Tag Archives: ARTCAST

Interview With Yunuen Perez Vertti About IN THE HEART OF WOMEN


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Photo by Arlene Bowman

On Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET, ARTCAST Season 2 premieres Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN, a new documentary short by filmmaker Yunuen Perez Vertti. Filmed in Vancouver, IN THE HEART OF THE WOMEN is about West Coast Women Artists, a collective of indigenous artists whose goal is to build on artistic skills, share knowledge, and preserve traditional teaching through art. Featuring Arlene Bowman, Haisla Collins, Doris Fox, Lori Fox, Rose-Marie Francis, Veronica Iza, Chrisse Oleman, Jacqueline Quewezance, Jacqueline West, and Georgina Wing-Klema.

I interviewed Yunuen Perez Vertti about her new documentary short, IN THE HEART OF WOMEN.

MB: I have known you and your work as a filmmaker for almost 15 years. What struck me about you when I first met you was your energy and enthusiasm for all art forms, not just film. Dance, music, poetry, visual art…they all seemed to resonate equally with you. I see that multifaceted side of you as strong as ever, which makes it always exciting for me when I have the opportunity to work with you. How did you approach your collaboration with the West Coast Women Artists Collective?

YPV: I do love all art forms, I think of art as a whole tree as opposed to lots of branches. I usually get my inspiration for documentaries from people’s stories and I seem to be attracted to people that make art. When I learned about the West Coast Women Artists Collective, I was curious about their contemporary approach to indigenous art, but when I met them, their personalities and stories where inspiring to me. Since I moved to Vancouver I’ve been trying to infiltrate myself on the arts circle, and learn about the art scene here. I didn’t have much knowledge about indigenous art and I thought it would be interesting to learn about it from the perspective of these women, and their stories where so powerful, it was hard for me not to create a documentary.

MB: The film is very positive and focuses on the nurturing environment that is created by these artists coming together to form a community. One gets a feeling that the film is of the present and the future, and not the past; this to me is one of the qualities that makes this film so strong. Even the quote you begin with speaks to moving forward. There are, however, some serious issues alluded to by some of the women in their interviews. Were there stories you chose not to include in this short, and if so, why?

YPV: Yes, when I started shooting the documentary my focus was on the art and the forming of a collective by these women. However, as the shooting when on, a lot of personal stories came afloat, and it was obvious to me that these women had difficult but important stories to tell. When I started post production it was difficult for me to pick and choose the stories I was going to include. I decided to stay with my original plan, and focus on their art and their coming together. I didn’t want to show incomplete stories; they were very interesting stories, but I felt I had to do more research to present the full story. Like any other indigenous group in the world, in Canada the story is not different, there is a long history behind a lot of the indigenous people’s issues, and unfortunately a lot of pain.

MB: Do you have plans to expand this short in the future into a full-length documentary?

YPV: I would love to make it a full length documentary, of course time and funding will play a role on making that decision. As of now, I’m planning on shooting at least until they have their first exhibition in February.

MB: Some of the artists were very open and articulate, and some were more reticent. One of the most poignant statements for me came from a woman who did not speak very much on camera, but when she did it was so eloquent. How did you go about getting the artists to speak to you, especially the ones who might have been shy to speak on camera.

YPV: Actually, I was surprised on how quickly they opened up to me. But yes, some of them were more open than others. From our first meeting I understood that there would be some difficulties in getting them to talk to me on camera, so I worked hard to make them feel comfortable talking to me before I put them in front of the camera. Anytime you are doing interviews, you try to make your subjects comfortable. I understood that most of the women from the collective had never had the experience of been interviewed. For some of them, it was an exciting moment, and for some of them, it was clearly a nerve racking moment. I tried to understand their personalities and honor their requests as much as possible to make it easy for them to feel relaxed.

MB: Do you think an understanding of the social context of women from a different culture is essential to our progression as a society in general?

YPV: Definitely, we live in a global world, and now more than ever things that happen in other countries or societies should matter to us, because they affect us directly or indirectly. I believe progress for any society has a direct relationship to women’s progress and development. Frankly, I wish we didn’t have to talk about women’s progress and development anymore, but the reality is that there still a lot of work to be done, around the world, in regards to women.

MB: Do you think it’s difficult for artists in all cultures equally, or do you think some cultures make it more of a taboo? Do you think it is different also for different genders?

YPV: I think being an artist is difficult no matter what culture you are part of, however, I also think that some issues can be directly related to individual cultures. I think this documentary touches on some specific issues related to indigenous people in Canada. Some of those issues may not translate to other cultures. As far as the gender issue, I think unfortunately in the arts, gender is an issue as well. These women, the West Coast Women Artists are one of the first indigenous women collectives in Canada. And even my industry of film is lacking gender diversity, so yes, it is a very different experience for men in the arts, and women in the arts, irrespective of cultures.

