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Photo Flash: Sneak Peek at Czech Marionettes in THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: DVORAK IN AMERICA, Coming to NYC This Winter

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) has created "The New World Symphony: Dvorak in America," a play chronicling the American years (1892-1895) of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, during which he produced a flurry of "American" works. This puppet theater work is rich in classical and original music (played live!) and dramatizes one of the most significant cultural exchanges in American history. GOH Productions and Dvorak-American Heritage Association (DAHA) will present the piece as a work in progress January 30 and 31, 2016 at Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street (Upper East Side). This production is preparatory to the play's upcoming world premiere run, which will be presented by La Mama Experimental Theatre, 66 East 4th Street (East Village), six weeks later: from March 10 to 27, 2016 (see more info below). The play is conceived and directed by Vit Horejs. Composer and Musical Director is saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. Scroll down for a sneak peek at some of the puppets!

The piece depicts Dvorak's creative and family life during his tenure as the first Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in NYC, and his three-year stay in the US (1892-1895) in NY and in the "little Bohemia" of Spillville, Iowa where he spent the summer of 1893.

While in America, Dvorak declared that African-American and Native American music would be the foundation on which new American music would rise up. As we all know, this happened, although the contemporary musical idioms (not only in America but throughout the world) based on African-American music are very different from what the Czech composer envisioned. While in New York, Dvorak composed his landmark "The New World Symphony," a work inspired by Spirituals and the Hiawatha story. His creation of the symphony is an important topic of the playscript.

The characters of the play include Dvorak and his family (including his wife's sister, Josefína Cermáková, his first love, for whom he composed the song-cycle "Cypresses"), the founder of the American Conservatory of Music, Janet Thurber, who was his patron; his Czech-American secretary Joseph Kovarik; his African-American students Harry Burleigh and Will Marion Cook, and various New York musicians--his students and protégés. African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar also makes an appearance.

Music ranges from spirituals and work songs to Dvorak's original compositions, to jazz and rock. Composer and Musical Director is African-American saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. Steeped in spirituals, gospel and free jazz, Lewis was hailed by Ebony Magazine as one of "7 Young Players to Watch." Playing with Lewis will be Luke Stewart on bass and Warren Trae Crudup III on drums. Two Dvorak experts, Michael Beckerman (Chair of NYU's Music Department) and conductor Maurice Peress, have provided dramaturgical assistance.

The play's prologue will be performed by ten inch marionettes in a "family" puppet theater stage that is familiar to most Czech children to this day. This particular antique theatre and marionettes belonged to the mother of Madeleine Albright when she was a child in 1920s Czechoslovakia. As a little girl, the future U.S. Secretary of State used it to put on puppet shows for her family and friends. She donated this marionette theater to the Czech community in New York City three years ago and it currently resides in Bohemian Hall.

For this production, the company has created new puppets from musical instrument parts, found objects and traditional elements to act alongside its collection of antique Czech marionettes. Costume designer is Theresa Linnihan, set designer is Tom Lee and lighting designer is Federico Restrepo. The actor/puppeteers are Deborah Beshaw, Michelle Beshaw, Vít Horejš, Harlem-Lafayette, Theresa Linnihan, Valois Mickens, Jan-Peter Pedross, John Scott Richardson and Ben Watts (as Dvorak).

While living in the USA, Dvorak and learned much from his African-American students, including Will Marion Cook and Harry Burleigh, who in turn influenced the Duke Ellington, Gerschwins, Aaron Copeland and others. In a famous recording, Art Tatum plays a jazz rendition of Dvorak's "Humoresque." Theirs is a collective tradition that reflects the vision of Jeanette Thurber, Dvorak's American patron, who aimed to foster an "American Sound." Her National Conservatory of Music of America offered free musical education to people of color, women and talented persons who could not pay the tuition. Dvorak believed that a musician could express the true sentiment of his people by getting into touch with the common humanity of his country. Once here, he also gathered inspiration for the "American Sound" from such non-musical sources as steam locomotives. The play contains a scene in which Burleigh fears to accompany the maestro to savor passing trains in a tunnel at 155th Street in Manhattan, insisting it was no place for a Black man.

