Against the backdrop of a Brooklyn skyline on a rooftop bar called Elsewhere, Remi Wolf brings non-stop chaotic energy and excitement to the stage.
Film Review: ‘Sabaya’ Is A Closer Look At Those Who Fight to Rescue Yazidi Women Captured and Sold by ISIS
Sabaya is a documentary produced by Hogir Hirori and Antonio Russo Merenda, and it is about the fight that two brave men, along with their colleagues and family, face when rescuing Yazidi women from ISIS in Syria.
Exclusive: Directors Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz Talk ‘Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters’
Rosalynde LeBlanc is an incredible dancer and choreographer who has performed across the country for many years, and is now a professor at Loyola Marymount University. Tom Hurwitz is one of the best documentary cinematographers and has been creating amazing films for the past three decades. They banded together to document not only the creator of the performance D-Man in the Waters, Bill T. Jones, but also the history and importance of the content itself.
D-Man in the Waters is a documentary film about the life and love story of dancers Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, the incredible dance company they founded together, and the horror that the AIDS epidemic had on not only the arts community, but the dancers within the company. This story, of both D-Man in the Waters and the experiences had by the original company, is told through a modern student dance group who re-invent the dance for their generation. Through dance and inventive story-telling, directors Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz remind people of love, loss, and the healing effect that art has on the community.
Check out our interview with Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz below!
The Knockturnal: All right! So, to start off with, what was your motivation or your inspiration to make the film?
Rosalynde LeBlanc: In 2012 I had been working with the Jones/Zane company re-staging some of Bill’s and Arnie’s pieces that colleges around the country and had been doing that for probably off and on seven six or seven years. Of all Bill’s works, D-Man in the Waters was the one that I was noticing was the hard hardest to re-stage. It was a mystery to me as to why it was so difficult to kind of feel that it was being recreated in its fullest intention because the movement was the type of movement that college students tend to do well, like the running, the jumping, the leaping, the sliding, all of that. So, the movement was not complicated in that way, but it was a very hard piece to feel. Having been in the dance myself when I would watch it be performed, I would just say that’s not quite what I remember it to be as a performance. The question as to “why” that was, is what initiated the film. Originally in my mind, it was going to be this historical, retrospective tap to open this treasure trove that is the dance and reveal in a way what all is in there and put it back in relationship with its historical context. So that was the initial impetus but then once Tom came on that that evolved, very organically and very naturally, with his input and his insight.
Tom Hurwitz: So, when Rosalynde asked me to shoot the interviews, given the film takes place in two time periods, the interviews comprised the memory part of the film – the part of the film that takes place during the AIDS epidemic and right after Bill’s partner Arnie Zane died. We shot those interviews first with Bill and the company and after we had done it, I was so impressed by the ability of the dancers to express their feelings at the time – the nature of the times that they were living in, their feelings as they as they did the ballet itself, the way that the dance affected them – all of those things were done in such a rich way that I felt we had a much bigger film, that there was a real feature here. Then as we began to work, the shape of that film evolved between Rosalynde and I.
The Knockturnal: That sounds really inspiring! It was a really good film. That also ties into my next question: did you start with the decision to have the past and present interacting the way that they did?
Rosalynde LeBlanc: No, at the beginning that aspect of it was really part of the evolution of making it. So, in the beginning I would say other than the fact that dance in and of itself is in the present – I mean the dance could be made 200 years ago – but if you’re re-staging it on current living people, there is something contemporary about it, and there’s a contemporary audience. There’s always that inherent aspect in re-mounting a live performance. However, originally I was very focused on Demian Acquavella as a character. I was very focused on the making of the dance in 1989, and because I was so deep inside of the piece itself, its history and its folklore, having been a member of the company and not being a documentarian, I wasn’t necessarily skilled enough to see the bigger picture in that way. It was very historical for me, and it was when Tom got involved and the beauty of our collaboration was that Tom was able to kind of have that bigger picture perspective, to see how this was really telescoping itself into the future/present, through the re-staging of the dance. So, it was it was probably over four years.
Tom Hurwitz: It evolved, and the clincher for me was, although Rosalynde didn’t know it at the time, when she herself was going to put the dance on with a company at the university that she’s now a professor at. We knew that would involve Bill T. Jones, also. That was such a gift to the film, and it became clear that we had to do that. It became very important to the structure of the film.
The Knockturnal: Going off that, Rosalynde you had been in working with Bill T. Jones in his company in the 1990s; how was it working with him now on his piece D-Man in the Waters and having him come in and give the company you were working with that firsthand experience – how did that feel for you?
