All posts by Andrew Hartwell

Thank You For Reminding Us Why We Do This

On March 7, 2020, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance presented Toshi Reagon’s rock opera adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable Of The Sower, a science fiction examination of an overconfident society on the brink of disaster. The work proved prescient when the world shut down days later.

After quickly pivoting into two years of presenting free performances online, we were thrilled to welcome audiences back to in-person performance this March with choreographer Ronald K. Brown’s The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse, which reflected on the tumult of the preceding years in challenging popular assumptions of balance, equity, and fairness. The new work received a standing ovation from an appreciative audience.

Although we only had a handful of in-person performances this season, each drew an enthusiastic crowd. Toshi Reagon returned to perform an evening of uplifting music with her band, BIGLovely. The Oscar-winning Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla played songs from across his illustrious career. Violinist Jennifer Koh & bass-baritone Davóne Tines shared their deeply moving exploration of the minority experience, Everything Rises. Pianist Anthony de Mare performed re-imagined versions of the music of Stephen Sondheim. Writer David Sedaris returned to Royce Hall, a stage that he has graced regularly since 1998. Most powerfully, the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha performed a heartrending show at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, with images of the destruction in their homeland accompanying their “ethno-chaotic” take on their folk traditions.

Each presentation was enhanced with relevant contributions from CAP UCLA’s Education Department and the Student Committee for the Arts, with highlights including live poetry writing, student humorists, a public piano, and a tango class. But what truly made each night of live performance memorable was the passion of you, our audience.

After two years away, being able to watch exceptional artists in spaces shared with hundreds of other people was a reminder of why we do this, a reminder of how these works were intended to be experienced. In each case, the dynamic exchange of energy between performers and audiences was electrifying. For that we want to thank each and every one of you who ventured out to join us. Thanks to you, we’re more excited than ever about our upcoming season, which will be announced next month, and about next year’s grand opening of the intimate UCLA Nimoy Theater.

We couldn’t do this without you, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this, it’s that we wouldn’t want to.

Crafting an Audiovisual Song Cycle from Red Cross Guidebooks

Heidi Rodewald is the Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning co-composer of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange. Her newest project, A Lifesaving Manual, samples words and phrases from Red Cross Lifesaving Manuals published over the last century and composes them into an audiovisual meditation on aid, safety and care.

The multi-layered music elegantly fuses Rodewald’s pop and rock sensibilities. A Lifesaving Manual contemplates how caring for each other and our world is also caring for ourselves.

Describing the development of the work, Rodewald says that, “It means everything to me to have this piece presented by CAP UCLA. It feels like home. [Former CAP UCLA Artistic and Executive Director] Kristy Edmunds is the one who just came out and asked me what I wanted to make, and I let her in on the very early stages of this piece. And as an artist in residence there, the origins of the piece were created.”

Although the seeds of this work predate the pandemic, it takes on new resonances in light of recent events. “Being able to work on this piece over these past two years has kept me hopeful,” Rodewald says. “I was able to focus on the beauty of how people help other people, animals and the environment. And on how we all try to do our best to make big, necessary changes in the world to make it a safer place for every living thing.”

“The language of lifesaving in the book is universal and poetic,” Rodewald explains. “The instructions, the words themselves are beautiful and heartbreaking and sometimes funny. The piece gives guidance for doing the right thing, the inclination to help when someone is in need, and brings out the best in our human nature. And, most importantly, how to not drown while keeping someone else from drowning.”

In times of crisis and uncertainty, art can remind us of the importance of taking care on both a personal and social level. As one Red Cross water safety guide puts it, “The problem of saving a person’s life does not end when the rescue is completed and the victim brought to shore. Indeed, it is frequently merely the beginning.”

A Lifesaving Manual premieres on CAP UCLA’s free online channel Saturday, May 7 at 6PM. It will then be viewable on demand for two months beginning Monday, May 9 at 6PM.

