Showing posts with label Mother of Us All. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mother of Us All. Show all posts

The Mother of Us All

“... laptop wizardry by Au Yong.” —Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times
Dance Music
for kora, laptop, soundtrack

The Mother of Us All is a dance-music-text work about contemporary Africa created by Donald Byrd and Spectrum Dance Theatre. Composer Byron Au Yong collaborated on this project as part of the initiative Beyond Dance: Promoting Awareness and Mutual Understanding.

Video Preview

Creative Team
Donald Byrd, choreographer
Byron Au Yong, composer
Jack Mehler, set/lighting designer
Byron Au Yong, laptop
Kane Mathis, kora
Marsha Mutisi, voice
Michael Bagne, Kelly Ann Barton, Bonnie Boiter-Jolly, Ty Alexander Cheng, Kylie Lewallen, Vincent Lopez, Amber Nicole Mayberry, Tory Peil, Sarah Poppe, Meaghan Sanford, dancers

Duration: 68 minutes
Presented by Spectrum Dance Theatre, in partnership with Seattle Theater Group
Premiered at The Moore Theatre in Seattle, March 2011

Press Quotes
“The kora is an old, old instrument, and Au Yong has it almost vanish within a river of electronic, industrial sonic artifact... The score is perfectly suited to what you see.”
Michael van Baker, SunBreak 
“The air fills with musical fragments, ambient street sounds and a series of talking heads holding forth on the challenges facing Africa. The sound tableau, composed by Byron Au Yong, mixes recorded material with Kane Mathis performing live on the kora (West African harp).”
Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times 
more articles about The Mother of Us All

Mother of Us All CityArts magazine review

Marsha Mutisi told me to check out Rachel Gallaher's astute impressions of The Mother of Us All in CityArts Magazine. Gallaher writes about her experience of the performance and quotes Donald Byrd from the post-show discussion to give a deeper context for the work.

Here are the final four paragraphs of her article:
The music (an original score composed by Byron Au Yong), live spoken word (Marsha Nyembesi Mutisi) and recorded soundtrack of various commentators spouting newsworthy phrases like, “This year Barack Obama will devote special resources to Africa,” blend together at times in a cacophonous blur that adds to the chaos factor of the show. Moments of unintelligible political jabber fade into background against the virility and emotional life of the dancing.

In a post-show discussion Donald Byrd spoke about the overwhelming accessibility of conflicting news stories and the wealth of information available about Africa.

“One of the things I was interested in is that the audience curate their own experience,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is; even the people in Africa don’t know what they answer is. I never felt that the goal of any of these projects was to present a solution. The goal of this piece is to get people to think about Africa during the entire piece. Most people don’t even think about Africa once during their day.”

The audience can’t help but think about Africa during the performance, as the soundtrack provides a constant, needed reminder that that in fact is the focus of the piece. Without it, The Mother of Us All would be just another beautifully danced work from Donald Byrd.
Read the entire review called "The Mother of Us All" Presents Open-Ended Views of Africa in CityArts Magazine.

Mother of Us All SunBreak review

SunBreak editor Michael van Baker wrote a comprehensive review of Spectrum Dance Theater's The Mother of Us All. He begins with the challenge "Is that what Africa has come to mean, African aid?" and continues with "How do you dance a phenomenological investigation?"

The article is an incredible read. Here is an excerpt:
The surreal, CNN-gone-wild scenic and lighting design by Jack Mehler is joined to a score by Byron Au Yong, with live performance on the kora by Kane Mathis. The kora is an old, old instrument, and Au Yong has it almost vanish within a river of electronic, industrial sonic artifact, only to reappear here and there, never completely overwhelmed. The score is perfectly suited to what you see. 
Byrd says his goal is that the work will spark in viewers a curiosity in Africa, our de facto "container" so long for the the disempowered and revolutionary, as Africa, here and there, finds its way to a middle class existence (at the same time as the U.S. middle class increasingly finds itself under new strains). 
Au Yong took that to heart, so there's none of the Afro-pop percussion you might expect (again, an emphasis-shifting elision that effaces a cultural mode that has been reasonably important to Africans, at least). This music, this dance, is more tectonic, filled with subsidences. At the end, you realize that one reason the dancers have tried so strenuously to maintain contact with the ground is that it's moving beneath them.
You can read Baker's "Truth? You Can't Handle SDT's 'Mother of Us All" in SunBreak.

Mother of Us All Seattle Times review

Michael Upchurch focuses on the power of the dance despite the barrage of audio in his review of Spectrum Dance Theater's new production The Mother of Us All. For the music, Upchurch writes:
The air fills with musical fragments, ambient street sounds and a series of talking heads holding forth on the challenges facing Africa. The sound tableau, composed by Byron Au Yong, mixes recorded material with Kane Mathis performing live on the kora (West African harp) and some laptop wizardry by Au Yong...
Read The Seattle Times (PDF version) review called "Spectrum Dance Theater delivers meaty moves, but the audio trimmings are too much." The comments are fascinating as well.

If you experienced The Mother of Us All, what did you think?

Kane Mathis

For The Mother of Us All, I am honored to work with Kane Mathis. Kane is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in plucked string instruments such as the oud and kora. These instruments are akin to the guitar and harp. For Spectrum Dance Theater's new production playing at The Moore Theatre from March 3-5, I invited him to participate. After our initial meeting in early November 2010, I knew that he would be perfect for this project. Here's a sample of his music.

