Tag Archives: Michele Brangwen

COFFEE-HUGGER 2: FRENCH PRESS, Tribute to Eric Rohmer

Coffeecup

My concept behind the Coffee-Hugger series is to create short films based on the making of coffee. The idea is for the films to be amusing, personal and almost voyeuristic in nature, which is quite a departure from my usual work. “Coffee-Hugger 2: French Press” is the second in the series and the solo coffee maker is joined by another character, trumpeter and composer Tim Hagans. This short also tributes the films of Eric Rohmer, which are for me the essence of summer. If watching “Coffee-Hugger 2” inspires you to have a cup of coffee and watch a Rohmer film, then I have succeeded.

I am completely enamored of the films of Eric Rohmer and have been guilty of trying to disappear inside of them for years. No matter how many times I watch “Pauline at the Beach,” even though I realize that intellectually and artistically, the tale the filmmaker has told has come to its perfect ending, I am compelled to yell at the screen as Pauline closes the gate “No, don’t leave…why are you leaving?” and I turn to whomever I am watching it with and say “why are they leaving, I don’t understand why they are leaving?” Usually my viewing partner is Tm Hagans and luckily he loves Rohmer’s films and has patience with my asking him a question year after year for which there is no answer. So real is the film life for me that I can not bear for story to end, or really understand why anyone would leave life in that country house by the sea with its brimming hydrangeas, tranquil chair-creaking conversations about love, and bowels of coffee sipped in the garden.

When watching Rohmer’s “Le Rayon Vert,” I can not help but cry with Delphine when she encounters what she has been longing for throughout the entire film. The film takes its title from le rayon vert, which is a rare phenomenon in nature whereby the last ray of sunlight that the naked eye can perceive, the green ray, is visible briefly during the setting of the sun on a completely clear day. In the Jules Verne novel of the same name, the sighting of the green ray will result in the viewer knowing their true feelings and those of the people around them. This concept is discussed by characters in Rohmer’s film, overheard by Delphine, and incorporated beautifully into the narrative of the story. “Le Rayon Vert” is for me one of his greatest and truest films. I referenced it in an evening-length work I created in 2005 called Desesperadaos, a suite of tangos ranging from the gypsy to the avant-garde with music by Thomas Helton. The poetry in between the dances makes reference to the search for the green ray and the final movement was called “Tango Rayon Vert.” Rohmer’s spectacular film was subtitled “Summer” in English when released in North America, rather than “The Green Ray” which would be the literal translation of the French title. If you are looking to rent or purchase the film, it is listed under the title “Summer.”

For those readers who may be curious, and perhaps not familiar with Rohmer’s work, I have described some of the references below.

  1. The beautiful and plaintive melody played by trumpeter Tim Hagans is the song from “Pauline at the Beach” that all the main characters dance to at one time or another during the film. The music is uncredited in the film and I have never been able to find it anywhere else based on the album cover that appears briefly on camera…the title on the cover appears to correspond to a completely different piece of music. So it is quite a mysterious and magical fragment of music.
  1. The lovely hand written date cards, which Rohmer filmed and inserted to communicate the passage of time in many of his films, is tributed in the beginning of “Coffee-Hugger 2.” I chose August 5th because that is the day that Delphine meets someone very special in “Le Rayon Vert.” If you watch Rohmer’s date cards, there is a slight camera shake, which somehow adds to the sweetness of them, as if to let the viewer know that there is a living and breathing person that wants to tell them the story.
  1. Rohmer’s films are almost always filled with shots of people on vacation at the beach. If there isn’t the sea and sand and waves, it is almost not a Rohmer film. In addition to footage of people at the beach, “Coffee-Hugger 2” has some shots directly down into the water, tributing the beautiful shots in “La Collectionnuese” where the characters stare down at the seaweed and gentle waves as they ponder their relationships to each other.

There are also many tiny references, such as the hydrangeas which Pauline can not help cupping when she passes by, and the white bowls that hold the coffee. I welcome your communications on Eric Rohmer and his films. “Coffee-Hugger 2” is meant to inspire and share the discourse and love of the work of this amazing director.

