(re)Made at MASS MoCA: Available Light

A few short weeks ago, renowned choreographer Lucinda Childs was in residency at the museum with her dancers, rehearsing her revamped version of Available Light. Childs’s seminal collaboration with architect Frank Gehry and composer John Adams was performed March 6, 7, and 8 for the first time—on Gehry’s reimagined set to Adams’s original score—since 1983.

Naturally, we filmed a bunch of rehearsals, conducted numerous interviews, set up time lapses, and snapped lots of photos to preserve the revival of this formative piece. They’re all compiled here, in chronological order, so you all at home can feel like you were right there with us watching Available Light‘s rebirth.

First up is a time lapse of the Hunter Center as our production team set the stage (literally) for the show. The set they constructed is slightly different from Frank Gehry’s 1983 original; though the aesthetics are similar, this version is more logistically viable for touring the world, and can be built at virtually any venue (click for video):

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Once the stage was set, the dancers began to rehearse…


And rehearse…


And rehearse.


But luckily, Lucinda Childs and her dancers weren’t too busy to get a tour of the galleries from our director, Joseph Thompson:


And before showtime, we stopped to chat with the choreographer herself about revamping one of her major works (click for video):

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Then, after nearly a month of rehearsals, it was finally time for three intimate, work-in-progress performances of the piece…


And they were breathtaking:



The dancers took a much-deserved bow, but the night wasn’t over just yet.


After each showing, audience members got their questions answered during an exclusive Q&A session with Lucinda Childs and Julie Lazar, the original commissioner of Available Light at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’s Temporary Contemporary, facilitated by our managing director of performing arts, Sue Killam:


Now, the only thing left to do was strike:





And by the end of the whirlwind three-week residency, some members of our production team got a little bit silly. Yes, Tim, we’re talking about you:


In June, Available Light will have its premiere at Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Now that we’re done with one major dance performance, we’re gearing up for another: if you loved Available Light as much as we did, don’t miss the sleek choreography and electrifying movements of Larry Keigwin’s KEIGWIN + COMPANY, a co-presentation with Jacob’s Pillow Dance, in our Hunter Center on April 11 and 12.

Posted March 20, 2015 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance, Frank Gehry, John Adams, Lucinda Childs, North Adams, Visual and Performing Arts, Work-in-progress
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My Favorite MASS MoCA Moments

Katherine Myers reflects on her 14-year relationship with MASS MoCA as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

Besides my 16-year marriage, 14 years is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere. These have been particularly milestone-filled years:  I’ve lost two parents and a lot of eyesight, gained a daughter and a legion of remarkable friends and colleagues, and witnessed more great art than anyone living in a town of less than 15K could possibly dream of.

Given that long history, it’s a challenge to provide a “Top 10” List, but a recent plane trip offered me time for contemplation. Here’s what I came up with, presented in no particular order.

1. Michael Oatman has popped up regularly over the last decade and a half.  I first met him when he was in Unnatural Science (2000) where his incredibly detailed installation schooled me in Vermont’s scandalous history of eugenics. When I was introduced to his collages in Becoming Animal (2005), I was even more taken with him. His suspended Airstream trailer is an absolute marvel and he is a delightful person. Every institution should be so lucky to have an artist like Michael in their “stable.”

2.  I love that MASS MoCA does some events that are pure camp, simultaneously high quality and totally over the top.  On this list: Tragedy (2011), our heavy metal BeeGees cover band who repeatedly told us “We love you North Adams City!” and Corn Mo and the Wau Wau Sisters (2005) which involved a trapeze, a sparkly jumpsuit, Meatloaf covers and Catholic school uniforms.  What a night.

3. Hotel Pool (2005) was produced by MASS MoCA but took place in the pool at the Williams Inn. It was a play and a water ballet with some shocking moments. Incredibly well-crafted and enjoyable.

4. It’s probably no surprise that the shows I like best are the ones with the coolest stuff to see. Crowd pleasers are easiest to sell and, when attendance rises, everyone is happier. On my favorite shows list: Oh, Canada (2012), Unnatural Science (2000), Huang Yong Ping’s retrospective (2006), Uncommon Denominator (2002), Becoming Animal (2005), and Cai Guo Qiang’s exploding cars in Inopportune (2004).

5. Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screentests (2009): The films are completely mesmerizing on their own and Dean & Britta’s score and live performance only served to enhance them.

6. Ann Hamilton’s corpus (2003) taught me the magical power of an art installation.  My father-in-law passed away while Ann’s falling paper was on view.  His death was not unexpected and he had lived a good, long life. When my husband called me that morning with the news, there was no reason to head home but a pause for reflection did seem appropriate. It was before the museum opened; I just started to wander in the galleries and, without thinking, found myself in corpus which was truly the ideal place to reflect on a loss and a life well-lived.

7. Anouk Van Dijk’s Stau (2006) started with dancers emerging from underneath your seat. Then, somehow in the middle, you were standing and all the seats were gone and you were milling about in a pitch black theater when suddenly spots came up illuminating dancers, sometimes right in front of your nose.  The piece ended with dancers and audience writhing against the wall to a deafening percussive soundtrack. Sound crazy? It was, but it was also probably the most viscerally affecting performance I’ve ever experienced.

8. Of All the People in All the World (2007), which involved millions of grains of rice representing various population statistics arrayed in the Hunter Center, brought a 100% lovely group of British actors from Stan’s Café to North Adams for a couple of weeks.  We get to know many wonderful artists but these Brits count among the most delightful. Coupled with the beautiful, clever, moving installation, it was an exceptional experience.

9. Material World (2011) made great use of MASS MoCA’s strengths; the exhibit utilized our remarkable space to great effect from the Wade Kavanaugh and Steven Nguyen’s paper forest to Tobias Putrih’s illuminated fishing line, inspired by our local Hoosac Tunnel.  It was accessible, jaw-dropping, fun, and interesting for all ages.

10. Canadian singer Patrick Watson’s performance this past summer (2012) was nothing short of magical.  At first, we were disappointed that the show was inside on a beautiful summer night. Yet, when we saw what he did with the lights, we were so glad that he had insisted on the darkness that only Club B-10 could provide at 8 PM on an evening in late June.

And one more for good measure…

11. Solid Sound Festival is really non-stop work for our staff. At the first Solid Sound (2010), the only music I actually listened to was the first three songs of the Mavis Staples set which included “The Weight.” Bone-tired late in the day on Saturday, I enjoyed Mavis’s performance from a special rooftop vantage point and received a much-needed spiritual boost (and sitting down for 15 minutes didn’t hurt either).

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What did you like the best over the past 14 years?

Posted December 7, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance, Exhibitions, Film+Live Music, Material World, Music, Oh Canada, Staff, Theater, Tragedy: The All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees, Wilco Solid Sound Festival
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Artist Spotlight: Emily Johnson

Performing Arts intern Julia and Marketing/Public Relations intern Elizabeth team up for a chat with our artist-in-residence, Bessie-award winning choreographer/performer Emily Johnson (founder of Catalyst Dances) to discuss Johnson’s artistic background and the inspiration for her new work Niicugni (Listen).

Describe your dance and artistic background.

I grew up in a very small town in Alaska. I was an athlete growing up, mainly basketball, long distance running, and softball. Those were my absolute loves. Either sports instilled a love of movement or I had a love of movement going into it.

Dance was not in my life until I got to college. There was a great confluence of teachers at the University of Minnesota when I got there with a heavy focus on improvisation. I loved that suddenly there was movement that wasn’t connected to the game or the race. I could move fully; I could be feeling and thinking. My thoughts could change my movement and my movement could change my thoughts.

What inspires your movement vocabulary?

Movement always comes from an internal thought or feeling first. I’m always trying to get it out of my body, past the skin. In a way, I don’t care if people watch me or my dancer’s arm moving. It’s about what can be communicated between my arm movement and the audience. What is communicated in that space?

There has to be such intentionality in the movement. It’s not that any moment is more precious than the next but, in every moment, we have to know where we are in our story. We have to stay connected with that story and that effort in order to communicate it.

What were the conceptual seeds of Niicugni (Listen)?

