NYC-ARTS

S2020 E491 | FULL EPISODE

NYC-ARTS Full Episode: May 7, 2020

A profile of James Whiteside, one of American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancers, who is also notable for his activities as a DJ, video producer, drag queen, model, and Instagram star. A profile of Iain Forrest, an electric cellist known as Eyeglasses, who is participating in MTA’s Music Under New York program. And a look at one of the works in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum.

AIRED: May 07, 2020 | 0:27:45
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

>> Coming up on "NYC-Arts,"

we follow American Ballet

Theatre's James Whiteside.

>> So, I was 9 years old

when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap,

acrobatics at a local school

in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And I got into dancing because

I had tried everything else --

you know, football, baseball,

soccer.

And my mom one day threw me a

phone book and said, "You know,

you have to pick something.

You're driving me crazy, you

hyperactive monster.

And so I found an ad for a dance

studio in in the phone book,

and it was of a man holding a

woman over his head with one

hand, and it just looked

awesome, and I said, "I want to

try that."

>> And a look at the underground

career of electric cellist

Iain Forrest.

>> I'll play a bass part,

percussion part, a harmony part

on the cello, and then I can

loop that segment over and over

again.

I'm playing 9 or 10 different

cello parts at the same time.

♪♪

>> And a visit to the

American Folk Art Museum.

>> The center of the quilt is

emblazoned with a large letter

"L."

Also included is a musical

staff and notes.

When Clara and her family

made the journey by covered

wagon, included with her piano.

>> Funding for "NYC-Arts"

is made possible by...

This program is supported in

part by public funds from the

New York City Department of

Cultural Affairs, in partnership

with the city council.

Additional funding provided by

members of Thirteen.

"NYC-Arts" is made possible in

part by First Republic Bank.

>> First Republic Bank presents

"First Things First."

At First Republic Bank,

"first" refers to our

first priority, the clients

who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is

an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency

is service in the form

of personal banking.

This was First Republic's

mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing

on our minds.

>> And by Swann Auction

Galleries.

>> Swann Auction Galleries.

We have a different way

of looking at auctions,

offering vintage books

and fine art since 1941,

working to combine knowledge

with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong

collector, a first-time buyer,

or looking to sell, information

at swanngalleries.com.

♪♪

>> Good evening, and welcome

to "NYC-Arts."

I'm Paula Zahn at the

Tisch WNET Studios at

Lincoln Center.

Tonight, we'll meet one of

American Ballet Theatre's

principal dancers,

James Whiteside.

Originally from Fairfield,

Connecticut, Whiteside

began studying ballet

at the age of 9.

He started his professional

career at Boston Ballet in 2003

before eventually moving

to New York in 2012

to dance for ABT.

He was promoted to principal

dancer in October of 2013

and has been widely praised

for his powerful,

energetic dancing.

But Whiteside is also notable

for his activities

outside of the ballet world

as a deejay, video producer,

drag queen, model,

and Instagram star.

♪♪

>> So, I was 9 years old

when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap,

acrobatics at a local school

in Fairfield, Connecticut,

and I got into dancing because

I had tried everything else --

you know, football, baseball,

soccer.

And my mom one day threw me a

phone book and said, you know,

"You have to pick something,

you're driving me crazy, you

hyperactive monster.

And so I found an ad for a dance

studio in the phone book,

and it was of a man holding

a woman over his head

with one hand, and it just

looked awesome, and I said, "I

want to try that."

When I look back at the videos

of when I was a kid, you can see

pure joy in the videos, and I

wouldn't replace that with

anything.

My technique has evolved

so much, but the energy

is the exact same energy.

It's like the sort of,

I don't know, just like

spastic wildness,

which sounds like a bad thing,

but I think it's a good thing.

My first dance teachers brought

me to see ABT,

American Ballet Theatre,

at the Met Opera

when I was 12 years old.

I didn't even know what ballet

could be at that point,

but I really saw it that night,

when I decided that's really

what I wanted to do.

ABT was my first dream,

and so I haven't stopped

until I got here,

and I now that I'm here,

I'm still not stopping.

As a principal dancer,

I dance a lot of princely roles,

so Prince Sigfried from

"Swan Lake," Prince Albrecht

from "Giselle."

I actually had never done

the prince in "Swan Lake"

until I joined American Ballet

Theatre.

So I worked really hard,

and my first show here

with ABT of "Swan Lake" was

with with principal ballerina

Gillian Murphy, and she really

showed me the ropes and made me

comfortable with the ballet.

