Brooklyn Academy of Music Puts Online 70,000 Objects Documenting the History of the Performing Arts: Download Playbills, Posters & More

Yesterday the sad news broke that The Village Voice will discontinue its print edition. Co-founded by Norman Mailer in 1955 and providing New Yorkers with savvy music writing, raunchy advice columns, juicy exposés, reviews, entertainment listings, apartments, jobs, band members, terrible roommates, and pretty much anything else one might desire every week for over half a century, the paper will be missed. Though it won’t disappear online, the loss of the street-level copy in its comfortingly familiar red plastic box marks the abrupt end of an era. Those of us inclined to mourn its passing can take some solace in the fact that so many of the city’s key cultural institutions still persist.

Prominent among them, Brooklyn’s Academy of Music, or BAM, has been at it since 1861, when it began as the home of the Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn. It has inhabited its present Beaux Arts building in Fort Greene since 1908. In its 150 years as a performance space for opera, classical, avant-garde theater, dance, and music, and film, BAM has amassed quite a collection of memorabilia. This year, on its century-and-a-half anniversary, it has made 70,000 of those artifacts available to the public in its Leon Levy Digital Archive. Like future issues of the Voice, you cannot hold these in your hand, unless you happen to be one of the museum’s curators. But “researchers—or anyone else interested,” writes The New York Times, “can create personalized collections based on specific artists, companies or eras.”

The history represented here is vast and deep, by a young country’s standards. “Every presidential candidate made campaign stops there before there was television,” says former BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins. “Mary Todd Lincoln was in the audience during the opening week of festivities. Then you have [Rudolph] Nuryev making his first performance in the West just after he defects, [Martha] Graham performing her last performance on stage….” These landmark moments notwithstanding, BAM has earned a reputation as a home for avant-garde performance art, and the collection certainly reflects that dimension among the 40,000 artists represented.

We have further up the postcard Keith Haring designed for a 1984 Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane piece called Secret Pastures (Haring also designed the sets). We have the poster above for a 1981 performance of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, his opera based on the life of Gandhi. And below, a poster for the 1983 world premier of Laurie Anderson’s United States: Parts I-IV. These objects come from BAM’s Next Wave Festival collection, which contains many thousands of photographs, playbills, and posters from the space’s more experimental side, many, though not all of them, downloadable.

Between the Civil War memorabilia and modernist documents, you’ll find all sorts of fascinating ephemera: photos of a very young Meryl Streep and Christopher Lloyd in a 1977 production of Happy End at the Chelsea Theater during a BAM Spring Series, or of an older Patrick Stewart in a 2008 Macbeth. Just below, we have a charming playing card featuring the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Peter Jay Sharp building in 1909, the year after it was built. It’s an imposing structure that seems like it might last forever, though much of the vibrant creative work featured year after year at BAM may someday also move entirely into digital spaces. Enter the complete BAM digital archive here.

via The New York Times/Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the 1917 Ballet “Parade”: Created by Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso & Jean Cocteau, It Provoked a Riot and Inspired the Word “Surrealism”

In 1917, a handful of Europe’s leading avant-garde artists collaborated on a project that it’s hard to believe actually exists. Conceived “in the fertile, creative mind of Jean Cocteau,” writes Museworthy, the ballet Parade combined the talents of Cocteau, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso, and Sergei Diaghilev’s dance company the Ballets Russes in a cubist slice of dreamlike life. Its brings popular entertainments into the high art of ballet, something simply not done at the time, and features a very early use of sound effects in the score, added by Cocteau, to Satie’s annoyance. Parade was Satie’s first ballet and the first (but not the only) time he would work with Picasso.

Cocteau's short, one-act scenario presents us with a troupe of carnival performers trying to entice passersby into their shows. They are unsuccessful, this troupe, consisting of a Chinese magician,  young American girl, a pair of acrobats, a horse, and several dancers in huge cardboard cubist costumes so heavy and awkward they can hardly move. But "if anyone found Picasso’s costume designs a bit wacky, they’d sure be pleased with his gorgeous set designs,” Museworthy notes, pointing out the backdrop above. Indeed it was hardly unusual for an avant-garde modernist painter to design for the ballet; “Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Andre Derain, Joan Miro, and Léon Bakst all worked on costumes and scenery, much of it for the Ballets Russes.”

But there was something especially infuriating about this piece for audiences. (You can see an excerpt from a recent production at the top, and a low quality video of a longer performance above.) The premiere provoked an even bigger riot than Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring had four years earlier. It’s said that Erik Satie was slapped in the face by an angry attendee. “Critics weren’t much kinder than the masses,” Museworthy adds. After one scathing review, Satie sent the critic angry postcards calling him a “blockhead,” “cretin,” and an “arse.” He was convicted of libel but managed to evade a prison sentence.

Picasso, on the other hand, “came out of the Parade debacle quite well” and would marry one of the dancers, Olga Khokhlova the following year. His highly-regarded design and costuming partly inspired the poet Guillaume Apollinaire to coin in his program notes the word “surrealism” before Surrealism became an artistic phenomenon in Paris. As such, Parade should maybe be required viewing for every student of Surrealist art, dance, film, etc. from Dali to David Lynch.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Marcel Marceau Mime The Mask Maker, a Story Created for Him by Alejandro Jodorowsky (1959)

Alejandro Jodorowsky, as anyone who's witnessed a movie of his play out onscreen might guess, has steeped himself in the mystical arts, but it would take an astute viewer to guess that he received some of his earliest training in the field of mime. During his time in Paris in the 1950s, the Chilean-born filmmaker, yet to shoot a single frame but having already run his own performance troupe back in Santiago, began studying under Étienne Decroux, not only a master of mime but a master teacher of mime. Jodorowsky then joined and went on a world tour with a mime group led by one of Decroux's especially promising students, one Marcel Marceau.

Few today could think of mime without Marceau's name coming to mind, and none could think of Marceau without having at least a sense that the man redefined the art. Performers had, of course, used their bodies to wordlessly evoke different elements of the human experience since antiquity, but Marceau — who could take his viewers through an entire human life in four minutes — brought it to another level entirely.

Some of Jodorowsky's fans might say the same about the director, and in the video above they can witness perhaps the two men's only surviving creation: Marceau's 1959 performance of The Mask Maker, a piece Jodorowsky thought up for him.

"Jodorowsky would say, 'Marcel, will you accept if I give you an idea for a story?'" remembered Marceau in a late interview. "I replied, 'Of course, if the idea is good.' Jodorowsky said, 'What do you think of a man who tries on different masks showing a variety of emotions? He puts on a laughing mask that gets stuck on his face; he tries desperately but it will not come off. He has to blind himself to take it off his face.' I did the choreography myself, and then we shared the rights for this pantomime." Two other Marceau-Jodorowsky works in mime followed, The Saber of the Samurai and "another cruel tale" called The Eater of Hearts.

At once shocked and moved, according to Projected Figures' "Brief Guide to Alejandro Jodorowsky," by the "excess of violence" in these mime routines, Marceau nevertheless performed them with what looks like the fullest commitment to the concept. Jodorowsky in turn made use of what he'd learned from Marceau even as he switched arts and began making films. The influence shows in his very first short film, 1957's La Cravate, a wordless physical performance for the camera. History hasn't recorded whether Marceau ever watched it, but he'd surely recognize his former collaborator's sensibility in the content: it also goes by the English title The Severed Heads.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch FLAMENCO AT 5:15, a Life-Affirming, Oscar-Winning Documentary About a Flamenco Dance Class

FLAMENCO AT 5:15, the Academy Award-winning short documentary, above, is a welcome antidote to the depressing specter of youthful bodies in a chronic state of computer-related postural collapse.

Director Cynthia Scott’s thirty-minute vignette cannot help but show off the beautiful, highly trained physiques of the young dancers delving into the art of flamenco at Canada's National Ballet School.

She also captures the lasting beauty of their instructor, Susana Audeoud, then in her late 60s. Her posture erect, her eyes shining brightly in a face weathered by experience and time, Audeleoud shares one of flamenco’s great secrets---that its practioners, unlike their counterparts in the ballet, can continue dancing until they die. (Audleoud herself passed away on the first day of 2010, at the age of 93.)

Flamenco is an incredibly exacting art, but Audeloud and her husband, composer Antonio Robledo, showed themselves to be warm and good humored teachers.

All of us could benefit from following Audeloud's instructions to her barefoot pupils at the 1:10 mark. Forgo your meditation app for a day and give it a try.

Or join the students in Robledo’s joyful group clapping exercise at the 8:00 mark.

According to Audeloud, flamenco dancers only dance when it’s necessary…

I know that most of us are utterly without training, but it appears that we have entered a period of extreme necessity.

So put on your shoes, stomp your feet, and clap as if no one is watching.

You can find FLAMENCO AT 5:15 listed in our collection of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker whose new play. Zamboni Godot, is now playing in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Celebrated Ballerina Anna Pavlova Perform “The Dying Swan” (1925)

Prepare my swan costume.

--- alleged last words of ballerina Anna Pavlova, as reported by her husband

The Internet suggests that swans are fairly tough specimens, quick to hiss and flap at any YouTuber unwise enough to violate their personal space with a video camera.

The celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) paints a different picture in her signature piece, The Dying Swan.

Choreographer Mikhail Fokine created the four minute solo in 1905 at Pavlova’s request, drawing on her admiration for some resident swans in a Leningrad public park and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Dying Swan.”

It was perhaps a happy accident that he had just learned how to play Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux on his mandolin. Performed on cello, as originally intended, it supplies a mood of gorgeous melancholy with which to observe the titular character's en pointe death throes.

Fokine’s description of the work’s creation in Dance Magazine’s August 1931 issue speaks to the rigor of these practitioners and their art form:

It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her [Pavlova], she directly behind me. Then she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses. Prior to this composition, I was accused of barefooted tendencies and of rejecting toe dancing in general. The Dying Swan was my answer to such criticism...The dance is technically more difficult than it may appear. The dancer moves constantly using  different bourrees. The feet must be beautiful, expressing a trembling. All pauses in sus-sous must show legs brought to one point. The arms and the back work independently of the feet which continue to move regularly.

