Museums are not just about what hangs on the walls or rests in glass cases. Performance has become a major element in their programming, and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has been in the forefront of such activity for years.
The range of work it presents is the essence of “multidisciplinary,” with everything from dance, music and theater to puppetry, video and film. The newly announced 2015-2016 lineup for the MCA Stage, curated by Peter Taub, director of Performance Programs, and Yolanda Cesta Cursach, associate director of Performance Programs, only proves the point with a cross-section of both international innovators and local visionaries.
Next season, seven projects will come to the MCA stage from around the world. The Grammy-winning Chicago-based ensemble eighth blackbird will take on an expanded role as the museum’s annual artists-in-residence. And the season opens with special concerts that expand the MCA’s exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965-Now.”
Here is the full schedule of events:
+ Roscoe Mitchell: Trios (September 27, 2015): This one-day-only project profiles composer and multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell, the cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and a constant innovator for the past 50 years. Mitchell performs with four trios across two concerts in a single day. Powerhouse musicians, who represent a dynamic range of styles, join him in concert: Kikanju Baku, James Fei, Hugh Ragin, Jaribu Shahid, Tyshawn Sorey, Craig Taborn, Tani Tabbal, and William Winant. Of the four trios that Roscoe Mitchell composed, two are performed at each concert, but all of the participating musicians perform at both concerts. The MCA presents these performances in tandem with the MCA exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.”
+ George Lewis, Catherine Sullivan, and Sean Griffin: “Afterword: The AACM (as) Opera” (October 16–17, 2015): Presented in association with the Gray Center for Art and Inquiry at the University of Chicago. The foundation of this experimental opera is the AACM’s vision: a multitude of voices, at once independent and in harmony, imagining the future of creative music. The renowned black collective AACM is one of Chicago’s leading forces of creative music, and on the occasion of its 50th anniversary this work considers their legacy. Acclaimed composer, musician, and AACM member George Lewis, media/theater artist Catherine Sullivan, and director Sean Griffin collaboratively present a multimedia work that combines chamber opera with real-time improvisation. The all-star musicians featured in the opera include master reeds player Douglas R. Ewart and ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble). The libretto is based on the concluding chapter in George Lewis’s 2008 book, “A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music,” a chronicle of the collective’s emergence at a time when a new black identity and social activism flourished. The MCA presents these performances in tandem with the MCA exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.”
+ Same Planet Different World: “Stripped” and Niv Sheinfeld/Oren Laor: “Two Room Apartment” (October 22, 24–25, 2015): This program pairs Chicago’s Same Planet Different World with two Israeli choreographers/dancers, in three dance works about the politics of personal experience. All are performed in an intimate setting where the audience surrounds the dancers. “Stripped,” by Same Planet Different World’s artistic director Joanna Rosenthal, explores how technology affects our lived experience. Through the ritualized movements of six dancers, this work reveals what is at stake when objects replace human connection. “Two Room Apartment” is a playful and gripping duet that reflects upon Sheinfeld and Laor’s relationship as partners in life and dance. Both personal and political, it explores boundaries in various contexts: physical borders between territories, distinctions between life and performance, and the limits people set for themselves. A third newly created work choreographed by Sheinfeld and Laor for Same Planet Different World completes the program.
+Annie Dorsen: “Spokaoke”
(October 27–28, 2015): Copresented with the Chicago Humanities Festival. In “Spokaoke,” audience members participate in a karaoke bar-experience, but instead of pop songs, the karaoke machine has been programmed with speeches selected by theater artist Annie Dorsen. All the speeches, when originally delivered, called upon people to envision a better world. Dorsen intends the “Spokaoke” experience to be filled with unexpected juxtapositions as audience members perform contrasting oratories. Some familiar and some lesser known, the speeches include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and President Kennedy’s “Ask Not” inaugural address. The choices are broad—participants can channel Sojourner Truth with “Ain’t I a Woman,” President Clinton with “I Have Sinned,” or Saint Francis of Assisi with “Sermon to the Birds.” “Spokaoke” takes place at the MCA on October 27 and at Haymarket Brewery on October 28.
+ Guillermo Calderón: “Escuela (School)” (November 6–8, 2015): Copresented with the Chicago Humanities Festival. “Escuela (School)” explores the conditions that drive ordinary citizens to take up arms. In the 1980s, during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, many left-wing Chilean university students underwent secret paramilitary training in people’s homes—in response to the ruthless and unyielding tactics of the Chilean police. In this play, writer and director Guillermo Calderón finds humor amid terror in a fictional account of a group of anonymous youths meeting in a drab living room to be home-schooled. Spread across several nights, the chatter of the classroom is as much funny and offbeat as philosophical, and in their eagerness to overturn a regime, the youths clumsily learn the proper way to crawl and clean a rifle, and they learn the principles of macroeconomics.
