Speak Boldly: The Julius Eastman Dance Project

Speak Boldly: The Julius Eastman Dance Project

in collaboration with the Zafraan Ensemble

2018, 7 Dancers

about the piece

The project is a musical-choreographic exploration of the works of Afro-American composer Julius Eastman, who passed away in 1990. The project takes into special account the broader history of minimal music and contemporary dance. It expands the spectrum of the established canon of minimal art dance pieces inspired by music and adds to it a new, previously little-heard voice.

In the process, it brings together more than 20 artists from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

J. Eastman, born 1940 in Ithaca, New York, was one of those multi-talents rarely found in music history. He was a musician, composer, singer and dancer. He began piano lessons as a young child and soon later also started dance training. He had a remarkably deep singing voice. Very soon, his talents began to cause a stir and consequently he worked with acclaimed artists such as Morton Feldman, Pierre Boulez, Meredith Monk and Arthur Russel. His compositions were enthusiastically performed and received in the USA and Europe. However, as an openly gay Afro-American in an art form dominated by whites, he never quite managed to really become part of the minimal music community. In the end, he died lonely and homeless, after a long bout of substance abuse. Most of his compositions were also lost in the process. Thanks to various reconstructions in recent years, his work has been rediscovered and is finally receiving due international recognition.

This project attempts to render three of Eastman’s pieces – Gay Guerilla, The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc and Femenine – with international guests into choreography that concentrates on the rhythmic qualities and political objectives of Eastman’s music. The starting point is the hypothetical question: What if Eastman’s music had become part of the musical canon? What inspirations could dance have drawn from his work?

All pieces are performed live by the renowned Zafraan Ensemble.



Idea and Concept: Christoph Winkler | By and with: Aloaii Tapu, Jahra 'Rager' Wasasala, Karima Amrani, Lois Alexander, Lisa Rykena, Zen Jefferson, Christofer Medina | Co-Choreography for Feminine: Zen Jefferson | Words: Claudia Rankine | Music: Zafraan Ensemble, Guests | Arrangement: Clemens Hund-Göschel | Production Management: Laura Biagioni | Light Design, Technical Direction: Claes Schwennen | Stage Design: Valentina Primavera | Costume Design: Raki Fernandez | Camera: Walter Bickmann, Doris Kolde, Dominik Schötschel Tanzforum Berlin

A production by Company Christoph Winkler. Funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, the Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa und the Augstein-Stiftung. Media partner: taz. die tageszeit



“Julius Eastman’s Minimal Music, played live by the Zafraan Ensemble, barely touched the often simplistic predictability of Philip Glass or Steve Reich, it’s more surprising, more diverse, but also more fragmented and full of emotional tension. In one of the pieces, “Gay Guerilla”, the same pulsating sounds are played in overlapping chains on four concert pianos, and these tonal sequences keep stumbling, as if in a cardiac arrhythmia or fibrillation. “The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc”, played here by seven cellos, is a feverish, overly nervous, constantly aroused music, without calm and relaxation, of almost angry stubbornness. The musicians of the Zafraan Ensemble play the piece magnificently, as they do the last piece of the evening, the 70 minute “Feminine”, a trance like journey, in which barely varied chimes sound continuously, playing the same 15-20 sounds on the vibraphone and engulfed by two pianos, cellos, saxophone, and flutes. It’s like a firing jet engine, like sinking into quicksand, and it faces higher spheres - Eastman has called this music the moment “when angels open the heavens” and that is a perfect fit.” (…) Christoph Winkler (…) offers free space, leaves his seven dancers their individuality, their freedom to improvise, and especially their emotionality - they react by shaking and pulsating, floating through the room unbound, like pulsars or unpredictable comets on their journey.” RBB KULTURRADIO, Frank Schmidt

“What makes him such a great choreographer is his great curiosity for styles of movement as well as his ability to provide a platform to young talent who move beyond subsidised stages, establishing them for the market. If he’s allowed to or not: He does it. Successfully. So Eastman.” TAGESZEITUNG, Astrid Kaminsky

“A week later and the sounds are still vibrating nervously and persistently in my head, they have sawed themselves into my central nervous system and my memories with all the virtuosity of their rendition (Zafraan Ensemble & Guests). Four concert pianos and five dancers, six cellos and two dancers, two pianos, two keyboards, two cellos, a vibraphone, two saxophones, a flute and seven dancers. Languages of movement that almost casually tear down dividing lines between art and magic and remind us that music sends invisible waves through space. Underneath all of this, there is much that lies beyond my knowledge, when dancers cooly bounce and twerk between ritual and form, between classic and pop, then solemnly power though this concert with arms held up high, and just when I think I would like to see more of this in (white, eurocentric) contemporary dance - more magic - I get caught on the non-dancers’ bodies of the musicians, whose shoulders are bobbing up and down in synchrony. You say Philip Glass, from now on I just say Julius Eastmann. “ VIEREINHALB SÄTZE, Alexandra Henn