 

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Hey Michele, I Don’t Want To Hear About Monsters In My Fridge

SKAMATO2webSKAMATO is a new ska-influenced work with choreography by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans celebrating the non-GMO tomato. SKAMATO is the first movement of UNSANTO, a new work from the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble about changes to the food we eat. See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Performed by Roberta Cortes, Robin Gilbert, Brit Wallis & Michele Brangwen, dancers; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Seth Paynter, saxophone; Thomas Helton, Sousaphone & double bass, and Joe Hertenstein, drums.

I don’t think it’s strange or unwarranted when intelligent people, active and interested in life, respond to a comment from me about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) with a roll of their eyes, or just enough silence for the forthcoming non sequitur to not drop like a conversational stone. There is so much going on in the world that demands more than a fair share of our attention and worry: issues with violence, war, healthcare, education. Now we are expected to address demons in the simple and restorative act of buying groceries and stocking the kitchen.

When I say I’m doing a dance about GMO’s, it seems like an even more obtuse concept. The problem of the prevalence of GMO’s in our food supply is no doubt a scientific and global one, but I feel that at the same time, it’s an intensely personal and poetic affront to who we are as individuals and as a society. Therein lies the conundrum. It’s almost too difficult to contemplate the subject and its ramifications. When the food supply becomes corrupted it not only impacts our physical health, it also has the potential to interfere with our senses, emotions and memories.

If you aren’t sure what the problems are that are caused by GMO’s, let me try to briefly explain. A GMO has a twin monster sibling that goes everywhere it goes. It’s not just a question of GMO crops being cultivated to enable the use of stronger pesticides – like Monsanto’s widely used Roundup which has just been declared carcinogenic – the pesticides are also within the plant itself. Seeds laced with Neonicotinoid, which is a pesticide that permeates the plant as it grows are now commonly used in agriculture. This is what is killing the bees. It has been found in Gerber baby food and is suspected of causing a host of health issues in humans including Autism. Efforts to ban Neonicotinoid in the United States have failed.

Even GMO’s not sent to your supermarket for consumption cause disastrous results in our food supply. Most of corn raised in the US is GMO corn and it goes not to feed people, but acts as a government subsidized source of cattle feed and high fructose corn syrup. The price of corn is so devalued by the GMO seeds that farmers are forced to plant only those seeds and to accept a subsidy. Corn-fed cattle require being fed anti-biotics, which leads to complications when humans consume the meat, and we know what HFCS does to people’s metabolisms.

I have spent quite a bit of time as a choreographer trying to make work that journeys through difficult subject matter. I have set myself the task often of creating a narrative that can generate an emotional arc. When I think about food, I think about its ability to provide not only comfort and sustenance, but a connectedness to the world around us. When I am upset, I like to cook. The smell of vegetables and herbs simmering reminds me of everything good, and I am profoundly interested in how people feel about the food they eat. From childhood, we have memories of food: the tastes, the smells, the associations and the memories they trigger.

So I decided to approach the subject matter of a work about GMO’s from the perspective of joy and humor. When we stand against GMO’s we are defending something that is a powerful force of nature. After all, it may well be our vitality and own life force, our sheer elation at being in a world that has such magnificent things as tomatoes, that will enable us to stop the destruction of the food we eat. I approached SKAMATO with the idea that the hope for the future is in the joy to be found now.

See the New York premiere of SKAMATO at the Mark Morris Dance Center on Saturday October 24 at 5 p.m. Free. The program also includes a performance of RAIN GIRL with choreography & text by Michele Brangwen and music by Tim Hagans, and SURROUND SOUND, new music by Rufus Reid performed by Thomas Helton and James Ilgenfritz, double bass. Performance is followed by a reception in the lobby.

More info at www.brangwendance.org

Mark Morris Dance Center
3 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11217Directions to Mark Morris Dance Center http://markmorrisdancegroup.org/dance-center/visiting-the-dance-center

Women In Jazz, Dewey Redman & Sitatunga Dreams

KirstenJeff

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.