Category Archives: Notes from Kristy

Jazz Day at Home in Honor of Those Who Are Keeping Us Safe

Dear Friends,

Some of you know CAP UCLA as a contemporary dance and theater presenting organization, others as a literary series. For some we are a “go-to” for global, roots, folk, indie and/or new music. Others look to us as the place to see genre-defying performance collaborations. But some of our most stalwart and active audience members experience CAP UCLA through our work in supporting and presenting the towering achievements of artists who live and breathe in the extraordinary world of jazz music.

In keeping with personal reflection: I had an uncle who listened to his coveted jazz records late at night after everyone had long since gone to bed. The far-off sounds from the porch would compel me to sneak out of my sleeping bag on the living room floor to get closer. This music was relished by my uncle, as was his time alone with it. He would land the needle on the vinyl record and listen with his head back and eyes closed. Any interruption would be unwelcome, so it was with delicate care (and a risk of detection) that my 5-year-old self would venture out for a better proximity.

Hiding there, just out of eye-shot, I would work at listening. These “songs” were long and unusual to me. There seemed to be no ending to anticipate, no relief in a refrain, and it was all complicated and amazing to my ears. A language unlike the country/pop/rock I heard on the car radio while riding with my parents. I tried not to breathe or move and would squeeze my eyebrows together to settle in a music that was unanswerable and fascinating. Putting my head back with my eyes closed helped, but the truth is what made me able to hear jazz was watching my uncle’s uncharacteristic revelry and intimacy in how he listened and how he loved what he heard in the music.

He drove a digger, welded, and worked the cranes when there was a construction job. He picked blackberries on the weekends to make jam and wine. He had served in the military and we understood it was not a thing to bring up at dinner. When I eventually asked him about his jazz records on the porch late at night, he told me that it was his friendships he was listening to. That the real way to understand the depth of jazz was to be with it in person and experience the musicians making it right then. That records were an artifact of something captured, like a sound equivalence of a photograph: “It can’t hold everything that goes into jazz, but it proves that a f’in miracle took place between people. When you listen to it, you are looking after that.”

As we celebrate International Jazz Day this week, we acknowledge the African American musicians that changed the sound of the 20th Century and the global impact of a form that continues to expand and express how the self-manifested and singular contribution of an individual can elevate the liberty of all of us. Jazz is democracy in full and generous flight.

In the past few days and weeks, jazz has lost many of its practitioners — elders, authors and musicians. Our celebration of the form is tempered by a grief for the loss of these music makers, and still requires us to bend over to put on that shoe, stand up, stay together and feel a grace in listening from the lens of love.

Let’s keep looking after each other.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Amazing Things in the Natural World

Dear Friends,

As I write, Los Angeles is once again restored to unfettered sunshine, with birds and crickets generating our urban soundscape. What a different experience than the sound of our formerly crowded lobbies and cafes (missed), or the LAX flight path overhead (less missed), or our cars crammed side by side while riding the brake pedal on the 405 at 5mph. The sky is uncluttered and brilliantly clear. The earthquake on Earth Day helped heighten our attentiveness — as if we needed a ratcheting-up on the life-intensity dial — and high temperatures are blowing in with the Santa Ana winds.  My neighbors spill out into the middle of the street in carefully timed intervals. There’s no traffic to worry about, so the kids get to rule the road on their bikes for the first time in their lives. The joggers easily give each other a wide berth. And I had no idea that there were this many people with dogs. Our face coverings are portraits in ingenuity, as are the chalk drawings on our sidewalks.

On Thursday nights Royce Hall and the Powell Library are bathed in blue light for the health care workers, first responders and essential workers keeping our communities fed, protected and functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic. #LightItBlue

CAP UCLA’s offices are located in the north-facing wedge within the basement of Royce Hall. It’s a well-lit rabbit warren of sorts, which is now empty while our team works remotely. I’m thinking about how our staff are the essential workers of a different side of holding up our communities. I want to acknowledge them all. They are always at work to expand creative nourishment, drive a response toward incredible ideas, and protect the sparks of inspiration between artists and audiences. We work alongside artists with a duty of care for our cultural and creative commons. We press our collective shoulders to the wheel in service to the values of artistry and its continuity, which is kept in motion by our allies and supporters. We work to secure resources for artists, keep connections between people vibrant, and ensure that our stage can be a sturdy hearth for artistic expression.

