PROFESSIONAL BULL RIDERS MONSTER ENERGY BUCK OFF AT THE GARDEN
Madison Square Garden
31st - 33rd Sts. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
January 15-17, $25-$207 ($505 for PBR Elite Seats)
Professional bull rider Cooper Davis had quite a 2015. The Wharton, Texas, native turned twenty-one, had a son, got married, and, in October, became the first rookie since Jody Newberry in 2003 to win the World Finals, earning him a check for a quarter of a million dollars. Davis will be in New York City January 15-17 for the Professional Bull Riders Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, when the best riders in the country will be battling bulls and the clock at the World’s Most Famous Arena for the tenth consecutive year. Started in 1992 by twenty bull riders from the rodeo circuit, the PBR has been growing ever since; in April 2015, it was acquired by entertainment, sports, and fashion heavyweight WME | IMG, which owns and produces such live events as the Miami Open tennis tournament, distributes more than 32,000 hours of sports programming each year, and represents such stars as Oprah Winfrey, Cam Newton, Ben Affleck, Adele, Wayne Gretzky, and Serena Williams. Davis recently took more than eight seconds — the time a competitor must stay atop a bull in order for the ride to qualify — to discuss his family, his weight conditioning, his favorite bulls, swimming with sharks, getting hazed as a rookie, and coming to New York for the first time in this exclusive twi-ny talk.
twi-ny: Congratulations on winning the World Finals event in Las Vegas. You surprised a lot of people with the victory; did you surprise yourself?
Cooper Davis: I don’t think I really surprised myself because I put a lot of hard work and dedication into preparing for that event. Since I started working out three months ago, that was my original goal — to win the World Finals. I didn’t expect to win an event before the World Finals, because I knew it would be a process getting my weight down and adjusting my riding to the new weight.
twi-ny: Yes, you recently dropped a lot of weight. What do you think your ideal weight is?
cd: Going into the finals I was 144; I think my ideal weight is 145–150 pounds.
twi-ny: What kind of diet are you on to maintain your conditioning?
cd: Two thousand calories a day — two thousand good calories, not fried chicken and burgers. Eating healthy and clean and continuing to go to the gym will be critical to my performance here on out.
twi-ny: You recently got married and have a baby boy. Does having a family change the way you approach bull riding? For example, how do you balance the desire to earn more money to support the family with the need to be safe and healthy for your wife and son? Or is it that you’re only twenty-one, so anything goes at this point?
cd: Bull riding is going to be a dangerous sport no matter if you have a family or not. You have to put that in the back of your mind — take one bull at a time and don’t put the pressure of providing for your family on yourself. You know, it does feel good though when you can provide for your family doing something that you love.
twi-ny: How did you get involved in professional bull riding? You played football and baseball in high school in Texas as well, but you started riding bulls when you were fourteen, is that right?
cd: Yes. I didn’t start riding until my sister started dating a guy (to whom she is now married, Clayton Foltyn) who rode bulls professionally. He even went to the PBR World Finals a couple of times. I looked up to him a lot and learned a lot from him. I have to give a lot of credit to him.
twi-ny: Does it get scarier or easier as time goes by?
cd: You have to learn how to deal with the pressure. When I’m out there, I don’t think a lot about the bull riding aspect of it. My mind is pretty blank when I nod [the signal for the gate to open and the ride to start]. I can sit on the back of the chutes beforehand and hang out and joke. I don’t get very emotional about it.
twi-ny: Nothing else is going through your mind that split second before you nod and the gate is opened?
cd: A lot of the time you can study a bull and try to figure out his patterns. However, I think the less you think about it, like I do, is better so you can react to him. He may not always follow the pattern that you study.
twi-ny: You’ve said that Black Betty is your favorite bull, all fifteen hundred pounds of him. What makes riding him so special?
cd: It was one of the first bulls that I got a 90-point score on. He was really showy. I like a few other bulls now, but he will always be one of my favorites. Any bull you can be 90 points on is going to be on the favorites list.
twi-ny: What is the experience of riding a bull like?
cd: I went swimming in Cancun over the summer with some whale sharks, and it was the same type of adrenaline rush. It’s like you’re looking right into the face of death sometimes, and I guess the closer to death you get, the more alive you feel.
twi-ny: Do you have any rituals you perform the day of an event?
cd: I will go to the gym and run two to three miles depending on how I feel. If I am sore, I will stretch and try to work it all out. I’ll then go to sports med and try to get to feeling the best I can. I am not very superstitious, though. A lot of guys won’t eat chicken beforehand, because you are what you eat!
twi-ny: When you’re not riding bulls, you’re a student. What are you studying?
cd: I don’t go to college anymore. I went for a semester and figured out that college was not for me at this point in my life. I didn’t want to waste my prime years of bull riding and then wake up years from now wondering what I could have done.
twi-ny: Might law be in your future, down the road?
cd: While I did want to be a lawyer when I was younger, now, however, I would go back for occupational therapy. I would like to work with special-needs children.
twi-ny: As a rookie on the PBR tour, is there any kind of hazing or teasing you get from the other riders?
cd: Some of the older guys like to pick a lot, like J. W. Harris. I’ve been around him a lot. He likes to joke and pick. One time I came into the locker room and my gear bag and rope and helmet were tied to the ceiling. There’s a lot of picking, but they do give you good advice, too. You just have to go with the joking stuff.
twi-ny: Does any of it change after winning such a big event as the World Finals?
cd: No. All of the guys like to pick around. And, I like to joke as well so I don’t think it matters if you’ve been there fifteen years or are a rookie — there’s a lot of picking going on.
twi-ny: The PBR will be celebrating its tenth anniversary at Madison Square Garden January 15–17. In general, MSG is more well known as being home to the Knicks and the Rangers, boxing and the circus, and the Grateful Dead and Billy Joel than country music, rodeos, and bull riding. Will this be your first time riding in New York City, or first time in NYC at all?
cd: It will be my first time in New York. I am really excited about it. It’s one of the events I’ve been looking forward to all season long. It will be neat to ride in MSG because it’s not something New Yorkers get to see every day, and it will be a different atmosphere for me, as well.
twi-ny: What do you expect from the fans?
cd: While I would expect they won’t be as familiar with the bull riding as fans in southern cities, they may actually enjoy it more because they’re not around bull riding as much.
twi-ny: While you’re here in the city, is there anything you’re looking forward to doing aside from competing, like seeing any specific sights?
cd: I am going to walk around Madison Square Garden and take in as much of it in as I can. I will probably only go there once a year, so I am going to try to see as much as I can.
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.
Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist, composer, and producer Roarke Menzies knows about collaboration. For the past ten years, Menzies has been working with dancers, storytellers, choreographers, visual artists, and film directors, creating soundscapes and scores primarily using electronics, vocals, and his body. He’s been involved in projects at the Kitchen, the New Museum, Jacob’s Pillow, Abrons Arts Center, the Bushwick Starr, and the Vancouver Biennale in addition to composing music for a VICE web pilot and an award-winning educational app for children. But now Menzies, a self-described “sonic explorer,” is entering new territory, putting himself front and center with the release of his debut album, Shapes (October 13, Coup de Glotte). The record features six soundscapes, running in length from 2:11 (“Man in the Myler”) to 13:58 (“Music for Spatial Shift”), that take listeners on an ethereal journey through space and time, from the gentle, lilting “Those Pretty Lights” to the echoing, wind-strewn “Pulse Inflections.” Earlier this year, we did a twi-ny talk with Menzies and Rome about their show Philadelphia and Other Stories. Now we go it alone with Menzies, as he discusses sonic phenomena and the material world, his rather heady reading list, Aboriginal artist Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, and more.
twi-ny: We first met five years ago, when artist Nuala Clarke invited us, along with several others, to perform at her art opening, “You Delight Me,” on Shelter Island. How’s life been treating you since then?
Roarke Menzies: Yeah, that was a lovely event. Nuala contacted me out of the blue. We’d never met before. I was working on some music with my brother in LA and got an email from her asking me to participate. I think she’d found something of mine online.
I’ve been so lucky, in a lot of ways. I get approached to work on a lot of compelling projects, and between that and my other jobs [in performing arts management] I’m able to earn enough to support myself and pursue creative endeavors.
twi-ny: I’m really enjoying your debut album, Shapes, which takes listeners on a fascinating sonic journey. You wrote and play all the music as well as handle the production, recording, and mixing. How long did it take you to put it all together?
RM: That’s awesome. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. These are works that have developed slowly over the past several years. The earliest recorded material on there is from late 2009 and has been revisited and reworked a number of times. I’ve put a lot of thought and care into these tracks. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely a labor of love.
twi-ny: You describe Shapes as both creating space and filling it up. Can you expand on that a little?
RM: I’m actually referring not just to the sounds on Shapes but to sound in general, and how we interpret sound phenomena in relation to our sense of space.
