Sitting in the dark on Thursday night at Town Hall, radio host Ira Glass and dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass can be heard debating how to start their show. Ira suggests a segment not unlike what listeners hear on This American Life. The dancers prefer something with more sparkle and pizzazz. They get their way, bursting out from behind a red curtain in sequenced dresses with confetti showering onto the stage. So begins Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, which the trio has been touring across the country and made its NYC debut this past week.
Today, the National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts), the non-profit organization that contributes to the cultural vitality of the nation by supporting the artistic development of talented young artists, is celebrating YoungArts Awareness Day, a nationwide initiative to help “keep arts alive.” Encouraging everyone who has a creative instinct to take part, YoungArts Awareness Day is featuring pop-up performances and events in Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, and New York City.
Throughout the day, YoungArts invites all artists to share their work and tell their personal story of why the arts matter on social media and to connect with YoungArts Awareness Day through the tags #keepartsalive, #youngarts, and #youngartsawarenessday.
In New York, YoungArts Alumni will be doing “Pop-Up” performances at Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle from 12:00-1:30 PM EST. YoungArts Alumni include:
- Pascal LeBoeuf (2004, Jazz Keyboard)
- Josh Page (2008, Classical Voice)
- Bihn Park (2014, Cello)
- Gabe Schnider (2011, Jazz Guitar)
- Third Story, featuring alumni Elliott Skinner (2013, Jazz Voice), Richard Saunders (2008, Jazz Voice) and Ben Lusher (2010, Jazz Voice)
- Caleb Teicher (2011, Tap)
- Grace Weber, (2006, Pop Voice)
- Mark Whitfield, Jr, (2009, Jazz Percussion)
I had the pleasure of seeing Monica Bill Barnes & Co. perform with Ira Glass, host of This American Life, at Carnegie Hall last year when they opened for comedian Mike Birbiglia. The combination of radio and dance – which “have no business being together”, according to Glass – was funny, touching, and heartfelt. Since then, the dance company and radio host have expanded their show and taken it on the road to 30 cities, and now (finally!) they’re bringing Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host to NYC. Tickets are on sale for the September performances at Town Hall. Get ‘em while you can, and check out the trailer below.
As the audience entered the theater at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, a woman in a body cast rested on her side in a sea of dirt. At the center of the space was a large, triangular glass structure, with the audience seated on two sides. My neighbor remarked that it felt like we were seeing our own reflection, rather than looking at the audience across from us.
Throughout the New York premiere of BeginAgain Installed, presented last month by 3LD and The Joyce Theater and directed by choreographer Zoe Scofield and visual artist Juniper Shuey, shadows and reflections abound in a work that explored shifting identities through sound, video, music, movement, and light. The small space often felt crowded, weighed down by immersive video projections, jarring sounds, and dim lighting.
The movement of Ariel Freedman and Zoe Scofield, both petite and dressed in gray lace dresses, ranged from violent to tender, wild to contained. Rooted in ballet vocabulary that was often twisted into something more bizarre, BeginAgain Installed showed two sides of the same person. The triangular structure, which turned out to be both reflective and transparent, added to the feeling of being stuck, conflicted, or trapped as the two women danced frenetically within its walls. Outside of the structure, the woman in the body cast (Annie Rigney) rose from the ground and guided them, pushing an internal struggle in one direction or another.
Surrounding the dancers’ fragile relationship were menacing sounds and shadows. Silhouettes slowly moved along the walls, with Scofield and Freedman mirroring their movement in real time. The prism’s walls and other lighting choices added myriad reflections, creating a dizzying swirl of bodies. The self was even more divided, more broken, in this harrowing atmosphere.
Though I had seen all three works on New York City Ballet’s Jerome Robbins program – Glass Pieces, Opus 19/The Dreamer, and The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody) – several times in the past, I was eager to see them side by side. Each is from a different decade – the 1950s to the 1980s – and depicts strikingly different moods. All three ballets remain timeless, and with a debut from principal dancer Sterling Hyltin last Saturday afternoon, the performance did not disappoint.
Glass Pieces (1983), with repetitive, propulsive music by Philip Glass, captures the energy of a metropolis. A large ensemble walks briskly in myriad directions against a backdrop that looks like graph paper. Three couples – in green, yellow, and red, like traffic lights – emerge from the hustle in commanding jumps that often end with their arms lifting overhead. In the second section, a line of women in silhouette bobs gracefully to the sound of slow, hypnotic strings. Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar soar across the stage as a powerful presence. Krohn’s waif-like grace contrasts with Ramasar’s strength, and together they were a mesmerizing duo as they shifted through geometric shapes and extensions.
Krohn’s role is one that Wendy Whelan (who is retiring this fall, sadly) has performed marvelously for years. Whelan is also striking in Opus 19/The Dreamer (1979), in which Sterling Hyltin made her debut at this performance. Alongside Gonzalo Garcia in the title role, she looked relaxed and mature. Set to Prokofiev’s frenetic Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, the dreamer floats through an ephemeral landscape of dreams and nightmares, interacting with an ethereal creature who always seems just beyond his grasp. Hyltin is at once mysterious and commanding, emerging out of a sea of dancers (who perhaps portray other fleeting thoughts of the dreamer) with the wildness of a dream that cannot be controlled.
The Concert (1956) takes a more comical approach to the subject of dreaming. Specifically, it focuses on the quirky personalities that attend a live concert (featuring music by Chopin) and the ways in which they get swept up in the music. Maria Kowroski takes a seat right next to the live pianist (the hilarious Elaine Chelton) and proceeds to hug the piano in appreciation. Two women are hushed after whispering and noisily opening a candy wrapper, while another is desperate to get her annoyed husband to pay attention. An ensemble performs a hilariously bad waltz. And later, everyone seems to momentarily bond as they lift their umbrellas and walk briskly through the rain.
This image is reminiscent of the opening one in Glass Pieces, and yet the two have such distinct moods and energy. All three works highlight Robbins’ knack for portraying human experiences in varied, powerful, and accessible ways. Whether it’s a bustling street, an elusive dream, or a lively concert, it’s easy to imagine yourself right there.