The archival footage from 1925, above, conveys what Fokine's words cannot---the deep emotion for which this particular interpreter was known. It’s a visceral experience to watch this broken animal fighting for its survival, quivering and heaving, before crumpling at last. (A pity that this version cuts off so abruptly... that final note should linger.)

Pavlova performed The Dying Swan around 4000 times over the course of her career, never sickening of it, or of the beasts who inspired it. Swans populated a small pond at her English country home. You can witness her fondness for them, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Graceful Movements of Kung Fu & Modern Dance Revealed in Stunning Motion Visualizations

When I first saw what was then the height of motion capture in 1999—The Matrix’s “bullet time” and kung fu sequences—I was suitably impressed, and yet... the extreme manipulation of the real (which couldn’t have happened in a more appropriate film, granted) also seemed a little like a cheat. In the days before computers rendered 99% of special effects, part of the fun of watching an effects film was spotting the seams. The short “Kung Fu Visualization” above, from German digital artist Tobias Gremmler, deftly combines both of these aesthetic inclinations—the love of artifice and the awe of liquid-smooth digital motion—in rustling, swirling, shimmering animated art that paradoxically shows us the seams of fluid movement.

Recalling Marcel Duchamp’s famous nude or the dynamic sculpture of Umberto Boccioni, Gremmler animates these modernist dreams using graceful motions captured from two Kung Fu masters. Each sinuous martial arts routine is rendered with a different material texture, with accompanying sound effects and dramatic music. “Visualizing the invisible is always fascinating,” writes Gremmler, “and motion visualizations have been created even in pre-digital times with light, photography, costumes or paintings.” (Norman McLaren’s 1968 “Pas de deux” offers a striking historical example.) Gremmler's stunning animation was commissioned for a Hong Kong Kung Fu exhibition and “focuses on the legacy of Hakka martial arts in Hong Kong.”

Gremmler’s film may show us process in motion, but he remains coy about his own technological means (unless, presumably, you buy his book.) Another motion capture masterpiece, “Asphyxia,” above, uses humble, yet highly advanced methods unimaginable in 1999, “two inexpensive Xbox One Kinect sensors,” writes This is Colossal, “to capture the movements of dancer Shiho Tanaka.” Filmmakers Maria Takeuchi and Frederico Phillips then “rendered the data inside a near photo-realistic environment,” making creative use of lower-res tics and glitches. Combined with a lovely electronic score from Takeuchi, the resulting video’s visual poetry is impossible to adequately convey in words.

What “Asphyxia” does show us is a scaling back of technical wizardry that reveals a deep level of gestural sophistication underneath. “The project,” write the filmmakers, “is an effort to explore new ways to use and/or combine technologies... without many of the commercial limitations. The performance is centered in an eloquent choreography that stresses the desire to be expressive without bounds.” Although “Asphyxia” is obviously a lower-quality—digitally speaking—work than Gremmler’s Kung Fu Visualization, it is none the worse for it. Both use motion capture technology in innovative ways that foreground the artistry, rather than the mimicry, of digital animation. (Somewhat like the much-praised digital stop-motion Kubo and the Two Strings.) If you want to see how the makers of “Asphyxia” created their experiment, watch their making-of film below.

via This is Colossal

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch a 20-Year-Old Mikhail Baryshnikov Win Gold in One of His Earliest Performances (1969)

How well does Mikhail Baryshnikov dance? The question answers itself, given that the very word "Baryshnikov" has come to signify the mastery of that art, and especially of male roles in ballet. Yet there was once a time when no young dancer aspired to become the next Baryshnikov, because even Baryshnikov hadn't yet become Baryshnikov. Born in Latvia to a dressmaker mother and an engineer father, he began studying ballet in 1960, at age eleven. Four years later, he entered the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, from which he went on to win the venerable Varna International Ballet Competition and, in 1967, join the Kirov Ballet and Marinsky Theater.

The clip at the top of the post shows Baryshnikov's performance at the 1969 Moscow International Ballet Competition, from which he came out, alongside other such soon-to-be big ballet names as Nina Sorokina and Malika Sabirova, as a gold laureate.

"Baryshnikov's technique is faultless, his interpretation magnificent," says the announcer as the still tender-aged dancer, just twenty years old, executes a solo from La Bayadère. The praise would, from that point on, keep on coming, and not just from the Soviet Union; around the same time, New York Times critic Clive Barnes called Baryshnikov "the most perfect dancer I have ever seen."

Yet for all his skill, Baryshnikov didn't fit the traditional ballet template: he lacked the height of other famous male dancers, for one, and he also harbored a desire to go beyond the boundaries of 19th-century dance and explore 20th-century dance's possibilities for innovation. His defection from the Soviet Union in 1974 made it possible for him to work with forward-thinking choreographers like Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp, and to this day, in his mid-60s, he continues pushing his performative boundaries on the stage and the screen. Whether the 20-year-old dancer we see here could possibly have imagined such a future for himself — a future involving projects like his role on Sex and the City in the 2000s and his much-viewed video with Lil Buck for Rag & Bone last year — only Baryshnikov knows.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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