If you’re on an underground subway platform, every sound you hear reverberates in ways that inform your sense of that space. Even without visual cues, your mind can put together the cavernous space you’re in. That same effect can be simulated artificially using reverb. Sound designers and engineers make practical use of it all the time, in film or radio, for instance, creating the sense of size or the characteristics of the space you’re “in” using only sound. But that space doesn’t actually exist, at least not in the way “existence” is generally understood. It’s a fiction fabricated using particular signs and signals that your mind interprets as a space.
In other instances, the sheer “density,” “mass” or “volume” of a sound can create this feeling that it’s there in front of you — “a sound filled the room” — like you could just reach out and touch it in the same way you can touch a glass of whiskey or a person on the cheek. But sound doesn’t really behave that way either.
One of the curious aspects in working with sound as a material is that it’s not, in fact, material. And yet it seems to have this power to at times convince us of its materiality, even if just temporarily, and to completely change our sense of the material world around us. I’m interested in how those processes play out.
twi-ny: Where do you get your sonic inspirations? I have a feeling that when you traverse the city, you listen to all the cacophony and noise in a different way than the rest of us, gathering ideas for your work.
RM: I’m definitely a sound-obsessed person, and I’m often mesmerized and perplexed by the city’s sound culture. I do a lot of listening and a lot of reading. I find reading fuels my creative life like nothing else, whether articles, essays, books, blog posts, Wikipedia entries. Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04 is a recent favorite, and I have a long reading list that I’m slowly working through of texts related to performance, sound and technocultural studies. I think the next will be Brandon LaBelle’s Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary.
twi-ny: That’s some heavy stuff. Shapes includes a tribute to the great La Monte Young. Who are some of your other musical influences?
RM: I feel like my influences are all over the place — Arvo Pärt, Portishead, Fluxus, Sam Cooke’s gospel recordings with the Soul Stirrers, Deerhunter’s Cryptograms, Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s soundtrack for Akira, Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, the choral works of Morten Lauridsen, the rugged lands of early RZA, the pop masterpieces of Max Martin, the subterranean cityscapes of Burial, the codeine-soaked tapescapes of DJ Screw, the Courvoisier-soaked jiggyscapes of early 2000s Neptunes, etc. I’m a huge music appreciator.
twi-ny: Who do you listen to on your iPod?
RM: All that being said, there’s really not a lot of it on my iPhone. Other than work-related stuff and that U2 album we were all force-fed (I never bothered to listen to or erase it), all I’ve got on there at the moment is Cocteau Twins, Arthur Russell, Nico Muhly, Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, James Blake, a vintage Soweto compilation, and a few mixes from the UK music publication The Wire.
twi-ny: What about seeing live music?
RM: Recent highlights that come to mind include Tyondai Braxton’s new Hive project at the Kitchen, FKA Twigs’ Congregata for Red Bull Music Academy, a riveting set from Pharmakon at St. Vitus, the experimental synth duo Long Distance Poison at Pioneer Works, and an improvised set from saxophonist Colin Stetson, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Greg Fox (of Zs) at Outpost.
twi-ny: You also compose scores and soundscapes for Paul Rome’s story presentations, Jack Ferver’s multidisciplinary performances, and such choreographers as Adam Barruch and Meredith Glisson. How does your creative process differ for such diverse projects, or do you approach them all the same?
RM: My approach can be radically different, depending on the project and the working styles of the people involved. I try to learn the vocabulary and codes — “When they say this, they mean this” — then develop an understanding for what will best support the work.
twi-ny: You’ll be celebrating the release of your debut album, Shapes, with a party on October 10 at Bunna Cafe in Brooklyn, and you’ll be joined by Rome, Katie Mullins, and David Kammerer. What do you have planned for the event?
RM: I’m planning a very warm, intimate event. Bunna’s a great Ethiopian restaurant with a small stage. It’s a favorite spot of mine. We’ll likely open the evening with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Then Paul will read a new story he’s been working on, David and Katie will each play a few new songs of theirs, and I’ll perform a short solo set. The performances will be relatively brief since the focus is really to celebrate with friends.
I actually have a really exciting last-minute addition to the night’s festivities. The Ghanaian xylophone virtuoso SK Kakraba is going to come to Bunna after his show at Bossa Nova Civic Club for an informal late night solo set. I have to thank my good friend Mike Visser (of Imaginary Tricks) for arranging that one. It's going to be a really special night.
twi-ny: What do you do when you take a break from music, if you ever take breaks from music?
RM: I definitely take lots of breaks. When I’m not at work or focusing on a specific project, I don’t like to be holed up in my studio for no reason. I like to get out and see things, or spend time with friends and loved ones.
