Once You Are Not a Stranger

Janis Brenner & Dancers premieres Once You Are Not A Stranger. Created in collaboration with Bosnian-born, electro-acoustic composer Svjetlana Bukvich, costume designer Sue Julien, lighting designer Mitchell Bogard, and installation artist Eva Petric from Slovenia, this 45-minute, interdisciplinary work investigates notions of “empathy in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious world and uses the dance company as a microcosm of this world.”

Video projections are embedded in the center of an elaborate set-piece, playing a personal and imagistic role in the work. Performed with live music, including Ms. Brenner on vocals.

After a meaningful tour to Sarajevo, composer Bukvich and choreographer/singer/actor Brenner spoke about collaborating. As Bukvich states:

Janis and I conversed about things that interested us and empathy came up right away, as did the need to really hear one another. I spoke about walking in someone else’s shoes – feeling wise – and how that impacts the strangeness in any relationship…Visually, the piece unfolds in wavy patterns which “freeze” on occasion, or so was our intention. There is a hanging set piece onto which video is projected in the same fashion. With each unfolding, messages becomes clearer, there is a shedding, a letting go, a cutting into deeper layers of pain and, yes, beauty and goodness which lurk in all of us. Like taming a wild animal, the piece comes to terms with its audience. The music is complex and electronic at first, then becomes gradually acoustic, with a string quartet, then a voice, a scrape of a shoe, and into silence. Art-rock-meets-electronic experimental-meets-old world sentimental.

For more information on the premiere, visit Gibney Dance.

In the mean time, watch the ETHEL String Quartet perform an arrangement of this work. The following segment was performed as part of Composers Concordance’s Roundtable concert at (le) Poisson Rouge on January 26th, 2017.
Video by Eddie Papetti


Concert for Peace

Thank you, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, for your support of our book. Yes, collective singing — all collective music making — is a powerful and potent source of good depending on the contexts and circumstances of the musicing.

Because of this, thank you in advance for your “Concert for Peace”!

For those interested in the Thomas Turino quote from Artistic Citizenship that speaks to the above:

“The topic of music and social change conjures up images of dramatic political moments such as the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement. In that movement, it was the very act of collective singing as much as the content of the lyrics—“We Shall Overcome”—and associations of the tunes with the Black Church and previous labor movements that galvanized protesters. Collective singing illogically steeled regular people to put themselves in harms way, to lovingly turn the other cheek, to peacefully face rocks, sticks, bricks, fire hoses and police dogs. Similarly, in Germany during the 1930s and early 1940s, collective singing of Nazi songs was common among people at the end of work days, among youth at summer camps, and among average citizens at many social gatherings. Again, it was the repeated act of massive collective singing as much as the content of the lyrics—“Work, Bread, and Death to the Jew”— that helped prepare normal citizens, again illogically, to acquiesce to, and even participate in mass murder. In both cases music functioned in very much the same ways to alter peoples’ consciousnesses, to prepare them for heroism or villainy—to be the very best or the very worst humans can be.” (“Music, Social Change, and Alternative Forms of Citizenship,” p. 297)

Why the Arts Matter

What happens to us when we actively engage as art-makers or art-takers? Who do we become?

Given the complexities of today’s political, social, and emotional landscapes, engaging with/through the arts is as important now more than ever. Why? “With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or making sculptures.” While some may be tempted to question the arts at times like these, we disagree. And so does Miguel Syjuco.

“Silence, it is said, implies complicity. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.

The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent – and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust.”

Art making and art taking help us raise our voices to the level of consciousness. The arts confirm that we do not need to remain silent and complicit.

Pablo Picasso knew this all too well. That’s why he painted “Guernica.”

Food for thought on why the arts matter…