CAP UCLA is not a place, but is an essential function — like an estuary that holds the space between artists and audiences so that a shared meaning can emerge without being blown out to sea by the headwinds… a space for truth. And of course Royce Hall is a place, an iconic one that was built through the efforts of many to stand as a home for the experiences and ideas we make together.

We are not physically there right now, but the ghost light is shining brightly from the empty stage, and we are building the future with so many extraordinary artists that we can’t wait to share with you.

Art is essential, as is your support of those who make it, and those who hold the space for it.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Keep on Dancing

Dear Friends,

This week it has felt as if we have become a bit restless, a bit weary. Our home-based projects are wrapping up, securing flour for our baking efforts requires an obscenely early start to get to the grocer in the morning, and that new and tedious app we mastered doesn’t do the laundry after all. We’ve lost people. The unemployment numbers are incomprehensible. There’s a wolf at the door who returns daily and yet there is a tangible itch to get things going again. Gratefully, our hearts are redirecting every urge to roar back to before, because reading the headlines still requires bracing oneself.

At CAP UCLA we are thinking a lot about dance and the artists who create it. What it requires of them and what staying at home in tiny non-affordable apartments is like for people who need space to move and train and extend.

My first exposure to dancing was through my mother. Approaching our house after preschool, right where the sidewalk met our driveway I could often hear “The Age of Aquarius” or “Great Balls of Fire” blasting from the stereo console inside. Framed by our front facing window was Judy McKellar dancing with complete abandon in the living room. She would elatedly wave for me to quickly come inside to join her before the song ended. We lived in Spokane, Washington (circa 1968). When disco arrived (via radio) she was in pure bliss. Her use of the word “boogie” was in high rotation (as were the eye-rolls of my sister and I).

My mother’s zeal for dancing did not rub off, but her capacity for finding the remarkable within the everyday while making something bright with what was available, taught me to look and notice. I discovered the sound in the space between the notes, the slump of different glazes on a piece of pottery, the poet as an athlete of words, and the articulate contours that choreographers and dancers construct to shape gravity itself. Their dedication to making meaning with their bodies in collaboration with each other and the air around them and the worlds they pull into this ephemeral and extraordinary art form is nothing less than astonishing.

Dance is carried by the dancers who migrate across practices, vocabularies, choreographers and projects — across cultural intelligences, geographies and eras — to make up a weave of transmission that not only expands their expressive terrain, but gives the audience a vital role. As quite possibly the most evanescent of the arts, it requires an audience to be the living archive of their life works. Our presence matters immensely and our responsibility is considerable.

I’ve been taught how to carry that thread by my mom, my extraordinary wife, my staff, and by watching cowboys in Bozeman, Montana (circa 1987) do the two-step as if their lives depended upon holding its line together, no matter how thick the layer of peanut shells on the floor of the bar is.

Here’s to the dancers and poets.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

An Outpouring of Art

My work with artists invariably starts with sharing ideas.

I’m not trying to state the obvious… that artists have ideas. What matters is the sharing part and how they go about it.

Artists share the things they’ve learned or encountered, are vexed by or are wrestling with, and the perspective they’ve gleaned. The inspiring, enraging, unshakable things and the things that they happened to glance at and returned back to for another look. Like a blob of paint sitting on the street, or how people step off the curb with their right foot more often than their left at crosswalks. The woman always smiling, the old guy always sweeping on Tuesdays, the infuriating process of being put on hold, or how some electric lines carry different tones. In conversation, artists share what they have read, listened to, watched or went to, or have recently pulled up from some long-ago post online somewhere that required active dedication to find. What they cooked, or tried, or were left silenced by.

I’ve had the exact coordinates of a desert location shared with me so that I would know precisely where to stand during an equinox to see a momentary green flash of light on the horizon… unless I blinked.

