Crossing Over: Lincoln Center Festival 2017
Amanda MacBlane April 7th, 2017
"The world is so complex and we usually only see little glimpses of it," says Nigel Redden, Director of Lincoln Center Festival, whose 22nd consecutive edition runs July 10–30. "The point of the Festival has always been to provide perspectives that we wouldn’t have had otherwise."
Fifty years after the inaugural 1967 Festival (there was another in 1968, then the concept was revived in 1996), this guiding principle remains largely intact this summer, with artists hailing from 17 countries on 5 continents. "One thing that has emerged as a theme this year—because the world has certainly changed since the 2016 Festival—is that our international festival has become about borders and specifically about crossing them," Redden says.
The Festival's three theatrical productions from the Middle East offer powerful commentary on the link between place and identity. In Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar's While I Was Waiting (July 19–22), a man ends up in a coma after being stopped at a Damascus checkpoint. Here the borders are between life and death, past and future, hope and despair. It is an apt metaphor for the current state of Syria, but the play is ultimately a family drama. "We need to hear a story in a different way than how we hear it in the newspapers," Redden explains. "With so many images, their impact becomes blunted. There may be millions of refugees yet the story of five of them is more relatable. It reintroduces humanity into the story."
Another historic event is recounted in a deeply personal way in Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination, a theatrical piece by acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai (July 19). Two women read from the journals of Rabin's wife Leah, offering an intimate portrait of his world-changing death. The existential fragility of Israel is seen again, this time through a traumatized mother's eyes, in To the End of the Land, a co-production of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv and Ha'Bima National Theater based on David Grossman's novel (July 24–27). Yet another vision of the Middle East is depicted by oud ensemble Le Trio Joubran in its multimedia performance In the Shadow of Words, a moving tribute to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (July 29).
Le Trio Joubran closes the five-part musical series Nomadic Nights: Music at the Crossroads (July 25–29). In this eclectic assortment of modern-day troubadours, the interplay of roots and movement is explicit. Vocal quartet H'Sao delivers the a cappella harmonies of its home country of Chad through the prism of its adopted home, Montréal (July 28). Cuban-born saxophonist Yosvany Terry and his New York–based Bohemian Trio bring new-world luster to classical chamber music (July 26). A scholar of early Polish music and a frequent collaborator with musicians across North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, Maria Pomianowska is creating mesmerizing new music for the Biłgoraj suka, a long-lost medieval ancestor of the violin (July 25). Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Tcheka recasts the African griot tradition in a global light, blending traditional batuku forms with Brazilian music, Afropop, jazz, blues, and rock (July 27).
"These musicians travel the world to tell their stories, which then become influenced by the places they visit," says Redden. "Carlinhos Brown is also a fantastic example of this." The Brazilian superstar known for driving percussion, joyful melodies, and colorful theatricality returns to Lincoln Center Festival for a rare New York performance on July 15.
Artists from two distinct traditions—charismatic Chinese singer Gong Linna and New York–based new music collective Bang on a Can—reach across borders to create a rich dialogue between Western music and ancient Chinese poetry in Cloud River Mountain (July 14–15). In another instance of cross-cultural collaboration, Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara and his troupe KARAS appear with former étoile, and current Director of Dance of the Paris Opera Ballet, Aurélie Dupont in Sleeping Water (July 13–15). "You feel with Teshigawara that he is a Japanese artist who has relished traveling the world," notes Redden. "He looks at other ideas but very much from a Japanese sensibility, where sometimes simplicity is the most important aspect of a work."
A 50th-anniversary presentation of George Balanchine’s beloved 1967 masterpiece, Jewels—featuring the Bolshoi Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet on a single stage (July 20–23)—also alludes to the emigrant experience. “We are celebrating Balanchine, one of the singular creative artists who founded Lincoln Center, in a way that reveals the roots of his choreographic ideas and training, including Russia, France, and America,” Redden says.
If Jewels reflects the historic migration of ideas and people from Old World Europe to the Americas, then American composer Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the Moon—also released in 1967—completely reverses the particle flow, ushering in the age of electronica and sending American innovation back to Europe and out to the rest of the world. "You see a different world in Jewels than you do in Silver Apples of the Moon and I thought that contrast of worlds was particularly interesting," says Redden. "[Subotnick] has been a force in electronic music and has always moved on his own path—it's not the mainstream path but it is an influential one." In addition to a multimedia performance of Silver Apples of the Moon, Subotnick will be premiering his media tone poem Crowds and Power (July 20–22).
Saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman—posthumously honored this summer with a four-part music and film retrospective (July 11–16)—also forged his own path. By 1967, Ornette had already established himself as a disruptor of the jazz world. "Ornette is a quintessentially American artist in the sense that he explored, tried out new ideas, broke boundaries, and truly believed in what he was doing," says Redden.
Ornette's son Denardo said, "It's not that he thought outside the box. He didn't accept that there were any boxes." A box definitely existed for the scientists that inspired Improbable Theatre's Opening Skinner's Box (July 10–12). The inventive U.K. theater troupe leads a fascinating journey through ten famous psychological experiments, tracing how 20th-century scientists worked to break down the barriers of the human mind and discovered that nearly everything we thought about ourselves was wrong.
There seem to be no barriers to the thrilling Il N’est Pas Encore Minuit, performed by the French physical theater Compagnie XY (July 19–22). "There's no attempt at hiding the feats that they do," says Redden. "They do things that make you leave your stomach in your mouth, because you just don't think they are possible. You understand trust in a company in that performance perhaps more than any other. They prove it is possible to take anything and make it artful."
Amanda MacBlane is Senior Writer and Editor for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.