A few thoughts crossed paths when I was looking into beginning a new piece. I saw an exhibit at a gallery in Homer, Alaska. It was an exhibit of work made entirely of fish skin. Salmon has always been part of my family’s life but I had never worked with the skin before. This image of 50 fish skin lanterns hanging in the stage and in the house, creating this secondary diagonal, was the first visual image of this piece before I even knew how to work with the skin.

Around the same time, my dad laid out a map on the counter in my parents’ house in Alaska. He had just received land from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Though the Settlement Act was created in 1970s, his land just finally came through. It just really very suddenly struck me that we would have to figure out how to build a relationship with that land.

I was struck with “What does this mean?” This land is now my father’s. It will eventually be passed to my brothers and me. How do we get to know land that is ancestral land? I was looking at this piece of paper that did not give me the information I needed. Maps tell us how to get somewhere, not how to live with land and what’s really there or who has been there before or who will be there after. This piece really started with all of those questions.

What about the vocal storytelling that is woven through the piece? How do those moments connect to the choreography?

To me, it’s all part of the dance. The stories are as much the dance as we are. Making these lanterns is as much the dance as anything. It’s not that they are just parts that are important; they are dance.

I like to work with the similarities and differences in how bodies and minds respond to stories and movement. What happens for someone listening to a story? How does a body take in a story? What images are created in your mind? Where does your mind go with that story? Then, how does your body take in movement? It’s the conversation between those two forms of communication that I find really interesting.

How your work evolved during your residency at MASS MoCA?

Very specifically, being here has allowed us to work on our rigging. We were able to work with all the crew here and our crew to create two improvements and a whole rigging system. That will have a profound impact on this work in terms of its touring life.

In a broad sense, the piece is always informed by the place we’re in because we think very specifically about the building and imagine feeling the ground beneath our feet. We think about how the ground moves in all directions. It’s the support for us here. It’s a new kind of mapping as we work to experience many places at once.

See Niicugni (Listen) in the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA on Friday, November 16 at 8 PM. Find tickets here.

Posted November 14, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Dance, Interns, Theater, Work-in-progress
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Up in the Club: on-the-rise performers take the stage


This is our Club B-10 theatre. It’s got a small stage, a full bar, and room for just 200 seats. When a band’s onstage, the lead singer’s just inches away from the audience. That is to say: Club B-10 is a cozy, casual space for you and 199 of your closest, coolest friends to see some mega talent up-close and personal.

This fall, we’re hosting some of the sweetest, smartest, standout performing arts concerts up in the club. Club B-10, located on the third floor of MASS MoCA (hence “up” in the club), will be home to several artists from different genres, all of whom promise a performance that packs power and punch for audiences in this intimate space.

Whether they’re still new to the scene and about to make it big (you can say you “knew them when”), or they’re already well-loved, these musical, comedy, and theatre groups are sure to make your night up in the club well worth while (and under $20!):

The Bandana Splits

Saturday, October 6, 8 PM –

This charming trio of singers (Dawn Landes, Lauren Balthrop, and Annie Nero) combines bubblegum and doo-wop for a sweet sound reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters and The Ronettes.


Nerd Nite

Saturday, October 13, 8 PM –

This smart comedy group will have you laughing within seconds, as they give hilarious presentations about mumblecore, sex, and technology.


Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing Orchestra (featuring TK Wonder)

Saturday, November 3, 8 PM –

Drummer Ben and his Moodswing Orchestra float between jazz, rock, and even experimental tunes to create deliciously hypnotic grooves. The group’s also got MC TK Wonder in tow, who’s supported the likes of Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.


Alsarah and the Nubatones

Saturday, November 10, 8 PM –

Sudanese-American singer Alsarah blends vintage Sudanese pop, Western soul, and traditional Nubian songs in what becomes as much a concert as a musical journey through diaspora.


Tim Crouch’s My Arm, presented by Sundance Institute Theatre Lab

Saturday, December 1, 8 PM –

Sundance Lab Fellow, Tim Crouch, performs a reading of his piece My Arm, a story about a man who has become a celebrated medical specimen and an icon of the New York art scene. My Arm is told through live performance and the animation of everyday objects supplied by the audience.

