ACQUANETTA And GRACE AND MERCY Announced At Bard SummerScape

ACQUANETTA And GRACE AND MERCY Announced At Bard SummerScape

The 2019 Bard SummerScape festival presents a pair of important new dance and theater works next month. On July 5-7, Evidence, A Dance Company and its founder and artistic director, Ronald K. Brown, make their festival debut with the world premiere of Grace and Mercy. A new SummerScape commission, this two-part program pairs Grace (live), a 20th-anniversary version of Brown's soulful masterpiece Grace, now danced entirely to live music performed by Peven Everett, Gordon Chambers, and others, with the world premiere of Mercy, Brown's new companion piece, which is set to a brand-new score written and performed live by ten-time Grammy-nominee Meshell Ndegeocello.

Next, on July 11-21, Bard presents Acquanetta, a haunting work of theater, opera, and film from composer and Bang on a Can co-founder Michael Gordon and his longtime collaborator, librettist Deborah Artman. A New York Times and New York Magazine "Critics' Pick" and one of New York Classical Review's "Top Ten Performances of 2018" when it premiered at the PROTOTYPE Festival, Acquanetta comes to Bard in the same "unmissable, ... sublime" production (Time Out New York) by innovative director Daniel Fish, whose previous SummerScape staging - a revelatory new take on Oklahoma! - is currently "the coolest new show on Broadway" (New York Times), winning the 2019 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Both Grace and Mercy and Acquanetta take place in the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center on Bard College's idyllic Hudson River campus.

Dance: Grace and Mercy

See Ronald K. Brown and others discuss and rehearse Grace and Mercy. Using movement to promote community in African American culture and acquaint audiences with the beauty of traditional African rhythms and forms, Ronald K. Brown, whose string of honors includes an Astaire Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, is one of contemporary choreography's most important voices. He has created numerous works for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Ballet Hispánico, and many others, as well as for Evidence, A Dance Company, which he founded in 1985.

Originally created for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, where it remains one of the most popular works in the repertory today, Grace blends modern dance and West African idioms to depict a spiritual journey to the promised land. The New York Times describes it as a "1999 classic" in which "the fireball intensity of the dancers ... is astounding, something to be sensed as well as seen." As in many of Brown's works, the movement alternates fluidly between extremes, something also reflected in his musical choices, which range from Duke Ellington's jazz standard Come Sunday and Fela Kuti's Afro-Pop to Roy Davis's ethereal dance hit Gabriel. This was produced in collaboration with Peven Everett, who sang and played trumpet and keyboards on Gabriel's original 1996 release. "One of the most understated, energized and passionate singers around" (BBC Music), Everett serves as lead vocalist and music director for Bard's world premiere presentation of Grace (live). Ailey Rehearsal Director Matthew Rushing, a member of the original cast of Grace in 1999, joins Evidence as a guest artist to perform in the 20th anniversary edition at the Fisher Center.

To complement Grace (live), Evidence gives the first performances of Mercy, which Brown created especially for SummerScape 2019. The new work blends movement and music to lead both the performers and audience on a journey toward compassion and the joy of redemption, with an original score from singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello - "a visionary and a sensualist who sings with notes of honey, molasses and tar" (New York Times) - who will be on hand to perform its world premiere. Ndegeocello's music draws on an array of influences, including funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, rock, and jazz. Her 1996 release Peace Beyond Passion was named one of NPR's "150 Greatest Albums Made by Women," and her most recent recording, Ventriloquism, scored the artist her tenth Grammy nomination.

Theater: Acquanetta

See Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman discuss Acquanetta. Composer Michael Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work over the past three decades, accruing honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and many more. A longtime creative partner of Gordon and his fellow Bang on a Can composers David Lang and Julia Wolfe, librettist Deborah Artman specializes in exploring new forms and interdisciplinary collaborations, which have been recognized with fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the MacDowell Colony.

To create their new work, Gordon and Artman drew inspiration from the obituary of Acquanetta (1921-2004), or Mildred Davenport, as she was originally named. Known for her exotic beauty, Acquanetta headlined such 1940s horror films as Captive Wild Woman, Jungle Woman, The Sword of Monte Cristo, and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman. Though thought to be of Arapaho heritage, she was billed as the "Venezuelan Volcano" and gave a different version of her past in every interview. The catalyst for Acquanetta is a scene from the 1943 cult classic Captive Wild Woman, in which a mad doctor conducts a doomed experiment to create a woman by transplanting a human female's brain and glands into a gorilla. In Artman's libretto, the characters function both as actors playing roles and as the parts they are playing, revealing their inner longings as they wrestle with identity, stereotypes, and typecasting.

When Acquanetta premiered under Daniel Fish's direction at Brooklyn's PROTOTYPE Festival last year, it was hailed as "a major addition to this composer's canon" (New York Times) and "a historic milestone" (New York Classical Review). As for Fish's production, the New York Times observed: "Some of the ways his staging builds and releases tension are too good to spoil." Bard's production stars Rebecca L. Hargrove, Amelia Watkins, Eliza Bagg, Christopher Burchett, and Timur, accompanied by members of The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Bang on a Can Opera ensemble under the baton of David Bloom. Bloom graduated from Bard College in 2013, and from Bard's Graduate Conducting Program in 2015.

For Fish, a 2019 Tony nominee and winner of the 2017 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Theatre, Acquanetta marks the first return to Bard since SummerScape 2015, when he debuted his production of Oklahoma!. Now the Tony-winning toast of Broadway, this recently enjoyed a sold-out run at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, where it was honored among the productions deemed "Best Theater of 2018" by the New York Times, and chosen as No. 1 on Time magazine's list of "The 10 Best Plays and Musicals of 2018." Grace and Mercy is co-commissioned by the Fisher Center, Kennedy Center, Carolina Performing Arts at UNC Chapel Hill, and The Joyce Theater's Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work. Grace was originally commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1999.

The chamber version of Acquanetta was commissioned and produced by Beth Morrison Projects with lead commissioning support by Linda & Stuart Nelson and additional support from Chris Ahearn & Marla Mayer, Miles & Joni Benickes, Stephen Block, Sarah Brown, Emilie Corey, Jeanne Donovan Fisher, Marian Godfrey, Joel Graber, Raulee Marcus, James Marlas & Marie Nugent-Head Marlas, Jill Matichak, Charles & Jane Morrison, and Anna Rabinowitz.

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