The production's score contains verbatim sections from "The New World Symphony" rearranged and re-contextualized for the piece. It also includes spirituals like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," "Going Home" (this song is based on the famous Largo from Dvorak's 9th symphony, although earlier sources are sometimes erroneously cited), "Steal Away," "Go Down Moses" and others. The famous moonlight aria from "Rusalka" and selections from String Quartet #12 "American" will also be played so that the audience will be able to perceive the influences of the social milieu which inspired them. The score also includes some original music focusing on simple, bluesy melodies. Composer James Brandon Lewis says, "I have been trying to paint a picture which still gives respect to the classics but moves things forward." There will also be Gospel songs that begin being sung by a stodgy Temperance choir and morph into the familiar, rollicking "urban gospel" sound which has been developed by African-American artists into a more interesting form. In bringing both the New World Symphony and various classic songs up to date, it is intended that the audience will more easily savor their affinity.

ABOUT CZECHOSLOVAK-AMERICAN MARIONETTE THEATRE ( - Vit Horejš, an emigré from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) in 1990, utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found at Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. His trademark is using puppets of many sizes, from six-inch toy marionettes to twelve-foot rod puppets which double as scenery. CAMT is dedicated to preserving and presenting traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry.

At La MaMa E.T.C., where the company is in residence, it has performed "The Little Rivermaid Rusalka" (1999), "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" (2000), "The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Joan of France" (2001), "Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery" (2003), "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald" (2004), "Once There Was a Village" (2007), an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London of the Klezmatics; "Twelfth Night (or What You Will)" (2009) and the troupe's most successful work, "Golem" (1997, 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival, and 2011), which also had a score by Frank London. Its last premiere there was "The Republic, or My Dinner with Socrates" (2013). The company revived its "A Christmas Carol, Oy! Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa" there in 2014.

Theater for the New City has presented the company in five productions. "The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes, and about Their Untymelie End while Sitting in a Small Room at the Correctional Facility in Ossining New York" (2008) explored the Rosenberg trial with a manipulated set but few puppets. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, "Vit Horejš has written and directed a first-rate, thoroughly original production and made it look effortless. The cast gives charged, cohesive performances, and the staging is expert." "Revolution!?" (2010) was a collaboration with three performers from Prague, examining revolutions throughout the history of mankind as a backdrop for the extraordinary peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. "Mr. M" (2011) was the first American stage adaptation of "Mr. Theodore Mundstock" by Ladislav Fuks, a postwar Czech writer of psychological fiction. In 2013, puppets and live performers enacted an enigmatic tale of early World War II in "King Executioner," written and directed by Vit Horejs, loosely based on "When you are a King, You will be an Executioner" (1968) by the Polish magical realist novelist Tadeusz Nowak (1930-1991). In 2015, the company performed "The Magic Garden, or, The Princess Who Grew Antlers," an ensemble creation that was cheerfully assembled from Czech fairy tales in which antlers appear.

Productions in other venues have ranged from Czech classics to Shakespeare to fairy tales. "Johannes Dokchtor Faust" premiered in its first season (1990) and was re-staged in 1994 as part of NADA's Obie Award-winning "Faust Festival" in Soho. It was revived at La MaMa in 2000 and at Manhattan's Bohemian Hall in 2007. "Hamlet" debuted at the Vineyard Theater in 1995, was performed at outdoor venues in NY, and toured to the 2004 Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle. It was revived on Jane's Carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn in 2007. "The Bass Saxophone," a WWII fantasy with music based on a story by Czech-Canadian writer Josef Skvorecky, played 11 weeks at the Grand Army Plaza Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch in Brooklyn during the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006. CAMT's productions for young audiences include "A Christmas Carol--OY! Hanukkah--Merry Kwanzaa," "The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman," "Kacha and the Devil," "The White Doe - Or The Piteous Trybulations of the Sufferyng Countess Jenovefa," "Snehurka, The Snow Maiden" and "Twelve Iron Sandals."

CAMT has also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center, the Smithsonian Institution, The World Trade Center, the Antonin Dvorak Festival in Spillville, Iowa, the 2012 inauguration of The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Heart of the Beast in Minneapolis, the Lowell Folk Arts Festival in Massachusetts and in international festivals in Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea and the Czech Republic.

Photo Credit: Deborah Beshaw

high res photos

Photo Flash: Sneak Peek at Czech Marionettes in THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: DVORAK IN AMERICA, Coming to NYC This Winter
Puppets portray a string quintet including William Marion Cook (left), an African-American student of Dvorak who was a violin virtuoso.

Photo Flash: Sneak Peek at Czech Marionettes in THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: DVORAK IN AMERICA, Coming to NYC This Winter
Composer James Brandon Lewis and puppets.

Photo Flash: Sneak Peek at Czech Marionettes in THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: DVORAK IN AMERICA, Coming to NYC This Winter
Medium and small marionettes representing diverse musicians of Dvorak's time in U.S.A.

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