The Theater of Needless Talents
Thursday-Sunday, October 25-28, 2012
Spectrum Dance Studio Theater
800 Lake Washington Blvd, Seattle
Click here to read Donald Byrd’s program notes about the 2012 revival
Click here to see production videos of the 2008 premiere
Donald Byrd Artist Talk: “The Jew in Us All or Why Jewish Themes Matter in My Dances”
Sunday, November 4, 2 pm
Stroum Jewish Community Center, 3801 Mercer Way
Donald Byrd talks about The Theater of Needless Talents, his work at The American Academy in Jerusalem, and how he has created dances incorporating Jewish themes for Music of Remembrance. A collaboration between the Jewish Touch series at the Stroum JCC on Mercer Island and Spectrum Dance Theater. Tickets $12 general, $8 for Stroum Center members, students, and seniors. The Stroum Center is offering tickets at a $5 discount to friends of Spectrum Dance Theater. Use the code SPECTRUM in the Comments section of the online event registration form at sjcc.org.
Reviews for The Theater of Needless Talents
Seattle Times: “Spectrum has a number of brilliant new dancers taking on the piece for the first time, and Byrd has subtly tightened the show and sharpened its focus. Those two factors make this revival of “Talents,” which has been touring the country this fall, a must-see. The live music — especially pianist Judith Cohen, tapping into both the jaunty and shadowy sides of Schulhoff’s jazz-tinged scores — is another big draw.”
The Sunbreak: “Byrd has used dance to find the extremes in music; here, the music is in extremis, and his choreography, often tender.”
CityArts: “The Theater of Needless Talents… is quintessential Byrd—complex, deeply meaningful and emotionally complicated. Many of dancers are new, to both the company and the piece, but they rise of the occasion, proving their ability to be labeled one of “Donald’s dancers,” and infuse Talents with the challenging skill and emotion required of the work.”
Seattle Dances: “A hugely important work, Needless Talents examines the Holocaust through a unique lens. It compels the audience to remember the atrocities that were, and also to confront the reality of the ones that still exist. More than anything, it portrays the human spirit, its resiliency and perseverance, and the role art plays in this resolve.”
Spectrum Dance Theater opens the 2012-2013 season with The Theater of Needless Talents, Donald Byrd’s compelling response to the Holocaust. Set to the music of Czech Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff, The Theater of Needless Talents, is an homage not only to Schulhoff and his brilliant music but to all artists who died during the Holocaust. Spectrum’s dance troupe will be joined by pianist Judith Cohen, violinist James Garlick, and cellist Rajan Krishnaswami.
First presented in 2008, The Theater of Needless Talents depicts life in a concentration camp based on TerezIn (a.k.a. Theresienstadt in German), a camp located in the Czech Republic that became the subject of a notorious Nazi propaganda film, Terezin: A Documentary Film of the Jewish Resettlement (Theresienstadt. Ein Dokumentarfilm aus dem jüdischen Siedlungsgebiet). This film was staged for the benefit of the Red Cross, who were duped into believing that Nazis had only benign intents for the incarcerated Jews. Meant to show the lively cultural life of the camp, artists and performers were specifically held up as examples of the positive creative atmosphere fostered by the Nazis. To perpetuate this farce, the Nazis forced the camp’s own imprisoned artists, all of whom perished at Auschwitz, to direct and produce this fake documentary. Erwin Schulhoff, a prisoner at Terezín, was eventually sent to the Wülzburg death camp and died in 1942 of tuberculosis.
“The sense of sadness that I feel, in particular for early Schulhoff, in terms of how brilliant his early music was, was that: He was forgotten for a really long time,” said Byrd. “And so I feel an affinity for him. In some ways I’ve taken on-I’ve projected perhaps-what his desires might be: To be remembered and to make a contribution. To have people remember him as a significant artist.”
The Czech Jewish comic and cabaret artist, Karel Svenk, who died in transit from Auschwitz to Mauthausen in 1945, called the performance group he created in 1930′s Prague “The Theater of Needless Talents.” In creating his own Theater, Byrd was inspired by Schulhoff, Svenk, and Jewish artists who even while imprisoned in Nazi death camps and with uncertain futures, through the creation, presentation, and performance of artistic and intellectual activities sought to generate optimism and affirm life.
The Theater of Needless Talents asks audiences to consider the lessons of the Holocaust in light of human rights violations and atrocities in the Middle East, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and elsewhere. At the same time, The Theater of Needless Talents reminds audiences of the infallibility of the human spirit, no matter what the odds.
The Theater of Needless Talents is the first of five presentations in the BYRD AT 10 season. Upcoming programs feature guest choreographers Olivier Wevers and Crispin Spaeth (Studio Series, Nov. 30-Dec. 9), a revisit of Byrd’s first piece as artistic director (A Cruel New World/the new normal, April 11-13, 2013), a West Coast premiere (Carmina Burana, April 18-27, 2013), and a world premiere, created in conjunction with Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Lab (Autopsy of Love, June 20-29, 2013).
Behind the music of The Theater of Needless Talents
Oct. 4: DeBartolo Performing Arts Center – Notre Dame University, South Bend, ID
Oct. 11: Texas Performing Arts – The University of Texas, Austin, TX
Oct. 16: Redfern Arts Center – Keene State College, Keene, NH
Oct. 25-28: Spectrum Studio Theater – Seattle, WA
Nov. 10: Cascia Hall Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, OK
Nov. 14: Germantown Performing Arts Center, Germantown, TN
* Details for non-Seattle tour dates are at each venue’s website.
The tour of The Theater of Needless Talents was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and additional funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Boeing Company Charitable Trust.
The Theater of Needless Talents was originally co-commissioned by The University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center; Duke Performances, Duke University; and Russ and Tricia Stromberg. The reconstruction of The Theater of Needless Talents was co-commissioned by Texas Performing Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.
All Seattle performances with live music are made possible by Spectrum Dance Theater’s Fund for Live Music.
CHOREOGRAPHER/DIRECTOR: Donald Byrd
MUSIC: Erwin Schulhoff
SCENIC AND LIGHTING DESIGN: Jack Mehler
COSTUME DESIGN: Jessica Markiewicz
ASSOCCIATE COSTUME DESIGNER: Doris Black
RECONSTRUCTION ASSISTANT: Joel Meyers
MUSICIANS: Judith Cohen (Piano), James Garlick (Violin), Rajan Krishnaswami (Cello), Wendy Sutter (Cello – Austin performance only)
DANCERS: Ty Alexander Cheng*, Derek Crescenti, Alex Crozier-Jackson**, Jade Solomon Curtis, Davione Gordon***, Donald Jones Jr., Vincent Michael Lopez*, Cara May Marcus**, Shadou Mintrone, Kate Monthy, Stacie L. Williams**
* Principal Artist ** New Company Member *** Apprentice