Seen And Heard At Lincoln Center: I was lucky enough to be in New York City for a little while this summer, so what better thing to do than check in on the Lincoln Center Festival. Nigel Redden did a great job with the programming, especially with the case of Die Soldaten, a bold opera production at the Park Avenue Armory, where the audience moved through the space on risers. While I was not in town to see that, it was much discussed at the recent North American Theatre Engineering and Architecture Conference (NATEAC) as a great example of large-scale productions in alternative spaces. I did see a wonderful ballet performance: Impressing The Czar, a full-length work by American-born, Germany-based choreographer, William Forsythe, as performed by the Royal Ballet of Flanders, noted as the first and only company to have the rights for all three sections of this challenging work, while the center section is in the repertory of several companies. It makes sense once you realize that Kathryn Bennetts, artistic director in Flanders, had been Forsythe’s ballet master for 15 years at Ballet Frankfurt. She knew what he was after and how to set the work on her dancers. She did a great job and the production was stunning to look at, both in terms of the dancers and the staging.
With stage design by Michael Simon, costumes by Ferial Münnich, sound by Bernhard Klein (and Olaf Winter as technical consultant), the production is divided into five sections in three acts. The first act looks as if it is taking place in a deconstructed czarist palace, with a large inlaid wooden floor on one half of the stage and a wall of tapestries on the other, in addition to an assortment of props including golden cherries. The center section, In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, is performed on a bare stage, while the third act features an auction in which the dancers are auctioned off as great works of art, before a rousing finale in which the entire company appears in the schoolgirl outfits worn by two of the women in the first act, with black pleated skirts and white blouses. The costumes also included stylishly offbeat evening gowns in the brown/gold/and/russet family of tones. For the auction scene, the costumes are as if made of gold. A well-danced piece, in which the classic training of the ballet dancers serves as the strong underpinning for Forsythe’s contemporary choreography, and the dancers look as if they were born to dance it.
Next on my festival agenda was Laurie Anderson’s Homeland, which has been—and will continue to be—on tour. In my mind, Anderson has always been like talented triplets: the musician, the storyteller, and the multi-media artist. In Homeland, only two of her personas are present: the storyteller and the musician. She has veered away from all visual imagery, and her storytelling comes through loud and clear without the support of slides or video. As in The End Of The Moon, her piece about her experience as an artist-in-residence at NASA, the stage is set with dozens of low, flickering candles. “The candles are a recurring theme for Laurie,” says lighting designer Aaron Copp, who is listed as production manager/lighting design, although he notes that lighting designer Bill Berger (Lou Reed’s LD) had a large hand in the current plot. In addition, production designer Willie Williams is listed as set consultant, and contributed the idea of a dozen 25-Watt A-lamps on long stings of white cable, almost touching the floor. “Willie and I made the first set sitting on the floor before the performances last May, but a more robust set was made in Italy last summer. Our handiwork would not have made it on an 18-city tour,” notes Copp, who adds that the moving lights initially used for Homeland were eventually replaced by a strictly conventional plot, primarily ETC Source Fours without scrollers.
“In some ways, it is simpler,” says Copp. “But with the moving lights it was easier to make changes in a show that is continually evolving.” Even with the changes in the rig and the combined efforts of several designers, the lighting is elegant when it needs to be, with an every shifting sense of color: the upstage cyc and white cables for the A-lamps turn red or golden-yellow for example as the palette shifts from song to song, embracing the musicians and singers on stage, including a guest appearance by Lou Reed, in a song that is a dialog between Anderson and Reed, as a couple no longer in tune with each other in The Lost Art of Conversation (I pretend I’m happy… You pretend you’re here…). “It’s hard to be specific in a show that changes as much as this one can,” says Copp. “You have to be back away and use more general strokes. In the end, the plot is almost like a dance plot.” Sound design is by Charlie Campbell, who allows Anderson’s voice, as consummate raconteur, to come throw loud and clear. Her message is a sometime subtle and humorous, sometimes not-so-subtle commentary on current events, in a world of “mambo and bling.” Lighting gear for festival events was provided by PRG; sound gear by Audio Production Services.
Seen And Heard Off Broadway: The Barefoot Theatre Company production of Dog Day Afternoon, running through August 16 at The Studio Theatre on Theatre Row, is based on the same events that inspired the Al Pacino film by the same name, directly by Sidney Lumet, and it is an interesting transition from screen to stage. It features a young, energetic cast of actors led by the multi-talented Francisco Solorzano as Sonny (he also is the playwright and director as well as the artistic director of the company). The set, by Adam Rodriguez, serves double duty as a police station and bank offices with worn wooden desks and assorted chairs, while other scenes take place in various locales as the fast-paced play progresses, and just a quick shift of chairs or a TV set indicate the new location. Costume designer Victoria Malvango (who also appears in the play) recreated period 70’s looks, from the men’s suits to the working class women’s clothes, with most of the costumes provided by Lydia Gladstone. Malvano's challenge was that many of the actors play more than one role and some of the costume changes take place in mere minutes in front of the audience as the actors rarely leave the stage. Sound design is by Tasha Guevara and lighting by Eric Nightengale. A very ambitious undertaking for this company yet they do a convincing job, taking us back to the era of Nixon, Watergate, the Munich Olympics, Attica, and Vietnam.