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World Premiere, Holding It Down: the Veterans' Dreams Project
September 19-22, 2012
at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse
WATCH the trailer
HEAR two tracks from Holding It Down
SEE The New York Times segment, One
in 8 Million about poet and veteran Maurice Decaul
Discussion and Q&A with the performers following this performance.
Acclaimed pianist/composer Vijay Iyer and celebrated poet/performer Mike Ladd premiere a new work that follows their groundbreaking collaborations In What Language? (2003) and Still Life with Commentator (2006). Working with Iraq veteran and poet Maurice Decaul, director Patricia McGregor (Hurt Village at Signature Theater Company, Blood Dazzler at Harlem Stage), and featuring a stellar team of collaborators, Holding It Down is a thought-provoking, sometimes harrowing, and ultimately exhilarating combination of music, poetry and song, woven from the actual dreams of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The work explores soldiers’ internal battle with the psychological remnants of war, and their struggles to achieve dignity in an atmosphere of public indifference and widespread disillusionment.
The premiere of Holding It Down culminates three years of development in WaterWorks, the umbrella for all Harlem Stage-commissioned, -produced and -presented works. For Holding It Down, Ladd and McGregor interviewed American veterans of color about their dreams—both their aspirations and the visions they experience while sleeping, which are by turns disturbing, surreal and mundane. Ladd’s lyric adaptations of these accounts are juxtaposed with first-person poetic contributions by veterans Maurice Decaul, who served in Iraq in 2003-04, and Lynn Hill, who was tasked with remotely piloting drones over Afghanistan from a base in Las Vegas.
Both Decaul and Hill have become crucial members of the creative team. As Iyer said in a recent interview for the National Endowment for the Arts blog ArtWorks, "When you’re dealing with veterans in a performing arts environment, it’s not just a project that’s about them, or that’s depicting them; it is them. So you have the reality of their presence erupting into the work -- intervening in this artistic experience. So it’s a different kind of feeling, which, for me, was always an important component of this project.”
This collection of veterans’ dream poems, alternately brutal, elegiac and joyous, are set to wide-ranging original music created and performed by Iyer and his electroacoustic ensemble, with video designed and edited by McGregor, forming an original, multidimensional evening-length work.
In keeping with Harlem Stage’s commitment to work that addresses the issues of the world and brings them into perspective in ways that only art can, Holding It Down explores important questions: How is this new generation of veterans suffering and surviving, and what are they able to dream about? How do they go about their irreversibly transformed lives, moving from the unspeakable back to the quotidian? Using the condensed, universal logic of dreams to express and affirm their essential humanity, Holding it Down pays tribute to young men and women returning home and questions the impact of violence on them as well as indirectly on the victims of the war.
The diverse cast of artists performing the world premiere are:
Vijay Iyer (piano, laptop, compositions)
Mike Ladd (poetry, vocals, sampler, analog synthesizer)
Maurice Decaul (poetry)
Lynn Hill (poetry)
Guillermo Brown (vocals, auxiliary electronics)
Liberty Ellman (guitar)
Okkyung Lee (cello)
Kassa Overall (percussion)
Latasha N. Nevada Diggs (vocals, live electronic processing)
Production Design Team:
Video design by Tim Brown
Lighting by Alan Edwards
Costumes and Set by Dede Ayite
Commissioned and produced by Harlem Stage, in association with Multiplicity Musics, LLC.
WaterWorks Lead Sponsor is Time Warner.
Additional support is provided by the Harlem Stage Commissioning Circle
Grateful acknowledgment to the Teatro Manzoni, Milan
Photography by Vaughn Brown