Ukrainian Band Rages Against Putin’s Machine with Global Sounds

 

photo of the members of DakhaBrakha

DakhaBrakha means “give/take,” a fitting name given the Ukrainian band’s self-proclaimed “ethno-chaotic” approach of breaking down styles and adapting foreign timbres into their own national vernacular. 

When Russia launched their attack in late February, DakhaBrakha were on tour within Ukraine, with international dates scheduled. While they had to cancel their Ukrainian shows, the decision was made that, as unofficial ambassadors for Ukrainian culture on the global stage, it was important that the world tour go forward. We are so pleased to be able to welcome them back to the Theatre at Ace Hotel on April 24 to share their unique take on Ukraine’s musical and theatrical folk traditions.

DakhaBrakha’s art points beyond the seeming deadlock between cultural pride and internationalism, beyond the dichotomy of traditionalism and cosmopolitanism. Experimenting with instrumentation from Indian, Arabic, African and even Russian music, they reterritorialize the world’s sounds into a distinctly Ukrainian vernacular. At a time when Ukrainian culture itself is under attack, with theaters, libraries and museums targeted by the Russian military, DakhaBrakha embody a large-hearted, aspirational openness both to their own traditions and to the shared cultural goods of humanity, reminding us that when a museum or a historic building or other cultural site is destroyed in Ukraine, or anywhere else, the whole world is poorer for it.

Giving and taking, the feedback loop between audience and artists, is what live performance is all about. Even with their country under attack and their loved ones in danger, the dedicated artists in DakhaBrakha continue to give us their own synthesis of folk traditions, inspiring us to take away a sense of international solidarity. Their “ethno-chaos” is a reminder that all cultures and all peoples have the potential to grow and connect and to find surprising resonances without regard for the barriers that separate us. This openness to the outside, to valuing what we share over what divides us, is what will, in the end, defeat the machinery of domination that threatens to tear us apart. 

Don’t miss DakhaBrakha’s performance at the Theatre at Ace Hotel Sunday, April 24th.

Contemporary Composers Re-Imagine Sondheim Classics

Pianist Anthony de Mare’s Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano features reworkings of the music of Stephen Sondheim by composers from across the sonic spectrum. After over a decade of work on the project, the final set of commissions was originally to premiere in March of 2020, in celebration of Sondheim’s 90th birthday. A week before their scheduled premiere, the world shut down. We are thrilled to at last be able to present these updated classics in performance here at Royce Hall on Sunday, April 10.

De Mare commissioned these pieces to contribute to Sondheim’s legacy, helping it spread into new directions. The commissioned composers explored alternate ways of looking at Sondheim’s classic songbook, giving their own spins on the songs. For example, Steve Reich’s two piano version of “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George has been given what Reich calls “a rhythmic character more in line with my own music and, hopefully, another perspective with which to appreciate Sondheim’s brilliant original.”

Meredith Monk, in her take on “Poems” from Pacific Overtures, “began by reversing the figure/ground relationship of the original, and used the rhythmic contours of the song’s accompanying patterns to create new melodic variations.”

Wynton Marsalis’s re-imagining of the Follies outtake “That Old Piano Roll” evokes classic jazz pianists: “The basic stride style of James P. Johnson is answered by the jagged, obtuse style of Thelonious Monk. Both find resolution in the ragtime-swing style of New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton.”

Andy Akiho’s version of the prologue to Into The Woods aims “to orchestrate each character’s personality with the use of prepared piano—for example, dimes on the strings for the cow scenes, poster tack on the strings for door knocks and narrated phrases, and credit card string-clusters for the wicked witch… to portray each character’s story and mystical journey using exotic piano timbres in place of text.”

Each of these pieces, along with the dozens of others, does the important work of defamiliarizing old favorites, of allowing us to hear classic melodies as if for the first time. The depth and breadth of Liaisons boldly makes the case for Sondheim as one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. Get your tickets now.

