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 Hersch, who is an AIDS survivor now in his fifties, lingered in St. Vincent’s Hospital, withdrawn in a total dream state.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 Montclair State prepares for commencement, the Peak Performances 2010-11 season also draws to a close. Before we pause for the summer, Insite’s Student Forum takes a look back to Prometheus-Landscape II, the compelling and daring world premiere that kicked off the winter/spring semester. Katie Frazer (below), Zachary Nussbaum, Matt Robertson, and Lisa Johnson—all students in Neil Baldwin’s Theatre 208 Play Script Interpretation class—offer their analyses and impressions. These critiques are posted on Insite as part of the ongoing effort by Montclair State’s Creative Research Center to feature provocative writing by Montclair State undergraduate students.
Everyone knows the Greek myth of Prometheus, the Titan who defied Zeus by stealing fire from the gods and bringing it to the mortal humans. Prometheus’s struggle to come to terms with the eternal punishment of being chained to a rock is the subject of the play Prometheus Bound, by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. This mythological tale was reimagined in a new and exciting way by the visionary theater artist Jan Fabre and playwright Jeroen Olyslaegers in the theatrical piece Prometheus–Landscape II. In this production, the longstanding themes of the Prometheus myth were presented alongside new and interesting insights into how the myth is relevant to the modern race of humans that Prometheus went against the will of the gods to save. Read more »
Prometheus–Landscape II is certainly among the top five most bizarre plays I have ever seen, but I found it to be both fascinating and spectacular. After meeting with Jeroen Olyslaegers, I knew the show was going to be something people would be talking about, but I had no idea it would be because of the nudity and kinkiness. From his hipster-style clothes to his brilliant understanding of both the English language and mythology, Olyslaegers, with the help of director Jan Fabre, was able to create an avant-garde script based on Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound. The script alone is enough to make a person question the two men’s intention, but after Fabre added blocking, costumes (or lack of costumes), music, and most importantly sand, one may easily question their sanity. To a non-theatergoer, the show primarily consisted of sand being thrown everywhere and naked people awkwardly prancing around the stage, but for me it was so much more than that. I loved the acting, the dancing, the music, the symbolism with the sand, and the symbolism between sex and fire. Walking out of the theater and reading several reviews, I was sad to see that I was nearly one of the only people to feel this way. Read more »
Adaptation is one of the cornerstones of the dramatic arts. It has always been and it will continue to be as long as art survives. The incredible thing about adaptation, though, is the fact that it can be a near recreation of the source material, or it can be its own individual beast, barely recognizable except for some shared commonalities that still link the two. The Troubleyn | Jan Fabre production Prometheus–Landscape II, written by Jeroen Olyslaegers, lies somewhere between those two extremities, though probably a little closer to the latter. It has a definite outline and shape from the Aeschylus original, but it takes new form and adds many changes to the presentation of the material that makes it a unique and innovative experience. Read more »
In a time when it is common practice to Facebook favorite quotes or sayings, I must admit, I ran home after seeing Prometheus–Landscape II and quoted Pandora: “To instruct is to destruct.” These five simple words possess an infinite amount of possible meaning that portrays huge concepts. It is this use of language that made the script so compelling and intriguing. The show asked the audience uncomfortable questions such as, “Where is our creativity?” and “Will you allow your imagination to be extinguished?” without being completely in your face. It was subtle, and those with an imagination had the potential to pick it up. Read more »
Members of the UK-based dance company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance spent a week at Montclair State in conjunction with Peak Performances’ Brainstorm symposium on creative thinking. In addition to discussions with students and public conversations, the company conducted a series of in-depth workshops with dance and theater students, based on the company’s “choreographic thinking tools.” Below, Brandon Monokian gives a participant’s view of these sessions. For more, read Sara Wintz’s report on the initial workshop sessions held in February and visit Montclair State’s Creative Research Center for a closer look at the research underpinning the company’s work.