I recently saw an incredible painting show at Salon 94 on the Bowery. It’s the first solo show in the US by an Australian Aboriginal artist named Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, who along with his family was living nomadically until they were “discovered” in the ’80s. [Ed. note: The show, “Maparntjarra,” continues at Salon 94 through October 24.] Apparently this guy is revered as an important leader and healer among Australian tribes and is also considered one of the most important innovators in contemporary indigenous art from Australia. All I can say is it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had at a painting show, incredibly inspiring.
Numerous memorable pairs have portrayed Macbeth and Lady Macbeth onstage and onscreen over the years, in various interpretations, including Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, Orson Welles and Jeanette Nolan, Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada, Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston, and Liev Schreiber and Jennifer Ehle. Nick Bruder and Troy Ogilvie might not be quite the same household names, but they appeared as the ill-fated king and his devious wife in one of the most memorable and certainly unusual versions of Macbeth you’re ever likely to see, Sleep No More, in which the action unfolds throughout the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. The two are back together again in Replacement Place, being presented by Patricia Noworol Dance Theater at New York Live Arts April 30 to May 2. Bruder, who won the 2011 Falstaff Award for Best Principal Performance in Sleep No More, and Ogilvie, a Juilliard graduate, New Jersey native, and Dance magazine “25 to Watch” pick in 2011, recently discussed working together and their personal and professional ideas of “place.”
twi-ny: Sleep No More has been quite a phenomenon. What was it like being part of that experience? Had you been involved in any type of interactive, participatory performances before?
Troy Ogilvie: Performing in Sleep No More was a gritty, fun, sexy ride. It was an ego trip as well as an exercise in vigilant attention. No, I had never been involved in a performance that was as immersive as SNM. My other nontraditional performance experiences were more “site specific,” as in an installation in a gallery or work done in the outdoors.
Nick Bruder: I cannot express how much I’ve learned from working with punchdrunk and Sleep No More. Mainly, I’m always going to know more about the character and the work than the audience will. And that’s okay. It’s my job to know more. If I have a clear perspective and perform with the understanding that I developed this weird alchemical-like process that actually opens up room and context for the audience to engage with — that’s imperative in Sleep No More, since it’s more likely that an audience member will catch a character’s story from unordered snippets. But this still holds true to a linear performance as well. As for other work, I’ve done a bunch of other immersive or audience-integrated work. In Los Angeles I worked with visual artist Brody Condon on two of his durational performance pieces consisting of wearing a full suit of armor and slowly falling into the floor à la a video game character’s death. Whew.
twi-ny: You played Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in Sleep No More, although you never did so at the same time. Now that you’re both in Replacement Place, do you wonder what it would have been like to have played the devious husband and wife together in Chelsea?
TO: Actually, we did fight, plot, conspire, tease, and descend into madness together for over a year as “husband” and “wife.”
twi-ny: Oops. Sorry about that.
NB: Hah. We actually ended both of our runs with Sleep No More as each other’s Macbeths. And I couldn’t think of anything better.
TO: Our bond that developed at SNM spilled over into our life outside the McKittrick Hotel, and we are always dreaming up ways to continue to work with one another.
twi-ny: Troy, you’ve worked with such choreographers as Sidra Bell, Andrea Miller, Idan Sharabi, Austin McCormick, and Margie Gillis. Do you find yourself working any differently with different choreographers, and specifically with Patricia Noworol? Do the different choreographers test you in different ways, both physically and mentally?
TO: Yes. Every choreographer has their boundary that they are — to use your word — testing. There’s something that has to stretch in the dancer in order to accommodate the weakened border, something that has to stretch but not break. The stretch is a pleasure, the skill is knowing when the boundary can be re-formed and its new shape celebrated. That moment has to do with the specific chemistry between choreographer and dancer. Patricia has a lot of openness in her process, which can be frustrating but in the end is absolutely freeing and brilliant. Anything is an option, which is a relief and a stress, but it’s exactly where I want to be right now. Pat has a great sense of timing, texture, and emotional build that we can’t wait to share with audiences.
twi-ny: Nick, you’ve appeared in opera at the Met, in a dance piece at BAC, in a mobile production at the McKittrick Hotel, in Shakespeare at the Harman Center, and now you will be at NYLA for Replacement Place. How does the concept of place inform how you approach a performance?
NB: Logistically, each site where performance is presented has its benefits: audience capacity, how close they are to the performers, size of the space, etc. Even the type of audience they attract. When one is performing in so many venues, it can begin to get exhausting adapting a changing performance approach. So I have to be confident that my understanding of character and all the tools I have collected, and some that I’ve thrown away throughout the years, can aid in helping the piece I’m in to be applicable to the venue. This may sound too heady, but I think a formula of audience + performers + space = something that happened in a place. Thinking about that, I hope, relieves the pressure of me having to adapt properly to the site and let the space and work influence the type of place it is to become.
twi-ny: Troy, in September 2012 you wrote in Dance magazine, “I dance because it is fun. I dance because I love to perform. I dance because I always have. These clichés were all accurate at one point, but none apply today.” Do you still feel the same way?
