Welcome to our first edition of Backstage, a periodic offering of sneak peeks, news and notes on music, theater, and performance contributed by members of the Walker Performing Arts department.
About that subtitle: If the traditional-sounding title throws you, let this review of this weekend’s performances at the Walker of Young Jean Lee’s Songs of the Dragon Flying to Heaven (“a show about white people in love”) be your guide. Ranked #10 on New York magazine’s “Best in Theater 2006,” the blurb reads: “Considering it begins with a close-up video of the playwright being slapped in the face–repeatedly, for several minutes, hard enough to draw tears–it says something for Young Jean Lee that she still manages to save her play’s weirdest, funniest stroke for near the end. In unison, four Asian-American actresses deliver a speech in the author’s voice that rampages through race and gender sensitivities, mocking patriarchal white men, hypocritical white women, angry minorities, and Lee herself. ‘People think of me as this empowered Asian female, but really I’m just a fucking white guy,’ they announce.”
The live arts: In an interview, Performing Arts curator Phillip Bither tells mnartists.org how Out There performers are selected each year and why Americans are so reluctant to produce experimental performance: “I think it has something to do with the fact that the live arts have always been tied to commercial interests in this country. There has been very little distinction between entertainment and live art or art that runs in real time. This is not to say that experimental theatre can’t be entertaining or wildly inventive.”
Jazz blues: The jazz world lost two greats recently: Alice Coltrane, who in the 40 years since her husband’s death has made music with his band, passed on. A child prodigy who trained in classical music, Coltrane was known for injecting Eastern sounds and harp music into jazz; listen to this amazing NPR story, rebroadcast on the occasion of her death last week at age 69. Jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker succumbed to leukemia brought on by myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare form of bone cancer that attacked his bone marrow. He played on more than 900 records and won 11 Grammys. Susan Brecker, who wrote an open letter before her husband’s death seeking bone marrow donors, asks friends to commemorate her husband by donating to The Marrow Foundation’s “Time is of the Essence” Fund or lobbying for stem-cell research. Brecker was 57. Our condolences to the Brecker and Coltrane families.