It’s hard to believe, but John Lennon would have turned seventy-five this past October 9. It would be fascinating to hear what he would have to say about what’s going on in the world today, but we’ll have to suffice with such special events as the thirty-fifth annual John Lennon Tribute, when a diverse group of musicians will gather to honor the Smart Beatle’s legacy of peace. “It’s always joyous to ‘come together over John.’ His songs and message are timeless, and as relevant as ever," said tribute creator and MAD magazine senior editor Joe Raiola. Presented by Theatre Within and Music Without Borders, this year’s show features Martin Sexton, Joan Osborne, Joseph Arthur, Bettye LaVette, Willie Nile, Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, Jonatha Brooke, Nicole Atkins, Toshi Reagon, Dan Bern, and music director Rich Pagano. In addition, Vagina Monlogues playwright and activist Eve Ensler will receive the second annual John Lennon Real Love Award. The evening benefits Theatre Within’s John Lennon Real Love Project, which “offers children and young adults in medical care centers, schools, and communities in need the unique opportunity to compose their own songs.”
For many people, the coming of Thanksgiving signals that Christmas is not too far off. For others, like us, it means that Alvin Ailey’s annual season at City Center is right around the corner. From December 2 to January 3, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be at the West Fifty-Sixth Street institution, continuing to spread its wings under the inspired leadership of artistic director Robert Battle. This season is highlighted by four world premieres: Ronald K. Brown’s Open Door, set to music by Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra; Rennie Harris’s Exodus; Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America: First Movement, the start of a trilogy that examines the prison system; and Battle’s own Awakening, his first new work with AAADT since taking the reins from Judith Jamison. Jamison’s A Case for You, an excerpt from her longer piece, Reminiscin’, gets a new production, set to Diana Krall’s version of the Joni Mitchell song. There will also be new productions of Ailey’s Blues Suite, Love Songs, and Cry and Talley Beatty’s Toccata, an excerpt from Come and Get the Beauty of It Hot. The company will be premiering two works, Battle’s No Longer Silent, with a score by Nazi-banned Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff, and Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera, set to tango music by Astor Piazzolla.
On December 15, 20 (matinee), and 29, “Ailey Visionaries” presents works exclusively by past and present AAADT artistic directors Ailey, Jamison, and Battle. Revelations will be performed with live music on December 2, 4, and 5, while live music will also accompany Blues Suite on December 16, 19 (matinee), 20 (evening), and 31. Five programs will consist of only new works, on December 17, 19 (evening), 22, and 26 (evening) and January 2 (evening). And true Ailey fanatics can catch five programs of pieces by the legendary dancer and choreographer, on December 8, 13 (matinee), 16, 19 (matinee), and 20 (evening). As always, Saturday matinees will be followed by Q&As with members of the company. As a bonus, Ronald K. Brown will teach a master class on November 30, Donna Wood will lead a Blues Suite class on December 6, and Hope Boykin will teach a Beyond the Stage Master Class on December 14. And Jamison’s fiftieth anniversary of joining AAADT will be celebrated on New Year’s Eve, featuring the return of Clifton Brown, who will dance A Case of You. In addition to those special events, the season includes such returning favorites as David Parsons’s Caught, Brown’s Four Corners and Grace, Aszure Barton’s Lift, and Hans van Manen’s Polish Pieces, among others. So yes, you have your work cut out for you to choose just the right performance, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Or you can do what we would like to do and just move in to City Center for the month.
Who: Harry Shearer, Judith Owen, Alan Cumming, Mario Cantone, Olympia Dukakis, Alfie Boe, Paul Shaffer, Artie Lange, Fred Willard, Béla Fleck, Peter Asher, Davell Crawford, Godfrey Daniels, Jerry Dixon, Amy Engelhardt, Keith Nelson, Doña Oxford, and the SongBirds
What: “Harry Shearer and Judith Owen’s Christmas without Tears (Does This Tree Make Me Look Fat?)”
Where: BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Ave.
When: Tuesday, December 1, $35-$85, 7:30
Why: Husband-and-wife Harry Shearer (The Simpsons, This Is Spinal Tap) and Judith Owen (Lost and Found, Ebb & Flow) are taking their annual “Christmas without Tears (Does This Tree Make Me Look Fat?)” holiday extravaganza to the next level this year, bringing the irreverent variety show to BAM’s elegant Howard Gilman Opera House for a performance honoring World AIDS Day in support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The tenth anniversary performance of what Shearer and Owen call “the perfect antidote to Christmas” will feature an all-star cast gathering around Paul Shaffer’s piano, including Alan Cumming, Fred Willard, Olympia Dukakis, Béla Fleck, and Mario Cantone, singing holiday favorites as well as originals that might not make Santa very happy. The second half of the former house party invites the audience to sing along, leading up to the grand finale of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” done Shearer/Owen style.