MB: I found Veronica Iza’s song to be very moving, and compelling behind the images of the artists’ work. How did you discover the song?

YPV: Veronica shared it with me, when I mentioned I was looking for music to use in the film. As soon as I heard the song, I knew I had to use it.

MB: Can you tell me about the exhibition that they will be having in February?

YPV: The exhibition will be at the Roundhouse exhibit hall in Yaletown, Vancouver, from February 2 to 11, with a reception on February 7. Most of the women from the collective are producing original work, and the diversity of the group will be reflected through the different art forms. I think, for what I know about them now, the process of putting this exhibition together, independently of how successful it is, in terms of attendance and selling of their art, it’s going to be a huge learning experience for them. It will definitely help them to understand a lot more about themselves and the collective as an entity. I’m curious and excited to shoot that process.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 8: IN THE HEART OF WOMEN will premiere on Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance. Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on Youtube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org

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Women In Jazz, Dewey Redman & Sitatunga Dreams

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ARTCAST SEASON 2, Episode 7: SITATUNGA. A new work from composer Mark Masters that tributes the wild and innovative spirit of legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman. Performed by the Mark Masters Jazz Ensemble featuring Kirsten Edkins, saxophone.

Mark Masters is a Los Angeles-based composer and conductor. He is the artistic director of the American Jazz Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the enrichment and appreciation of jazz music. The organization presents concerts, makes recordings, offers workshops and scholarships to students, and also houses an archive of sheet music and recordings. They have collaborated with musicians such as Dewey Redman, Steve Kuhn, Lee Konitz and Andrew Cyrille.

Sitatunga is a composition by Mark Masters inspired by the innovative and exceptional spirit of saxophonist Dewey Redman. Mark worked with Dewey Redman on a series of concerts that featured Redman’s music arranged by Mark for large ensemble. He also heard him teach many master classes and workshops under the auspices of the American Jazz Institute. I first heard Sitatunga on a Mark Masters Ensemble CD, Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (Carpri 2008), that was recorded just after Dewey Redman passed away. Redman was scheduled to do this project and Oliver Lake stepped in to play saxophone on the recording. It was a recording of the large ensemble arrangements of Redman’s music that they had previously toured, with the addition of this one new composition by Mark Masters that tributed his much admired musical colleague.

When a musician plays, they either communicate through their instrument or they don’t. Age, color, and gender are all factors that have no bearing on the artistic statement. It so happens, however, that women in jazz are still a minority. When one experiences a saxophonist who plays like Kirsten Edkins, it’s exciting. It’s exciting because even though times are changing, a woman playing the saxophone is still not a common image on the bandstand. When a player as accomplished as Kirsten bites into a solo, the energy would be thrilling if she were any gender.

I first heard Dewey Redman, not performing, but speaking in an interview on NPR. He was telling a story about meeting John Coltrane for the first time. He explained that he had been working professionally and had a reputation as a musician. He said he had what he felt was an appropriate amount of ego. I appreciated very much what he meant by this. As an artist, it’s good to have humility, but one also has to guard against too much. You may have to really fight to make your creative statement. When Redman went to meet John Coltrane in his hotel room, he was so amazed by Coltrane’s complete lack of ego. He said that it forever changed him. For me, listening to Dewey Redman speak, I wanted to know his art. It started with the person and getting a feeling for how special, how open, how honest he was in his demeanor. I know that Mark Masters felt the same way about Dewey Redman.

A Sitatunga is a type of animal. It is a marsh buck…strong, elusive, unusual. Mark Masters had a dream after Dewey Redman passed that Dewey had turned into this magnificent animal and was running through the plains. We should all be so lucky to have such dreams. Maybe a few listens to Sitatunga will conjure them next time we sleep.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 7: Sitatunga will premiere on Sunday December 21 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance. Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on Youtube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org

Hemingway & Rain Girl

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The premiere of RAIN GIRL, with choreography and text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, was presented at the Village Zendo in New York City by the FONT Festival and Village Zendo Arts. RAIN GIRL was filmed for ARTCAST Season 2 in the Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center and on location in New York.

RAIN GIRL is inspired by Hemingway’s short story Big Two-Hearted River. This story, first published in 1925, seems on the surface to be about a young man who goes fishing alone. It’s very subtly written, but we come to understand that the character is recovering from something traumatic. He is trying to heal himself. We are never told from what, but we can surmise he was in World War I, based on when the story was written. Its abstractness, however, could place it in any time and could conjure almost any situation from which one would need to recover.