“I want you to participate in this dance workshop and then write an article about it” were more or less the words staring back at me from my beloved MacBook.
“Okay,” I responded, “but I can’t dance.”
“That’s okay, it’s more about movement for actors.”
Well, it would have to be Dance for Dummies, because I’m about as skilled a dancer as Donald Trump is a politician. The prospect of participating in a dance workshop would, at the very least, be something to laugh about over some boxed wine and Oreos at a much later date and time. 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 »
As I sat onstage in the Alexander Kasser Theater, drinking tea during act two of Liz Lerman’s The Matter of Origins, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Is this really dance?”
I know this is dance—it must be dance—because it’s been scheduled as a dance performance as part of Peak Performances’ spring season. So why am I questioning it? Read more »
On March 23, Olivia Fermi, granddaughter of physicist Enrico Fermi, gave the keynote address for the Department of Mathematical Sciences’s Second Annual Physics and Art Exhibition. Fermi’s talk was part of Peak Performances’ season-long exploration of collaborations between art and science and was held in conjunction with performances of The Matter of Origins by the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Sara Wintz gives her impressions of this special event cosponsored by Montclair State’s Office of Arts & Cultural Programming, College of Science and Math, and College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In her talk, “On the Neutron Trail: Seeing Fulcrums and Frames,” Olivia Fermi discussed sociological, cultural, and historical details surrounding the creation of the atom bomb. Like the participants in Montclair State’s Physics and Art Exhibition, who were invited to create images that illustrate a scientific concept, Fermi illustrated the context that surrounded the creation of this landmark scientific event.
“Part of the philosophy of ‘The Neutron Trail’ is to embrace the disconnects,” Fermi said in an interview following her presentation. “I grew up feeling a mixture of pride and guilt, but the people that would meet our family, they were always very respectful and, well, beyond that, there’s just tremendous gratitude for my grandfather’s work…in general…but when it comes to our nuclear legacy, it comes with more conflict than that.” Read more »
Montclair State University is the proud recipient of a two-year Creative Campus Innovations Grant, awarded by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. The following is the first in a series of articles by Insite’s own Sara Wintz, who will be reporting on Creative Campus–related activities at Montclair State over the next few months.
The Creative Campus project at Montclair State University is designed to support increased interaction between the artists who visit Peak Performances and the students and faculty on campus. The project, called “Creative Thinking,” will be copiloted by the Office of Arts & Cultural Programming (which oversees Peak Performances) and the Research Academy for University Learning, led by Ken Bain. The outcome will be a Creative Thinking course designed by an interdisciplinary faculty committee in collaboration with three Peak Performances artists who have committed to residencies at Montclair State over the next two years: choreographer Wayne McGregor and his company, Random Dance; performance and visual artist Robert Whitman; and theater and opera director Robert Wilson. All three of these artists are known for their interest in multidisciplinary creativity. Read more »
This brief guide to some of the sights, sounds, and speculations that helped to inspire The Matter of Origins was compiled by Sarah Gubbins, Production Dramaturg, and John Borstel, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Humanities Director.
“When heaven and earth were still one, the entire universe was contained in an egg-shaped cloud. Deep within its swirling chaos slept the giant Pan Gu. One day after 18,000 years, he awoke and stretched, cracking the egg to release the matter of the universe.”
—The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Classical Chinese text)
Every culture has its tradition of how the world and its contents came to be. Over the course of history, the question of the origins of the universe was taken up by philosophy and then by science, where it has become the domain of modern physics. Cosmology, which employs instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, allows us to track evidence of past events in the universe’s currently observable activity. Particle physics, using such tools as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) Large Hadron Collider, studies the scatter and decay of subatomic particles, observing their behavior for what it can tell us about the early formation of the universe and matter. With regard to both space and time, these two branches of physics observe phenomena at vastly contrasting extremes of scale. Read more »
The earthquake, resulting tsunami, and subsequent overheating of nuclear power rods is often commented on as Japan’s greatest disaster since World War II. And what was that? Does everyone know? Why is there no mention of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when framing the magnitude of the Japanese disaster?
In her poignant new dance work, The Matter of Origins, the American choreographer Liz Lerman cultivates the beginnings of an idea and connects the proverbial dots between physics and poetry to celebrate the creative purpose in all people.
To make The Matter of Origins, Lerman pursued the thinking and actions of contemporary physicists seeking answers to enduring questions: Where do we come from? How did it all start? Why do we care? She traveled to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to see the incredible tunnel where particles collide and create conditions mirroring those of the big bang. She talked to Hubble scientists and came to understand that they are studying parts of the universe that are billions of light-years old. And intimately linked to their quest for this supreme knowledge was the shadow of Los Alamos. Read more »
In recent decades, age-old questions about the origins of our universe and the matter from which we are made have become research areas for physicists rather than just topics of speculative discussion. Reaching out to the edges of the observable universe and back to its beginning, we have made great progress in learning about the stages of development of our universe, and scientific theories about the beginning are being formulated.
Many people, perhaps most, want to gain insights into questions about the meaning of life and our place in the universe. As we have understood our universe better, we have recognized that it apparently does not provide a basis of meaning for our lives. It is not that physics does not tell us anything about meaning, but that the answer is not what we thought we wanted to hear. What we learn is that the meaning should arise from our relations to other people rather than from outside.
Once scientists understand something, they can generally explain it in words that are comprehensible to lots of people, but many people think and interpret the world differently—for example, more visually than verbally. Those people could learn more about what we understand about our world if it could be communicated via forms of art, including dance—if those forms could convey, in a rigorous way, the questions scientists have asked and the understandings gained. Science and art are similar, in that they strive to understand the world and require creative thinking. Their criteria for success are not the same, since science has to describe the actual natural world, while successful art must communicate to people. If art seeks to communicate about the implications of our understanding of our natural world, it has a constraint that art addressing other topics does not have: to represent the science correctly.
For me, that people can understand the origins and workings of the universe even though it does not have intrinsic meaning provides an immense source of dignity and delight. I hope that dignity and delight can be communicated to many people. When a mutual friend brought Liz Lerman and me together, knowing of our common interest in communicating science, we soon agreed that such an effort might be worth a try, and I think it was. The outcome is the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange program, The Matter of Origins.
Liz and I admitted to each other, over a glass of wine at the end of the first afternoon’s discussion, that each of us had originally thought it probably would not be fruitful to meet but that the time lost would be small. I’m happy our initial doubts were wrong.
Gordon Kane is the director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics.
Government versus union, natural disasters damaging the economy, people going hungry and living on the streets…sounds like the front page of the New York Times on any given day. What it also sounds like is the new Montclair State University production of The Grapes of Wrath.
Whoa, wait a minute—you mean that old-as–Larry King book they made you read back in high school? That’s the one. The 1930s John Steinbeck classic was adapted for stage by Frank Galati in 1988, and it is now playing at the Alexander Kasser Theater from March 9th through the 12th. While the theatrical material may be drawing from a 1930s novel, you might be surprised to learn that the content is just as relevant today as it was when first published. Read more »
The opportunity to ask questions of an artist following a performance can be an illuminating experience, as it often narrows the gap between the artist’s vision, intention, and deliverance of message and an audience member’s reception and interpretation of those messages. For many, this may enhance what they have seen or are about to see—either because it clarifies or complicates the issues at hand or because it elongates the yardstick with which they will personally measure the success of a piece in delivering what its creator intended. How much richer are those post-show, over-dessert conversations when the show’s architect is ostensibly sharing your tiramisu?
Nearly a third of the audience (a large percentage, in my experience) remained in the theater after a Saturday night performance of Walking next to our shoes…intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking… for the opportunity to ask director/alchemist/creative “detonator” Robyn Orlin about her inspiration, process, and intention. (Perhaps notable is that many of the patrons who stayed were located in the center of the theater, where the “fourth wall,” in theater-speak, was especially nonexistent.) To egregiously oversimplify the various elements of Walking next to our shoes…, the piece asks you to consider notions of poverty, AIDS, and migration through an incendiary blend of isicathamiya concert, auction, stand-up comedy routine, swenka competition, operatic recital, and lap dance. All this, and Robyn Orlin’s program note about the work is barely longer than its title and offers little in the way of a lens with which to view her piece. Is it any wonder that so many stayed to ask the what, how, and why?
Questions posed were of the “What was meant by…,” “How did you get the idea for…,” “Where did you find…” variety. (And, charmingly, from a young audience member perhaps anxious about his own weekend chores, “Who’s going to clean that all up?”) To these questions, Ms. Orlin (as well as a couple of cast members) responded soft-spokenly and frankly but with a hint of reservation or maybe even mischief, staying just this side of offering any absolutes regarding meaning or intent. Ms. Orlin doesn’t have auditions; she merely finds people whose energy and talent she likes and invites them to be in a room together. She likes “something to be what it is not,” explained one singer. In development, she gravitates toward accidental moments over intentional ones. Beware any rehearsal pranks in her studio if you are not prepared to perform them nightly for an audience.
This indeed enhanced my personal response to her piece. Perhaps more so than any artist whose work I’ve witnessed and had the chance to hear speak about such work, I felt especially invited to let her piece resonate with me in whatever way it organically did.
Pamela Vachon has worked for Lincoln Center Festival and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and is an occasional dance critic and blogger.
I have never been to the streets of Johannesburg. The closest I’ve come was watching Paul Simon promote Graceland on Saturday Night Live reruns when I was a kid. And yet the streets of Johannesburg, in a sense, were brought to New Jersey. It was at the Alexander Kasser Theater that rabble-rousing choreographer Robyn Orlin had the American premiere of Walking next to our shoes… intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking….
Orlin tapped into Phuphuma Love Minus, an isicathamiya group (a Zulu form of all-male a cappella) for her latest piece, and it was an inspired choice. Upon entering the auditorium, there’s a man dressed as if for the Mummer’s Parade, dusting shoes; inside the theater, two performers videotape themselves selling the shoes of audience members.
This was simply fascinating to watch, for two reasons. First, the performers were committed to the parts, ready to haggle over shoes and seemingly having a blast doing so. The second reason was the audience. Watching New York metropolitan area theatergoers getting increasingly uncomfortable while trying to be polite as the performers attempt to sell them shoes? That’s endlessly entertaining. Read more »
Jan Fabre is no stranger to Montclair, New Jersey. The Belgian artist’s work has been presented at the Alexander Kasser Theater, at Peak Performances @ Montclair, since 2007, including the North American premiere of Orgy of Tolerance, in 2009. Prometheus–Landscape II is his third visit to Peak Performances and also a world premiere. This means that Fabre, who is the first living artist to show work at the Louvre, has been developing theater works with his company, Troubleyn, for audiences all over the world—commissioned by Peak Performances @ Montclair.
It is and isn’t a surprise that an avant-garde artist from Europe and his company have apparently found a home in the Garden State. After all, New Jersey celebrates the unconventional. Our state is where characters come from. Read more »
To raise a question has become common practice during decades of postmodern art. We have been riddled with question marks. Many artists consider this as their basic drive. Most of the confrontational aspects of art have been linked to questions. The artist thus performs the function of a watchdog with regard to, for example, the inner workings of democracy or how society in general is organized. When people get confused by a piece of art, they can always cling to this basic idea. Raising a fundamental and therefore troubling question is what good art is all about.
