Season Preview: BAM’s 2011 Next Wave Festival

Leaving for work this morning, I was shocked to give just a little bit of a shiver as I stepped outside into the courtyard of my building. For the first time in what felt like ages, it could be reasonably described as “cool,” if not downright chilly in the shadow of my apartment building. And that can only mean one thing: fall is right around the corner.

Not that I’m sure we won’t have a good six to eight weeks of summery warmth left, but it’s true: we’re in the last full week of August, and next month is September, when the kids go back to school, the nights get cool and long, and finally, at long last, the fall performing arts seasons kick off.

For the next couple weeks, we’ll be profiling the upcoming seasons here, but it only made sense to start with BAM’s Next Wave Festival, for all intents and purposes the pinnacle of contemporary performance in the US. Beginning in mid-September though the holidays, BAM plays host to not only the standard set of globally noteworthy artists, but this year, also a couple very unique shows, once in a lifetime opportunities that shouldn’t be missed.

The performance series itself kicks off on Sept. 21, with Kronos Quartet‘s “Awakening: A Musical Meditation on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11” (through Sept. 24). So yes, it’ll be cheery. The performance features twelve compositions, ranging from an Iranian lullaby to a new arrangement of Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Armenia,” to Kronos commissions from composers like Michael Gordon, John Oswald, and Terry Riley. In proper Kronos fashion, it’s a global musicological response to inexpressible tragedy. Interestingly, though, it does not feature any of Steve Reich’s compositions from WTC 9/11, the album, recorded by Kronos, that recently caused a stir over its cover art.

Also notable in the series this year is the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on its farewell tour. Dec. 7-10, they present three separate programs of work spanning the iconic choreographer’s career, from 1968’s RainForest to 2003’s Split Sides. The shows demonstrate Cunningham’s breadth of collaborators, ranging from John Cage to Radiohead, Jasper Johns to Andy Warhol. It’s the third to last stop on the legacy tour, with the company heading across the pond to Paris before returning to New York for the final blow-out at New Year’s in the Park Avenue Armory.

But aside from that pair of truly unique events, the Next Wave program features plenty of amazing dance and theater. In October, the Berliner Ensemble brings Robert Wilson’s version of Kurt Weil/Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera to town (BE’s website, in German), which certainly counts as a can’t-miss, Robert Wilson and the Berliner Ensemble each being something any self-respecting performing arts lover has to see in his or her life (and, considering I’ve never been convinced Wilson is actually worth all the praise, it kills two birds with one stone–though final judgment has to wait until next year, for the re-staging of Einstein on the Beach, in the 2012 Next Wave Festival).

Big Dance Theater is presenting Supernatural Wife (Nov. 29-Dec. 3), an adaptation of Euripides’ Alkestis. Choreographer John Jasperse is back with Canyon (Nov. 16-19), a show that “plays with engineered disorientation, sensory overload, spaciousness, fractured connectivity, and rapture.” I can count two or three dance pieces I’ve seen in just the last year on the same (or similar) topics, so it’ll be interesting to see how the always imaginative Jasperse tackles it. But the really exciting dance presentation (aside from the obligatory Cunningham) is William Forsythe, who will be bringing I don’t believe in outer space (Oct. 16-29), an exploration of “absence made present,” if the description is to be believed. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, honestly, but Forsythe is, well, Forsythe. Love him or hate him, he’s one of the most distinctive choreographic voices on the planet, and I don’t believe in outer space promises to be a stunner.

Finally, I can’t help but end this little (and certainly incomplete–see here for the whole line-up; I didn’t even get to the Bergman or Ivo van Hove pieces) wrap-up by calling out what is personally my most anticipated show: the Gate Theatre (Dublin) presenting Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, with John Hurt (Dec. 1-17). Yes, it’s giving Beckett the Masterpiece Theater treatment, to be sure, but Krapp is still an amazing show, Hurt a strong actor, and hell, I love Beckett.

Anyway, discounts are still available on season packages for Next Wave through the 29th, when the ticket prices jack up, so be sure to check it out by this weekend.

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