When I reread the story recently, the last line made me cry. I think because it gave a poetry and a dignity to the universal need we all have to rejuvenate.

RAIN GIRL was also designed as a feature for dancer Robin Gilbert. Robin loves the rain and so the rain in RAIN GIRL is intended as a positive image and sound. The dance and music, like the Hemingway story, recount a journey back to feeling whole that has already begun.

For me personally, in the both Hemingway’s story and in the dance work, the river is the symbol for the life force. The river is always there, running through you, but sometimes you can’t feel it. What reading Hemingway has so often done for me, throughout my life, is reconnected me with the sheer force and beauty of being alive. I step into something so stunningly powerful and good.

ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 4: RAIN GIRL will premiere on Sunday November 30 at 8 p.m. ET on YouTube.com/brangwendance. You can watch ARTCAST episodes anytime after broadcast on youtube.com/brangwendance, or on brangwendance.org/

Still Dancers Displaying Their Exquisite Shapes

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The Quantum Bass Center is a unique space that sells and repairs acoustic basses, and offers masterclasses in bass performance. Bassist Elizabeth Steves, who serves as its director, founded the center as a resource for the highest quality equipment and education for bassists. Located in the historic Midtown Art Center building in Houston, the Quantum Bass Center has two showrooms filled with basses from many different time periods, two smaller salon rooms used for private lessons, and a repair workshop down the hall. In August 2014, the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble presented live performances in this space. The dance and music were created spontaneously in the moment by all the performers, based on concepts designed in turn by different ensemble members. These improvisations were inspired by space, and fueled by our connection to each other and the audience.

Three elements come together in performance: the performers, the audience and the space. When a performer walks out onto the stage, they can feel the audience and the audience can feel them. If the channels are open on both sides of the curtain so to speak, no matter the size of the concert venue, it’s an intimate moment. The mysterious bond between performer and audience that occurs in live performance is difficult to accurately describe; it’s a group experience and yet also intensely personal, and it is that dichotomy that gives it an other-worldly quality.

I find that the third element of space, however, is even more intangible. Although its not often discussed, every stage or performance space has its own vibe that it communicates to performer and audience alike. It’s inexplicable but some spaces lend them themselves to performance and what constitutes this is much more than architectural. As a performing organization we are looking for places where we can connect with our audience. We are looking for spaces that will speak to us.

Maybe it was because the rooms were filled with basses from many different time periods; or the fact that the center was started out of Elizabeth Steves’ passion for her art form; or the poetry of knowing that just down the hall, that which is broken is carefully restored by hand, but we knew immediately that the Quantum Bass Center was an ideal place to perform. It embraced us and the audience in its two lovely main rooms. Tall upright basses lined two of the walls, like audience members in standing room only, or still dancers displaying their exquisite shapes – you decide.

The first of two episodes of ARTCAST created at the Quantum Bass Center airs this Sunday at 8 p.m. E.T. on YouTube.com/brangwendance. It features Lindsey McGill, dancer; Thomas Helton, bass; and Seth Paynter, saxophone.

Please remember that following each broadcast, episodes are available for viewing any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org

The Russians Are Back!

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NO STANDING IN ST. PETERSBURG: PETERSBURG, part 1 of award-winning filmmaker Peter Josyph’s serial film, premiered as part of ARTCAST Season 1. We are pleased to present the premieres of the film’s next two parts in ARTCAST Season 2.

ASTORIA premieres on Sunday November 16 at 8 p.m. and FILM AT THE TOP premieres on December 7 at 8 p.m.

The charming Chekovian characters of Elena and Ilya that we experience in part 1 return, now as Elena and Raymond, two New York City actors who have played the roles on screen that we see in part 1. Yes, part 1 is actually a film within a film, but it also sets the stage for the adventures of three actors, a journalist, and a filmmaker, in the parts to come.

ASTORIA takes us into an early-morning conversation between the actor Raymond (played by Raymond Todd) and his wife Olya (played by Anna Istomina) about his ability to do an authentic-sounding Russian accent for his part. His wife, a native of Russia, tries to calmly explain that his accent is not in any way believable.

Those familiar with Peter Josyph’s work in the landmark documentary LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO, and the lesser known but still outstanding ACTING McCARTHY (featuring interviews with Billy Bob Thornton and Matt Damon), may be surprised by the lightness and humor in ASTORIA and FILM AT THE TOP. These films are funny in the truest and best sense because the human behaviors that are laughable are filmed through the lens of Josyph’s profound compassion for his characters.