Kane is one of those rare musicians with a solid sense of self. He is grounded in his studies and dedicated to exploring sonic possibilities informed by a rigor towards understanding the traditional as well as contemporary contexts of the instruments he performs. Beginning in the late 1990s, Kane traveled to West Africa to study kora, a 21-sting Mandika harp. He learned:
  • that the kora, an instrument over 1,000 years old, functions to accompany storytelling as well as serves to relay current news;
  • to speak Mandingo and listen to the inflections and pauses enable his playing to resonate with the tones and silences of speech;
  • that musical traditions powerfully connect to folks when used in everyday life.
Kane performs on kora
As a musician raised in Chicago, Kane also realized in his 10+ years of studying with Malamini Jobarteh and Moriba Kouyate, that he wasn't from a lineage of kora musicians; that even though he would have the opportunity to perform for audiences throughout The Gambia on national television and radio as well as earn him recognition by the Gambian president, he would need to incorporate his musical background as a classical, jazz and indie rock musician with his present life.

Kane moved to Seattle over five years ago to follow another teacher, Münir Nurttin Beken from Instanbul. Beken founded the State Turkish Music Ensemble, composes for orchestras and film and is known as an oud virtuoso.

As a kora and oud musician, Kane currently calls Seattle home. He performs with a half dozen local bands. Additionally, he performs as a soloist as well as with choreographers such as Catherine Cabeen, as composer and musician most notably for the upcoming performance Into the Void to premiere at On the Boards in late April.

I first heard Kane at a 4Culture Touring Arts Roster showcase three years ago. Little did I realize that I would have the opportunity to work on a show about Africa and that I would be blessed to work with him.

Mother of Us All Seattle Times preview

Michael Upchurch speaks with choreographer Donald Byrd about the upcoming performance The Mother of Us All to premiere at The Moore Theatre this Thursday through Saturday. Read the comprehensive interview called It's complicated: Spectrum Dance Theater explores Africa in Donald Byrd's 'The Mother of Us All' to learn more about the Beyond Dance: Promoting Awareness and Mutual Understanding (PAMU) series.

Here's an excerpt:
To viewers who protest that they don't know where to focus their attention, Byrd asks, "Well, do you know where to look in life?"

Byrd admits that theater audiences are used to being told where to look and how to feel. But for this particular subject matter, he believes, streamlining or simplifying the stage action would be the wrong choice.

"I want people to gather the information however they can and make whatever sense out of it they can." Their role, as he views it, is to "curate" what they're seeing.

"I can maybe direct them or guide them in a certain direction," he says. "But I don't want to come to a conclusion for them."

It's not just an aesthetic but an ethical stance on Byrd's part.

"It minimizes the complexity of the subject to simplify it so much that it's easy to follow," he says. "It would be presumptuous on my part to reduce it to something that's easily digested."
Read the full preview in The Seattle Times (PDF version).

Eight Quotes

Nobel Lectures: From the Literature Laureates, 1986 to 2006 contains 21 talks given by writers upon accepting the Nobel Prize for their work. I initially checked out this book to read more from Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka and found myself captivated by many of the other authors.

Following are eight quotes I gathered from reading this collection.

Orhan Pamuk
In My Father's Suitcase (1986), Pamuk speaks about the fear of reading his father's writing: "For me, to be a writer is to acknowledge the secret wounds that we carry inside us, the wounds so secret that we ourselves are barely aware of them, and to patiently explore them, know them, illuminate them, to own these pins and wounds, and to make them a conscious part of our spirits and our writing."

Harold Pinter
In Art, Truth and Politics (2005), Pinter writes about hidden crimes and the challenges revealing the truth: "I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road.... Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people'.... Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think."

Imre Kertész
In Heureka! (2002), Kertész reflects on the Hungarian dictatorship in the mid-20th century: "I understood that hope is an instrument of evil, and the Kantian categorical imperative--ethics in general--is but the pliable handmaiden of self-preservation."

Gao Xingjian
In The Case for Literature (2000), Gao cautions not to celebrate peace in isolation: "This new century will not be immune to catastrophes simply because there were so many in the past century, because memories are not transmitted like genes."

Toni Morrison
In The Bird Is in Your Hands (1993), Morrison's parable about the transfer of wisdom is especially powerful: "Language can never 'pin down' slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so."

Derek Wolcott
In The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory (1992), Wolcott remembers a village performance by Indian Trinidadian perfomers: "They were not amateurs but believers."

Joseph Brodsky
In Aesthetics and Language (1987), Brodskly reflects on the Russian Revolution of 1917: "For in a real tragedy, it is not the hero who perishes; it is the chorus."

Wole Soyinka
In This Past Must Address Its Present (1986), Soyinka rages against the oppressive writing of Frobenius, Hume, Hegel, Motesquieu and others: "Warning! This work is dangerous for your racial self-esteem."

Reading these lectures from the literature laureates reminded me of the power of words, written in isolation, to grapple with the social condition.

Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

Byron Au Yong & Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: BreathPlay

Byron Au Yong: Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas
Kidnapping Water:
Bottled Operas
Byron Au Yong: Yiju