Message from the Artist: Marike Splint on Among Us—UCLA

Among Us is an investigation into the relationship to the public spaces we inhabit, and the people we share those spaces with. An attempt to refocus our gaze on what we may not notice as we move through our daily routines.

This is the fifth iteration of the project. Previous versions have taken place on a pastoral field, in a train station, on a beach pier and in an urban city center. Every new version is specifically tailored to its new location, integrating local research, soundscapes, and a structure designed around the specific geography of the site. Every new location affects the work, and the questions that come from it, directly.

Embedding this work in a university campus, which in a way operates much like a small village, has been a particularly interesting process. The university is inherently a place tasking itself to reflect on the world, on who we are and how we operate  as a society. It is a site that carries that responsibility at its very core. The question then becomes how we follow up on that responsibility. I am deeply grateful for the invitation from CAP UCLA to create this version of Among Us in a place in which the questions of the work are so strongly resonating.

—Marike Splint

Artist Highlight: Four Quartets at CAP UCLA

In the days leading up to a Royce Hall performance, artists, company and crew members arrive to set up shop. From CAP UCLA staff working in basement offices, to production crew members working alongside artists on stage, dozens of individuals are involved in making sure all details are in place for public presentations.

CAP UCLA is presenting Four Quartets this weekend, and among the newly arrived artists is American choreographer Pam Tanowitz, a master of her craft and one of the most significant choreographic voices coming out of this country.

Pam had been carrying around a little book a of T. S. Eliot’s poetry that she says “looked like a prayer book” before she began to visualize what Four Quartets would look like embodied by dancers on stage.

This will be the third performance of Four Quartets since its premiere at Bard two years ago. Thrilled at the opportunity to revisit the work here in Los Angeles, Pam says she can now “see the deepening of the choreography in the dancers’ bodies.”

CAP UCLA’s Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds first learned of the work early on from her colleague Gideon Lester, who is the artistic director for the Fisher Center at Bard. CAP UCLA came on as a co-commissioner along with Bard and the Barbican Centre (London),  and Kristy developed a close connection to the work as she often would join the team during the creative development and audition process.

“When we had decided to do this show no one had heard of me, no one wanted to take a chance. Gideon, Kristy and the Barbican took a chance and I knew I was scared in a really good way,” Pam said.

In search of a deeper understanding of the poems, Pam and Gideon visited the four sites that T.S. Eliot names in the poems, which are all places that held special significance for him. “Each place we went to became part of the fabric,” said Pam. “The research and studio time are always my favorite part. I kept doing the research and reading the poem, but when I went into the studio I would leave everything behind. As I worked it took shape,” she said. At first a few steps in silence, then adding music by Kaija Saariaho, followed by the reading of the poem by Kathleen Chalfant and finally the paintings by Brice Marden. The resulting work is one of CAP’s must-see events of the season.

Tickets are still available for Four Quartets, which The New York Times has called “The greatest creation of dance theater so far this century.”

If you’d like to learn more about that journey and the creation of Pam’s dance, there is a blog about the development of the production at https://fishercenter.bard.edu/events/four-quartets/

Message from the Center: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Cities often function as experimental artistic laboratories, places where time seems to speed up and cultural pollination accelerates creative evolution. That’s true in Los Angeles today and it was true in Johannesburg a hundred years ago.

As the 20th century dawned, Zulu men, driven from their ancestral lands by white settlers, were moving to South Africa’s growing urban areas in search of work in mines and factories. This often left them far from their families, severed from their cultural roots by the pressures of colonization and modernity. They were searching for a sense of connection, a sense of home, attempting to create a meaningful dwelling place within an alienating new reality. In these difficult conditions, Zulu workers combined their own musical traditions with popular foreign influences like ragtime and gospel—American genres which themselves were descended from older African forms. Before long a new genre, isicathamiya, had developed from this cross-cultural interplay.

You may know the rest of the story… in the 1980s, folksinger Paul Simon helped bring a South African isicathamiya group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to the attention of the Western media, and a string of awards followed. Now, over a century after displaced migrant workers first pioneered the style on the margins of Western colonialism, isicathamiya has been embraced by audiences across the world.

There’s something inspirational about this back-and-forth flowing of styles across continents and centuries. African music influenced by American music influenced by African music, being performed in cosmopolitan Los Angeles—a city which knows a few things about mixing styles and cultures. The development of isicathamiya serves as a reminder that creativity has always had little regard for humanity’s artificial borders. We are always already immersed in waves of culture that overflow imagined communities like race and nationality, enabling us to find moments of shared humanity as we recognize something of ourselves in each other.