ME & Mr. JONES: MY INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH DAVID BOWIE
The Slipper Room
167 Orchard St. between Orchard & Allen Sts.
Monday, November 16, $15-$20, 8:00
It’s a particularly good time to be a David Bowie fan. After a long hiatus, the Thin White Duke has been busy of late, releasing new albums, composing music for Broadway and off-Broadway shows, and even writing a television series theme song. That especially makes Raquel Cion happy. The New York songstress, whose alter egos include cabaret performer Cou-Cou Bijoux and a city librarian, included Bowie tunes in her previous one-woman show, Gilding the Lonely, but her latest work is dedicated exclusively to music by the artist formerly known as David Jones. In Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie, Cion explores deeply personal aspects of her life through the lens of Bowie and his long career, from his days as Ziggy Stardust to his acting in films and onstage and ultimate transformation into an international icon. Wearing a series of glittering glam gowns that would make Iman proud, Cion tells stories and sings hits and deep cuts with a crack live band, all while projections of both her life and Bowie’s pop up behind her. Cion is taking the ever-evolving show, previously performed at Judson Church and the PIT Loft, to the Slipper Room on November 16. As she prepared for this latest iteration of Me & Mr. Jones, twi-ny talk returnee Cion discussed the making of the show, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and having her mother in the audience amid all the raunchy revelations.
twi-ny: You’ve performed Me & Mr. Jones at several venues in the past, including Judson Church and the PIT Loft. How has it evolved over time? For people who might have seen it before, how will it be adapted for the Slipper Room?
Raquel Cion: The response to the show has been amazing. The previous two shows were standing-room only and now at the Slipper Room, which is just such a beautiful venue, we have the room for our audience. Big, gorgeous high ceilings, it’s part club, part jewel-box proscenium with really good acoustics. The band is going to sound fantastic since there’s a great backline and sound system to support them. This band freakin’ rocks! We have Bill Gerstel on drums, Jeremy Bass on guitar, John Brodeur on bass, Chris DeAngelis on piano, and on vocals DM Salsberg and Matt Cleaver. They’re amazing. We can’t wait to fill that space. We’re gonna really be able to kick out the jams!
The projections by Dusty Childers and video edited by Jason Speenburgh will be much more visible since they’re above the band. Not to mention that my coat and gowns, designed by David Quinn, will look fab in the Slipper Room.
My wonderful director, Cynthia Cahill, and I have streamlined the script. I’ve added a bit of research I’ve been doing on the brain, how listening to music affects us and our limbic system, which is the neurological seat of love in the brain. I feel that Bowie has very distinct neurological pathways in me.
At the PIT Loft we did a live request where the audience called out a song and me and our former bassist, Keith Hartell, played it on acoustic guitar. Since this venue is bigger and we want things to be fair(ish), we’ll be giving out ballots with seven images of Bowie from different eras (my director reined me in and kept me to seven), so each audience member will choose their favorite era. The seven choices cover eras that we don’t cover in the show. We’ll be doing an encore from the time/album that has the most votes for an encore. Majority rules. Maybe we can do the second and third or more runners-up if they’ll let me. The first time I did the show at Judson Arts Wednesdays’ Open Swim we toyed with the idea of having the audience call out Bowie songs and having me sing a little bit of said songs acapella. We ended up not doing it because it felt a little like a parlor trick. But, hey, if anyone wants to spend some time with me, I’ll gladly turn that DB catalog trick for you.
twi-ny: The subtitle of your show is My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie, and you indeed share some very intimate details about your personal life. Is that difficult for you, or is it more of a liberating experience? You really get into the whole sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll thing; what was it like to perform it in front of your mother and other relatives at the PIT Loft?
RC: Is it difficult or is it a liberating experience? My answer is yes. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I love Bowie. I wanted this show to be based in that “soul love” for Bowie, but I really wanted to dive in and look at why we love who we love, the lengths we go to connect with that entity, whether they are someone who we are sleeping with or someone who we have relied on as our emotional touchstone for decades. My last show, Gilding the Lonely at Joe’s Pub, was about loneliness, and I wanted to examine and embrace another emotion. Maybe a more silver-lined emotion, and I thought “love.” When I think of what or who I love, who has been my most devoted, chosen relationship, I think of David Bowie. As I say in the show, “His is the voice I have heard the most in my lifetime.” Of course, when I began working on creating the show, what showed up but loneliness. Damned if you do. . . .
