Archive for December, 2006

Devil Does Not Write Grant Applications

Monday, December 18th, 2006

As we come to the end of the year, it is always a good time to embrace the spirit of forgiveness. So, let us all praise the politician who has forgiven the Devil.

In this week’s coverage of Festival News, we had a story from the BBC on the 30th anniversary of a protest in Caerphilly, Wales.

On December 14, 1976, the Sex Pistols came to town during their very first tour. The tour (called “Anarchy” because what’s a tour without a catchy name) coincided with promoting the Sex Pistols first single, “Anarchy in the U.K.” (“I Wanna Be Me” was on the B-side.)

The group was met by a vociferous band of protesters, led by “church groups and local mothers.” A local vicar was quoted at the time as saying he had sat with a murderer but wouldn’t be able to shake hands with the Sex Pistols. The press played it up, and the Sex Pistols were tagged with being the Devil’s spawn.

In film from the event (included in Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle), at the front of the protest was a local politician, Mr. Davies.

Now, 30 years later he asks forgiveness:

“…. because the young mothers were against it and I just wanted to represent their point of view…When when I look back now…I feel absolutely and thoroughly ashamed of myself. I’ve got some great regrets when I look back at it because who am I, a fuddy-duddy councillor, to tell young people what they should listen to, what they should enjoy and how they should conduct themselves and their lives? We should try and put a plaque there to the Sex Pistols to commemorate the event that took place in Caerphilly and I would be prepared to unveil it.”

Mr. Davies: You are forgiven.

Here’s an idea, though, of what you, Mr. Davies, can do with your newfound wisdom that has moved you from Devil Spawn-ite to God Save the Sex Pistols. The next time there is a new work of art — a new sound, a new vision, a new stage language — please do encourage your fellow politicians, theologians, and busy-bodies not to leap to the Devil-is-among-us-and-making-art assumption. A better assumption would be that a new artist has given voice to a new way of seeing, or hearing, or reacting to, our world.

Put another way, why do the artists have to write all the grants, but the Devil gets all the credit? Enough already.

To celebrate the anniversary, a punk festival was held at the local rugby club.

If you couldn’t make it, but would like a little Sex Pistols background music for your office or home, check out God Save the Queen or some concert footage from a fan’s point of view.

I think even Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus would be proud.

- Bill Reichblum

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Interview: Yossi Tal-Gan

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Photo: Yossi Tal-GanYossi Tal-Gan is the General Director of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. Coming on his fifteenth year with the festival, Tal-Gan has produced many of the world’s leading artists in dance, music and theatre.

In this interview, Tal-Gan highlights the need to shock and surprise his audience, even in the midst of political tensions, as well as his determination to discover new artists.

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Critical Grade A?

Monday, December 11th, 2006

This week in our Festival News we have a story on a kind of artistic fantasy: the critics get graded.

New York’s Time Out magazine organized the process, identifying the major New York critics in art, books, dance, film, food, music, classical music, and theatre. Each critic’s work was graded on a scale of 1 to 6 (six being the best grade) in five categories: knowledge, style, taste, accessibility, and influence. New Yorkers like to think in terms of influence.

Time Out brought together a panel of artists, curators, and publicists to do the grading. Publicists? New Yorkers like to think that all art needs a publicist. To be fair, although no one ever thought publicists should be evaluated based on their deep and abiding commitment to aesthetics, Time Out’s point was that they, too, are very much affected by the marketplace reaction to the critical response. After all, it is hard to publicize a work of art that has been slammed by the critics.

Panelists were provided anonymity. A “proctor” was tapped to collect all the information, provide the grades for each category, and select representative comments.

This creates an interesting dynamic. The artistic work is public. A critic puts his or her name on their published reaction to the work. However, responding to the critics is done from the shadows, sotto voce. Why?

It is not about manners — “if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it.” It is about self preservation — “don’t respond to a bad review, otherwise the critic will write something worse next time.”