Rosalynde LeBlanc: It was both nerve-wracking and also really exciting! It was exciting because I knew kind of ahead of the students how life altering that moment was going to be for them. It was really exciting to be able to give them that opportunity and that gift. I knew regardless of whether they became career dancers or not, they were going to carry this experience with them forever. That was really exciting for them and for me, again, nerve-wracking. He was still in some ways my boss, and to have him there, especially for this piece of all pieces, when we had to carry and be responsible for the legacy of this piece. In that way it was very nerve wracking, with someone like Bill.
Tom Hurwitz: Nerve-wracking for me, too!
The Knockturnal: Tom, have you ever worked with Bill T. Jones before, or was this the first time working with him on this piece?
Tom Hurwitz: Rosalynde and I met working on a dance in the mid 90s, working on the dance that Bill had choreographed called Still Here, and we worked on the televising of that dance for PBS. Rosalynde was in the company, and I was the image-maker, the cinematographer. Because we were working out a new way of looking at the dance, it involved a relatively long period of rehearsal with the camera, so I hung around with the company and I worked with them for several weeks. Rosalynde and I got to know each other; Bill and I also got to know each other. It was kind of a rewarding way to begin a connection to him.
The Knockturnal: Wonderful! That sounds like you both had a lot of fun! So, there was a part in the film where you had the dancers hold hands and demonstrate how when one person goes down, it affects the others – do you think it might have been essential for that understanding to come across through the performance?
Rosalynde LeBlanc: It was essential for them. Every group is different, and I had never done that exercise – I was making it up on the fly. It was so clear in that moment that we needed something – we needed some physical metaphor to understand this idea of community, of how we affect and infect one another. And that for that group, at that time, that was something that they weren’t really in touch with, which was kind of what they were saying leading up to that moment. We get it – we have Facebook, we have the social media connection, but they were essentially saying it’s hard to feel each other, so that that’s where that came from.
Tom Hurwitz: It’s that they didn’t have the tools to be able to establish that community amongst each other, and it seemed to me at the time when we were shooting that Rosalynde was helping to give them those tools to understand in their bodies something that their mind was having trouble with. So, their bodies brought their mind along. What evolved in the film was this role of art in creating community and that’s essential in the human condition, and it’s a part of dance. It was a part of this piece, a very essential part of this piece.
The Knockturnal: Tom, what made you decide to film up close and personal for the for the entire film – the very up close and personal shots during rehearsal? Do you think it might have affected the way that you told the story?
Tom Hurwitz: This is a film which is framed by movement and in which movement speaks almost as richly as the voices do. So, it just seemed inescapable that it was the way to film both the students in the studio and also the dancers on stage. The elements of the dance that weave through the film are also filmed very up close, as if the camera is another dancer. Because this film is as much about the experience of doing the piece as it is about the piece itself as something you watch, it was essential that the camera worked out.
The Knockturnal: Throughout the film there were a lot of really emotional moments concerning the dancers and what they felt while rehearsing the piece and learning about what happened with the company back in the day. How was it to be with the students and witness them process these heavy emotions?
Rosalynde LeBlanc: I mean it was a journey for me, too. I think in a way it is in terms of the filmmaking it is where the unique skill sets that Tom and I had really were able to serve us, I felt like. We talked about how I kind of go into my head space and rehearsal starts and I am in there as the teacher, I just have to be the teacher and Tom is the filmmaker. So, I didn’t have to worry; I didn’t have to think about that at all and I could just be with them. There were times when I felt a little out of my comfort zone because like I said every group is unique as to what they need to come into this piece. It was a journey for all of us, I think. All of us were quite vulnerable. When I watch the film, I’m always impressed with the students’ vulnerability and how open and brave they were, to not know things and to just say “this is how I think, I’ve never even heard of AIDS”, to reveal their lack of knowledge and to be willing to learn to be vulnerable in new situations. The situation was new for me as well, in terms of having a camera on us and filming this process. It was beautiful and I feel very close to them – we’ve shared this thing together and I felt very responsible for them in the moment.
The Knockturnal: For me, we were never really taught about the AIDS epidemic in high school, or in college, or anything like that. So as a queer youth, that was really important for me to learn about in this film. One of the students also said they never learned about the AIDS epidemic – that they never realized that because of their age, that’s not something that really affected them. Do you think that, especially with what’s happening past year and a half with Covid-19, it’s important to remember things that may not impact your own community but impact everyone as a whole?
Tom Hurwitz: I mean, I was stunned, and it was foolish of me to be that way. But you know, I had also lost huge chunks of my phone book during the AIDS epidemic and had seen people who I loved and worked with fall. So, you know, it was a huge thing for me, and I knew it was huge for Rosalynde during that time, and it was hard to believe that a group of kids could be so cut off from history that way. I didn’t think it was their fault – I was just amazed at how little that piece of our experience had passed down to younger people.
Rosalynde LeBlanc: I will say I agree with you Tom, and I will also add to that for me, because of my age, I didn’t have the experience of losing half my phone book like Tom and some of the original company. However, I was witnessing all of that and it really shaped my coming of age. One of the things I think that I carried out of that was, first of all, this can happen. Second of all, we all have to take the personal measure to protect one another and during the AIDS epidemic, it was condoms – you had to wear the prophylactic because we have to protect each other. With Covid-19, it’s the mask. I think that if AIDS history, the history of the crisis itself, was part of the upbringing for Gen-Z and upcoming generations, then that notion that this can happen, and we have to protect one another – we have to wear what we have to wear to protect one another. I think those two ideas wouldn’t have been so hard to grasp and maybe we would have had less infection earlier on, but I mean that’s why history is important because it comes up again.
The Knockturnal: I have only one more question – in both of your opinions, what do you think is the most important thing that you want people to learn from this documentary?
Tom Hurwitz: Good question! So, first of all, that art is important in the struggle to be human; art in the face of the catastrophes that befall us is kind of a lifeboat that can help us keep our ourselves together in community and help us face these terrific challenges of survival that we do as human beings. The second part is I would say is what we just talked about – the importance of memory and the importance of history in terms of what it takes to be a full person; that we live in our history, and we live in our memory, and nothing exists outside of it. It’s important to pay deep attention to that. So those are the two things that I hope people take away from it.
Rosalynde LeBlanc: I’m right there with him on that! The only other thing that I would add is that I hope the film just affects people, that the dance has that effect and that it goes past consciousness; you just feel different. You walk out of the theater having seen the dance and you’re walking different, and you don’t know why, you don’t really understand it. If the film can do that, if people could leave the theater just feeling different than they did when they walked in, just with a vigor that they don’t even understand as to why they have it, that would be what I want people to take from the film.
Phoebe Katis is an English pop-singer promoting her new album release Sweet Reunion with her first American debut at the Bowery Electric. While she wrote this album over the pandemic, and some of the songs can be used to express her feelings about the pandemic, Phoebe explained in-between songs that she wanted the song to go beyond that, especially as she wrote about new relationships and break-ups. Her new album goes through two arcs – the first is about the happiness that comes with a new relationship, the feeling of freedom and love that we experience while learning about being with someone. The second, however, deals with the upset that we face when dealing with a break-up, as well as the feeling of being away from friends and family. During the concert, not only did she play upbeat, lively songs off of her new album “Never Be a Cool Girl” and “I Am”, she also played some of her earlier songs “Better Than This” and “It’s Okay to Cry” which talk of harder times, where it’s difficult to pull yourself up and out of a darker place. Still, her voice and the melodies she uses are soft and fun, even when singing about the bad times.
Phoebe explained how while in London, it was difficult for her to break-out in the music scene when the majority of her music influences were American, such as Broadway, power ballads, and singers like Barbara Streisand, David Bowie, and Carol King. This then in turn led her to her current producer and eventually to the American stage. Phoebe also has a great relationship with her audience by cracking jokes, laughing at herself, and just generally having a good time. She relates well to the people on and off-stage, even sharing an entertaining anecdote about her time here in New York: “I was on the way back in an Uber, with my keyboard, and you know, drivers see the keyboard and ask the question, ‘Are you a musician?’ and I go ‘Yes!’ And it was a funny thing because he then goes ‘Oh musicians really must love music!’ and I have to stop for a moment,” Phoebe laughs, “because it’s true! I almost forgot that we musicians do this because we love to make music!”
Miranda Joan brings in a gorgeous, resonating voice to start the night. Her constant smile, laughter, and bubbly personality makes for a wonderful opening act; she was as bright and lively as her jazz and indie-pop music, and her song about the difficulties of keeping plants alive while living in New York City. With influences like Emily King and Anderson Paak, Miranda brings a fresh outlook to jazz music, especially in her song “Home“. One of her songs that was released this year, it’s a song of longing and trying to find her place in life. Alita Moses, the second opening act, fills the room and beyond with her soulful voice. She has a soft, smooth tone and can reach those long high notes that make you want to sing along with her. Alita constantly engages with the audience, laughing about how she should just stop talking and start singing, and continuously charms the audience with her amazing voice. She played her original songs, one of which is “Vines“, which she said will be released soon. Both of these women have experience in performing at festivals and other events, and it was great for both of them to be performing live music once again, and all three music artists compliment each other to make for a good touring line up. Phoebe Katis, along with Miranda Joan and Alita Moses, and the men who comprised the bands for all three – Justin Goldener, Jordan Rose, Mike Bono, and Sam Greenfield – know how to put on a very incredible and entertaining show.
Phoebe Katis’s newest album Sweet Reunion is a wonderful collection of songs that talk of transparency, reflection of herself, and an all-around good vibe that comes with discovering yourself.