+ Gisèle Vienne with Dennis Cooper and Puppentheater Halle: “The Ventriloquists Convention” (November 12–14, 2015): Set at an annual reunion of ventriloquists, “The Ventriloquists Convention” follows delegates and their dummies as they talk about their passions and expose their private challenges. The dialogue breaks into twenty-seven distinct voices—the nine actors, the ventriloquists they play, and the dummies—shifting from casual conversation into an alarming psychological maze where madness and familiarity coexist. The story is inspired by the real-life annual convention of ventriloquists at Kentucky’s Vent Haven Museum, where no-longer-employed puppets—often due to the death of their owner—are kept and exhibited. Gisèle Vienne and Dennis Cooper developed this work over ten years, and it is performed by the European puppet theater company Puppentheater Halle.
+ Tsukasa Taiko: “Taiko Legacy 12” and “Reduction” (December 19-20, 2015): Copresented with Asian Improv aRts Midwest. “Taiko Legacy 12” is a family favorite, with three generations of Tsukasa Taiko drummers representing today’s vibrant pan-Asian heritage. The core Japanese aesthetic of authentic taiko, classical instruments, and kimono dance is featured including grandmasters Shunojo Fujima and Yoshinjo Fujima. They are joined by esteemed musical artists from Tokyo, grandmasters Chizuru Kineya, Kizan Kawamura, and Takane Umeya; San Francisco’s Francis Wong, Melody Takata, and Gen Ensemble; and Jonathan Chen, from New York. Directed by creative artist Tatsu Aoki, “Reduction” forefronts taiko’s central role in the musical experimentation of the 1970s Tokyo. Aoki is joined by contemporary dancer-choreographer Ayako Kato and composer-musicians of the AACM, Nicole Mitchell, Ari Brown, Douglas R. Ewart, Hamid Drake, and Michael Zerang. This reunion also features Eigen Aoki of Tsukasa Taiko and Melody Takata, Francis Wong, and Jonathan Chen.
+ eighth blackbird: “Hand Eye” (January 23–24, 2016): Chicago’s eighth blackbird are MCA artists-in-residence during the 2015-2016 season. The MCA galleries serve as a home base for rehearsals, discussions, visual art presentations, and MCA Stage presents two concerts. Hand Eye connects two groups in one vibrant project—the six members of eighth blackbird are paired with Sleeping Giant, a collective of six composers. Each composer has written a different section of “Hand Eye,” composing each in reference to a different visual artwork, and the sections each highlight one musician of eighth blackbird. The entire evening is complemented by projections by the acclaimed visual performance designer Deborah Johnson, aka CandyStations, who has designed and performed live concert visuals for Sufjan Stevens, Ray LaMontagne, Lucius, St. Vincent, Wilco, Calexico, and ETHEL.
+ Toshiki Okada/chelfitsch: “God Bless Baseball” (January 28–30, 2016): This off-kilter parable follows an imaginary family where the US is the “parent,” and Japan and Korea are the “brothers.” The narrative focuses on baseball as the shared experience among the family. A great American export, baseball is now internationally popular—almost half of all Little League World Series titles are held by a team from Asia. God Bless Baseball considers how Asians balance and alter American influences: sports, politics, and the military. This new play by playwright/director Okada probes the social world of the “lost generation”— the youths who were fundamentally affected by the Japanese recession in the 1990s. The piece is performed by Japanese actors playing Korean roles and Korean actors playing Japanese roles, and it features the visual design of multimedia artist Tadasu Takamine. Presented in tandem with IN>TIME festival.
+ Ingri Fiksdal: “Cosmic Body” (February 4-7, 2016): Ingri Fiksdal presents a new form of visually and culturally complex performance with “Cosmic Body,” an interactive event that channels writer-artists William Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine. Any user of this machine feels surrounded by color and pulsating light that produce complex patterns that become shapes and symbols. Fiksdal’s version is an expanse of choreographed lights, illusion, sounds, and bodies, with audience members seated or standing close. Part performance and part live concert, it is the latest collaboration of playwright/director Fiksdal with electronica/EDM artist Ingvild Langgård and visual artist Signe Becker. The Dream Machine prototype was constructed by Gysin while living at the Beat Hotel in Paris, along with Allen Ginsberg and others of the counterculture, including Burroughs who wrote extensively about it in his novels as a weapon “of unearthly brilliance and color” against mind control. Presented in tandem with the IN>TIME festival.
+ Faye Driscoll, “Thank You for Coming: Attendance” (February 11–14, 2016): “Thank You for Coming: Attendance” begins with five performers gradually becoming entangled in one ever-morphing body—building new formations, and revealing fleeting feelings and states of being. Staged in the round, the audience is slowly invited to join in, singing an extensive song and dancing an urban folk piece that crescendos and transforms the experiences of the dancers and the audience. Driscoll, the Bessie Award-winning choreographer, makes her Chicago debut with this work, the first phase of a trilogy she is developing. Presented in tandem with the IN>TIME festival.
+ Tim Etchells/Forced Entertainment: “Speak Bitterness” (February 20, 2016): Over a period of six hours, “Speak Bitterness” shows a group of penitents whose task it is to confess to everything. They are by turns cowed, breezy, anguished, reluctant, jovial, and determined. Occupying a brightly lit space, a group of performers behind a long table take turns competing to confess the most horrific, amusing, or convincing things—from crimes as serious as forgery, murder, or genocide to nasty little indiscretions, such as reading others’ diaries and not taking the dog out for a walk. Somewhere between a mad catalogue of human infamy and a strange and comical show-trial, this exhaustive work draws on the culture of confession in our society at large. The audience is free to arrive, leave, and return at any point. MCA Stage will announce other performances by Forced Entertainment in late summer 2015.
+ Joffrey Academy of Dance: “Winning Works” (March 5–6, 2016): Presented by the Joffrey Academy of Dance in association with MCA Stage. “Winning Works,” which provides the first viewing of new directions in ballet, returns after its MCA grand debut in the spring of 2015. The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, has built a tradition of supporting new works by choreographers of color, selected through a national competition. Crowning the diverse array of new ballet pieces, Alexei Kremnev, Co-Artistic Director of the Academy with Anna Reznik, contributes an additional new work. The Joffrey Academy Trainees and Joffrey Studio Company, who come from across the US, Asia, South America, Australia, and Europe, perform the world premieres of all four pieces with the affecting style and individuality that also characterize The Joffrey Ballet. Choreographer winners are announced in fall 2015.
+ eighth blackbird, Bryce Dessner, David T. Little (March 25–26, 2016): The ensemble performs new works by Bryce Dessner— a composer, guitarist, and music curator known widely through his band The National—and David T. Little, an acclaimed composer of new opera. Dessner, who is drawn to the early folk tradition of recounting violent acts with stories and songs, has expanded his “Murder Ballades” to include more music and new visual design. Little, whose compositions reflect his experience as a punk/metal drummer as well as his classical training, is composing a new work that will be developed throughout the course of eighth blackbird’s residency at the MCA.
+ Blair Thomas & Co.: “Moby Dick” (April 1-3, 2016): This contemporary interpretation of Herman Melville’s classic reunites a team whose work draws from the American musical and theater landscape. Puppeteer Blair Thomas, songwriter Michael Smith, and percussionist Michael Zerang tackle the symbolism in “Moby Dick” through a play-within-a-play, featuring Thomas’s delightful Bunrahu puppets and a live music trio. The show explores the implications of storytelling, tracing Ishmael’s hope that recounting his adventure will deliver his soul. Thomas carefully reimagines Melville’s portrayal of the search for purification, spiritual righteousness, and the path to self-destruction and tragedy. Five actor-puppeteers enact the tensions between a world seen and unseen, the divide between language and silence, and the folly of man and religion.
+ Teatrocinema: “Historia de Amor (Love Story)”(April 7–10, 2016): Based on the graphic novel of the same name by French writer Régis Jauffret, “Historia de Amor” addresses the boundaries between reason, madness, love, and domination. The narrative follows an English teacher who abducts the young Sofia and turns her into his victim, concubine, and mother. He leaves her with no choice but to accept her situation and turn inward for solace. Teatrocinema utilizes the graphic novel to explore the limits of story and the possibilities of emerging media. Comic-book style artwork and acting, intertwined with 2D and 3D video footage and traditional staging, immerse the audience in the world that is being created by the actors.
+ Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion, “When the Wolves Came In” (April 28–May 1, 2016): Award-winning choreographer Kyle Abraham returns to the MCA with a powerful program that explores questions about race and social progress. Abraham pairs his choreography with an evocative set design by contemporary visual artist Glenn Ligon. The suite of three dances moves from the singular, contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly, to a series of spirituals, and concludes with a new score commissioned from Grammy award-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper.
The MCA Stage is located at 220 E. Chicago. Tickets will go on sale June 24. Call (312) 397-4010 or http://www.mcachicago.org. And note: You can create your own “Playlist” by purchasing tickets to three or more performances at a 20% discount.