Saturday, January 10, 2015

Opening Plenary Panel at APAP: The Creative Act

The APAP conference has put together some dynamic and diverse panels showcasing artists who are breaking down barriers, working across genres, and using art to bring the world together.  Many of these panels are available for livestream through HowlRound and are being archived on the HowlRound website if you cannot watch them live. 

Lemon Andersen, Misty Copeland, and Jason Moran were the artists in the spotlight for the opening plenary panel at APAP this year.  These performers of color have demonstrated extraordinary success in their respective fields.  They each discovered the arts as children.  That laid the foundation for their later careers in the arts.  Because of this there was some lamentation over cuts to arts education today which might prevent kids today from having the same opportunities that these artists had.  But each seemed cognizant that the work they were doing was in some part intended to be inspirational for others out there.  That focus on the next generation was a concern present in what they do every day.

Andersen, a Latino spoken word artist and playwright, spoke of wanting audiences to look like the characters he creates on stage.  He was concerned that theater spaces were not always welcoming to the larger community.  He believed that artists and institutions should make an effort to get beyond inviting school groups to theaters and go as far as to the classroom to connect to young people.  He argued that "theater has to be a lifestyle for people of color."  He revels in going to the ballet and watching other patrons look at him askance as he slumps in his chair just being himself.  Little do those ballet patrons realize that although he started out as a street dancer he got invited to train in ballet as a child.  He hilariously demonstrated a pliĆ© for Copeland. Andersen was adamant that the message that "the community is welcome here" has to happen.

Copeland is African-American and a soloist at the American Ballet Theatre.  She insists on talking about race when people try to tell her she should just refer to herself as a "dancer" because she feels strongly that her visibility as a black artist and a "black dancer" is a very important part of what she does.  After hearing from many people on this point, she knows her visibility is critical.  She wants young people to see her in this place so that they can even dream of a such a career.  She thinks that ballet has only really just begun the conversation of inclusivity.  She found that ballet made her a complete person and even if it's not the career path for everyone she believes it is important that young people be exposed to the arts.  She also feels that it is important for artists to give away their secrets--that they should be giving away what they have learned so the next generation can take that knowledge and do even more with it.

Jason Moran is a jazz pianist, composer, and now the artistic director of Jazz at The Kennedy Center.  Moran had a lot of support early in his life as an artist.  But he spoke about trying to break down some barriers to the way in which certain art forms are presented. Moran noted that "music doesn't just sit in concert halls and jazz festivals." To demonstrate his belief in the intersection of form, he did one concert where skateboarders skated on stage while his band played.  He also talked about his love of opera, which he called "the great collaborative form."  Collaboration was key to his work scoring the film Selma.  In devising a score, he was cognizant that they were navigating a historical story but in context of the present time and his music was a part of that.  Notably he said it was important that the music did not resolve anything in the movie  As he put it, "I keep it on the edge."

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