How a puppet can be made from discarded everyday things that can come in handy when delayed in an airport with frustrated passengers. I’ve been asked if I’ve read an obscure play written in the 1400s that was never staged, but is mind-blowing, as if it were something one might readily stumble across in a café. I’ve been informed of scientific studies about redwood trees having a unique genetic makeup that affects their longevity. Weeds being able to communicate warnings to other weeds if injured. Ancient monks who found two Ginkgo seeds in an even more ancient box and —  in deciding to plant one — rejuvenated the species. I’ve been shown the handwriting of a shop clerk on a scrap of paper that would become a play, the contents of a lifesaving manual from WWI that would become a song cycle, photographs of a fragment from a sacred Indonesian text that rivals all wisdom, and how bark paintings in Indigenous Australia are as vital as life itself. There have been many sketches on napkins in many cafes to better share the shape of things.

Have I been following the court case involving a Canadian farmer who fought a seven-year legal battle to protect his community against pesticides and the genetic modification of seeds, or what some physicists were researching “this very second as we speak,” or all kinds of other extraordinarily useful things that a choreographer had been poring over in journals that I had never heard of? That there are new lighting instruments that could supply every color imaginable while using a scintilla of the electricity that the currently popular stage lights did (along with a detailed explanation of how it all works)? Did I know about an egregious injustice that was happening somewhere, and what one single person did to change things, and how we can help and we must? And we do.

From conversations with artists, I’ve learned about other artists. Like the one who created a honey bee preserve on the empty land of a demolished housing project that generated income for his community with a tiny grant. Of the composer who clustered notes together in such a way as to change music for all time, while still driving a taxi. Of the brilliant horn player practicing in the subway, the filmmaker, designer, stagehand, producer or manager or music teacher, or publisher, or shop owner, or chef who fed everybody after their performances ended in her café after closing, or the usher who has worked every show at the theatre for over 40 years… the record producer who ensured legacies were recorded to share for all time, and who rarely made a dime but that wasn’t the point — the music and makers were. Of artists working on projects that won’t be completed in their lifetimes but who carry on, because others pick up where they left off, like a huge love letter continuously sent to the future and addressed to people that none of us will ever know, because that is how cultural heritage extends.

We talk about finding whoever owns that long-abandoned theater and see if we might, together, find a way to get it reopened for our community, if mounting a fundraiser down the street at a friend’s pub for an immigrant shop owner who won’t raise prices because she has a community who can’t afford it but won’t make the rent next month either, or how special Yoko Ono has always been. If there are instruments and gear we could donate for those kids who are starting a music lending library so they can play music together, with their friends who dance in the parking lot at night for the glorious feeling of trying moves that no one else has tried before, alongside their poet peers who are right up there with Ginsberg and Whitman and Rumi and Sundiata and Neruda and Angelou!? We talk about the work we have to do and how we are going to do it.

Long before the conversation turns to what an artist is working on in their process of finding form to best hold the effort, and how that can be resourced, and who they hope it will reach — are the ways of seeing and knowing and being, and always how some essentialness can be shared.

The song, the poem, the dance, the play, the film, the book or the painting in the left corner of the museum that was on the wall in 2003 in Denver that just changed everything imaginable… and yes too, that standing ovation that lasted for five whole minutes at the end of the show that can still be heard to this day.

All so astonishing. These things to be perceived, made known, fully felt, illuminated, and better cared for.

Which is to say  —  we should all have an artist in our lives.

Someone I have in my life and have had these exact kinds of conversations with, made projects with, and have been loyally enlisted by over many years…died of the coronavirus on April 7th (as did many others). Hal Willner was a firmament in the lives of many artists. An entirely passionate maker, producer, generator of amazing thoughts, father, husband, friend and a singular force who connected literally thousands of us across generations and worlds as if we had all been at the same room whenever something important happened (in Hal’s expansive world something always was), be that 1957, 1965, 2012, or last week.

He collected up all of our dust and light and spillage and sounds and words and ability and longing and asymmetrical shapes to build a constellation.

I am looking at it right now.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Design for Sharing Turns 50

Dear Friends,

I hope that you and yours are holding up alright out there, staying healthy and looking after yourselves. Also, that you are finding moments of positive astonishment, levity and wonder within the gargantuan backdrop of what we are all in together.

I do miss being able to welcome you all at our performances. Admittedly, I was always a bit nervous to take the mic in hand and step momentarily into a pool of light, before the artists took the stage, to share a few thoughts and express our appreciation for your presence. With my nerves now totally realigned, I feel a yearning to return to that mic and see your faces in the audience. Writing will have to suffice for now, but my appreciation for your presence remains immense.

These letters feel akin to clicking off Morse code dispatches in the hope that they will find you and carry meaning once sent off through the internet. When I was a 5th grader, a friend who lived across the street insisted on teaching me the dots and dashes of Morse code in the event I ever needed them during an emergency at sea. To improve my skills there needed to be practice sessions, and these took the form of the two of us using flashlights for sending signals from our bedroom windows each night at precisely 11:00 PM. Spelling anything via the dots (short-flash) and dashes (long-flash) of Morse code made for a lot of gibberish. We would crack up the next day at the bus stop when sharing what we each thought the other had said. We tired of it after a couple of weeks, but given this possible emergency at sea one day, I made certain that I had mastered “S.O.S.” before moving on to other projects. His name was Matt, and he went on to become an accomplished scientist.

There is a great deal of work that UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance does with students, and this newsletter edition is about that work. With every kid in California and beyond unable to go to school in the way they were able to but weeks ago, we have heard ample S.O.S. signals from kids, teachers and parents and so we have put together some things for you from our K-12 program, Design For Sharing. Also, from Art In Action – our program for UCLA students and all who seek new ways of knowing through the arts.

In the spirit of my 5th grade self to yours:
w.e.c.a.n.d.o.t.h.i.s!

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

A Community That Keeps Making

Dear Friends,

I’ve been trying to reconstruct the sequence of what went on behind the scenes over the past three weeks at CAP UCLA. In the widening uncertainty that was changing by the hour with increasing intensity, there were critical signs to listen for and crucial decisions to make. Everything was moving at a monstrous pace that was upending our daily lives, and flummoxing every pattern of continuity in rapid succession. At CAP UCLA we had to pass through the stages of grief at lightning speed and lean directly into an acceptance that we would necessarily postpone everything we worked on for years to manifest with so many artists, managers, producers and collaborators.

While refunding tickets for thousands of audience members, cancelling hotel and flight reservations, sending staff home to identify the holes we would surely encounter working remotely, and fielding calls from our colleagues nationwide ⁠— we also needed to make a hard pivot to focus on the impossible situations that were having an instant impact on performing artists.

Our already fragile performing arts economies were in freefall. In order to best help each other we drew on the resources that we had: our hearts, our wits, our networks and our ideas. And while it is nothing more or less remarkable than what every single person was (and is) uniquely contending with, there is a bit of a ‘silver lining’ moment we want to share with you. Something we managed to pull together before the ‘Safer at Home’ order began. It is something we knew how to do and knew we could make happen with some love and willing effort. And we did it with you in mind.

As news of successive tour cancellations poured in, we linked artists to our contacts in cities around the country. We started the important work of shaping emergency relief efforts (not knowing how fast that need would grow), and we were in contact with artists abroad to relay important information as it was coming to us. Within days, the international ensembles already in the U.S. and en route to Los Angeles were learning that they would be facing quarantine periods upon their return home – Porte Parole returned to Canada and Ladysmith Black Mambazo quickly diverted to Los Angeles where we were able to put them up, practice our newly acquired physical distancing and regroup together before their return to South Africa.

Here is the silver lining part ⁠—

In the short time that Ladysmith Black Mambazo was here, we decided that we would proceed with their concert in Royce Hall. Instead of performing to a live audience of close to 1800 people along with a separate concert for 1500 public school students, as was originally intended, they would instead perform to a 3-person camera crew and a smattering of staff. Royce Hall is 191,000 square feet ⁠— an ample space to keep us under the then required ‘no more than 50 people’ distancing measure in place. The unparalleled work ethic of our technical production team ensured that every aspect of the original production design would happen in full.

