Archive for August, 2010

Revolution is Art. Art is Revolution.

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Che Cup

Photo by Dave Levy — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Our blogger from Cuba, Harald Himsel, continues his series on creating a documentary film about Silvio Rodríguez and his influence on music and politics. (See our other Cuban posts.) Rodríguez, one of the founders of Nueva Trova Cubana, is a Latin American icon. Himsel is a German documentary filmmaker, and also the managing director of a consultancy firm that works in developing countries.

Silvio Rodriguez is presenting his newest CD, Segunda Cita. It is a big press conference which is more of a ceremony than anything else. There are more than 300 journalists in the room, and questions are flying in from all corners of the world, as well as via email and SMS. Silvio answers them all, with a certain kind of grandezza, a sovereignty of an artist that the western world would call “superstar”. Throughout the meeting, one thing is obvious: Silvio dedicates his art, his music, to the Cuban Revolution.

Roughly fifty years ago, Fidel Castro discovered the art and the importance of a media strategy. Fidel had invited the US-American journalist Herbert Matthews to his hideaway in the Sierra Maestra. At that time, the guerrilleros around Fidel were only a few with a handful of old guns. Castro knew that not only did he have to fight the Batista regime, but he also had to keep other revolutionary group such the Grupo 13 Marzo and the Socialist People’s Party at arm’s length. Even then, Fidel was very well aware of the power of the media, and he knew very well how to play it. Fidel let his men parade in front of Matthews in different formations and in different uniforms making Matthews believe that he had assembled quite a large force to be reckoned with. Whether Matthews really believed him is not known. None the less, Matthews’ article in the New York Times catapulted the M-26-7 movement (so named after the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks) into the world’s political limelight. Capitalism was to be fought on all fronts. From that moment on, the Cuban Revolution not only had a political dimension, but also a cultural one.

In his song Por Quien Merece Amor, Silvio Rodriguez addresses the US asking ‘Te molesta mi amor’ — is my love getting to you? — ‘mi amor de humanidad’ – my love for humanity? The lyrics and melody of this song remind one more of a love song than a political manifesto, which it is without question. In Cancion Urgente Para Nicaragua, Silvio sides with the fight of the Sandinistas. In the last verse he sings: ‘Te lo dice un hermano que ha sangrado contigo, te lo dice un cubano, te lo dice un amigo.’ - That’s what a brother tells you, a brother who bled with you; that’s what a Cuban tells you, that’s what a friend tells you.’

When we came back from Silvio’s press conference, we noticed that obviously there hadn’t been any power for several hours. We returned from revolutionary fervor to the real life of daily struggle in Cuba. Power shortages are frequent nowadays. The Cuban economy is dwindling. The country needs foreign exchange badly to pay for all the imports. The blockade does its harm, and it’s not only the US, it’s also Europe despite some lip service to the contrary.

We took a coffee on the rooftop of our house. Later in the evening long after dark, I am sitting in front of an elderly lady of eighty something. She once worked very closely with Che Guevara during and after the revolution. Numerous questions come to my mind, trying to get beyond the dreaming romanticizing beret-wearing face that looks at us from all those t-shirts, cups and plastic bags. Questions that nobody but she would be able to answer. But it would be futile to ask her. She suffers from dementia. She does not remember anything. All about the Revolution is lost for her. All is forgotten.

Some time ago, Fidel said: In real life we are far behind our own utopia; In our arts we have surpassed it since long.

Is this the remaining truth of the revolution?

- Harald Himsel

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A Perfect Festival

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Wilco Solid Sound by Bill Reichblum

Wilco created a perfect festival.

The band’s devoted fans have known for years that Wilco performs music that is so genuine, so honest, it is irresistible. Imagine rock stars who don’t know they are stars. They dress like you, write what you’re thinking, play together with the same enthusiasm as a high school group having fun in someone’s garage, and are as accessible as your best friends. And, they make great art. Now, they’ve made a great festival.

This past weekend, Wilco teamed up with the Berkshire’s MASS MoCA to curate the Solid Sound Festival, a festival of music, visual art, theatre, comedy, film, and fun.

MASS MoCA is one of the most visited museums of new art in the United States. Based in North Adams, Massachusetts, MASS MoCA is a sprawling complex of industrial buildings that has presented some of the most boundary-stretching visual and performance art of the last ten years. Current exhibits include “Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With” and Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective , a once-in-a-lifetime presentation of LeWitt’s work.

Before the Solid Sound Festival began, the museum’s director, Joe Thompson, said: “MASS MoCA is about giving artists the opportunity to make new work.” Although they have hosted a number of performing art residencies and productions, “This is a stretch, so I hope you have fun watching us be stretched!”