TO: Yes, but wow, so dramatic! I mean, yes, “fun,” “love,” and “always” are not the words I would use to describe my relationship to dance, but not because it is not-fun, not-love, and not-always. I have less confusion about it now, so there’s more room to actually work and less time spent on proving myself.
twi-ny: Replacement Place features quite an eccentric collection of collaborators, from the two of you to AJ “the Animal” Jonez to electro-cellist Chris Lancaster and designer Vita Tzykun. What have the rehearsals been like? The online videos have been rather tantalizing.
TO: Rehearsals have been a blast. AJ, Chris, and Vita are experts in their fields and are also so generous with their information. We all trust each other and have fun trying on each others’ shoes — sometimes literally. I am really so pleased to be working with this group; kudos for Pat for throwing us all in a room together!
NB: They’ve been like a super-condensed story of the universe. A big bang of inspiration happens which sets ideas in motion which then leads to cool and amazing organisms to exist and grow and diversify with sunshine feeding and warming all the beautiful animals and plants when all of a sudden a little dark rain cloud comes overhead and starts spilling out its watery guts until you notice that it’s actually a black hole that is sucking you and everything you know into its gullet while you lose hope by the minute only to spit you out on the other side with a new big bang and then you’re like hmm . . . must have been a wormhole. Pretty typical artistic process. It’s awesome.
twi-ny: Whew is right. In regard to place, do each of you have somewhere you go in order to get away from it all?
TO: No. I try to be here as much as possible.
NB: I’m always in the thick of it.
When he was in second grade, Brooklyn-born dancer and choreographer Ronald K. Brown wanted to be Arthur Mitchell, the first African American to dance with the New York City Ballet and founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. In 1985, Brown, then only nineteen, formed his own troupe, which he named Evidence, a Dance Company, to honor family, ancestors, teachers, tradition, faith, and the African diaspora. From February 24 through March 1, Brown, who has also choreographed works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago, and Ballet Hispanico in addition to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess on Broadway, will be celebrating his company’s thirtieth anniversary with a pair of special programs at the Joyce. Program A includes 2014’s The Subtle One, about experiencing the love of another, with live music by Selma composer Jason Moran and the Bandwagon; the gorgeous Grace, created for Alvin Ailey in 1999; and the excerpts “Exotica” and “March” from 1995’s Lessons, the latter set to the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., performed by Annique Roberts and Coral Dolphin. Program B comprises the Evidence premiere of 2014’s Why You Follow/Por Que Sigues, commissioned for Havana’s MalPaso Dance Company (who will be at the Joyce March 3-8); 1999’s Gatekeepers, a piece originally for Philadanco that delves into Native American mythology and African traditions; excerpts from 2007’s multimedia One Shot: Rhapsody in Black & White, inspired by Pittsburgh photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris; and the New York premiere of Brown’s 2014 solo piece, Through Time and Culture, which brings a unique perspective to his long career. A charming and engaging Guggenheim Fellow and dedicated Brooklynite who is currently an artist in residence at BRIC in Fort Greene, where Evidence will perform in November 2015, Brown recently discussed his life and career, particularly about these past ten years.
twi-ny: Back in 2005, we had lunch together and talked about your twentieth anniversary season. How has the last decade treated you and Evidence?
Ronald K. Brown: The time has been full since that conversation ten years ago. These past ten years have brought Evidence and me more than we could have imagined. In 2010, we had a U.S. State Department tour as a part of DanceMotion/USA and went to Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa; we were gone for twenty-nine days, performed five times, and taught classes for all ages during our time away. We did have one day off in Grahamstown, South Africa, and were able to go on a safari and relax . . . but the work was great.
I choreographed my first work for Chicago’s Muntu Dance Theatre, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which opened first at the American Repertory Theater and then on Broadway.
In November 2013, Evidence moved our offices to Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, so for the first time our rehearsals, summer workshops, and daily administrative operations are in the same building — down the hall. That feels great.
twi-ny: Back then, you said, “We have to find out what’s going on in the world. We can’t be disconnected and feel like we’re safe.” How does that relate to you and your work today?
RKB: One thing that I have also learned is that we have to make sure we are connected to those close to us . . . and then that opens up the capacity to be connected to the world. In one of our pieces, On Earth Together, we added dancers from the community in Brooklyn for performances a couple years ago, in South Bend, Indiana, last week, and right now in Pittsburgh. Creating a large cast, talking about grief and compassion, unlocks things that bring the cast closer together . . . and then we can share that compassion with the issues that are happening in the world. Just in talking about the work in South Bend, first an elder confessed that she had lost her husband a month prior. The next day a ten-year-old boy broke down; he had lost his granny two years prior. Then another elder confessed that she had recently lost her husband. And finally, on the last night, a mother and daughter who were in the cast mentioned to [associate artistic director] Arcell [Cabuag] that this particular night was the anniversary of them losing her other daughter. So here we are in this dance, On Earth Together, and the compassion and support was real onstage. Then we could talk about the other things that were going on in the world that were in the recent news.
I’m grateful for the openness of folks who come to the audition and the classes, not knowing that there will be a space to share themselves in a safe place.
twi-ny: From February 24 through March 1, you’ll be presenting your thirtieth anniversary season, at the Joyce. How did you go about choosing which of your pieces will be part of the two programs?
RKB: When we put a program together, we want the evening to have a flow that makes sense. That feels right. I also want to make sure there is a range in the work, things that are new but with something different added, like having The Subtle One being performed live with composer Jason Moran and his group the Bandwagon. I also want to make sure there is work that has not been seen in a while and again with an added surprise. This year the male duet “March” will be danced by two women.
twi-ny: What was the impetus behind creating your new solo piece, “Through Time and Culture”?
RKB: Through Time and Culture was commissioned last year by the American Dance Festival. I wanted to build a solo that demonstrated a sense of perseverance and pressing through, because of the support that family and teachers have given me.
I selected music that would allow me to show the connections of dances from around the world. The dance also is a way that I could breathe the stages of grief as I dealt with the transition of my father to join the ancestors a couple years ago, and my mother in 1996.
twi-ny: You travel around the world, adding elements of African movement to your work. Where have you been recently that has influenced your choreography?
RKB: My last two trips to Havana, in 2013 and 2014, definitely had an impact on the work. Seeing the social, folklore, and contemporary dance and work helped me understand more fully what I do, similar to seeing artists in Nigeria during that 2010 trip, where I saw B-Boys, breakdancers, folks improvising, traditional artists, young people showing Evidence some dances from Atlanta, and a choreographer who has been creating Contemporary African Dance for over fifteen years. All these moments helped me understand the expansion of the dance world and what is possible.
The lessons are really to continue to study and then go in to the studio to create, grateful to have an increased sense of freedom with more techniques and rhythms to call on.
twi-ny: You’ve now choreographed five pieces for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Is your approach to that different from how you choreograph for Evidence?
RKB: When I choreograph on Ailey, or any other company, for the most part I create something that is specifically for them. I generally have three weeks to set a work on Ailey; that first day I am teaching material so that I can identify two casts, and by Wednesday I need to provide a list of dancers selected for the piece. With such a set deadline up front, I come to the studio with some material to teach.
With Evidence on the first day . . . I have the title . . . some music . . . and perhaps some written text and images that I use to fuel the movement that will come once I get in the zone of discovery . . . in the moment and dance it out. This cannot happen with Ailey until I have cast it.
The great thing about Ailey is that the artistic staff there continues to give me time to clean up and clarify things in further rehearsals before the New York season and U.S. or European tours.
In Evidence, the dancers will let me know that I can continue to clarify and shape the piece and make changes to allow the piece to be . . . what it is meant to be, and as long as I am not taking time away from us rehearsing repertory. For the most part, Evidence agrees. . . . “Ron, finish the new work and we will do our homework for when you are ready to rehearse us in the older work.”
twi-ny: You mentioned earlier choreographing the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess. Do you have any future plans for more Broadway productions?
RKB: This past fall Arcell Cabuag and I worked with director/writer Moises Kaufman on an Afro-Cuban musical version of Carmen. It premiered at the University of Miami, with four professional actors from New York and the other roles played by students form the theater department of U of M. I’m not sure what the life of the piece will be after that, ideally a regional theater further development of the work and hopefully a Broadway run. But that is the hope, who the creative team will be. . . .
A couple years ago I met with a company that commissions works for Broadway and I have begun thinking of some ideas and will begin writing something soon. I will look for collaborators when the time is right.
But right now, I’m focused on Evidence and our upcoming season at the Joyce, a project at Williams College, and a new work for Ailey in 2015. I am also talking to a company in Detroit about setting something. If someone comes to me with a fit for Broadway and it works out time-wise, I would consider it . . . but the commitment for Porgy and Bess was major. Incredible . . . but major. The Porgy national tour was also a wonderful revisit. But the timing made sense. Complicated, but it worked out.
twi-ny: You have a special relationship with Brooklyn. You were born and raised there, and your company has been based there from the beginning, becoming an integral part of the community. And you recently moved into the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Center for Arts and Culture. How has that move gone?
RKB: The move to Restoration in November 2013 was a nice move for Evidence. In December 2014 we had to move all of our costumes and props there as well.
It feels great to have a home. We have rehearsed at Restoration for over ten years. When the company is in rehearsal down the hall, I can take care of admin assignments and then go to the studio to rehearse, give notes, and go back to my admin hat.
A few years ago, when we moved our Summer Dance Workshop Series from Medgar Evers Preparatory School to Restoration, the staff at Restoration and Arcell both saw how much sense it made for Evidence to have our educational efforts also happen at BSRC. When our office was in Fort Greene, there was the additional chore of bringing the set-up supplies to another location. Now we just walk down the hall.
I think the dancers who come from all over to take our summer workshop and/or my weekly Tuesday-night class appreciate that Evidence has a home. I also appreciate that it was the first place I took a dance class when I was eight years old and where I competed in storytelling contests; mine was the collection of Anansi the Spider. (The contests took place in the atrium, what used to be an ice-skating rink.)
twi-ny: Brooklyn has changed significantly over the last thirty years. What would you consider the best and worst parts of that change?
RKB: I know that there is an effort to increase the presence of new business and create new corridor around Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza. The farmers market across the street from BSRC and some of the new businesses are wonderful assets to the community.
The worst parts are the multitude of condos going up surrounded by folks who cannot afford them. Improvements in neighborhoods for the people who live there is a beautiful thing, but when folks are displaced or outpriced . . . this is another thing. We all deserve healthy food choices and respectful neighbors.
twi-ny: Congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary. When you were a kid in Bed-Stuy, dancing at home, dressing up as Arthur Mitchell, did you ever think that things would turn out this way?
RKB: Thank you. I had no idea of how things would turn out. There are models of what is possible. Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Arthur Mitchell, Pearl Primus, but also my grandfather Ruben McFadgion. I remember two conversations I had with my Poppi; every summer we would drive down from Brooklyn to Raeford, North Carolina, where my grandfather (Poppi) was building a house.
I asked him, “Where are the plans for the house?” He responded, “I don’t need plans; I know what I want.”
This house is five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a basement the same length of the house, where we would roller skate (until he finished).
I asked, “Why is the house so big?” He said, “So you have somewhere to go.”
Flash forward: I’m in the house working on the laptop and he says, “You went to school for that? I would never be able to do that.”
My response: “No, Poppi, I did not go to school for this. . . . I think I have your genes.”
His response: “That’s right, Kevin . . . keep God first.” [ed note: Brown’s family calls him by his middle name, Kevin.]
I tell people, there is freedom in listening and obeying. I try to do that. . . . I had no idea things would turn out the way they did.
But the Most High did and does.
BROADWAY BY THE YEAR
The Town Hall
123 West 43rd St. between Sixth Ave. & Broadway
Sunday, February 23, Monday, March 30, Monday, May 11, and Monday, June 22, 8:00, $47-$57 per show, $180-$220 subscription for all four programs
In the December 31 edition of “The Siegel Column” for Theater Pizzazz!, the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Barbara Siegel examined the state of the Broadway musical, writing, “The current crop of new musicals — both brand new and new productions of revivals — are tanking left and right. What’s up?” Their theory? “Producers are banking too heavily on good reviews from the New York Times.” The Siegels know what of they speak; for years, they have been regulars on the city’s theater and music scene, covering Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows in addition to cabaret. Both are voting members of the Drama Desk, where Barbara chairs the nominating committee, so she has to see more than three hundred productions every season. Meanwhile, Scott hosts a multitude of music-related events in addition to attending hundreds of shows with his wife as well. “It’s like a rollercoaster going from show to show,” Barbara says, “but the ride is accompanied by a fantastic scoring of Broadway music.”
Scott’s signature event is “Broadway by the Year,” which is about to begin its fifteenth year at Town Hall. Since 2001, Scott has been pairing performers with musical numbers from a particular Broadway season, but for the fifteenth anniversary, he will be honoring quarter-centuries, paying homage to the Broadway musicals of 1916 to 1940 on February 23, followed by 1941 to 1965 on March 30, 1966 to 1990 on May 11, and 1991 to the present on June 22. The February 23 show will feature a host of Tony, Grammy, and Drama Desk winners and nominees, including Tonya Pinkins, Steve Ross, Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, John Easterlin, and Nancy Anderson. While preparing for this and other shows, Scott discussed theater, music, and the many hats he wears.
twi-ny: This year you’re celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of “Broadway by the Year.” Did you ever anticipate that it would be still going strong all this time later?
