by Isaac Butler
In two weeks and one day, Brooklyn Babylon, the collaboration between jazz genius Darcy James Argue (aka frequent commenter DJA) and visual artist Daniejl Zezelj, comes to life for its world premiere as part of the BAM Next Wave festival. It's the culmination of almost two years of work that started from a kernal of an idea, pairing Darcy's music with Daniejl's art to tell some sort of story live on stage.
It is also the culmination of a dream I've had since I was in college, to be involved in a directorial capactiy on a show that performs in Next Wave. I've had a romantic association with the Brooklyn Academy of Music ever since I was a little kid, when my freaky grandparents gave me Philip Glass cassettes and took me to see The Hard Nut and Twyla Tharp and told me over and over again of this world in New York City. A world where these curious, unclassifiable works of performance happened. A world at that time dominated in their minds by The Kitchen and BAM. As I grew up and got into Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson and all sorts of other performing artists of that period, I realized that all of them connected at some point to BAM.
It became-- privately-- my brass ring. I never talked about it. In fact, this is the first time I'm disclosing it to anyone, but having a show at BAM has been my idea of what success would mean ever since I was a sophomore in college.
This is a curious dream to have for someone who works on relatively straightforward new plays that have no multimedia in them, so at some point I buried that dream (like the dream of being a rock musician, or going into politics, or any other life choice style dream) into a wooden chest in the basement of my heart. Then, a couple of years ago, Darcy called me up and we started talking about an upcoming meeting he had with BAM and the wooden chest opened up and out came the dream again.
For this show, my title is actually not director, but rather "Directorial Consultant." This is because, although I have had some creative input througout the process, I am not a primary creator on this work, Darcy and Danijel are. The story is theirs. The visual look, theirs. The music, theirs. My job has been to help realize their vision, as they are onstage for the whole show, and to be an outisde eye that looks after the asethetic totality of the piece.
I'm immensely proud of the end result of their labor, and proud to have helped sheperd it to this point. Communiting back and forth between New York and Minneapolis (and in between the world of academia and the world of contemporary performance) has been exhausting and stressful but ultimately, I feel, worth it. That this dream-come-true moment has happened after I semi-retired from theatre has been bizarre, to say the least.
This is what the show means to me. But I really do think it will mean something else to you. Something of value. Something fun. Darcy's music combines intricate (and difficult) technique with melody and narrative drive in a way that is rare and breathtaking. Danijel's art and animation reveals the construction of the piece while feeling both industrial and hand wrought. The story it has to tell is relevant to our time, beautiful and fun to boot.
I've always been awful at marketing things (this is one of the few pieces of self-promotion I've done in awhile, despite having had other things come up) so I'm going to ahead and gank the marketing copy and trailer from the show's website:
In the teeming metropolis of a future Brooklyn, longtime residents and fresh arrivals work together to preserve their embattled neighborhoods. But plans are afoot to construct an immense tower -- the tallest in the world -- right in the heart of the city, and Lev, a master carpenter, finds himself torn between ambition and community when he is commissioned to build the carousel that will crown it. Co-created by acclaimed visual artist Danijel Zezelj and Grammy-nominated composer Darcy James Argue, this urban fable unfolds wordlessly through the combination of projected animation, live painting, and an original score performed live by Argue's 18-piece bigband, Secret Society.
The show combines stop motion animation, live music and live painting. The visuals are incredible, and the animation style is like very little I've seen before. Here's the trailer, to give you some idea of what you're in for. I hope you can come see the show at BAM. I'll be there every night it performs, the curly-headed guy stressing the fuck out and grinning like an idiot in the balcony. The one holding a pad of paper and a chewed on pen. Come say hi: