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How To Get Started: Ralph Lemon and Arturo O'Farrill
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This project is funded by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

+ About the Performance
This program was recorded 04/02/2013 at Symphony Space.

Dancer/writer/visual artist/conceptualist Ralph Lemon and Grammy Award-winning Founder and Artistic Director of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance Arturo O'Farrill share this evening of spontaneous thinking as they perform How to Get Started. Following their performances, they engage in conversation with Laura Kaminsky.





Ralph Lemon performs "How To Get Started"

Arturo O'Farrill performs "How To Get Started"

Conversation with Ralph Lemon, Arturo O'Farrill, and Laura Kaminsky

+ About the Artists

Ralph Lemon is artistic director of Cross Performance, a company dedicated to the creation of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary performance and presentation. Lemon's projects expand the definition of choreography by crossing and stretching the boundaries between Western post-modern dance and other art forms and cultures. For each project, Lemon builds a team of collaborating artists from diverse cultural, national, and artistic backgrounds who bring their own histories and aesthetic voices to the work. Projects develop organically over a period of years, with frequent public sharings of works-in-progress. Lemon and his collaborators derive the culminating artworks from the artistic, cultural, historic, and emotional material uncovered during this rigorous creative research process.

In 2005, Lemon concluded The Geography Trilogy, a decade-long international research and performance project that spanned three continents in its exploration of race, history, and memory. The project featured three evening-length dance/theater performances: Geography (1997); Tree (2000); and Come home Charley Patton (2004); two Internet art projects; the publication of two books by Wesleyan University Press; and several gallery exhibitions. Other recent projects include the three-DVD set of The Geography TrilogyKonbit, a video collage about Miami's Haitian community;Three, a dance/film created with choreographer Bebe Miller and filmmaker Isaac Julien; and Persephone, a book with Philip Trager's photographs of Lemon's choreographic work, text by Lemon and Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, and poems by Rita Dove and Eavan Boland. Lemon recently completed a curatorial project with Danspace Project in NYC, entitled I Get Lost.

Lemon is the recipient of a 2009 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and a 2009 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for interdisciplinary work. In 2006, he was one of 50 artists to receive the inaugural United States Artists Fellowship. He has also received a 2005 "Bessie" (NY Dance and Performance) Award in recognition of The Geography Trilogy; a 2004 NYFA Fellowship for Choreography; and a 2004 Fellowship with the Bellagio Study and Conference Center. In 1999, Lemon was honored with the CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts. Lemon was a 2009 Visiting Artist Fellow at Stanford University's Institute for Diversity in the Arts, and has also been artist-in-residence at Temple University in Philadelphia (2005–06); George A. Miller Endowment Visiting Artist at the Krannert Center (2004); and a Fellow of the Humanities Council and Program in Theater and Dance at Princeton University (2002). From 1996 to 2000, he was Associate Artist at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Arturo O’Farrill, pianist, composer, educator, and founder of the nonprofit Afro Latin Jazz Alliance, was born in Mexico, grew up in New York, and was educated at the Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College Conservatory, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. Mr. O’Farrill played piano with the Carla Bley Big Band from 1979 through 1983. He then went on to develop as a solo performer with a wide spectrum of artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Freddy Cole, The Fort Apache Band, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, and Harry Belafonte. In 1995 Mr. O’Farrill agreed to direct the band that preserved much of his father’s music, the Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which recently concluded a 15- year residency at Birdland. In 2002, Mr. O’Farrill created the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (ALJO) for Jazz at Lincoln Center due to a large body of music in the genre of Latin and Afro Cuban Jazz that deserves to be much more widely appreciated. His debut album with the Orchestra, Una Noche Inolvidable, earned a Grammy Award nomination in 2006, and the Orchestra’s second album, Song for Chico, earned a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2009. In 2011 Mr. O’Farrill and the ALJO released their third and newest album, 40 Acres and a Burro, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

+ About the Music

Cage’s exploration into the very nature of what constitutes “music” had a profound influence on twentieth century composers, yet his work has proven more ephemeral than that of most composers due to its reliance on chance and improvisation. He was a conceptual artist before that term existed. In this series, his long-lost multi- layered “thought experiment,” How to Get Started, is rediscovered in spontaneous live performances, providing a transformative glimpse into the deepest recesses of the creative mind.

Symphony Space is pleased to recreate this most challenging performance piece in celebration of his centenary. The work – if one can really call it “a work” – it seems to be more of “a concept given a form” - addresses the nature of improvisation and the creative process through a unique, improvised multi-layered performance.

The instructions for How to Get Started ask the performer to select ten subjects of particular interest to him/her and to write each topic on a sheet of paper. The performer then selects the topics randomly and speaks for no more than three minutes on each one. Each commentary is recorded and played against the next commentary until all ten commentaries are heard simultaneously. By leaving pauses randomly in each recitation and by varying the sound levels of the playback, the accumulated tracks of sound resemble more a composite statement of thought and emotion than the Tower of Babel. The resulting 10-track performance becomes a commentary on the nature of creation and the role of improvisation. It also speaks to the media and sensory overload which is virtually inescapable in today’s world.

Effectively, a generation has passed since Cage first performed “How to Get Started,” and while his concept is based in ancient principles, the resulting work will still seem avant garde to most audiences. These performances hopefully will make audiences reconsider what is art, how art is created, and what is the role of the performer and creator in the genesis of a work.

John Cage’s centenary is celebrated in this rare performance of Cage’s 1989 How To Get Started-a collaborative experiment exploring improvisation and the origin of ideas. The performers bring ten ideas on notecards, choose them in random order, and extemporize on each one as they are recorded and played back in real time, creating a multi- layered, spontaneous, and absolutely singular “thought performance.” Even the same performer cannot replicate his/her performance on a second attempt. The result is transformative, and provides a rare look into the creative mind, especially when two brilliant individuals offer back to back performances followed by discussion that promises to be probing, revealing, and unexpected.

In remounting this ‘happening,’ some of today’s most fertile and creative minds from across the arts perform their own realizations. Each of the three evenings pairs a writer and musician who know each other, and, in the case of the Shawns, are brothers. What will be revealed by each “performer,” and the conversation between pairs on each evening will be a mystery solved in the moment. The series is presented in collaboration with The Threepenny Review, the Slought Foundation and the John Cage Trust.

—Laura Kaminsky 

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