through Spring of 2016.

I know, for me, it was Ravi Shankar who brought the sitar into my personal playlist and I am looking forward to having his virtuosic daughter update it even further.

Please join us often in the coming months as we celebrate the art of performance in myriad and mystical musical forms.  Our playlists will most certainly be bulging.

Choose Your Own Arts Adventure!

You are in control of your own season experience!
You are in control of your own season experience!

Our sincere thanks go out to everyone who has already subscribed to our upcoming season. We’re currently working on seating order for subscribers and your tickets will be in the mail soon! We are looking forward to a packed calendar of inspiring, provocative and exciting performers from around the world, and it is always great to know we have a cadre of committed arts lovers readying themselves for the season along with us.

Subscriptions to our pre-curated series of Theater, Spoken Word, Jazz, Roots & World, Global Music, Dance, and our special four-night package celebrating Belgian contemporary company Rosas ended last week. But, you can still subscribe to the 2015-2016 season with a self-programmed Create-Your-Own series of five or more events. In fact, you can order a Create-Your-Own series at any point during the season, gathering any five or more upcoming performances.

This choose-your-own-arts-adventure option has by far become our most-popular subscription method over the last several years. It makes sense. As a social media savvy society, we are increasingly able to curate our own experiences with information, pop culture and entertainment. It seems natural that arts lovers would gravitate toward desiring a series of events that will specifically enhance their individual interests. And our programming is eclectic enough that we know you are also likely to be exploring and engaging with new artists and experiences as you build those personalized series.

There are people who might ask– why subscribe to CAP UCLA or to any performing arts program at all?  Why not just buy tickets as the shows approach? We know subscribing to a series in advance definitely entails a certain amount of pre-planning on your personal calendar, self-education/research into artists as well as an initial financial investment—all of which might seem daunting.

But, if you’ve never purchased a subscription to a performing arts program before, consider some of the benefits. For us, and likely for many other organizations, the only discounts on ticket prices happen during the subscription window. For example, our series subscribers (anyone who purchases our pre-curated selections) save 15% off list prices. For our Create-Your-Own option, you save 10%. This adds up to a great deal per ticket, one you won’t get otherwise.

And, ticket fees, which no one loves, but are inevitable and necessary, are lower on a subscription package because you pay one fee for five performances, rather than doling out fees on five or more different purchases throughout the year.

At CAP UCLA subscribing is also your best way to get the best seats in the house. Our venues are not large–Royce Hall is an 1,800 seat theater, Freud Playouse just 500 seats. Prime seats go to first to our returning subscribers who are also philanthropic members of CAP UCLA, then to our repeat series subscribers. By the time individual tickets go on sale every year, there is very limited access to seats front-and-center in any of our venues. So if you’re the kind who loves to see the sweat on a dancer’s brow, or catch every nuance of an actor’s facial expression, or see fingers fly across a keyboard or guitar string, subscribing is your best bet to get that experience.

For us, subscribers are the foundation of success for any given performance. We are proud of the artists we present and we bring them to Los Angeles because we truly believe that there are people here who should witness them. The subscribers who sign on now to be here for a performance up to a year from now, we know are going to bring the kind of energy to this place that will lift us all up.

For those of you who subscribe year after year, we see you. We feel you and we thank you. For those of you who are new subscribers this year, we can’t wait to see what you bring to the program. And for those of you who pick up tickets as the season progresses, we are so appreciative of the support and energy you add to the whole process as the curtain call draws near.

Individual tickets go on sale June 26 at full price. If you see several things you like on our upcoming season, consider taking a chance and Create-Your-Own series now or at any moment before a performance begins.

Regardless of how you get here though, know that we’re extremely happy when you arrive.

Here’s a peek into my arts-addled mind. This is the series I would create if I wasn’t essentially already subscribed to every single performance.

Miranda July: New Society--Because I like earnestly rendered awkwardness and I like  community togetherness and this “social experiment” is poised to provide both.

Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall–While I am an electronic music lover, I’m not super familiar with his DJ work, but I find this combination of electronic sounds, live string instruments and graphics very intriguing. Plus I have a huge soft spot for sweet-looking animated robots.

Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music: The 20th Century Abridged.–Because I also have a huge soft spot for men in drag.  (Avid re-watcher of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Rocky Horror Picture Show right here).  I caught Taylor in a performance at the Hammer earlier this year and not only is he incredibly glam, but surprisingly tender and with truly legit vocal chops. Can’t wait to see him bedazzle Royce Hall.

Akram Khan and Israel Galvan: Torobaka--I fell in love with Akram Khan’s work when we presented Vertical Road a couple of years ago. It was the same year he created this beautiful piece for the London Olympics opening ceremony, which the U.S. cut out of its broadcast in favor of a Ryan Seacrest interview. I’ve watched this segment many times since then and am looking very much forward to seeing Khan perform in what seems like it will be a very powerful physical dialogue between two dancers and two forms.

An Evening with Anoushka Shankar–I love the sitar and had many chances living in L.A. to see her glorious father perform live, none of which I took. I am remedying that mistake with the next generation.





Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA