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The Academy of Fashion Beach Hits the Wave at BAM Gerald Rabkin The 1984 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music-the fourth of that designation but the second as a full-fledged fall festival-was dominated more than any of its predecessors by a single offering: the revival of the landmark 1976 collaboration between Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach. That a revival should so overwhelm the immediately contemporary, that the most powerful wave to hit the beach should be eight years old, is a paradox that speaks both to the institutionalizing of the avant-garde that the Next Wave Festival represents, and to the growing inability and/or unwillingness of the contemporary experimental arts to challenge and disturb. The more the festival succeeds in increasing its attendance and box-office gross (and last year's festival compared to 1983 increased its percentage of capacity from 76 to 84% and its gross from $528,000 to $1,030,000, the latter largely due to Einstein's Broadway prices), the more it inevitably surrenders the historic role of the avantgarde to resist contemporary taste. If, as a recent article in the Sunday New York Times asserts, "The Avant-Garde is Big Box-Office," have we indeed reached a point where the very notions "avant-garde" and "Next Wave" are obsolete, appropriated by a new academy of fashion? I raise this fundamental paradox not to denigrate the very real achievements of the Next Wave Festival but to note that its title really misnames those achievements. The Next Wave has never primarily sought out the unsettling and the provocative. It has always affirmed not disruption but the continuity and interdependence of the disparate experimental arts; it has 47 worked to forge a contemporary experimental tradition that can stand beside those in the conventional arts. In its presentations over the past four festivals, even in earlier BAM offerings, the same names appear with regularity: Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and-often proposed, often cancelled-Robert Wilson, names usually hyphenated as the artists combine across the arts. Indeed, BAM has been the American flagship of a particular form of inter-arts collaboration whose scale demands financial support almost impossible outside of an institutionalized framework. In commissioning and producing large-scale experimental collaborations, the Next Wave has tried to fill the cultural void that has sent so many of our advanced artists to Europe. This is clearly a worthy and substantial acheivement if we do not insist upon the cutting edge of an art of disturbance. The revival of Einstein makes particular sense in this context, for more than any other work of the past decade, the Wilson/Glass opera has defined the model of large-scale interdisciplinary collaboration that the Next Wave has consistently championed: not a gesamtkunstwerk in which all is subordinated to a singular artistic vision, but a Brechtian coexistence of dialectical elements, each with a degree of aesthetic autonomy. Whether such coexistence is fully achievable is debatable, but the fact remains that such collaboration consciously rejects traditional aesthetic hierarchies. It is not a form our compartmentalized critical establishment understands nor appreciates , for it challenges the stability of the individual critical turf. Whose Einstein is this anyway? In 1976, despite its performance at the Metropolitan Opera, it was viewed as Wilson's, with Glass's music and DeGroat's dances clearly backup. This time around-though Wilson was given his due by some-the critical focus has shifted to Glass whose reputation has grown steadily during the past decade while Wilson's major work was being produced abroad. The judgment that Einstein's designation as opera was to be taken literally was reinforced by the almost concurrent production by the City Opera of Glass's Akhnaten, the third in his sequence of music theatre pieces on mythic historic figures that began with Einstein. Despite Mel Gussow's belated salute to Wilson the final Sunday of the BAM run, the Times canonized the revisionary move to Glass by having music critic John Rockwell write the primary review of the piece-a full week after it opened ("Music: 'Einstein' Returns Briefly"). Significantly, both Frank Rich and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 47-53
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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