Bryce Dessner examines Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial work

Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)

Bryce Dessner, Kaneza Schaal, Korde Arrington Tuttle, Roomful of Teeth, Asko|Schönberg

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work is still powerful and controversial thirty years after his death. His often erotic work makes the viewer automatically complicit in the extreme emotions it evokes: anger, desire, fear. In Triptych, composer Bryce Dessner (known from his band The National), librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle and director Kaneza Schaal give the audience a fresh view of these pictures and at the same time question the stereotypical image of the black man as object of lust probes the ongoing urgency of questions around race, sexuality and objectification Mapplethorpe continues to evoke. They place the photographer in the midst of his own work,  with texts by Patti Smith, Essex Hemphill and Tuttle. The musical performance is by the phenomenal vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth and Asko|Schönberg. Triptych makes the audience part of a radical, uncompromising view of humanity, its body, feelings, pain and craving.

Previously announced director Daniel Fish has been replaced by Kaneza Schaal.

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background information

He made a name for himself as the chronicler of the New York BDSM scene: the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989). In the 1970s and 1980s, he became known all over the world for his

pictures of flowers and his portraits of celebrities such as Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But above all, the name Mapplethorpe is associated with his explicit homoerotic nudes that pushed the boundaries of taboo. Thirty years after his death, Mapplethorpe’s work is still as shocking and intriguing as ever. His work has been both celebrated and pilloried. One thing is for certain: it encourages people to reflect on sensitive issues such as the enduring divide between black and white, men and women, gay and straight, art and porn. 

With the music theatre work Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), composer Bryce Dessner, librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle and director Kaneza Schaal explore the ways that Mapplethorpe makes viewers feel complicit in his controversial images. The performance is produced by ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann in partnership with The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and features, among others, vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth under the musical direction of Brad Wells, mezzo soprano Alicia Hall Moran, and the Asko|Schönberg chamber orchestra. 

Bryce Dessner has been fascinated with Mapplethorpe’s work for years. He grew up in Cincinnati and, as a teenager, witnessed the protests when the controversial Mapplethorpe retrospective The Perfect Moment opened there in 1990. The exhibition in Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center ended up being shut down by the police and its director jailed. The outrage was fuelled by the Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who was so incensed by Mapplethorpe’s work that he tore up a copy of the exhibition catalogue on the Senate floor. The museum was sued for ‘pandering obscenity and child pornography’. One of the most closely watched court cases in American history ensued, all charges were dropped, and a pivotal chapter in American society’s ongoing battle to support free expression closed.

Nonetheless, the scandal surrounding The Perfect Moment is a testament to the potency of Mapplethorpe’s work. His pictures seduce, shock, titillate, insult, intrigue and frighten – preferably all at the same time. Some images take your breath away due to the timeless beauty of his compositions and the classical way he presents the body as the source of sexuality and eroticism. Others deliberately evoke shame and revulsion, playing with the thin line between fear and desire. Still others go to the very heart of questions on race, exploitation, sexuality, freedom and beauty.

Normally Mapplethorpe’s work can be viewed in books, museums or galleries. In Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), Dessner, Tuttle and Schaal challenge the audience to experience Mapplethorpe’s photographs en masse. With music, images and poetry by Tuttle, renowned poet and Mapplethorpe critic Essex Hemphill (1957 - 1995) and Rock legend Patti Smith, the production puts the audience right in front of the imaginary lens of Mapplethorpe’s camera. Looking becomes a collective experience.

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biography

Bryce Dessner studied classical guitar at Yale University. He and his twin brother Aaron are the guitarists in the rock band The National. Since the group was formed in 1999, their music has gained critical

and popular acclaim and they have played at many of the largest venues and music festivals in the Netherlands. In recent years, Dessner has collaborated with some of the biggest names from the indie pop and contemporary classical scene, such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, the Kronos Quartet, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and Glenn Kotche, as well as visual artists Hiroshi Sugimoto and Matthew Ritchie and choreographer Justin Peck. His compositional style, which he describes as ‘micro minimalism’, is characterised by interwoven layers of repeating patterns, but also draws on influences from folk music and composers such as Bartók and Messiaen. Dessner has composed works on commission for the New York Guitar Festival, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, BAM Next Wave Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, Eighth Blackbird, the New York City Ballet, and more. He has also written various pieces for the Kronos Quartet, such as Aheym in honour of Steve Reich’s 75th birthday in 2009, and Tenebre for the Reich Festival at the Barbican Centre in London in 2011. 

