'The Next Wave': a peek into the future of performing arts?
Excitement has been just about nonstop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where an extraordinary series called ''The Next Wave'' recently drew to a close. Anyone wondering where the future is coming from, aesthetically speaking, could find the answer here, in music and dance programs by some of the most adventurous artists now working in any medium.
And the best news is, another ''wave'' is on its way. Buoyed by the success of the series, BAM is already planning a second edition, with an equally exciting lineup of events.
If next season's ''Next Wave'' comes off as planned, it could establish BAM once and for all as the most consistently important showcase for new music, dance, and related arts in the New York area.
Though the schedule is still tentative, the next ''Next Wave'' may include at least three shows of potentially landmark importance. These are a 10-year retrospective of music by the towering ''minimalist'' composer Steve Reich; a two-evening presentation of Laurie Anderson's long ''U.S.A.'' multimedia piece; and the new production of Euripides' ''Medea'' directed by avant-garde dramaturge Robert Wilson.
In programming and presenting such brave new work (and drawing large, enthusiastic crowds), the BAM secret of success lies in its canny choices of material. Partly because of the ''minimalist'' movement in recent music and dance - reacting against the academic, cerebral quality of much 20th-century art - a great deal of contemporary experimentation is more accessible, and just plain more enjoyable, than audiences have come to expect in the past few decades. Capitalizing on this trend, BAM has stocked its ''next wave'' programs with works that combine radical aesthetics with the kind of exhilaration often associated with ''entertainment'' rather than ''art.''
In this season's ''Next Wave'' lineup, the best examples may have been the offerings by composer Philip Glass and choreographer Laura Dean. In his opera ''Satyagraha,'' given a full-scale performance at BAM, Glass takes the distinctive techniques he has developed in writing for his own ensemble and transfers them to a medium-size orchestra. Thus he combines traditional sonorities with his own attractive brand of structural and rhythmic innovation. Add a charismatic main character (Gandhi, during his years of struggle in South Africa) and you have music drama that's as engaging as it is inventive - two qualities that often mark Glass's work, which will be widely heard during a nationwide tour by his ensemble beginning Feb. 14 in Baltimore and ending March 9 in Los Angeles, previewing his forthcoming CBS Masterworks album ''Glassworks.''
Similarly, the ''Dance,'' presented by the Laura Dean Dancers & Musicians, has a glorious visual harmony based on expanding and contracting circles whirling deliriously across the stage. The effect transcends the experimentalism of the work's choreography and the austerity of its music. If this be ''minimalism,'' one can scarcely imagine what ''maximalism'' might be like.
Almost as impressively, the Lucinda Childs Dance Company gave a perfectly balanced, precisely conceived evening in the ''Next Wave'' series. Credit goes equally to Miss Childs and her collaborators, composer Jon Gibson and director-designer Robert Wilson. Together, they created a work of total theater that surpasses even the splendid 90-minute dance presented two years ago at BAM by Miss Childs in partnership with Glass and Sol Lewitt.
In the new ''Relative Calm,'' the spare, geometrically rigorous, visually restful choreography of Miss Childs was counterweighted by the sonically rich music of Gibson. He is another ''minimalist'' who can, when he wants to, combine the textures of jazz, the pulsations of rock, and the transfixing techniques of recent trends in classical composition.
What emerges is a unique blend of live and taped sounds that don't quite resemble any other work on the mainstream ''minimal'' scene. Completing the event were elegant lighting designs and rear-stage projections by designer Wilson, whose mathematically fastidious conceptions joined the choreographic and musical elements as a vitally rhythmic component. It was a major event as music, graphic art, and modern dance, all at the same time. Its next performances (minus the Wilson decor) will take place April 26-30 at the Fort Worth Art Museum in Texas.
Also noteworthy were the idiosyncratic creations of the Trisha Brown Dance Company in its ''Next Wave'' evening, with quirky Brown choreography complemented by Robert Rauschenberg visuals and Robert Ashley music. Closer to home, BAM also presented its own Brooklyn Philharmonia in two concerts called ''Music Plus New Resources'' and ''Music Plus Movement.'' Here the ''Next Wave'' moved closer to the established traditions of 20th-century music, and sure enough, the results were less provocative and less stimulating than other events in the series.
The concert of ''Music Plus Movement,'' for example, was a modern-dance event in its own right, but it seemed rather pale beside the fabulous creations of Dean and Childs and their cohorts. Most successful were ''Malade a Milan,'' by Andrew deGroat, a sometime collaborator of Philip Glass, and ''Net of Ocean,'' by Toby Armour. Other, less memorable movements came from Myriam Degan, Walter Raines, Daryl Gray, and Satoru Shimazaki. The evening's music was by Elliott Carter, Francis Poulenc, Gyorgy Ligeti, George McGuire, Robert Cornman, and Francisco Zumaque. Not to mention Lukas Foss, who conducted the orchestra - and whose compositional contribution to the evening, ''Curriculum Vitae,'' might be the most spectacular piece ever composed for solo accordion. Two more ''Meet the Moderns'' concerts by Foss and the Philharmonia are coming up soon: ''Music Plus Words,'' on March 4 and 5, and ''Music Plus Film,'' on April 2 and 3.
Clearly, BAM is in a mood for all-out exploration these days. Indeed, bringing off two works in two seasons by Robert Wilson is a major accomplishment all by itself, so elusive has this theatrical wizard become in his native United States.
As for the other events, it's high time the prodigiously gifted Steve Reich received more clamorous acclaim for his achievements over the past decade, and Laurie Anderson seems ripe for discovery as a multimedia magician - not to mention the fact that her exquisite song ''O Superman'' has become a No. 1 pop hit in England, and may duplicate that success with American audiences. Nor will BAM limit itself to such ''names''; less celebrated artists will also be presented, probably in the upstairs Leperq Space at the spacious BAM building.
Big things are brewing in Brooklyn. And audiences - not just academicians and specialists, but real fans - are responding with an ardor that proves there's life in the old avant-garde yet.