>> I've known about Gillian's

prowess for 1 million years.

She's the resident prima

of American Ballet Theatre,

and I'm so happy

to be dancing with her.

I just adore her.

She's hilarious, also.

I feel like, in a story ballet,

it's a lot about dialog, about

listening to what the other

person is saying through their

movement and through their, you

know, physical storytelling.

And I feel like the older I get

and the more I dance

with these ballerinas,

the more solid and readable

our dialog is.

I have a sort of little

backstory that I tell myself.

I feel like the the prince in

"Swan Lake" has a little secret.

He's lonely, and in my mind,

it reminds me of how I felt

as a teenager being afraid

to come out of the closet

as a gay man.

When I am doing the first act

and everyone's celebrating me

and it's my birthday and I'm the

prince, and how could I not be

just overjoyed?

I think back to that feeling

I had of isolation, even though

I had absolutely no reason

to put myself through that other

than fear of perception.

I try to give that feeling

through body language.

Instead of always being

the proud prince, to show

vulnerability and insecurity.

♪♪

♪♪

>> I think "Fancy Free"

is a storytelling

work of genius.

You've got such a sense

of atmosphere from this ballet,

which is really hard to do.

So I've been doing "Fancy Free"

for a really long time, I think

since I was maybe 21.

I've been the same part --

third sailor.

My character specifically

has this haughty sass,

which I really love.

I sort of treat it like

The Fonz.

I'm curious to see how it holds

up in, like, in societal change.

Right now, I feel like we're

right on the brink of it being

almost inappropriate.

However, that being said,

I love dancing this ballet.

It is so much fun.

The music is unbelievable.

Choreography is so charming and

strange and wonderful and jazzy.

♪♪

Choreography, for me,

has always been

something that I've enjoyed

just from a very natural place.

Like, I would take my dad's

records and put them

on my Fisher-Price turntable

and make up dances

in my bedroom.

At my jazz studio in

Connecticut, they saw

that I like to make things

and they would let me make up

dances for competitions.

They really nourished my

creative needs.

When I joined Boston Ballet,

I kept making things.

I kept creating.

And now here I am at ABT,

and I'm still showing interest

and being given opportunities

that I am so grateful for.

I made a piece last fall.

It was my first commission

with American Ballet Theatre

which premiered in Vail.

I made "New American Romance"

as a nod to the classicism

of romantic ballets.

But I also wanted to inject

a little bit of my personality

and my perception on romance

into it, which is limitless,

really.

It was sort of my appreciation

for what romance could be,

for all the possibilities.

♪♪

So, my new ballet,

called "City of Women,"

is about the generational

sharing of knowledge

from ballerina to ballerina.

♪♪

I know them all so well.

I wanted to make a dance for the

ballerinas that would

showcase their individual gifts

and also represent,

you know, the wisdom of Gillian,

the sort of brazenness

of Katherine, and the courageous

dancing of Isabella.

I know their strengths

and I know their personalities,

not just their strengths.

So I wanted to showcase that

♪♪

♪♪

[ Applause ]

I created JbDubs in 2005.

He is a pop musician

sort of rapper thing.

I produce, perform, write

all the music, as well

as choreograph the music videos.

♪ I'm Mr. "Who is this Queen"

since I was 17 ♪

♪ Don't matter if I'm

Prince Sigfried ♪

♪ Or JB in them red high heels

I have been witness

to a lot of discrimination

and homophobia in ballet,

and also, I have seen

a lot of sexual misconduct

allegations sort of shake

up the ballet world.

So all of these things

happened at once,

and my brain exploded.

And my instinct was to write.

So I wrote a song called "WTF,"

and it's exactly like it sounds.

And it wasn't so much

pointing fingers at people

as sort of just expressing

my exasperation

and the incredulity

of the situation.

♪ What the what happened to the

city ♪

♪ What the what happened to the

states ♪

♪ What the what happened to

creativity ♪

♪ Whoo, what a, what a, what a

waste ♪

The reason I wanted to dance

en pointe in the music video

is to further hammer home

the point that we

as dancers should not be forced

to be gendered or put in a box.

I want to encourage as many

people to dance en pointe

as they want to.

♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy

♪ Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky

♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy

♪ Martha and Tallchief

And while I am a cisgendered

male, I want to be free to dance

in whatever I want.

I am really hoping the future of

ballet remains very classical.

I want the definition

of classical to evolve.

I think, socially, ballet

has to adapt,

and I absolutely want

to be one of the people leading

the charge on the creation

of more representation

in classical ballet.

I have huge respect for the

classics, but that doesn't mean

new stories can't be told.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

>> Every year, the MTA's

Music Under New York program

holds auditions

to select the next group

of diverse musicians

who are then given access to the

best performance locations

throughout the subway system.

>> ♪ Get pumped

>> The program currently

has more than 350

registered musicians and groups.

As a result, you'll never know

what music might greet you

on your commute.

Iain Forrest, known as

Eyeglasses, is a student at the

Icahn School of Medicine at

Mount Sinai.

A classically trained cellist,

he performs both for patients

at the hospital

and commuters in the subway.

His sound is instantly

recognizable thanks to his use

of an electric cello and his own

unique remixes of contemporary

pop music.

We met up with Iain

at one of his performances

at Herald Square.

♪♪

♪♪

>> I started cello in fourth

grade when our music teacher

came around with a cart of

instruments.

So I picked up the cello.

I played the first note,

which was a really low,

resonant note.

I just love the sound of it,

that bass note.

But after high school, me and a

friend, we actually went out to

the streets in Washington, D.C.,

and we started playing

contemporary songs.

And I remember the reaction of

people walking past on the

streets.

It struck me like, "Hey, this

could be really something

special here."

After college, I moved up here

to New York City area for

medical school at Mount Sinai,

and one of the things that drew

me to New York City

was obviously the culture

that we have with the arts.

And as soon as I came here,

I saw street musician

after street musician,

and I immediately thought,

"This could be my next home."

That's when I looked up

MUNY -- Music Under New York --

and I found out they had a whole

audition process.

Sent them an application,

did the audition.

And thankfully, everything

worked out, and now I can call

myself a street musician

in New York City.

And the reason why I chose

Eyeglasses is because of two

reasons.

I want to be an ophthalmologist.

I want to help people see

better, specifically kids who

have lost their vision at a

young age.

The second reason, which is

a bit more lighthearted, is that

Beethoven, he wrote a piece

called "Eyeglasses Duet."

When musicians sat down and read

the sheet music in front of

them, there were so many notes

on it, it was such a tricky,

difficult piece to play

that the only way musicians

could read the music

is if they wore really,

really strong glasses.

I absolutely loved the story

behind that.

I took inspiration from that.

So, I play the electric cello,

and it's made by Yamaha,

and it's the exact same four

strings as an acoustic cello.

The only difference is

they stuck a little pickup

inside the electric cello

so it can be amplified

so it's louder.

What I love to do

is also use a looper.

So essentially what I do is

I'll play a bass part,

percussion part, a

harmony part on the cello,

and then I can loop that segment

over and over again.

So it essentially comes down to

I'm playing 9 or 10 different

cello parts at the same time.

So it just opens up

a lot of doors

as to what I can do musically.

♪♪

I've had people come down.

They come off their subway, they

come up to me like, "Where's the

orchestra," and I'm like, "No,

it's just me, one electric

cellist."

[ Playing Coldplay's

"Viva La Vida"

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

So, unfortunately, there's not

much sheet music out there

for, like, nine cellos to play,

like, pop songs or rock songs.

So, yeah, oftentimes

I'll just hear a song

on the radio or on Spotify, and

then once I listen to it a

couple of times, I kind of

extrapolate it out and try to

create, you know, a cello

rendition of it.

♪♪

♪♪

Amongst all that kind of, like,

chaotic energy, with

people, you know, bustling

and crowds moving, I think the

best part of that is just seeing

how the music impacts

these people who, you know,

either have their headphones on

or just watching their phone,

trying to get from point "A" to

point "B" as quickly as

possible, and then just seeing

them being able to stop, just

enjoy the moment for what it is.

♪♪

In medicine and music, you

really have to connect with the

human being sitting in front of

you.

Helping uplift them with music,

I find it actually makes me

a better medical student

and hopefully a better doctor

down the road, too.

♪♪

♪♪

[ Applause ]

Thank you, guys.

Thank you so much.

♪♪

>> Next, we'll visit

the American Folk Art Museum

located right across the street

from our Lincoln Center Studios.

Since 1961,

this museum has been showcasing

the creativity of artists

whose talents have been refined

through personal experience

rather than formal

artistic training.

Its collection includes

more than 8,000 works of art

from four centuries

and nearly every continent.

Curator Stacy Hollander

recently talked with "NYC-Arts"

about one of the artworks

from the museum's collection.

>> The American Folk Art Museum

has one of the most important

collections of quilts in the

country, and one of our most

significant recent acquisitions

is a Crazy Quilt that was made

by a woman named Clara Leon.

Clara Leon was

an immigrant from Germany,

one of the thousands

of Jewish immigrants who came

to the United States in the

second half of the 19th century.

She landed in New York City,

met her husband, Pincus Leon,

and the two of them moved

to the New Mexican territories,

to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The quilt that Clara Leon made,

probably in the 1880s, reflects

the idiom of the Crazy Quilt.

This was a kind of construction

that was introduced after the

American Centennial Exposition

that introduced Japanese

decorative arts to American

audiences for the first time.

So, women saw porcelains with

crazed and crackled surfaces

and glazes and exotic motifs

like spiderwebs and quarter

fans, and they very quickly

introduced this new aesthetic

into their quilt making.

So Clara Leon, one of 36 Jewish

families in the pioneer

frontier community

of Las Vegas, New Mexico,

coming to America

without a tradition of quilt

making at all,

and interpreted and adapted the

Crazy Quilt to reflect this new

aesthetic that was introduced

at the Japanese pavilion

of the Philadelphia Centennial.

The center of the quilt is

emblazoned with a large letter

"L" for her family name, Leon.

Also included is a musical

staff and notes,

and this reflects the musical

background of her family.

In fact, one of the family's

stories is that when Clara

and her family made the journey

by covered wagon, included

onboard the covered wagon

was her piano.

Aesthetically, she did something

with the borders that's unusual.

There is a floral band

on each side of the quilt,

and typically

this would be identical

top, bottom, left, right.

But in fact,

she's reflecting the seasons.

So there are autumn leaves,

spring flowers, summer daisies,

and winter sprays.

Quilts have always been

a medium for women

to express their own thoughts

and their own participation

in American life.

And Clara Leon clearly took that

to heart when she decided

what motifs and what techniques

were going to be used

in her beautiful quilt.

♪♪

♪♪

>> Thanks for joining us

this evening.

I'm Paula Zahn at the

Tisch WNET Studios at

Lincoln Center.

Goodnight.

>> Next week on "NYC-Arts,"

we look at the exhibition

stretching the canvas now in

view at the National Museum

of the American Indian.

>> I think it was the first

tempera paint on newsprint

that said to me, "This is what

I'm gonna be doing the rest of

my life."

It was that action of the fans.

And I remember being 6 years old

or something like 6 1/2 and

thinking, "I don't know, this

feels -- I'm in my zone now."

This hit me.

This is what I'm gonna be doing

the rest of my life, and I'm

still doing this.

And so I think you can be

born a painter sometimes.

>> And a visit to the

Neue Galerie for a look

at the career of Madam d'Ora,

the Austrian photographer whose

work captured both the glamour

and the darkness

of her lifetime.

>> Hats were the most important

thing for a woman.

So you would buy the hat

before you buy the dress.

There are hundreds of hat

photographs by d'Ora, but of

course, they were fashion

photographs and used in the

magazines, and to stress the

fact of the importance of the

hat photographs, they had

contemporary artists come in and

make new hats inspired by the

creations that d'Ora

photographed.

>> To enjoy more of your

favorite segments on "NYC-Arts,"

visit our website at

NYC-Arts.org.

>> Leonard, what a privilege

to be able to sit down

and talk with you.

>> I love being here

with you too, Paula.

>> Where are we?

>> We're at a moment

to take nothing for granted.

>> Well, it's a pleasure to be

with Marci Reaven, the curator

of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some

of the greatest sculptures

by the iconic names.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

>> Funding for "NYC-Arts"

is made possible by...

This program is supported in

part by public funds from the

New York City Department of

Cultural Affairs, in partnership

with the city council.

Additional funding provided by

members of Thirteen.

"NYC-Arts" is made possible in

part by First Republic Bank.

>> First Republic Bank presents

"First Things First."

At First Republic Bank,

"first" refers to our

first priority, the clients

who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is

an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency

is service in the form

of personal banking.

This was First Republic's

mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing

on our minds.

>> And by Swann Auction

Galleries.

>> Swann Auction Galleries.

We have a different way

of looking at auctions,

offering vintage books

and fine art since 1941,

working to combine knowledge

with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong

collector, a first-time buyer,

or looking to sell, information

at swanngalleries.com.

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