Those early 20th century isicathamiya groups created this music out of the profoundly human need to feel at home. Whatever context you are coming from, we hope that Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s performance at Royce Hall makes you feel a bit more at home, too.

—Andrew Hartwell
on behalf of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Introducing Four Quartets

If you already know T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, you probably remember where and when you first encountered these enigmatic and beautiful poems.  In my case I was an undergraduate, assigned to write a paper on Eliot. I vividly recall exactly where I was sitting in my college’s library when I read the opening lines, “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.”  Their strange music affected me deeply, and has stayed with me since, though the meaning of the poems was beyond my grasp.

Only later did I realize that there is no way to understand the Quartets fully, for they grapple with experiences of time and spirituality that defy comprehension.  Eliot is attempting to find words for aspects of our existence that can’t be fully expressed (“Because one has only learnt to get the better of words / For the thing one no longer has to say,” he writes.) The poems’ subject emerges in fragments and sudden moments of illumination – “hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses” – and the power of Eliot’s writing lies as much in its rhythmic and tonal shifts as in the literal meaning of the words. Like the chamber music invoked by its title, Four Quartets is an auditory experience; it reaches full fruition when we hear it read.

The idea for this live performance based on the Quartets was born in 2015, when the Fisher Center at Bard first presented an evening by the choreographer Pam Tanowitz.  One of the works on that program was called “Broken Story (wherein there is no ecstasy)” and when I asked Pam about this striking name, she told me that it was partly a quotation from “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Quartets. We discovered our shared love of these poems, and I suggested that Pam should create a full-length dance performance with a reading of Eliot’s poems as the score.  The production premiered at the Fisher Center in July 2018, seventy-five years after the first publication of Four Quartets in 1943.

Eliot named the Four Quartets after four places that held special significance for him. As Pam began conceiving her performance, we decided to visit the four sites as a kind of pilgrimage in search of a deeper understanding of the poems. If you’d like to learn more about that journey and the creation of Pam’s dance, there is a blog about the development of the production here.

Over the course of three years Pam created the work in conjunction with a group of exceptional artists – the dancers of her company, composer Kaija Saariaho, painter Brice Marden, actor Kathleen Chalfant, and contemporary music ensemble The Knights. I hope you agree that their combined vision creates a fine complement to Eliot’s poetry, creating a rich dialog with his words without attempting to illustrate or explain them.

Dance and dancing are central metaphors in Four Quartets, and it is not surprising that several choreographers, including Martha Graham and May O’Donnell, have been attracted to the poems. This is the first time that permission has been granted to set a dance to the text, and we are deeply thankful to Clare Reihill and her colleagues at the T.S. Eliot Estate, who have been unfailingly supportive throughout the process.

—Gideon Lester, Artistic Director for Theater and Dance at the Fisher Center at Bard

Message from the Artist: Gianni Skaragas

For me, fiction is not just the construction of an alternate world but a marker of identity that gives equal credibility to things that existed and things that did not—the assemblage of emotional fact and realist detail disguised as point of view. It’s fascinating to make connections between the fictional retelling of events and the details your empathy gives you from the real world—and empathy is one of the few places left on this earth where the writer’s effort to imagine himself into the life of a desperate woman and see through her eyes, is a good reason for trying to put words into her mouth.

The Lady of Ro is a work of fiction about Despina Achladioti, about an ordinary woman, who ended up a folk legend, and a celebrated hero of resisistance during World War II. Set in a small island, a wisp of land, historically specific and timeless, the story is an examination of abandonment, belonging, and personhood; of how the departed demand more space in the hearts of those who struggle to reconcile their new life with the lost past.

It’s not only that I understood Despina or sympathized with her; in some ways, her life gives voice to the hopelessness of a country scarred by the economic and refugee crisis, and the threat of war. In telling Despina’s story, I wanted to write about what goes unsaid, about what comes to us unbidden and what we choose. I needed to make sense of my peripatetic life after the economic collapse in Greece; to describe the unusual bonds that form during unspeakable loss; the histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs of broken people who do their best to live for the moment.

It warms my heart that the story somehow reminds readers and audiences that all our lives are precious and connected, charged and changed by the prism of hope and our very sense of humanity.  It reminds them that the universal human condition derives its breath and color from the same dreams we haul quietly with us and hold dear.

—Gianni Skaragas


Message from the Artist: Fotini Baxevani

I dislike the idea of reducing poetry and fiction to first sentences, but this excerpt conveys the emotional intensity and pure lyricism of my journey into the depth of this role. For the last two years, The Lady of Ro has shaped my life in many ways, including opening my heart to the unexpected ways love manifests itself and seeing mundane things in a different light.

Sometimes I ask travellers: Tell me about the world, son. And they look at me like Im being a nuisance. 