Bryce is the founder and artistic director of the annual MusicNOW Festival for contemporary music in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also the founder of the improvisational quartet Clogs. In January 2012, he performed the world premiere of David Lang’s Death Speaks, together with Nico Muhly, Shara Worden and Owen Pallett. In 2016, Dessner’s Murder Ballads, released on the album Filament by Eighth Blackbird, won a Grammy Award in the category Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. In 2015, he was asked to write the film score to Alejandro Iñárritu’s blockbuster The Revenant with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. In 2016 and 2017 the music was nominated for, respectively, a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award. 

In recent years Dessner’s work has featured at the Holland Festival multiple times. His production The Long Count – a performance involving music and visuals – was revived at the Holland Festival in 2011; in 2012, he played his double concerto St. Carolyn by the Sea with Amsterdam Sinfonietta, and in 2016 the world-renowned Kronos Quartet played his composition Aheym

Korde Arrington Tuttle is a multidisciplinary artist and playwright. He grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and received his MFA in Playwriting from The New School in New York City. Tuttle’s recent work includes Clarity (performed at the 2016 The Fire This Time Festival and winner of the 2016 Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival), the downside of being fish (presented at The New School’s 2015 AfroFuturism Conference) and who is burning black churches? (performed at The 24-Hour Plays: Nationals, 2015). Tuttle’s work has also been featured at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, the Roundabout Underground sessions organized by the Roundabout Theatre Company, New York Stage and Film, and the 48 Hours… in Harlem event, held at The National Black Theatre. Tuttle has recently won a number of awards, including the Steinberg Playwriting Fellowship, the NYSAF’s 2018 Founders’ Award, the 2018 Falco/Steinman Commission Award and the 2018 Playwrights Initiative Fellowship awarded by the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. He was also a finalist in both the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition 2017 and the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting Contest. Tuttle is currently writer-in-residence at the Lincoln Center Theater and artist-in-residence at the Ars Nova theatre. His debut publication of a selection of haiku and photography, falling is the one thing i, was published by Candor Arts in May 2018. 

Kaneza Schaal is an American, New York City based director, actress and theatre artist. Her recent work is Jack &. Schaal received many prizes, a 2018 Ford Foundation  Art For Justice Bearing Witness award, 2017 MAP Fund award, 2016 Creative Capital Award,  2008 Princess Grace George C. Wolfe Award, and was an Aetna New Voices Fellow at Hartford  Stage. Her last project GO FORTH premiered at Performance Space 122's COIL Festival and  then showed at the Genocide Memorial Amphitheater in Kigali, Rwanda; LMCC’s River-to-River  Festival; Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans; Cairo International Contemporary Theater  Festival in Egypt; and at her alma mater Wesleyan University, CT. Schaal’s work with The  Wooster Group, Elevator Repair Service, Richard Maxwell/New York City Players, Claude  Wampler, Jim Findlay, and Dean Moss has brought her to venues including Centre Pompidou,  Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, The Whitney Museum, and MoMA. Schaal is an Arts-in-Education advocate and has collaborated nationally and internationally with recent teen immigrants and asylum seekers; on intergenerational exchange between elders and teens;  and on workshops and talks at Princeton University, Yale University, Emerson College and her alma mater Wesleyan University, CT.

Carlos Soto is a director, designer and performer based in New York  City. He has presented performances at Columbia University, The Guggenheim Museum,  Kampnagel Hamburg, Pace Gallery, Palais de Tokyo, Performa 09; and has been artist-in- residence at Willem de Kooning Studio, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, New York Live Arts and The Watermill Center, among others. Soto has collaborated with American artist and  director Robert Wilson since 1997 as a performer and designer on numerous productions including Adam's Passion, Einstein on the Beach, The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic. Soto has collaborated with recording and performance artist Solange as associate director and costume designer on multiple projects, including her multi-city concert tour, Cosmic Journey/Orion’s Rise; her performance work Scales at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX; and metatronia (metatron's cube), a short film and installation-performance at the  Hammer Museum, LA. In 2018 Soto designed costumes for Robert Wilson’s Oedipus Rex; costumes and sets for The Black Clown by Davóne Tines, Michael Schachter and Zack Winokur at American Repertory Theater; UR by Sulayman al Bassam at the Residenztheater, Munich; Mile-Long Opera, a collaboration with Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, David Lang, Ragnar Kjartarsson, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. 

The vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth was established in 2009 by singer and conductor Brad Wells with the goal of exploring the expressive potential of the human voice. The group meets every year at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) to study non-Western vocal techniques with teachers from all over the world. The singing traditions they have delved into include Tuvan throat singing, death metal grunting, Hindustani music, yodeling, Korean pansori, Broadway belting, Persian classical singing, Georgian music and Sardinian cantu a tenore. Roomful of Teeth has worked with composers such as Rinde Eckert, Fred Hersch, Toby Twining, Missy Mazzoli, Julia Wolfe and Ted Hearne, and performed at venues such as the Lincoln Center, Merkin Hall, (Le) Poisson Rouge, the Carlsbad Music Festival in California and the MIT Sounding festival. The group also regularly gives workshops and masterclasses at schools across the US. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2012, won a Grammy in the category Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. In 2013, ensemble member Caroline Shaw won a Pulitzer Prize for Music for Partita for 8 Voices, which was featured on Roomful of Teeth’s debut album.

Asko|Schönberg specialises in the performance of new music, with a repertoire of works from the 20th and 21st centuries, ranging from solo pieces to larger-scale works, both in concert settings and interdisciplinary productions. Collaboration between musicians and composers is a key element of the ensemble’s work. In a dynamic working process, they explore new musical and theatrical insights, techniques and formats. 

In addition to conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, Asko|Schönberg works with guest directors such as Bas Wiegers and Etienne Siebens. The repertoire ranges from the major musical innovators of the 20th century to work by the current generation of contemporary composers. In addition to names such as Andriessen, Gubaidulina, Boulez, Kurtág and Ligeti, works by Van der Aa, Ruo, Tsoupaki and Van de Putte also regularly feature on the programming. The ensemble offers opportunities to young talent by commissioning new works from up-and-coming composers every year. Interdisciplinary projects also form an important part of the ensemble’s activities. Each year, Asko|Schönberg teams up with the Noord Nederlands Toneel and Club Guy & Roni to create a multifaceted production that goes on to tour the whole country. Asko|Schönberg is the ensemble in residence at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam, has appeared on NTR ZaterdagMatinee on NPO Radio 4, at the Holland Festival and the Dutch National Opera and regularly takes part in co-productions with organisations and ensembles from the Netherlands and Europe. Asko|Schönberg performs at concert halls in the Netherlands and beyond and is a regular guest at festivals, with recent seasons taking them to Melbourne, London, Cologne, Zagreb, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Jakarta. 

ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann (Producer) is a management and production company specializing in new work development and touring. Over the past 13 years ArKtype’s work has grown to encompass renowned artists from thirty different countries, multiple genres and commercial and non-profit support structures resulting in new work for a variety of spaces. His work includes projects with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Brook, Victoria Thiérrée-Chaplin, Yael Farber, Daniel Fish, Annie-B Parson & Paul Lazar, Lisa Peterson, Kaneza Schaal, Peter Sellars, Tony Taccone and Julie Taymor. For three seasons he produced the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, Florida in partnership with Baryshnikov Arts Center, was Director of Programming for Spiegelworld’s South Street Seaport seasons, and most recently served as Director of Programs at New York Live Arts. He recently premiered Sam Green and Kronos Quartet’s A Thousand Thoughts, Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis’ Trigger based in communities nationwide in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers' Cartography, Big Dance Theater / Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Man in a Case, the US premiere of Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theater’s Not by Bread Alone, and Andrew Ondrejcak and Shara Worden’s You Us We All. Ongoing collaborations include 600 Highwaymen, Bryce Dessner, John Cameron Mitchell, Daniel Fish, Kaneza Schaal & Christopher Myers, Aaron Landsman, Brent Green, Rude Mechs, Nona Hendryx / Niegel Smith / Carrie Mae Weems, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen, Rude Mechs, Sam Green, Nora Chipaumire, Adrien M. & Claire B. and Compagnia T.P.O. More information at arktype.org.

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Credits

music
Bryce Dessner
libretto
Korde Arrington Tuttle
text
Essex Hemphill & Patti Smith
direction
Kaneza Schaal
performance
Roomful of Teeth, Asko|Schönberg
music direction
Brad Wells
production
ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann
in collaboration with
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
associate director
Lilleth Glimcher
associate music director
William Brittelle
set, costumes
Carlos Soto
light
Yuki Nakase
video
Simon Harding
production management
William Knapp
associate lightning design
Valentina Migoulia
video engineer
Moe Shahrooz
dramaturgy
Talvin Wilks, Christopher Myers
commissioners
An ArKtype Production, Produced in Residency with and Commissioned by University Musical Society, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Co-produced by Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel Music and Artistic Director. TRIPTYCH was co-commissioned by BAM; Luminato Festival, Toronto, Canada; Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens, Greece; Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati, OH; Cal Performances, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA; Stanford Live, Stanford University, Stanford, CA; Adelaide Festival, Australia; John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for performance as part of DirectCurrent 2019; ArtsEmerson: World on Stage, Emerson College, Boston, MA; Texas Performing Arts, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX; Holland Festival, Amsterdam; Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; the Momentary, Bentonville, AR, Celebrity Series of Boston, MA, and residency development through MassMOCA, North Adams, MA.