As I mentioned in my previous essay “The Lelias,” the feeling of being in the room with characters in a story is for me the ultimate experience when watching a film. This feeling of being privy to a private moment pervades ASTORIA. John Cassavetes believed that a close-up of a face in a film is successful if it makes you want to touch the skin. ASTORIA is filled with close-ups to which Cassavetes would no doubt give his approval. The sound of Raymond and Olya’s voices, the murmuring and singing of Olya, the sound as she flips the pages of the George Simenon book she is holding in her hands, jump out with a kind of soft crispness that makes you feel you are sitting next to them. And maybe you are, because art can indeed take you to another place.

While each short film stands alone, I encourage everyone to watch part 1 before watching ASTORIA. Here is part 1:

Part 2 airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on youtube.com/brangwendance. You can also watch it any time after the broadcast.

The Lelias

The Lelias

The film critic and scholar Ray Carney surmised that the work of independent filmmaker John Cassavetes was not given the critical acclaim it deserved because his films required the viewer to become involved. With most films, we observe the action from a safe distance. It may be a moving and powerful story, but we are still watching a story and able to stay outside the frame so to speak. We are voyeurs. With the films of John Cassavetes, you are in the room with the characters. This is for me a kind of cinema paradise. I feel like I am experiencing life, with all its incredible complexities and contradictions and mystery.

IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a new film with choreography by me and music by Tim Hagans, tributes Cassavetes’ first film SHADOWS. Released in1959, SHADOWS is the story of 3 siblings in New York City: Hugh, a jazz singer; Ben a jazz musician, and Lelia, a painter. Shot in black and white, we can see that the siblings have varying skin colors. One of the many points Cassavetes was trying to make in SHADOWS was that color was a question of perception and not reality. The film is about the emotional journey of the central character of Lelia. Her journey is a human journey, and therefore a universal one.

Lelia is the youngest character in the film. She is energetic and hopeful, moving in literary circles of people who see no color, until she meets a man who courts her and wins her affection. They become lovers and this is her first love experience. The young man becomes alarmed, however, when he meets her oldest brother, the dark-skinned Hugh, and realizes the woman he is having an affair with is black. Lelia is devastated at his reaction. She murmurs “I love you, doesn’t that mean anything.” Perhaps those words are key to understanding SHADOWS and all of Cassavetes’ films to come. He was continually exploring our human need for love and the power of love, and our turning away from it. Our turning away from what we crave most, for the most absurd of reasons.

It’s impossible to watch SHADOWS and not fall in love with the character of Lelia. When Tim Hagans wrote the music for IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, he wrote it from her perspective. It’s a journey of what its like to discover the unfairness of life and then to come out on the other side and move forward. The musicians are expressing her emotional narrative when they perform the music. And so in making the dance, I decided to make the choreography follow the same narrative. Rather than a work where the different performers represent different characters in the film, we all instead represent Lelia. So we have Lelias of different genders and ages.

The middle brother Ben, runs through the city with his two buddies, and the only conflict they experience is their youth and their desires against the world in general. There are no issues of skin color. Scholars have written that Ben is passing for white, but to me it’s more that his 2 buddies see no color. They are just friends. I was on the subway across from 4 happy, bubbling teenagers having an animated discussion about skin color, of which they represented the many shades of the characters in SHADOWS from the snow-white lover of Lelia to the dark-skinned Hugh. It was as if they were discussing as insignificant a descriptor as hair or eye color. This seems indicative of Cassavetes’ idea that loosing the openness of youth is to the detriment of adulthood. I used the feeling of the boys in SHADOWS as they bound through the New York City streets — budding hipsters — also in the choreography.

We all suffer to some degree the pain of being judged by what is perceived on the surface about us, rather than the essence of our beings. People’s insecurities make them ostracize people for a variety of reasons, reasons that exist in their minds rather than in reality. If we all some day in future are the same color, will society find some other equally unreasonable thing to use as justification for what the playwright Arthur Miller so eloquently called ‘the breaking of charity” with each other.

Lelia moves forward out of her disappointment. She moves forward awkwardly and she is changed inside, yet in many ways she is just as vibrant as before, but in a different way. As Tim Hagans said when discussing the music, she emerges as a mature person. The choreography returns to something that is fluid but a little broken. We cannot erase our past, and sometimes it breaks us. So we try to move forward and one way we can do that is by finding each other.

You can watch SHADOWS in its entirety on YouTube. If you type in “Cassavetes SHADOWS” in the YouTube search engine, it will come up. Like all great art, SHADOWS makes us look a little deeper at each other, and ourselves.

We hope you will also join us for our new film IN AND OUT OF THE SHADOWS, Sunday November 9 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance

Please remember if you miss the broadcast, you can still watch the episode any time on YouTube.com/brangwendance or on brangwendance.org.