At the same time, and certainly during this past decade, one could question all these questions. Read more »
Phobos and Eleos, fear and compassion—the two main emotions that Greek tragedy attempts to convey. By confronting its audience with tragic heroes subjected to abominable suffering, the tragedy touches the innermost part of the viewer’s psyche, binding his fate to that of the hero and thereby purifying him of the poisons of the body.
In his latest production, Jan Fabre once again goes in search of this tragic dimension. Read more »
The first thing you notice when you enter the L. Howard Fox Theatre to see Lanford Wilson’s The Rimers of Eldritch is the near absence of a set. On a usual visit to the Fox Theatre, the tiny space is transformed into intricate worlds that create a much larger and more vibrant atmosphere than one would think possible when viewing the theater in its naked state. Although this may be the first thing you’ll notice, it will be the only time it crosses your mind. Read more »
Most of the time, we think about music in terms of lines—not shapes. If we do experience elements of geometry in music, they often aren’t the subject of the music. At Bringing Down the Stars and Moving Them Around (Nov. 6) at the Alexander Kasser Theater, Sō Percussion performed works that tested the shape of sound: Proximity, by Cenk Ergün, and Pléïades, by Iannis Xenakis.
In Proximity, long lines of accented sounds occurred at varying distances from each other. The piece showed a space to us by demonstrating what sorts of activity can happen within it. For Ergün, who frequently collaborates with choreographers, it seems important to discuss physical manifestations in his music—an importance reflected in this particular work’s title, “Proximity,” which means nearness in space or time and here alludes to the physical universe, the audience, and this music’s relationship to the audience.
Sō Percussion performed the piece in close proximity to one another and far up toward the front of the stage, in close proximity to the audience. So close to the edge of the stage, the performers’ movements were even more exposed, and the audience could be even more attentive to isolated sounds throughout this piece.
Where Proximity existed as a physical space, Xenakis’s Pléïades invaded our physical space. At times, sounds extended past the established surface of audibility and deeper into our “inner ear.” As the title suggests, Pléïades sounded like star clusters, the result of repeated rhythmic patterns, Xenakis’s interest in mathematics, and a very peculiar instrumentation. The piece’s uniquely stellar coloration came by way of the sixxen, an instrument composed of metal plates that Xenakis designed for this piece. The composition shimmered as a result. Sō Percussion performed Pléïades, a percussion sextet, with the Meehan/Perkins Duo.
Where Proximity existed as a field or a sound space that we responded to, Pléïades jumped out and became literally part of the audience. Every moment of Bringing Down the Stars and Moving Them Around was uniquely palpable and very deeply felt.
Sara Wintz’s writing has appeared in The Poetry Project Newsletter, Jacket, HTMLGIANT, 6×6, and HARRIET: The Poetry Foundation Blog and is forthcoming in The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry. 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.
Student Forum returns with another round of student critiques, in collaboration with Montclair State’s Creative Research Center. Ashley Urbano (below), Brie Baldwin, and Brittany Wirths offer their responses to different aspects of Kidd Pivot’s intricate and haunting Dark Matters. Read on!
In a world where the unknown plays a pivotal part in our actions, are we really the ones in control of our future? It seems that the shadows that follow us all around, the unknown darknesses around us, play a higher role in our lives than was originally expected. Crystal Pite’s Dark Matters does its best to highlight and ask audiences this very question with its use of contemporary dance.
Crystal Pite herself acknowledges that doubt is a better situation than conviction. She quotes playwright John Patrick Shanley: “conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinte.” It is that very doubt that motivated her to create this piece. This same piece moves with precision and expertise, but while watching you feel [that it might combust] at the roots at any given second. It’s a practice in self-awareness and awareness of the unknown. Read more »
Dark Matters, a theater piece by Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM, is a two-hour production divided into two acts. The first act, which involves the story of a puppet and his creator, is very theatrical. The second act is an hour-long dance piece. The two sections are connected by similar dance movements, use of the same actors, and an excerpt from “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” by Voltaire.
Dark Matters is truly an intense, mysterious, and dramatic piece of art. Read more »