Granted, the links among some of the SummerScape offerings may sometimes seem a bit obscure – a matter of guilt by free-association – to non-specialists in the oeuvre of the composer of choice. That factor may be particularly pronounced this year, as the Bard Music Festival takes on “Berg and His World.” Though the creator of Lulu and Wozzeck is regarded as one of the more accessible among the founders of Modernism in classical music, Alban Berg is still not a household name in the same sense as most of the composers spotlighted in past years of the Festival. But figuring out the connections, historical, aesthetic or otherwise, between the central character’s work and a given year’s featured dance troupe, opera, theatre piece or film series can be part of the fun of deciding what to attend.
From July 8 to 11, SummerScape 2010 kicks off as usual with a series of performances by a top-notch dance company – in this year’s case, the one headed by Trisha Brown, whom Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times labels “the innovative high priestess of Postmodernist dance.” What’s the Berg connection here? Well, Brown, who is probably best-known as a co-founder of the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater movement of the 1960s, honed those Postmodernist sensibilities under the influence of composer John Cage, close collaborator with dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham and spiritual descendent of the adherents of Arnold Schoenberg whose experiments with atonality brought classical music into the 20th century.
Schoenberg’s circle included both Alban Berg and Anton Webern, and the program that the Trisha Brown Dance Company will present at Bard’s Sosnoff Theater includes an excerpt from Brown’s 1996 opus Twelve Ton Rose (pun on 12-tone intended), set to Webern’s Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 7. According to the Festival’s press release, “Webern’s writing is characterized by its poetic intensity and background of silence, from which sound emerges only in fleeting bursts. Brown perceived this as an opportunity, finding that the music ‘provided such a freewheeling space that you could do so much more and be relevant.’”
Trisha Brown is also known for aggressively puncturing the perceived boundaries between artistic disciplines, designing some of her own costumes and backdrops for the company and enlisting the aid of collaborators outside the dance world like Abstract Expressionist megastar Robert Rauschenberg. Her Company’s program at SummerScape will include two offbeat pieces with costumes and sets designed – and even musical scores composed – by Rauschenberg. The musical accompaniment to Foray Forêt (1990) is always provided by a marching band engaged locally to play John Phillip Sousa marches outside the theater proper. In You Can See Us (1995), two dancers perform with their backs to the audience at all times, so that the emotional content of the dance relies entirely on body movement rather than facial expression. The male role in this piece was filled in the dance’s world and New York premieres by Bill T. Jones and Mikhail Baryshnikov, respectively – so someone in Brown’s Company will need to step into a rather large pair of ballet shoes. Also on the program is Brown’s most recent composition, L’Amour au Théâtre, set to selections from the opera Hippolyte et Aricie by French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.
Speaking of opera, SummerScape 2010 will continue after the Trisha Brown series with performances of Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 drama Judgment Day; Franz Schreker’s 1910 opera The Distant Sound (Der ferne Klang); The Chocolate Soldier, Oscar Straus’s 1908 operetta based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man; and a series of films by German Expressionist G. W. Pabst, in addition to two August weekends of total immersion in the music of Berg, those who influenced him and those whom he influenced. (Connect the thematic dots as you will; pre-concert talks will help you out if you get stuck.) And of course, SummerScape’s by-now-fabled Spiegeltent will offer refreshments, wholesome family entertainment in the afternoons and cutting-edge, even borderline-kinky adult cabaret fare by night through July and August. “Berg and His World” will wind up the whole shebang with the usual scholarly workshops in the autumn.
You can find out lots more about Bard SummerScape 2010 by visiting http://fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape/2010. The Trisha Brown Dance Company performs at the Sosnoff Theater at Bard’s Fisher Center in Annandale-on-Hudson on Thursday through Sunday, July 8, 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 11 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25, $40 and $55. The July 10 performance is a gala benefit for SummerScape, with presumably higher ticket prices. For more details or to order tickets, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.