Wilco curated the festival, pulling together all the acts across the artistic disciplines, and featuring some of their own forays into new territories. In a KadmusArts podcast, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche spoke about making “something a little different.” On the afternoon before the festival kick-off, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy said that the band had been looking for a place a bit off the beaten path. Sitting in one of the open-space galleries of MASS MoCA he said, “We are grateful that a place like this would have people like us.”

This is part of a trend. Other artists who have begun to curate festivals include Richard Thompson at Meltdown, David Byrne for one of the stages at Bonnaroo, and David Bowie with High Line, to name a few.

After all, aren’t you curious about what kind of music your favorite musician likes? What kind of art inspires them? What creative works make their day better? It’s like your best friend who tells you, “you’ve got to hear this!”

The spirit of a Wilco-infused MASS MoCA was also defined by the audience. The crowd included small children, teenagers, the middle aged, and the old; gen x and gen y, hippies of yesteryear and today, urbanites, and country dwellers; a crowd made for a perfect party.

Every event at the festival had the same vibe as Wilco’s music: honest, genuine, fun, deep, intimate, generous, and in the end, made you glad to be connected to others.

In other words, the very elements of a perfect festival.

- Bill Reichblum

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Shut Up & Dance!

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Gagged Dancer

Photo by Antoine Nexon — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Have you ever watched a performance and thought, “Wow. They got a grant for that?”

Many artists, especially those who push their art form’s boundaries, have suffered from overhearing such a comment. If we’re being honest, sometimes the comment is deserved. However, one way to meet the criticism head-on is to have a better understanding of the artist’s intention, in order to be able to evaluate the implications of the artist’s execution. Right?

Well, according to the editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine… Wrong!

In a recent post, as featured on KadmusArts’ daily arts news feed, Wendy Perron is angry about having to read choreographers writing about their work. You would think Dance Magazine would be at the front of connecting audiences to dance. You would be wrong.

Perron writes, there is “…an annoying new trend of blogging about the process of making a dance… I am talking about young choreographers, anxious to be in the public eye, who think that writing about what happened that day in the studio will somehow 1) bring them a wider audience and/or 2) make them a better choreographer.”

Oh, so the problem is both about using online platforms to connect with your potential audience and that articulating your vision in words doesn’t translate into what happens in the studio. Is that really a big problem in the dance field? Are their audiences growing so much and so hip to what’s taking place that they just want to watch and not understand? Are the best and brightest incapable of writing about their process?

Perron, who has taught as well as danced, covered her own inspirations as a “third-generation postmodern choreographer” in the book Reinventing Dance in the 1960s: Everything Was Possible. Well, I guess it no longer is. (By the way, anyone want to add to the blog to help us understand what it really means to wake up and approach our daily work as “third-generation postmodern”?)

Even though Perron’s approach appears to be audiences-be-damned, she is trying to help the next generation (fourth-generation postmodern?): “But explaining how you make a dance, the problems you encounter and how you solve them, is not going to help either you as the choreographer or your potential audience. To dig into your imagination enough to make a dance, you need to be embroiled in a place where there is no explanation.”

A place with “no explanation.” Oh, please. A theatre with no audience.

“What if you’re in the studio working on a piece, and you’re thinking about what you’re going to say about it in your blog? Wouldn’t that compromise your process?” Well, sure, if you had nothing to say, or were incapable of articulating your idea. The whole point is to help us dumb outsiders understand the process. There is a process right?

Connecting audiences to art is all about context. The more you know about a work of art the more you can appreciate the work of art.

High schools and universities that have included dance programs not only as part of accessible activities, but also as part of the practical and intellectual curriculum, not only produce future dancers, but perhaps more importantly also produce future dance audiences. Wouldn’t these kinds of blogs that so irritate Perron be a wonderful resource for future generations of artists and audiences?

The more an artist is part of an audience’s community, the more the community can appreciate what it is the artist is trying to do.

Many of those students who took Martha Graham classes, either from Graham or her acolytes, became the audience — and the funders — for dance in their communities. They understood Graham’s technique, expression, and mission from the inside and then became ambassadors for the modern dance movement.

The online platforms that so distress Perron are the very platforms that help us learn more about artistic work. To provide context and “backstage” access about the making of an event has helped propel audiences to the arts, to sports, and to all live events. Surely dance is not in such a strong position to be able to afford turning away from effective audience development. Online context has helped to deepen the connection to current audiences and reach new audiences.

Can modern dance really afford to be silent?

- Bill Reichblum

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