Choreography Inspired by Radical UCLA Professor

Angela_Davis_enters_Royce_Hall_for_first_lecture_October_7_1969.jpg

On March 5, after a long two years, CAP UCLA will return to presenting at Royce Hall with Ronald K. Brown’s newest work, The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse. Along with the score by jazz pianist Jason Moran, an important element of the piece is recorded words from speeches by activist Angela Davis, who, coincidentally, also has a long connection with Royce Hall.

Born in deeply segregated Alabama, when Davis was hired as a philosophy professor by UCLA in 1969 she already had a reputation as a radical focused on oppressions at the intersections of class, race and gender. The UC Board of Regents, under pressure from then-Governor Ronald Reagan, tried to fire her even before she taught a class, on the basis of her politics. When a judge struck down her firing as unconstitutional and she returned to campus, her first lecture back had to be held in Royce Hall due to the overflowing crowd.

The Regents fired Davis again in 1970 for “inflammatory language.” Shortly after being dismissed from UCLA, Davis was hunted down and arrested on charges of accessory to murder and conspiracy. Denounced by President Nixon as a “dangerous terrorist,” Davis was tried and found not guilty, with the case drawing international attention. She is likely the only former UCLA professor ever to be placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, or to have inspired a song by the Rolling Stones.

In 2014, Davis was at last welcomed back to Royce Hall to lecture on feminism and prison abolition. Davis’ life and work are an inspiration to those fighting for civil rights, gender equality and academic freedom, so it is unsurprising that she was a muse for Brown in the creation of The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse, which grapples with current events and issues of balance and fairness in modern society. At a time of heated debates over social justice and with increasing political pressures on educational institutions to not confront difficult truths, Angela Davis still has much to teach us.

As part of our presentation of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, we’ll be highlighting the legacy of Angela Davis before the performance and during intermission. Join the conversation and check out our pop-up library, spoken word performances, and a special exhibit with music, books, photos, speeches and archival materials from our partners at UCLA Library Special Collections.

Creating a Space for Marginalized Storytelling

Everything Rises is an original staged musical work about connection, resonance and the creation of a new artistic space. It features violinist Jennifer Koh and bass-baritone Davóne Tines, telling the story of their artistic journeys and family histories through music, projections and interview recordings. As a platform, it also centers the need for artists of color to be seen and heard. Developed over multiple years by an all-BIPOC creative team, the project reclaims Koh and Tines’ narratives about who they are and how they got to where they are now. 

This powerful work was originally to be presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance in 2020 before being delayed by COVID. This turned into an opportunity for fine tuning, as we offered the artists a residency, making our rehearsal room available to them, where they were able to further develop the piece. 

As Koh describes it, with the pandemic, the black lives matter movement and increasing violence against Asian Americans, “collaborating became even more meaningful.” As a result, the additional time “really made the piece stronger in a lot of ways, much more personal.” 

For Koh, “One of the things that’s been so meaningful about having CAP UCLA’s support is that I don’t think a story about an Asian-American experience has ever been told on a classical music scale or a classical music stage… so it was especially meaningful to have CAP UCLA’s support, to be able to bring an Asian-American story, a personal story, to life… also a story I think about solidarity, between two musicians that are minorities and working within the space of classical music.”

Tines feels that the increasing commodification of art means it is important to be “more dutiful in making art be about life.” CAP UCLA’s support helped him to be more intentional in developing the piece: “Everything I think is better, or at least in a creative context is better, if it’s given more space and time.” The delays became “a beautiful opportunity for us to continue to spend time with each other in person and digitally. Just getting to know each other and getting to know our other collaborators so that we could figure out what is the truth of the story of each of us.”

At long last, Everything Rises will be performed at Royce Hall on Thursday, April 14, 2022 at 8PM PT.

Message From The Center: Dorothea

Art, like love, is a sort of rupture in our subjective situations, something dis/reorienting that demands we move beyond previous conceptions of our selves and our worlds. Ted Hearne embodies this principle in his work, challenging notions of stable coherent identity and highlighting the gaps and contradictions between the worlds of the private and the public, the personal and the political, the inside and the outside.

