When the Russian impressario Sergei Diaghilev (1872 – 1929) staged a performance with his Ballet Russes, he sometimes asked Coco Chanel for the costumes. Jean Cocteau wrote the scenario. Pablo Picasso painted the decor. Igor Stravinksy composed the music. Vaslav Nijinsky danced and George Balanchine choreographed.
Just picture that for a moment. All these giants working for the same ballet company. I’d love to organize an evening about the Ballet Russes. Not just to celebrate how ballet can bring all these art forms together. But also to use the company’s big names to attract a new crowd: young people who may have never visited the ballet, but who’d give it a shot when they heard about these unique collaborations from the 1920’s.
That’s why I joined the Steering Committee of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet’s Young Patrons Circle. I know, it’s a mouthful, but our mission is simple: getting people between 21 and 40 interested in opera and ballet. We’ll do this by organizing events around the performances and trips to other companies all over the world.
I feel like this is a logical next step for me after organizing Literaturfest, a Dutch literary talk-show where three guests would talk about their favorite book. During our live shows in Amsterdam, we interviewed Donna Tartt about Charles Dickens, Gary Shteyngart about Vladimir Nabokov, Chad Harbach about David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris about George Saunders and Edgar Keret about Kurt Vonnegut. Guest couldn’t just freely use references that half the audience would miss, they really had to talk about what they liked about the book itself. This made it an accessible yet intelligent talk show about literature. Here’s an example:
Ever since then, I enjoy interviewing connoisseurs about their art forms in such a way that everyone can follow what they’re saying. I hope to offer the audience and myself a set of references that helps us in learning to appreciate fine arts.
So now I hope to do the same with the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. I’ll keep you posted on future events. Maybe that evening about the Ballet Russes will be in the cards.
I’ll leave you with a ballet video that went viral this week (how encouraging). Watch Sergei Polunin of the British Royal Ballet dance to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church”. David LaChapelle directed the video and Jade Hale-Christofi choreographed the dance.
P.S. If you’re interested in the Ballet Russes and you haven’t this biography of Diaghilev yet, please do so. It’s an incredible account of how Diaghilev literally used everything he got to organize performances. One of the most inspiring books I’ve read in my life.
Last weekend, I wandered around in the woods of a small Dutch island. At the intimate festival called Into the Great Wide Open (only 6,000 attendees), concerts take place in the forests and at the beach. On Sunday, I stumbled upon a concert by Ezra Furman and The Boy-Friends and was captured by the incredible charismatic stage presence of Furman and the energy in his music. He combines garage rock with a hillbilly sound and a saxophone. When Furman started playing the field was mainly empty, apart from some scattered groups of people having a picnics. At the end of his gig, hundreds of people were dancing. During songs, Furman preached:
‘What’s great about a festival is that the only thing that matters now is the band your listening to. You have forgotten everything before this, and won’t think about the future. Until the gig is over. Then you should forget about us too. But for now, it’s all about us’.
Damn right, Ezra Furman, it’s just that I haven’t forgotten about you.
Couldn’t find a good live recording, so here’s one from the Dutch radio station he went after his festival show:
A friend alerted me to this interview with Patti Smith – the epitome of punk cool – from 2012. She encourages young people to ignore everybody (‘don’t expect to be embraced’), to build a good name (‘protect your work, don’t compromise’), don’t be afraid for big audiences (‘the more people you can touch, the more wonderful it is’) and enjoy the great moments, since you’ll be ‘really fucked’ at some point in your life anyway.
PS. If you haven’t read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids yet, please do as soon as possible. It’s filled with anecdotes about New York in the seventies and tells the struggle of an artist in a touching and raw way.
During my studies, one professor always expressed his admiration for the opera. When he did, I always pictured the cliché: a grand lady in a red dress, endlessly singing something in Italian.
I was wrong.
Thanks to the welcoming people at the Dutch National Opera I have now seen three operas in the last couple of years. They where all, well.., pretty psychedelic.
Yesterday, when I visited Gurre Lieder, I saw a giant fish floating over the stage, while a futuristic jester walked around with a giant white balloon, a tormented king lied for dead on the ground and hundreds of soldiers paraded with their dead horses. Meanwhile, this all took place in a decor which reminded me both of an apocalyptic wasteland and of a palace.
I could easily describe the other two operas I’ve seen in the same way (Einstein on the Beach and Faust), but at the same time I realize my focus on the psychedelic is also a beginner’s trait. I hope, after enough training, I will also come to appreciate the music and singing more.
“People in the record business had always made a lot of money. Not the artists, who kept dying broke, but the execs. Still, regular fans had no idea who they were. Russell changed that. His brand as an executive mattered not just within the industry, but among people in the street. And with Def Jam he created one of the most powerful brands in the history of American entertainment.
Russell also made being a CEO seem like a better deal than being an artist. He was living the life like crazy, fucking with models, riding in Bentleys with his sneakers sticking out the windows, and never once rapped a single bar. His gift was curating a whole lifestyle—music, fashion, comedy, film—and then selling it. He didn’t just create the hip-hop business model, he changed the business style of a whole generation of Americans.
The whole vibe of start-up companies in Silicon Valley with twenty-five-year-old CEOs wearing shelltoes is Russell’s Def Jam style filtered through different industries. The business ideal for a whole generation went from growing up and wearing a suit every day to never growing up and wearing sneakers to the boardroom.
Even as a teenager, I understood what Russell was on to. He’d discovered a way to work in the legit world but to live the dream of the hustler: independence, wealth, and success outside of the mainstream’s rules. Coming from the life I was coming from, this was a better story than just being a rapper, especially based on what I now knew about how rappers got jerked.
I first met Russell when Dame, Biggs, and I were negotiating for a label deal for Roc-A-Fella after Reasonable Doubt dropped. I remember sitting across the table from him and Lyor Cohen in disbelief that we were negotiating a seven-figure deal with the greatest label in rap history. But I was also feeling a dilemma: I was looking at Russell and thinking, I want to be this nigga, not his artist.” – Jay-Z, Decoded
Jack White when asked if he heard the crowd chanting “Seven Nation Army” at the European Championship of Football
Last Monday I heard Jack White playing his most famous song at the stage of the Heineken Music Hall. It felt kinda good, to experience the freakin’ anthem of my teenage years LIVE. Deep inside though, something gnawed. For years, I’ve been associating the monster hit with football songs containing references to the alleged homosexuality of the opponent. When I saw White rocking the stage with the most popular tune he’d ever written, I felt like watching a robbed man. He has created a monster, it has grown bigger than him. Seven Nation Army equals screaming drunk football fans.