Perhaps you were comfortable going to the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Disgraced” last season but weren’t sure about seeing the premiere of “The Emotions of Normal People.” Maybe you liked the concert with Beethoven and Stravinsky pieces but passed on the one featuring recent compositions by Matthias Pintscher. And you likely enjoyed seeing the Paul Taylor Dance Company again, but didn’t want to try Kyle Abraham’s new work, “When the Wolves Came In.”
Choosing the familiar over the unknown is understandable. You’re worried about spending money and time on something you might not like or understand. But new performing arts works don’t have to be strange or enigmatic. They can be engaging and affecting if you are open to experiencing then in different, sometimes unexpected ways.
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Here are some pointers about the nature of new works to help you know what to expect:
New productions might not always fit formats you’re used to. Sometimes they are like a string of snapshots the viewer must put together to form a full picture. Others can have seemingly incongruous elements, such as vocals, videos, dancing and audience participation. Think “Monty Python” when you encounter these to understand their surprising but purposeful effects.
New works rarely fit a single category – often combining comedy, drama, satire and tragedy in one piece. Creators now freely use whatever style or mode seems right for their purposes in each section.
Today’s composers generally express their ideas without being tied to standard classical forms. Even pieces labeled “symphony” or “concerto” are likely to be free form and shouldn’t be compared to Mozart or Rachmaninoff. Also, works are more often continuous rather than being divided into separate movements.
Many seem to be collections of impressions and moments rather than being highly organized structures. Others emphasize the unique sounds of instruments in unusual parings, often including percussion. Such pieces are essentially sound explorations and should be heard as such.
Modern dance rarely tells a linear story. Choreographers’ experiences shape their works but they don’t expect viewers to identify their origins. Be comfortable with letting a piece mean whatever you see in it – there’s no right or wrong response.
Dance may not always be beautiful or pleasant. It can be disturbing and somber, reflecting dark themes. Alternatively, some choreography is just about how bodies look in motion. The dancers are not representing human beings but abstract structures, animated in artistic combinations of limbs and torsos.
For any new work, allow yourself to look for enjoyment in what’s in front of you without comparisons or wanting it to be something else. Part of the excitement in attending new works is the possibility of witnessing something really wonderful that later becomes an acknowledged standard. The bragging rights for that alone can make taking chances on new material worth it all.
Upcoming around the Triangle
The Triangle’s performing arts community has long provided new works as a significant portion of its presentations. Here’s a sampling of what’s being offered this fall (see the complete listings elsewhere in this preview for other choices and website links):
“La Mer”: Carolina Ballet’s choreographer-in- residence, Zalman Raffael, uses Claude Debussy’s three sound sketches of the energy and beauty of the ocean to inspire his danced visualizations for this premiere. Sept. 15-Oct. 2.
“Clear and Sweet”: dance and visual art team Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey bring a newly commissioned work to Carolina Performing Arts. It explores Sacred Harp singing, the traditional choral music of the American South, incorporating dance, live singing, photography and video. Oct. 5-6.
“In Plain Site”: Duke Performances offers Trisha Brown Dance Company at Sarah P. Duke Gardens and Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, performing some of the pioneering choreographer’s signature works in reconfigured and newly combined form to fit the unconventional spaces. Oct. 28-30.
“Maccountant”: Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” set in a Wichita accounting office in 1963. Sept. 1-17.
“The Undertaking”: Investigative theater group, The Civilians, presents a piece on how we deal with death. The production comes to Duke Performances directly from its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Sept. 29-30, Oct. 1.
“EverScape”: Bare Theatre stages Raleigh-based Allan Maule’s drama, first seen at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival. Four online game players have a chance to win jobs as game developers, a step that might change their friendships and their lives forever. Oct. 6-23.
“Dark Sand, Sifting Light”: N.C. Symphony continues its commitment to programing recent works by women composers. Julia Adolphe’s 2014 composition imitates the experience of listening to a piano in another room and the visions it evokes. Oct. 21-22.
“Hercules VS. Vampires”: North Carolina Opera offers a cutting-edge experience on Halloween weekend. To a silent projection of the 1961 sword-and- sandals film, “Hercules in the Haunted World,” opera singers and a live orchestra perform Patrick Morganelli’s new music and libretto. Oct. 30-31.
“Cello Quintet”: For Duke Performances, the Pacifica Quartet and guest cellist Johannes Moser play the world premiere of 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe’s newest work. Nov. 5.
Leon Bridges: Bridges is 27 years old, going on 72. Born in Atlanta and raised in Texas, he burst out last year with “Coming Home” (Columbia Records). Bridges will make his initial visit to the Triangle Sept. 11 to play the Durham Performing Arts Center, with English singer/songwriter Lianne La Havas opening.
Television: One of the punk era’s greatest original CBGB bands, Television has actually played the Triangle before. But it’s been close to a quarter-century since the original quartet of Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca and Fred Smith performed in the early 1990s at the old Franklin Street Cat’s Cradle. Television will play Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium opening night of the Hopscotch Music Festival, Sept. 8. Also on that night’s bill will be Sneakers, Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter’s pioneering power-pop band.
By Roy C. Dicks and David Menconi