Hearne says that what intrigued him about Dorothea Lasky’s poetry was that it articulated the tension between our imagined conceptions of ourselves and how we are recognized by others. These themes resonate with much of Hearne’s work. Hearne is drawn to setting his own identity as composer against the words of others, complicating questions of authorial intent — his 2014 oratorio The Source featured autotuned audience-embedded vocalists singing the transcripts of Chelsea Manning’s instant messages and the text of wikileaked government documents; the uncanny valley surrealism of the vocal filters kaleidoscopically reflecting the disorienting natures of both modern information warfare and gender dysphoria.

This new band Dorothea continues Hearne’s decentering of the self, , a collective aesthetic developed with musician Eliza Bagg and visual artist Rachel Perry,  spotlighting the words of poet Dorothea Lasky. Dorothea as a collective project embodies the blurring of identities of Hearne champions, functioning as a creative assemblage which the artists’ individual aesthetics flow together to produce something unexpected, a new multiplicitous form of subjectivity that the artists lose themselves in. You are hereby invited to lose yourself in it, too.

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

Dorothea premieres Sat, May 15, 2021 at 7PM PDT
Available On Demand
Mon, May 17, 2021 at 7PM PDT
Through June 30, 2021

Message from the Center: On DakhaBrakha’s Ethno-Chaos

Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 7PM PDT

What is “ethno-chaos”? That’s how DakhaBrakha describes their aesthetic. The term is provocative, bringing to mind the anarchic attitude of punk rock, but chaos is not merely destructive: it can be essential for new creation, the explosive combustion powering an engine of renewal.

DakhaBrakha means “give/take,” and that’s what their brand of ethno-chaos is all about. Philosophically, their music embodies a poststructuralist approach, breaking down styles, reterritorializing foreign timbres into their own vernacular, freely taking from the old and giving something new. They are experimental cartographers remixing the map of world music, spreading Ukrainian folklore while absorbing and metabolizing new ideas, asserting the uniqueness of their traditional culture while championing progressive ideals, boldly exploring primal rhythms and cosmic drones.

We know a thing or two about ethno-chaos here in Los Angeles, the postmodern metropolis that gave the world Korean tacos, the place where the French Dip sandwich was invented in Chinatown. This perpetual swirling deconstruction and recombination of cultures and styles is a source of vitality for our city, just as it is for DakhaBrakha’s music.

By joining us for this performance, you have become a part of this symbiotic process of giving and taking. That’s what the art of performance is all about: the energy shared between artists and audience. The creativity of DakhaBrakha should serve as a reminder that humanity always has the potential to grow in unexpected ways, giving and taking, forming new networks without regard for the barriers that separate us.

Maybe we could use a little more ethno-chaos in our world.

Enjoy the show.

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

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

Message from the Center: Anoushka Shankar

Photo by Anushka Menon

Anoushka Shankar once said of the Syrian refugee crisis that she “felt overwhelmed with a sense of powerlessness to alleviate the suffering and injustice taking place as the world looked on.”

I know the feeling. Today we are constantly confronted with opportunities to feel overwhelmed by our powerlessness. We’re all thrown backwards into an uncertain future, encouraged to literally and figuratively wall ourselves off from each other. How do we resist collapsing into passively nihilistic despair?

One answer is music. As Shankar says, music has the power “to express how even within chaos, one can find beauty when in connection with another human being.”

No matter how powerless we feel, or how chaotic our situation, music reminds us that we have the ability to be present with others in a moment, to resonate together to an intersubjective hum. We experience that beautiful connection with each other when artists, audiences and architectures combine through the alchemy of performance to reveal something irreducible, something beyond us.

Moments of genuine human connection are rare in our atomized and “optimized” society, but we do not leave these moments unchanged. They remain with us, we are empowered by them, our capacities to affect and be affected are modified, and our worlds are expanded.

We hope that your world is slightly expanded by Anoushka’s performance, and that you leave Royce Hall feeling a little more connected and, perhaps, a little more human.

—Andrew Hartwell

Anoushka Shankar performs at Royce Hall Fri, Apr 19 at 8PM