I’m actually a pretty private person. So revealing things about myself that are maybe a bit messy is difficult. It’s a risk to own your stuff, your quirks, your heartache, because we’re all in that together, “not alone” and “wonderful.” Having the structure of the script, the incredible songs, the presence of the band, it all creates such a safe space. I love performing this show; it is an absolute joy. Really revealing the depth of my love for Bowie and how it reverberates throughout my life is indeed liberating and difficult.
In terms of having my family there, well, they’re somewhat used to the fact that I’ll say some things that will make them a bit uncomfortable, but they also know that seeing me perform is where they’ll most likely find out that information. My family can handle it. They’ve known me a long while. My mom, she takes pride in both my and my sister’s creative work. Hell, we grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and she has one daughter who sings Balkan music for a living and me. I think she enjoys her moment in the show where I talk about her dropping me off at gay bars as a teenager. Oh, she’ll be there, along with lots of the mishpucha next Monday. Hopefully she doesn’t show up during tech, though.
twi-ny: There’s been a flurry of Bowie activity recent, with the surprise release of The Next Day in 2013, the new song “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” in 2014, Lazarus at New York Theatre Workshop opening later this month, and his new album, Blackstar, due in January. How has all of this impacted your intimate relationship with Mr. Jones, both personally and in your show?
RC: Isn’t it great to be amidst a flurry of Bowie activity? There’s a section in my show about when he released “Where Are We Now?” and The Next Day (though I don’t name the album) in 2013. There was something in the last incarnation of the show about “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” and “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” but they didn’t make this draft’s cut. There is, of course, a bit about Lazarus and the new single and Blackstar. Oh, I have so much to say.
Let’s start with Lazarus. I have been losing my fucking mind over this since it was announced in April. New York Theatre Workshop is probably my favorite theater in New York. Ivo Van Hove is my favorite director. Enda Walsh is an incredible playwright, and, well, it’s Bowie. New music from him. Really, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the announcement. They’re rehearsing now. He’s going to rehearsal. I’m beyond excited about it, and at the same time my heart is aching because, well, he’s right there. Right there. Doing the kind of work I love. I would give anything to be in that rehearsal room. Anything. Uh, so, yeah, that’s been my state of mind since April on that. I’m going to the show five times. And, uh, I don’t think five times is enough. I feel like I have to learn that show. Every piece of it.
I really could go on and on about the new music, which I really love. What I think is fascinating, though, about all of this is how brilliantly Bowie claimed his place in the psyches of his die-hard fans, new generations of fans and the media. He’s doing all of this on his own terms, creating because he is an artist and it’s ontologically necessary for him to create. I mean, there were whispers about new music coming over that near-decade of radio silence from him but two years of recording without it being leaked. It’s astounding in this age of constant “This is what I’m doing, eating, seeing . . . right now.” It’s a testament to the longevity of his brilliance and his relevance. He’s speaking only through his art. Not giving interviews. Not touring. We get the sound and vision through video, incredible short films he’s been making — hell, has always made — and the music. That’s it. He’s above the fray, and his work is unexpected. He’s working in different genres. Continually pushing boundaries. Please, put any of your readers in touch with me if they want to discuss any of the albums in detail. For real, I’d love to do that.
Obviously, I can’t wait for the new single. I’ve YouTubed the hell out of The Last Panthers opening credits to learn that song. Word on the street is the new album and single are gonna blow our minds. I’m all in.
Oh, you didn’t mention the song being written for the new SpongeBob SquarePants musical on Broadway. That’s happening too!
twi-ny: Yes, I did indeed skip that one. At the PIT Loft, you encouraged the audience to take photos and video. Will you be doing that again at the Slipper Room? Do you not find that distracting?
RC: I describe this show as a play disguised as a Bowie tribute show. Since it’s more toward cabaret or a tribute show, the phones come out anyway, so might as well embrace it. It’s kind of the way of the world right now and, well, it actually helps get the word out for the show. We do ask that the phone is silenced. Believe me, if I get distracted by someone’s phone, the whole audience will know about it.
twi-ny: Over the course of your love affair with Bowie, are there some songs you might have not liked at first but have since rediscovered, and are there others that you perhaps have grown tired of?
RC: Tired of, not really. Songs I’m not fond of, yes. This is another thing I’ve been investigating within this show. Why him? I get sick of pretty much everything but Bowie. I have an endless capacity for all things David. There are eras I don’t revisit much but I know all the music within those eras. I somehow always find a way in. It can be a certain melody, a quality of his voice within a song or even a note, a musical phrase or lyric. Once I’m in, I’m in. But I will say, as an example, “Never Let Me Down” let us all down. Hell, he’ll even say that.
twi-ny: When you’re not listening to Bowie, who are you listening to?
