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Leyla McCalla | Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever

A music/film/dance project set to new music by Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla exploring the legacy of Radio Haiti

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‘Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever’ Film

Posted on April 30, 2020 by Duke Performances

Filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala (KidEthnic) and his team assembled this short film documenting the residency and world premiere of ‘Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever’ at Duke Performances in March 2020.

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‘Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever’ Premieres at Duke Performances!

Posted on April 24, 2020 by Duke Performances

Duke Performances is pleased to report that the organization had a highly impactful 9-day residency with acclaimed Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla from Thursday, February 27 through Friday, March 6, 2020. The residency culminated in the world premiere of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever from Wednesday, March 4 through Friday, March 6 at Duke University’s von der Heyden Studio Theater — a new multidisciplinary performance by McCalla and New Orleans-based director Kiyoko McCrae exploring the legacy of Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station and the assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique, in 2000.



Breaking the Thermometer, commissioned by Duke Performances and co-commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans and MDC Live Arts at Miami Dade College, is the newest installment in Duke Performances’ From the Archives initiative, which invites forward-thinking performing artists to engage creatively with archival materials from Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Duke Performances received New Music USA Project Grants for two previous From the Archives projects, Jenny Scheinman’s Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait and Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont Blues.

Over the past two years, McCalla and McCrae, with guidance from Duke professor and Haiti specialist Laurent Dubois and Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, have mined the archive for recordings that showcase the impact of Radio Haiti-Inter on Haitian cultural and political history. As part of the final 9-day residency at Duke, artists engaged with the community of Duke scholars, presenting to classes on Public Policy (16 attendees) and African diasporic dance (35) and participating in a lunchtime conversation moderated by Dubois (74); a dinner with local and national scholars in the field of Caribbean Studies (22); and a post-show reception for project collaborators that included Michele Montas and J.J. Dominique (Jean Dominique’s widow and daughter, respectively) and Jocelyn McCalla (Leyla’s father), whose stories are featured in Breaking the Thermometer (25). The residency engaged a broad cross-section of the Duke and the Durham communities, with targeted outreach to the local Haitian population. Campus and community partners included the Duke Forum for Scholars and Publics; the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library; and Duke Departments of Music and Dance. Total attendance for the performances was 380, for a grand total of 552 community members directly impacted by the residency.

Additionally, Duke Performances commissioned Laura Wagner to write extensive program notes and, as part of a broader collaboration with Duke Arts, to create a full-scale immersive exhibit in the Rubenstein Arts Center — just down the hall from the von der Heyden Studio Theater. Both sets of materials provided patrons and the general public an opportunity to learn more about the history of Radio Haiti, including the photographs and archival audio used in Breaking the Thermometer. It is our hope that these materials will travel with the piece, providing audiences in other cities, both nationally and internationally, an opportunity to engage in a deeper fashion with the work, its archival sources, and the historical events that inform it.

Outside of the premiere, the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans has served as a primary partner, helping to facilitate community engagement and provide valuable residency and performance space. The CAC hosted the first production residency in September and October 2018.

Breaking the Thermometer will be available for touring on a national and international basis starting in Fall 2020, including confirmed performances in Philadelphia (WXPN/World Cafe Live, Nov. 2020) and New Orleans (Contemporary Arts Center, Dec. 2020), where the performance will include additional community engagement activities highlighting New Orleans’ cultural and historic connection to Haiti. MDC Live Arts at Miami Dade College is confirmed to present the work in 2021.

The Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever residency resonated deeply on campus and in the community, and it enabled Duke Performances to full achieve its residency goals, which included:

• Co-commission and present a work of high artistic quality honoring the legacy of Radio Haiti and Jean Dominique, and allowing it to have a touring life beyond Duke Performances
• Provide the Duke and Durham communities with an opportunity to attend and engage with a world-class music and multidisciplinary performance
• Engage the Duke and Durham communities in a timely exploration of Haitian history, identity, and culture, as well as the indispensable role of a free press in any democratic society
• Provide insight into McCalla, McCrae, and their team’s creative process and provide additional context for the work through a series of conversations in different community settings (and across disciplines)

Duke Performances has assembled a project website to help document the project and provide useful information to the public and prospective presenters.

Duke Performances is grateful to New Music USA for its generous support of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever.

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Credits

Directed and produced by Kiyoko McCrae
Music written, arranged and performed by Leyla McCalla
Sound and Projection Design by Kyle Sheehan
Story developed by Leyla McCalla, Kiyoko McCrae & Kyle Sheehan
Choreographed and performed by Sheila Anozier
Drumming and percussion by Jeff Pierre & Shawn Meyers
Lighting Design and Technical Direction by Jo Nazro
Set Design by Jebney Lewis
Dramaturgy by Laura Wagner
Photography by Alex Boerner

Overview

Duke Performances will commission, develop, and present the world premiere of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever — a multidisciplinary performance set to new music by Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla. The project explores the legacy of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, and the assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique, in 2000. Duke Performances will premiere Breaking the Thermometer on March 4, 5, and 6, 2020 at Duke University’s von der Heyden Studio Theater, the culmination of a ten-day production residency.

Developed in collaboration with New Orleans-based director Kiyoko McCrae, Breaking the Thermometer weaves together storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from Duke’s Radio Haiti archive with McCalla’s own compositions and arrangements of traditional Haitian songs. Through this juxtaposition of voices — the personal and political, the anecdotal and the journalistic — McCalla gives expression to the enduring spirit of Haiti’s marginalized poor in the face of several centuries of political oppression. And she pays homage along the way to the activists like Dominique who have fought, often at great personal cost, to amplify these unheard voices.

Breaking the Thermometer is the latest installment in Duke Performances’ From the Archives initiative — following Jenny Scheinman’s Kannapolis and Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont Blues — in which performing artists create works engaging archival materials from Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The Radio Haiti Archive is contained within the broader Human Rights Archive at Duke. Over the past two years, McCalla and McCrae, with guidance from Duke professor and Haiti specialist Laurent Dubois and Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, have mined this archive for recordings that showcase the impact of Radio Haiti-Inter on Haitian cultural and political history.

Other works previously commissioned and presented by Duke Performances engaging archival materials from the Rubenstein collections include indie-rock outfit Hiss Golden Messenger’s Heart Like a Levee (William Gedney’s photos), pianist/composer Jason Moran’s IN MY MIND (Jazz Loft Project photos and audio), and choreographer Ron K. Brown’s One Shot (Charles “Teenie” Harris’ photos).

The premiere of Breaking the Thermometer will conclude a ten-day residency with opportunities for free public engagement around McCalla’s music, the legacy of Radio Haiti-Inter, and the life and activism of Jean Dominique. Through visits to Duke classes on Haitian history, songwriting, and African diasporic dance; a public workshop on multimedia project collaboration; and an off-campus lunchtime conversation moderated by Dubois featuring McCalla, McCrae, and Wagner as panelists, the residency will engage a broad cross-section of the Duke and the Durham communities, with targeted outreach to the local Haitian population. Partners include The Duke Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke, The Pinhook, and The Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, which hosted the first production residency in September/October 2018.

Duke Performances is lead commissioner of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever. Additional co-commissioners to be announced shortly.

Personnel includes Leyla McCalla (cello, guitar, banjo), Damas Louis Fan Fan (percussion), Shawn Myers (percussion), and Jeremy Guyton (dancer/choreographer).

Project Media

Leyla McCalla. “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”
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0-3:31 (full video)

Leyla McCalla performs her song “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey” live at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana, November 2, 2015. Video by Claire Bangser.

Start and End Dates

03/04/202003/06/2020

Location

Durham, North Carolina

2 updates
Last update on April 30, 2020

Project Created By

Durham, North Carolina
Duke Performances, the professional performing arts presenting organization at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is committed to presenting willfully eclectic, forward-thinking performing arts of the highest quality. Through superb performances, outstanding visiting artist residencies, and the development and commissioning of exciting new work, Duke Performances is forging a culture that vigorously supports performance and…

In Collaboration With

Scholar
Durham, North Carolina
Composer/Musician
New Orleans, Louisiana
Director
New Orleans, Louisiana
Manager
Albany, California
Production Residency Host
New Orleans, Louisiana

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