You don’t have to adopt this dance of seething in silence. One of New York’s most influential, creative, and significant producers was Joseph Papp of the Public Theater. He would not use anonymity — be it for critics, audiences, or protests.

Papp, it was often told, would never hesitate to let a critic know what he thought about their work. If he read an especially irksome negative review, Papp would call the critic at home that morning, around 6 am. When the critic answered the phone, Papp would launch into a loud and language-rich rant of what he thought about the critic’s point of view. Papp was as artful with his language, as he was with his productions. So, one can imagine that in addition to high volume, Papp was able to create imaginative juxtapositions of language, body parts, and actions. Many were aghast, fearful that Papp was burning unnecessary bridges. His response: The next time that critic comes to my theatre, in the back of his mind he’s going to think about whether he wants to hear me on the phone the next morning!

Alas, these panelists probably feel the need for safety in providing anonymous grades. Even more, the critics don’t score too badly. How nice that everyone appears to get along.

Still, art isn’t always nice. Where is Joe Papp when you really need him?

- Bill Reichblum

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Interview: Silvina Szperling

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Photo: Silvina SzperlingSilvina Szperling is an experienced dancer, choreographer, video artist, curator, and the director of the Buenos Aires Videodance International Festival, which took place for the 8th time in the city of Buenos Aires, from November 28 to December 3.

In this interview, Silvina goes over the history of videodance and the program of this year’s festival, which included a Latin American Videodance Forum, classes, installations, and a permanent exhibit, among other activities. She also talks about the contrasts she experienced in practicing videodance in places like Europe, the United States, and South America, and shares with KadmusArts her enthusiasm about being a member of the 2007 selection panel for the Empac Dance Movie Commission.

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Intellect, Manners and Artistry All Go Together

Monday, December 4th, 2006

Tom Stoppard can add a new accolade to his distinguished career: the KadmusArts “How a Genuine Artist Behaves” award for combining Curiosity with Courtesy.

Stoppard has been in New York for the American opening of Voyage, the first play in his trilogy The Coast of Utopia. The trilogy is a nine hour theatricalization and analysis of the roots of the Russian revolution. One of the defining characteristics of Stoppard’s plays is that they are never easy — for director, actor, or audience. Each of his works provides a new perspective on history, language, and the playfulness of ideas. It is also the kind of theatre that is determined to communicate, to re-adjust an audience’s understanding of why people/characters make specific choices.

As reported in the New York Post by Michael Riedel, Stoppard has been hanging out in front of the theatre during previews. Was it because he couldn’t watch what was happening on stage? No — he wanted to listen to why an audience would leave the play.

Stoppard: “Excuse me. Why are you leaving this play?”
Lincoln Center Theater subscriber (age, about 97): “Who are you?”
Stoppard: “I’m the playwright.”
Subscriber (fidgeting with infrared hearing device): “We can’t tell you!”
Stoppard: “Please. I really want to know. Are you leaving because it’s boring?”
Subscriber (crinkling a cough-drop wrapper): “Well, yes.”
Stoppard: “Why is it boring?”
Subscriber: “Too much philosophy!”

Note the two reasons why Stoppard is such a good artist and a class act.

He doesn’t hide, or look down on an audience that “doesn’t get it”. Rather, he is right there wanting to know why it isn’t working. He cares about his work — and his audience! Bravo, number one.

His approach, which has also been noted by others, is with extreme courtesy. This is not the juvenile or holier-than-thou artiste who berates or makes fun of an audience that walks out during a performance. This is an artist who respects the right to do so, and use this response to improve, or at least better understand, his own work. While the subscriber might not be coming back, the person knows that the playwright cares — and that makes the subscriber care more about the theatre. Bravo, number two.

So, please give a round of applause to Tom Stoppard. Go see one of his plays. Buy his books. And, if you see him hanging outside the theatre during intermission, don’t hesitate to engage him in a conversation. After all, isn’t the best kind of theatre a genuine meeting?

- Bill Reichblum

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