Author : Sara Wintz
As the neon green strobe lights dotted the smoky dance floor, I stepped away for a moment and took a sip of water. On the opposite side of the dance floor, the DJ leered from beneath the brim of his baseball cap and monitored the perimeter of the room from behind his turntable, nodding to the beats of the music approvingly while facing the crowd of dancers. I was just busting a move at a warehouse party in Baltimore when—strangely—I was reminded of John Cage.
Although Cage’s music doesn’t sound like Aphex Twin, John Cage and his compositions have influenced the course of electronic music, dance music, classical music—pretty much every kind of music—for the past 50 years. Read more »
In 1967, artists Robert Whitman and Robert Rauschenberg and engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an organization that facilitated collaborations between artists and engineers in order to bridge the gap between traditional art-making practices and the emerging technologies of the 1960s. E.A.T.’s investment in dialogue between the arts and sciences provided inspiration for much of the Peak Performances 2010–2011 season. The cross-disciplinary spirit of E.A.T. was again present on April 16 and 17, when Peak Performances and the Dia Art Foundation presented the world premiere of Passport, a new theater piece by Robert Whitman. Read more »
In the summer of 2008, jazz pianist Fred Hersch fell into a two-month-long coma, the result of a pneumonia. Hersch, who is an AIDS survivor now in his fifties, lingered in St. Vincent’s Hospital, withdrawn in a total dream state. Hersch has inspired an incredible array of young, genre-twisting jazzers, including Brad Mehldau and Ethan Iverson (of The Bad Plus). His experience lost in dreams at St. Vincent’s Hospital is the inspiration for My Coma Dreams, which premiered at Peak Performances on May 8 and 9.
My Coma Dreams is a particularly unusual performance to come out of the jazz world. For this collaborative piece, Hersch wrote the music, Herschel Garfein wrote the script, and Sarah Wickliffe created the animations; actor Michael Winther performed the songs and spoken-word sections, and Hersch and a ten-member band were led by conductor Gregg Kallor. The result is a multimedia experience composed of independent sections dedicated to the unique dreams that Hersch remembers. The plot lines of Hersch’s dreams range from a timed, jazz composition battle with Thelonius Monk while both pianists are confined in cages (humorously, of the two cages, Hersch’s is the smaller one) to a small boy with green eyes watching Hersch with understanding. The script, based on interviews conducted by Garfein, recounts these dream experiences, as well as the real-life experiences of Hersch’s partner and his doctor, and sets them to music, to lyrics, and to images.
At times poignant and at others humorously absurd, My Coma Dreams is a portrait of an artist pushed from his artistic practice into a total dream state. Though the piece at times falls too far into an awareness of the drama of the situation, it is a rare multimedia music theater piece to emerge out of jazz—one that, thankfully, exists outside of dreams and in real life.
Sara Wintz’s writing has appeared in The Poetry Project Newsletter, Jacket, HTMLGIANT, 6×6 and HARRIET: The Poetry Foundation Blog. She was communications assistant at Peak Performances from 2009 to 2010 and is a 2010 graduate of the MFA program in writing at Bard College.
On April 12, Peak Performances @ Montclair hosted Brainstorm, a symposium on the science behind creative thinking. The symposium, which included presentations by cognitive scientists, researchers, and artists, revealed some surprising connections between art and science.
“Why this symposium?” Peak Performances’ Executive Director, Jedediah Wheeler, wondered aloud at the beginning of the day’s activities. His answer, “To enliven each individual’s sense of their own intuitive capacity,” shed some light on the events that followed. Read more »
As part of Montclair State’s Creative Campus project, members of the UK-based dance company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance recently led a series of workshops with students in Montclair State’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Sitting in as an observer, Sara Wintz reports her impressions of these initial sessions.
On February 14 and 15, students from the Department of Theatre and Dance participated in the first of what will be several workshops led by researchers and educators from British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s dance company, Random Dance. Master classes took place in two parts: on Monday, February 14, with students from Lori Katterhenry’s Choreography II class, and on Tuesday, February 15, with students from Debbie Saivetz’s Theatre Studies class. The workshops were facilitated by Scott deLahunta, Random Dance’s R-Research Director; Jasmine Wilson, Director of Creative Learning; and Antoine Vereecken, a dancer from the company.
The workshops introduced “choreographic thinking tools” that McGregor and the company have been developing in collaboration with cognitive scientists from the University of California at San Diego, led by David Kirsh, and from the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit of the UK Medical Research Council, led by Philip Barnard. Kirsh’s research interests include interactive design, collaborative environments, and human-computer interaction, and Barnard’s include mood and memory, embodied cognition, and choreography and cognition. Read more »