Scott Siegel: When the series got started, I could never have guessed that it would reach a fifteenth season and that we would be sponsored by Bank of America. Nor would I have guessed that last year we would have changed the format to have over one hundred stars over the course of our season — which we are boldly attempting to do again this year. Getting so many stars willing to commit their time to our shows is almost as great a testament to our staying power as the loyal subscriber base that makes the whole series possible.
twi-ny: How did it initially get started?
SS: That’s a long story. Suffice it to say that I had a concept that Town Hall embraced and they asked me to produce it for them. At that time, I was exclusively a writer/critic. I had not produced anything whatsoever before the very first “Broadway by the Year.” Believe me, having your first experience as a producer putting together a show in a 1,500-seat landmarked theater is pretty daunting. But at its very core, “Broadway by the Year,” while it may have more bells and whistles by way of production values, is still very much the same concept now as it was fifteen years ago. Essentially, I put the music first and foremost; the historical context that I provide from the stage is there only to set up the songs (and hopefully entertain a little bit, too).
twi-ny: For your fifteenth season, you’re hosting four presentations, each one representing twenty-five years. Do you have a particular favorite quarter-century?
SS: Generally, I prefer the twenties and thirties the most because that’s when there were so many great composers / lyricists at work. All that Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Romberg, etc.
twi-ny: What was it like in the early years, when you were just starting out, to get stars to participate?
SS: Wonderful question! I’ll tell you the secret. Provide singers with great material, a lot of support, a fun and rewarding experience, and they tell their friends. The very first concert had Jason Graae, Heather MacRae, and Sally Mayes — just those three. Not long after, I saw Liz Callaway at Joe’s Pub and went backstage to say hi and ask her to do the next “Broadway by the Year.” Before I could ask her, however, she said, ‘My friend Jason Graae just did one of your concerts and had a ball. Can I do one?’ Liz has been one of our regulars, appearing in one of the concerts almost every season since then. That’s how I got over one hundred stars last year and why I’ll get them this year :).
twi-ny: You also put together “Broadway Unplugged” and the Nightlife Awards, have written many books and columns, have led film seminars, had a radio show, are producing “Maxine Linehan: Beautiful Songs” at the Metropolitan Room — and still find the time to go to hundreds of Broadway, off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway shows with your wife. You must be out nearly every night of the year.
SS: I’m exhausted just hearing all of that. Actually, the only time either of us takes a break is when we break down, getting sick. It really helps that we love what we do. And every day is different, so it never gets boring.
twi-ny: What would an actual break entail for you?
SS: We’re often asked that. On the rare times when we leave New York, it’s usually to do the same stuff we do here someplace else. A musical festival in Quebec City — things like that. We’re not the types to lie on a beach in the sun.
twi-ny: You and Barbara appeared on The Joe Franklin Show. What was that experience like?
SS: Barbara is the shy one. She didn’t appear on the show, but I did the TV show with Joe several times, and I was on his WOR radio show many times as well. Whenever Joe would see me, he would always greet me with “Mr. Siegel, make it legal,” and ask me if I knew who sang that song. I would always answer Sophie Tucker, and he would always pretend to be amazed that I knew that. Joe was a genuine New York character and I’m glad I had the chance to know him.
twi-ny: In your opinion, what’s the current state of the Broadway musical?
SS: Such a big question. For the most part, today’s Broadway musicals are tourist attractions; they have to be in order to be successful. A show can only run for about three months, at most, with the core New York theater audience. That’s why the more daring and interesting musicals are off-Broadway. When one of them takes off with great reviews and major buzz, it can move to Broadway and compete — like Fun Home, which is coming to Broadway from the Public. But it’s an uphill battle. I’m always impressed when a show without stars, just good music, a good book, and talented actors, can swim upstream and succeed, like Memphis and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. They are the wonderful exceptions to the rule.
twi-ny: What are some of your favorites that are playing right now?
SS: As for brand-new musicals that are running right now, I’m a fan of Honeymoon in Vegas. The music and lyrics are terrific — and the show is so beautifully crafted. It just works like an old-fashioned, well-made Broadway musical. I would say about Hamilton, at the Public, that it’s going to be considered one of the most important musicals of our era.