RC: I have very diverse taste in music. Lately I’m listening to a lot of Gladys Knight, Paul Weller, Dwight Yoakam, Lizz Wright, Prince — the list goes on and on. My musical choices are very driven by my mood and, well, I have Bowie for all of my moods, so he’s pervasive.
twi-ny: When you’re not onstage performing, you’re a librarian. Do you wear glitter at work?
RC: Ha! Once you’re glittered, it never ever fully goes away. Just ask any of my ex-boyfriends. I do love me some glitter, and there’s always a little residue.
The Creative Time Summit, a two-day series of workshops, roundtables, and open discussions exploring the intersection of art and social justice, takes place November 14-15 at the Boys and Girls High School campus on Fulton St. in Brooklyn, featuring such participants as keynote speakers Nikole Hannah-Jones and Boots Riley along with Bill Ayers, Hans Haacke, Leonard Lopate, Luis Camnitzer, Hope Ginsburg, Tahir Hemphill, Chloë Bass, Tania Bruguera, and many others. But the summit, “The Curriculum NYC,” kicks off Friday night with the special event “Visible on the High Line,” an evening of site-specific participatory performances focusing on collaboration and social interaction, curated by Matteo Lucchetti and Judith Wielander of the Visible Project, “a research project in contemporary art devoted to art work in the social sphere, that aims to produce and sustain socially engaged artistic practices in a global context.” Italian visual artist Marinella Senatore will present the latest iteration of her “School of Narrative Dance” project, beginning at the Gansevoort St. entrance to the High Line and continuing on to the Chelsea Market Passage above Sixteenth St., where Angolan artist and musician Nástio Mosquito will perform “S.E.F.A. Se Eu Fosse Angolano (If I Were Angolan),” a look at media and identity, with visuals by Vic Pereiro. Admission to the High Line performance is free; tickets to the Creative Time Summit run from $25 to $350, depending on what you can afford.
Tickets are going fast for BLACK, a combined music-and-art experience taking place at the Brooklyn Hangar, a thirteen-thousand-square-foot, two-floor warehouse space that hosts unique events. Run by MATTE Projects, the downtown Manhattan company that also promotes the Full Moon Festival and Kitsuné Club Nights, BLACK will feature music by Gesaffelstein, Jon Hopkins, GENER8ION, Virgil Abloh of FLAT WHITE, and NSR (The Deep) x Haruka. (You can hear a mix of songs from the musicians here.) While music is going on upstairs, the basement will be divided into six interactive rooms designed by six visual artists — Cara Stricker, Jesper Just, Nate Brown, Toki Series, Abloh, and Zach Walker, each in a different color. There will also be DJ sets by Tummetott and MASHA downstairs.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St.
November 3-8, $52-$110
It’s a thrill seeing former New York City Ballet legends Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto perform together for the first time in a decade in Hagoromo; if only it were in a more thrilling production. Conceived and directed by David Michalek, Whelan’s husband, Hagoromo (“The Feathered Robe”) is an adaptation of a traditional Noh drama about an elegant celestial garment that drifts from the heavens to earth, where it is found by a fisherman (Soto). The angel (Whelan) whom it belongs to descends to reclaim the magical robe, but the fisherman demands an angelic dance in return. Sara Brown’s set is a large room with a pale wood floor and walls on two sides at the back and the right; the performers enter and exit from the left. At the front of the stage is an apron of black, suggesting a dark reflecting pool. At the back, a window opens up to reveal a circle of celestial light, while the beautiful silk robe sits regally on a frame at center stage. Above the wall are twenty members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, forming an angelic choir; contralto Katalin Károlyi, who sings the role of the angel, and tenor Peter Tantsits, who sings the fisherman; and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), featuring company artistic director Claire Chase on flute, Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Jennifer K. Curtis on violin, Daniel Lippel on guitar, and Ross Karre on percussion and dulcimer, all conducted by Nicholas DeMaison.
The first part of the ninety-minute show, which takes place in the Palace of the Moon, is lovely, as Whelan, wearing an ashen black-and-white outfit in which her limbs seem to be disappearing (the costumes, which become more colorful, are by Dries Van Noten), makes inventive use of the title robe as she dances at first by herself, then joined by two life-size puppet versions of herself, designed by Chris M. Green and operated by puppeteers dressed in black. It’s utterly breathtaking when the angel and her two masked doppelgangers join at the front of the stage and look down at their reflections. Another segment with animals playing with the robe provides comic relief, but once the magical garment flutters down to earth, Nathan Davis’s chamber music and Brendan Pelsue’s libretto turn far too New Age-y, lacking the ethereal beauty of the first half while also feeling much more like a moralistic tale for children. Károlyi’s singing remains impressive, but Tantsits has trouble connecting with the audience. But that doesn’t stop Whelan and Soto from soldiering on, leading to a series of pas de deux that makes it all worthwhile.