Bill Bragin, the indefatigable director of public programming at Lincoln Center, makes sure that unexpected and ingenious collaborations are Lincoln Center Out of Doors’ stock in trade.
“I want to bring different artistic and social communities together,” he said. “It’s important for arts organizations to be risk takers and move the culture forward.”
A man of his word, he brings a great mixture of disciplines and performers to this year’s free festival, which runs through Aug. 14. The lineup includes rousing English folk singer Billy Bragg, jazz masters Eric Reed and Don Byron, singers Mavis Staples, Lesley Gore and Steve Cropper, composers/musicians Laurie Anderson, Tan Dun, Todd Reynolds and Malkit Singh, choreographers Eiko & Koma, Trey McIntyre and David Dorfman and the great Preservation Hall Jazz Band, among many others.
Bragg and the Big Busk kicked off the festivities on July 27 at Damrosch Park Bandshell with rollicking music in a sing- and play-along, open to anyone with a voice and/or guitar. Later that night and through July 31, Eiko & Koma climb into the North Plaza reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Center Theater to perform Water, a collaboration with Native American composer and flutist Richard Mirabel.
“I like the contrast between populist Billy Bragg and quiet and contemplative Eiko, Koma and Robert,” Bragin said. “Also, part of my mission is to get people off the stage onto the Lincoln Center campus.”(To ensure that theatergoers leaving War Horse don’t interrupt the performance, Water will take place during the play’s second act.)
Bragin didn’t suggest that Eiko & Koma and Mirabal collaborate—they worked together on Land in 1991, and Mirabal rearranged the score for their piece Raven in 2010—but he is responsible for bringing them to Lincoln Center for the first time. It’s especially gratifying for the choreographers because a part of their Retrospective Project is on exhibit through Oct. 31 at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library near the North Plaza pool.
“Water is an important motif in our works,” Eiko said, explaining that they performed River in various sites in 1995. “After what happened to Japan’s tsunami-affected areas, we also learned the power of water as a moving force.”
Mirabal, who lives in Taos Pueblo, N.M., leapt at the opportunity to be with his old friends again. He calls Water “a collaboration of the heart.” At the start of the project, the choreographers asked him to compose something that reflected timelessness.
“I tried different things,” he said, “like floating a log down a river with a microphone to hear the reverberations. Water is time and can’t be held, only experienced. They want a percussive sound but not a drum, and I’m still looking for ways to achieve that. They force me into a non-linear place.
It took a couple of years of talking with Gabri Christa (who directs Burnt Sugar/Danz with Greg Tate and Germaul Barnes) and Don Byron and his New Gospel Quintet for Bragin to see how they might fit together.
A former dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, Christa brings a varied background to her choreography as well as the influence of avant-garde musician and composer Butch Morris, the originator of conduction, a type of structure-free improvisation.
Her troupe moves among many styles, eras and genres to create interesting hybrids. But only when she told Bragin that she hoped to do a piece inspired by Alvin Ailey’s great Revelations did he see the connection with Byron.
“Who better than Don for her to collaborate with?” he said.
“Gospel is the organizing principal.” Christa added. “Don understood what I was trying to do and I understood what he wanted. This won’t be a version of Revelations—I wouldn’t dream of that—it’s a deconstruction.”
On July 29, besides R. Glitch, her company will also perform Dance Conduction #6: The Trojan Rumba Suite and The Fata Morgana Suite, each work a combination of spontaneously composed music and choreography.
When Bragin saw Sweeter End last February in New Orleans, the second collaboration between the Trey McIntyre Project and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, their sequel to Ma Maison, he knew he wanted both pieces at Lincoln Center. Not only because they were marvelous, he said, but to keep attention on New Orleans after Katrina. In fact, that’s what brought McIntyre, who established his company in 2008 in Boise, Idaho, back to the city. On every visit thereafter he found himself drawn to Preservation Hall. Finally, he asked Ben Jaffe, the band’s creative director and bassist, if they could work together.
“I like taking the Preservation Hall Band in directions we’ve never explored artistically,” Jaffe said. “My job was to make Trey aware of the different aspects of our music and what we are capable of achieving.”
Months of discussion, listening and observing followed. The band came to the conclusion that the musical centerpiece of Sweeter End should be an extended version of the classic, “St. James Infirmary,” and incorporate ideas developed with another collaborator, the hip-hop DJ King Britt. The arrangement evolves from a dirge to a festive dance piece in the manner of a traditional jazz funeral. The two works will be performed on Aug. 3.
“Among my band there was a lot of curiosity about the collaboration,” he said. “None of us had ever done a dance project on this scale before. It’s been amazing for me to watch the reaction of the older members. They are in as much awe of the dancers as we’ve come to find out they are of us.”
For a complete list of events, visit www.lcoutofdoors.org.