That late Monday afternoon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo stood together on the Royce Hall stage in full costume and sang out the wisdom, resilience and harmonies of their incredible music and cultural heritage. They sang to every audience member’s empty seat, to the rafters of Royce, to the crew and to this global moment that we all must meet with shared purpose.

I want to thank Ladysmith, their management, the Royce Hall crew and CAP UCLA staff, the camera operators and editor, the sound engineer, and our incredible collaborators at KCRW.

For all of us who operate from the principled ethic that “the show must go on,” it is more than rhetorical. Every one of us plays a role in the grand collaboration of making the art of the stage come to life for our communities that have found their way to our theaters and concert halls for centuries.

It is how our collective creativity and compassion finds form.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Kristy Edmunds on Sharing Perspectives and Staying Connected

Dear Friends,

I don’t presume to conceive of what your experience of this is, but it makes me feel better to try. I have been experiencing every bit of it here at CAP UCLA and at home at a staggering pace, but I also frequently expand outwards to imagine the myriad of individual circumstances that are happening as we collectively face the uncharted territory of this worldwide public health crisis.

Now we find ourselves in a commanding awareness that the most immediate thing we can do is to remain in place, stay connected, strive for continuity, exercise patience, and look after our hands, faces and vital signs. This is the practice of care to which we are called.

All of us at CAP UCLA and Royce Hall look forward to hearing how you are and how we can help where possible. We will be sending out a weekly aggregate of what the arts community and the Center are doing, sharing our knowledge of crucial relief efforts and some things from our amazing staff and the artists who are with us every step of the way.

There are incredible bright spots happening, and important informational resources that we want to get to you. A story here or there, a new playlist from the artists we have the good fortune to know, and ways for us to remain engaged with each other. The days and weeks ahead will not be easy.

We can do it though; together.

Be well, be safe – more soon.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Welcome to our 2016-17 Season Edition

The event detail pages on our site and in the season program guide offer you a running glance at the tremendous artistry that will again take root in Los Angeles over the months ahead. As you have come to expect, there is much to discover and taking part is fortifying. As the Director of both CAP UCLA (produced programs) and of Royce Hall (heritage venue of repute), it is a true pleasure to unveil this collection of recent work by such distinct voices in contemporary performance.

Though I occupy the leadership seat, what happens here is due to the staff that I have the pleasure of collectively rolling up sleeves with every day. We are conjoined with our Board members – a philanthropic body of individuals that give (and then give some more) – to ensure that this feast of ideas will continue to happen each season. We also work in partnership with esteemed local and national foundations, art patrons, scholars and numerous colleague organizations. In doing so, we play a dynamic role in the arts internationally, while serving UCLA and the greater Los Angeles community.

We spend a lot of time thinking about YOU – the audiences who are passionate about engaging with what is going on in contemporary performance. (Your response and participation is accompanied with great anticipation on our end.)

CAP UCLA programs – on and off stage – are created to strengthen the ties that bind us to continuing artistic achievement. We make every effort to engage you by adding opportunities before or after the performances and we cluster these under the banner of “Art in Action.” For those of you who seek a creative dialogue, more insight, or to actively learn what makes these artists tick or what inspired the work in the first place – I encourage you to choose your dates when Art in Action is in full swing. Every single work of art on this season, whether danced, projected, played, acted, conducted or spoken reveals a sublime global effort toward the art of much-needed perspective. We look forward to seeing you again this season!

Kristy Edmunds
Executive and Artistic Director
Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA

Below are some of the upcoming highlights. Head over to our calendar or check out the Season Program Guide for a full overview of the 2016-17 Season.

Welcome to the 2015-2016 Season

The process of planning for and later presenting live performances is a remarkable encounter with careening variables. However refined a season schedule might be or however long we have planned with artists and colleagues for each project – we are ever aware that in an instant, things can change on a dime (and frequently do). Multifarious daily adventures become months and then a year, and a new season is born!

Since our work at the Center parallels life at large, it also offers us abundant recognition of how interdependent we are in creating the conditions for great artistry to arrive and thrive on our stages. That is a potential and vitality that includes you – our patrons, members, supporters, subscribers, audiences, students and visiting cultural omnivores. Without your interest, involvement and support, none of this would happen. Thank you.

As you have come to expect from Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, the 2015-2016 season reflects a diverse and highly considered program of contemporary performances.

One particular intention within our programming focus this season is the massive contribution of women in all of the art forms that our mission envelops.

Our Words & Ideas series is chock full of powerful, maverick and generous voices – from the literary genius of Ursula K. Le Guin, to the disarmingly brilliant cultural commentary of cartoonist Roz Chast. Miranda July returns to the Center for a top-secret experience, and we will hear from Moscow-based Russian feminist punk protest group Pussy Riot.

We also present a retrospective survey of one of the world’s most admired and influential choreographers Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and her company Rosas. The world premiere of a major commissioned work by Ann Carlson, entitled The Symphonic Body UCLA features 100 performers culled from the workers on this campus. It is unlike anything you have experienced before. And, we present the world premiere of new work from L.A.’s beloved Latin-Urban collective CONTRA-TIEMPO under the direction of Ana Maria Alvarez.

Anne Bogart and SITI Company return to the season in a new collaborative work with Julia Wolfe and Bang on a Can All-Stars. And we’ve linked arms with our colleagues at Center Theater Group to welcome Young Jean Lee back to L.A. Her newest theater piece titled STRAIGHT WHITE MEN opens just in time for the holiday season. To start the season’s theater offerings, CAP UCLA is proud to present Desdemona, written by Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré. Directed by the singular Peter Sellars, this thoughtful work is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Othello, as told from the female characters’ perspectives.

In music, Cassandra Wilson performs her disarming Billie Holiday tribute and Regina Carter takes the stage in collaboration with Sam Amidon, in a celebration of her own Southern roots. We will also host Anoushka Shankar, Noura Mint Seymali, Lucinda Williams, as well as Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho in an intimate concert featuring UCLA’s one-and-only Gloria Cheng—just to name a few. We love men too! A generous and formidable contingent of men join us as well.

Thank you for finding us, for supporting what we do, and for coming along as we host some truly unforgettable performances this season.

Here’s just a snapshot of what’s in store.  You can also click through the online 2015-2016 program guide.

Loving Leonard

 

Director Dinner-2442

Recently I was asked to describe what it is like to know and work with Leonard Nimoy. My answer was that he is the embodiment of the very best there is in the whole of human consciousness.

Anyone who knew him well would agree.

Knowing Leonard, and having the exceptional honor of working with him, was accompanied with an awareness that he was generating something that offered me the gift of being better than I was beforehand.

Leonard’s grounded intellect, immense talent and public kindness was woven together in all of his work. He was in possession of a distinctive joy, infectious wit and compassion. His honesty in his approach to everything was wholly generous. He was an alchemist of life at its best potential.

It is tempting to wonder if perhaps Leonard actually was from another planet. No, Leonard was utterly of this world and to imagine otherwise would be to somehow miss his extraordinary example of what it means to be so resonantly, fully and inspirationally human.

Through his works of art, works of philanthropy and advocacy, and through his legacy of profound impact, I know I will continue to learn and benefit from his spirited goodness. These will indeed live long and prosper. For so many of us the world over, our capacities have been ever expanded through his life and works and I know that this will only continue.

I don’t have a deep enough word to acknowledge his rare brilliance. Whatever that word is, it is stuck in my solar plexus and tethered there in my heart as I write this.

Thank you Leonard Nimoy.

Director Dinner-2381 with KE

Kristy Edmunds and Leonard Nimoy. Photo by Spencer Davis (at top Leonard Nimoy, photo by Spencer Davis).

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Leonard Nimoy, Kristy Edmunds and Susan Bay Nimoy. Photo by Phinn Sriployrung