Posted September 26, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Comedy, Dance, Music, Theater
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Artist Spotlight: Here Lies Love Director Alex Timbers

MASS MoCA Marketing Coordinator Emily Evans sat down with Here Lies Love Director Alex Timbers to find out what it’s like being a director, working with artists like David Byrne, and making theatre at MASS MoCA.

Director Alex Timbers

I was a dance major at Conn College, my mentor being that wonderful dance maker David Dorfman, and I know you’ve co-directed some of his work. How is directing dance different than directing theatre or musicals?

David’s great – I’ve been a dramaturg for a couple of his pieces. I think dance works in a more abstract, less narrative way. There’s a sense of pacing and scale and variety that I think is also true to directing a musical. [With dance] you’re working much more with a sort of principal nature of the elements, because you’re serving a story and emotional palette that is much more visceral and abstract. In a musical, you’re trying to get that richness, but you ultimately have to serve a prescribed script and set of songs.

Do you have a preference, a favorite thing to direct?

I love to direct theatre, and I’ve really enjoyed working on shows like Peter and the Starcatcher and The Pee Wee Herman Show, that are kind of what I like to call “plays plus.” They have all the attributes of a play, a sort of naturalism and an emotional hook, and yet they also have song elements and dance and movement and a certain heightened design. They feel inherently and richly theatrical, instead of the type of play that could take place in a living room or a kitchen. They are sort of epic in scale and yet emotionally more grounded than more traditional or conventional musical theatre.

How did you get into directing? How did you discover you had this passion?

I was in college and I was doing a lot of improv and sketch comedy. I had acted a little bit (just sort of in the way that everyone acts in college or high school) and I got very interested in the mechanics of comedy, so I decided to direct a farce, and then another farce, and I got really into directing. I started running the college theatre company, and then I snuck into graduate school classes at Yale School of Drama and started learning about the management side.

When I graduated, I worked as an intern at Manhattan Theatre Club, and I realized no one ever tells you that in the real world, people don’t hire young directors – it just doesn’t happen. [If you’re young,] no one’s gonna hire you to direct Thornton Wilder or Shakespeare because they’re entrusting you with a lot of money, and they don’t trust you. In film and TV, you’re trying to appeal to young people as often as older people, so it makes sense to let [a young director] be the voice. But in theatre, you’re not going after really young audiences, so why would you ask a young director or playwright? So what I did was create my own opportunities. I created a company – that’s where Les Freres Corbusier started.

How did you get involved with Here Lies Love?

I had done a show for The Public Theater called Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, that was sort of a classic example of the shows I was doing with LFC – sort of about historical figures but done in an irreverent, post modern way. It combined pop and rock music and big visuals. The Public Theatre was also developing Here Lies Love, and the artistic director Oskar Eustis put me in contact with David [Byrne]. I think there were a couple of directors that interviewed for it, but David and I hit it off pretty immediately, and I think the impression I had of what the piece should be in 3 dimensions, more than just an album, was similar to what David always had in mind for it.

Can you tell me what Here Lies Love is about in 4 sentences or less?

Sure. Here Lies Love is a fully immersive club musical that tells the story of Imelda Marcos’ rise and infamous fall. It’s told entirely through song, without dialogue and without seating. It takes place all around you – it’s what I call a sort of 360 degree theatre piece. It refuses to glorify Imelda and is examining the politics of power and the psychology or pathology behind a person that so desperately wanted to be loved and yet was thrown out by her own citizens.

What’s it like working with this particular cast and crew, and with David Byrne and Annie-B Parson?

In terms of the cast (David and the choreographer and the crew), it’s really fantastic, because these are people who I’ve for years looked up to! I had seen Annie-B Parson’s Big Dance Theatre shows for many years.  I’ve been listening to David’s music and reading his writing for years. So to collaborate with these people is phenomenal. And the design team is this great mix of downtown and uptown people – they are downtown theatre artists but they have Broadway experience. There’s a really exciting mix (just as the show is) between a kind of left of center sensibility and a delivery of the great pleasure principles of musical theatre.

How has MASS MoCA and this particular space impacted the development of the piece? Is it different from where you guys have been before?

Absolutely. I’ve been coming to MASS MoCA for about 7 years now, and I’ve always been mesmerized as much by the art at MASS MoCA as by the architectural surroundings of this place. When the idea came up to develop the show outside of New York, one of the questions I had was, “Can we not do it at a place where it will feel like a musical?” (Which it’s not.) So this idea came up to do it at a museum as a sort of art installation. I think that sets up your expectations for the piece better.

I have a long history with Williamstown Theatre Festival, and [artistic director] Jenny Gersten has been an incredible friend and advisor, so the idea of triangulating The Public Theater and WTF and MASS MoCA started to feel like a really exciting convergence of great arts institutions. The thought with the residency at MASS MoCA was that we could really build the piece – it wasn’t that we’d be delivering some sort of finished product, but we would have the space and staff and collaborators here to create a 360 degree art environment.

Every day there have been new songs coming in, we’re changing staging on the fly, and just today before we started talking I saw new choreography for the opening number! We’re assembling it here in a way you couldn’t do with the pressure of New York or you’d go crazy. The space here is unbelievable –  it’s huge! – and there are 2 things we’re examining: how can we make the best possible performance here at MASS MoCA, and how can we honor the spatial limitations Here Lies Love will confront when it eventually moves to New York?

What’s next for Here Lies Love?

After this it will go to The Public Theater in New York, and it starts performances in March 2013 at the Luesther, one of the five theatres of The Public – it’s a downtown space.

That’s exciting.

Yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.

Alex Timbers and David Byrne at opening night of Timbers’ Peter and the Starcatcher

Posted June 18, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Dance, Music, Theater, Uncategorized, Work-in-progress
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A Chunky Collaboration

 Australian dance company Chunky Move performs their new work, Connected, at MASS MoCA.

chunk·y [chuhng-kee]

adjective (chunk·i·er, chunk·i·est): ample, bodied, compact, fleshy, irregular, loaded, muscular, rotund, solid, stocky…

 How would you define it?

Artistic Director of Chunky Move (Australia’s powerhouse modern dance company), Gideon Obarzanek, has spent a lot of time thinking about this question. He says: “My movement, my choreography, hasn’t really been about the beauty of the human condition or the ennoblement of the body, which a lot of dance performance is like. The word ‘chunky’ came up because of the type of rough movement that we’re known for, particularly when we began. And it was a big move for us to start a company, so ‘Chunky Move,’ that’s what we came up with and it stuck.”

Artistic Director Gideon Obarzanek.

Founded by Obarzanek in 1995, Chunky Move has earned an enviable reputation for producing an innovative and unpredictable brand of genre-defying dance. The company has created work that is for the stage, site specific, media-driven, and installation-based. Known for pieces that immerse dancers in an illusory world of motion tracking and projection technology (such as GLOW), Chunky Move takes a bold leap with their newest work Connected, side-stepping the use of the digital technology in favor of pure mechanics.

Sculpture artist Reuben Margolin.

Reuben Margolin, a sculpture artist, met Obarzanek in 2009 while they were presenting our work at Poptech. Says Margolin: “He was talking about dance. I was talking about waves. We both talked about movement. I immediately loved his work and felt that he was reaching deep into a realm of meaning to create his dance pieces. And I was simply struck by how dynamic and expressive the human figure can be. We struck up a conversation about how to do a collaboration combining kinetic sculpture and dancers. Rather than simply having the sculpture overhead and the dancers below, we both wanted to do something more challenging, and to somehow have the sculpture reflect the movement of the dancers.”

Margolin and Obarzanek in collaboration.

 The sculpture in Connected is startling alive and dyname (as are Margolin’s other works). It is constructed from wood, recycled plastic, paper, and steel. Suspended in midair by hudreds of strings manipulated by multiple spinning wheels, it has a motion of its own, ebbing and flowing like a fluid wave. The movement of the sculpture is reflected in Obarzanek’s dancers’ bodies, rushing and rippling through space. Onstage, the dancers build their performance while the construct the sculpture in real time.
Above photos by Jeff Busby.
Interested in seeing Chunky Move’s viscerally powerful performers interact with the larger-than-life undulating dynamic sculpture seen above? Chunky Move performs at MAS MoCA Saturday, March 24, at 8 PM and Sunday, March 25, at 3 PM. Get your tickets for this event by calling the Box Office at 413.662.2111 or .

Posted March 21, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance
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