What can I tell you about the world, old lady?, one of them said. Its a mystery if you never see it, and its a mystery if youve seen it from one end to the other.

Well, that upset me, because I knew what they are thinking. They think I dont understand. That my eyes see nothing but stone walls and dust. As if you cant make a wish without a star. As if, if youre away from people, you dont miss a caressing hand.  As if a blind man stops dreaming!  What do they think the world is anyway, your uncles inheritance, to grab as much of it as you can?

You see, none of them ever asks me anything.  I could tell them how to learn to speak about the world. I could tell them about my world. About the rock that the sun bakes and the sea laps. About the rock that doesnt know if God wants it to burn or to drown.

I could talk about my wild fig tree at the edge of the cliff. The one that grows out of nothing and is wanted by neither gravity nor the sky, that doesnt deserve to slide into the sea nor to fly off. People look at you and say its a miracle.  Their hopes bloom along with you – and youre left to wonder whether youd ever bloom in their world, if they would want you in their earth or in their heaven.

I want to show them the seasons of the wind, that breath of the void. The desire to give yourself to anyone, so long as he keeps you alive. What its like to beg for a chance to speak. To have so much to say, and find out that the ships horn is all they can hear. Thats what I want to explain, thats my fear. That nobody will ever learn if you had really wanted to tear up everything, or had just been begging for a place to take you in. 

Well, big deal, you might say. And youd be right. Not everything in life is important, and not every one of us counts. What eats me up is that doubt. That perhaps life could be different. That perhaps a poor wretchs life could be made to count. Because thats what I learned from the rock, the wild fig tree and the wind.

I learned from the Lady of Ro.

—Fotini Baxevani

Message from the Artist: Rachel Kushner

This will be my second public event with Piper Kerman, tag teaming, or whatever it is we will do. The first was this past October, in Cleveland. I had heard about Piper from friends of mine who had been on panels with her and everyone said the same thing: she’s amazing, and earnest, and cool. Respectful and real. She turned out to be all those things, and also, she laughed at my jokes. Even though writing memoirs and writing fiction are so different, we had an easy dialogue, and similar ideas about justice, about the future. Listening to her speak, in a classroom where we appeared together, and then in front of a large audience, I learned some basic things about how to persuade others gently, how to use tact to make a point. At least I observed Piper demonstrate these, expertly.

The next morning, we were on the same dawn-hour flight. Piper was downstairs at our hotel first, completely put together, organized, not spilling coffee and rubbing her eyes, as I was. On the plane, she was across the aisle and one row behind me. We chatted and then I let Piper work – she was preparing a speech to deliver to women judges in Los Angeles, my city and a bastion of punitive judicial conservatism. I promptly fell asleep for the entire four of five hour flight. I was glad to be asleep because I was stuck next to a grown man in shorts (I’m against criminalization generally but for the banning of shorts worn by grown men on airplanes). This grown man in shorts was watching Fox news as the plane prepared for takeoff. He was on his second bloody mary when he started chuckling loudly about the death of congressman Elijah Cummings. He chuckled hatefully with his whole body. I put on headphones and willed myself asleep.

When I woke up, just before we landed, I looked back. Piper was still diligently working. When we were off the plane, I said, “I think the guy next to me probably watched Fox news the whole time I was asleep.” “He did,” she said. “But he also had an NRA magazine he was flipping through.” Meanwhile, Piper had worked on her talk about judicial reform without breaks for the entire flight. She went off to deliver it. I went home, and thought, “What a woman.”

I’m glad I’ll get to see her again soon, at Royce Hall.

—Rachel Kushner

 

Message from the Artist: Piper Kerman

I first sat down to read Rachel Kushner’s novel The Mars Room with a furrowed brow.  “How’s this going to go?”  I girded myself for the story of a woman sentenced to life in prison, told by a woman who has not been incarcerated. Prison looms large in both the literary and the American imagination, and I’ve heard the fantasies and fears of incarceration from more “outside people” than I can count.

I quickly found myself muttering, “How did she do that?” A depiction of the first long and agonizing transport ride to prison was spot-on, revealing a scene and an interior world that Rachel has not experienced. Again and again she captures the negotiations with a social setting, a brutal system and most of all the self that every prisoner must make.  The unique plight of incarcerated mothers is central to The Mars Room.  As a nonfiction writer I am constantly trying to coax the facts into a story; Rachel has that special ability of the best fiction writers to invent a story that is undeniably true.

Upon meeting Rachel, I learned that she’s been volunteering in prisons and advocating for incarcerated people for years. Her commitments are deep and personal, and center the lives of people who have had to survive at the margins.  She’s been crafty and persistent in her pursuit of the truth about California’s sprawling carceral state.

My favorite books are those that leave me flat on my back and gasping for air as I look at the ceiling, momentarily unable to read further because of what has been revealed to me by the characters. The Mars Room had that effect on me, joining books like Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped and Mitch Jackson’s The Residue Years. Rachel clearly does her research rigorously, but it’s the leaps of imagination, aided by a parachute of empathy, that make her writing both truthful and unforgettably painful.  I love that.

One of the reasons such wrenchingly difficult material works is because of Rachel’s humor. In prison, to be funny is a very high value, a way to find and keep friends and allies, a lifesaving skill to fight off isolation.  All this is to say, what an astonishing and accomplished writer. My father, who reads more than anyone I know and is a trustworthy connoisseur of fiction, paid Rachel the highest compliment by swiping my copy of her book.

—Piper Kerman

 

The Arts Administrator’s Creed: 5 Guiding Principles for Your Arts Admin Career

Empowering advice from arts administrators nationwide on how to define and achieve success in your life and work.

Arts administrators work behind-the-scenes on behalf of artists and creatives everywhere, providing resources, support, and structure for their projects and practices. Often, these types of jobs combine a passion for the arts with business, management, education, programming, fundraising, or communications expertise. The work can be highly-rewarding yet also challenging in terms of budget, time, and staff constraints. To help you navigate, we’ve asked leaders in the field for their tips on how to succeed and thrive as an arts administrator…. read more at New York Foundation for the Arts’s blog.

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) was established in 1971 to empower artists at critical stages in their creative lives. Today, the nonprofit organization’s programs and services are far-reaching and are rooted in a wealth of physical and online resources. Each year, NYFA awards $2 million in cash grants to individual visual, performing, and literary artists based in New York State. NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program, one of the oldest and most reputable in the country, helps national artists and arts organizations raise and manage an average of $4 million annually. NYFA’s Learning programs, including its Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp and Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program, provide thousands of artists with professional development training and support. NYFA’s website, NYFA.org, is used by more than 1 million people and features more than 20,000 opportunities and resources available to artists in all disciplines.

Arts administrators in the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding metropolitan area are encouraged to apply to participate in NYFA’s Emerging Leaders Program 2020. Free of charge to selected participants, the initiative provides leadership training for arts administrators over nine months. The deadline to apply is February 3, 2020.

Message from the Center: Frank Bruni & Sarah Smarsh

I’m writing this in the midst of a rough week.  We compile these programs about three weeks prior to when the event actually happens, so by the time you’re reading this, much of what I’m writing about will be old newsreplaced by new news. Right now, the impeachment hearings and their attending levels of nastiness continue, another school shooting occurred in a high school just north of LA, and student journalists at Northwestern University were publicly shamed by older, more experienced journalists for making a mistake in their coverage of a campus protest. Admittedly it’s been a rough couple of years for journalists: writers and editors are a bit on edge.  But if your experience as a journalist has afforded you the privilege of being able to air your ideas in a public forum or publication, you have the responsibility to use that forum to pave the road for younger, less experienced writers. How is it that so many “experienced” journalists did not see this as a teachable moment, but instead got on their soap boxes, and ranted at students whose actions did not quite live up to their best intentions. The student editors at the Daily Northwestern made a difficult decision, but why not help them learn from it, instead of disgracing them or even worse, deterring them from trying again?  We need young, committed writers and journalists and artists and activists and documentarians – we need our young people to feel like we have their backs or they won’t step up. We desperately need them to step up.  Soon.  Now.  Not only in large urban places like LA or DC or Chicago, but in every place, in small towns and small campuses with small newspapers trying to do the right thing.

In 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt made a now famous speech at the United Nations. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which she was a principle author and advocate. This is one of the more enduring excerpts of that speech:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.

Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity, without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

This is where civic engagement starts. This is where civility starts.  With small acts of teaching and conversation and compassion and listening. If these things don’t happen in our homes and communities, in our meeting halls and in our classrooms, then they don’t happen on the national stage. Regrettably, our national conversation is being driven by shouting and shaming and thoughtlessness.

Tonight we are gathered in a hall of public assembly on the campus of a public university to be part of a conversation. Royce Hall is named after the philosopher Josiah Royce, who was an  “American Idealist.”  Born in a California mining town, he believed in communities of grace, in the commitment to the shared cause of a community. Frank Bruni and Sarah Smarsh are journalists who believe in that shared cause. They believe, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, in the small places close to home. Their words remind us that these small places, these small actions are important, they are the foundation of our democracy.  These are the places that matter, and if we put our collective minds to it, they can become communities of grace.

— Meryl Friedman, Director of Education & Special Initiatives

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA