One For The Ages
At the end of 2019, Neil visited some friends who live in a retirement community of 1300 homes, all inhabited by retired couples, widows and widowers. Seeing a community so intentionally segregated by age brought to the fore the richness and beauty of New York’s artistic community, where it is normal to work across all kinds of divides of identity, including gender, race, economic status – and age.
A year ago Julia created the choreography for Neil’s composition Messages, which premiered at the Higher Ground Festival, uptown Manhattan, and has since been performed in venues such as Roulette, Frederick Lowe Theater (NYU), and New York Dance Week. Working on Messages, we never thought about nor were we inhibited by our age difference: Neil is 72, Julia is 26. We are drawn to exploring how we are able to collaborate artistically, despite, or maybe because of the 45 year difference in our ages. Basing our new collaboration on material gathered in interviews and workshops with the very young and the very old, we’ve begun planning, for a 10-15 minute “proof of concept” excerpt of One For The Ages, to be premiered at Higher Ground in June 2020.
One For The Ages will use music and dance to explore and bridge the gap between young and old in a number of ways:
• the material for the electronic score will be gathered in interviews with communities of old and young people; interviewees will describe their relationship with someone in the opposite age group
• we will shape the musical and dramatic narrative from these interviews and musical references, and will include both young and visibly old dancers
• while one goal is to produce a full evening of music and dance, we expect to develop the materials in outreach performances combining audiences from schools and retirement communities; and we anticipate continuing these outreach projects in coordination with the eventual theatrical presentations
Since the refugee crisis of 2015 Julia, in particular, has been artistically fueled by creating work that could bring together two of most vulnerable groups of society: lonely elders and very young people who escaped the war. In an attempt to reach both audiences Julia started developing dances incorporating shadowplay. Her first shadowplay ballet, What Grows On Trees (work sample) was successfully performed for diverse audiences in Brooklyn, Inwood and Harlem.
For One For The Ages to be successful, we will need to reach audiences of both very young and very old people – and hopefully people in between, as well. One fundamental drive behind the project is to explore and promote inclusion across barriers of age. We will do that with the bodies of the dancers on stage and the voices embodied in the music, but it is just as important that the audience is inclusive across a wide age range.
Neil writes: “My wife Wendy passed away in August 2018. Two days later, in a panic that I couldn’t remember the sound of her voice, I found that I could un-delete voice messages on my phone. I found about a dozen messages from her there, dating from the beginning of her long illness until her final days. Messages is made of samples of those phone messages, and some of the music she mentions in them. It gives testament to her strength, graciousness, positive outlook, and ultimate acceptance of her fate.”
What Grows On Trees is a shadowplay ballet, choreographed by Julia Bengtsson to original music. It tells a story of unconditional love, aging, and self sacrifice while addressing the urgent problem of thoughtless consuming the worlds natural resources. The cast ranges from 8-47 years old. The piece was premiered for an audience of all ages at the Higher Ground Festival’s summer season 2016, and was later performed at the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s auditorium and Brooklyn Bridge Dance Festival at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center.
Based on sea level rise data provided by climatecentral.org, this piece is two sets of variations. The first is based on a worst-case scenario of carbon emissions, and the second is based on a scenario of active curtailment of those emissions. In each movement, the number of notes used from the initial theme is reduced by the percentage of population impacted by the locked-in sea level rise for the cities and dates seen in the video.
Performed by Quartet This Side Up, at La Maison des Océans, Paris, France 4 December 2015
Start and End Dates
06/08/2020 — 06/30/2021
New York, New York