State of the Arts

S38 E5 | FULL EPISODE

State of the Arts: March 2020

Nimbus Dance performs to music by Qasim Naqvi, played by the NJ Symphony Orchestra. Former TV anchor Francesca Maximé wins the Allen Ginsberg Award from the Poetry Center at PCCC. New Jersey’s Folk Life Centers send artists to the homebound. Witness firsthand the program's profound impact. And photographer Elisabeth Smolarz’s The Encyclopedia of Things at Guttenberg Arts.

AIRED: March 14, 2020 | 0:26:47
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪

Announcer: A photographer captures the people

of Guttenberg, New Jersey, through the cherished objects

in their lives.

In Camden County, a storyteller,

A Turkish lace maker, and Romanian musicians

bring their art to the homebound.

The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College

awards the Allen Ginsberg Prize for Poetry

to Francesca Maximé.

Maximé: This is called "Pleather."

Announcer: And in Jersey City, Nimbus Dance Works commissions

original music for a new dance

and prepares to move to a new space.

"State of the Arts," on location

with the most creative people in New Jersey.

♪♪

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and public engagement in the arts

since 1966,

is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"

with Stockton University.

New Jersey's distinctive university.

Additional support is provided by

the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

and these friends of "State of the Arts."

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: Nimbus Dance Works premiered a new piece at the New Jersey

Performing Arts Center called "Falling Sky."

♪♪

It was partnered with another dance called "Patch of Turf."

♪♪

Pott: And this is a quartet performed by four women.

It's extremely intense.

It lasts about 17 minutes, and it's just nonstop.

It all revolves around a rectangular piece

of artificial grass.

And the grass becomes a symbol

in many different ways of the Earth.

So these four women compete for dominance

over this patch of turf.

♪♪

The patch of turf becomes the soil

that creatures and insects emerge out of.

At one point, it becomes a giant dress

that one of the women wears.

The idea is that she somehow represents

a mythic kind of Mother Earth character.

♪♪

Where "Patch of Turf" was very grounded in intense, earthbound,

almost biological kind of evolutionary type

of subject matter, "Falling Sky" is ethereal and airy

and exploring the psychic implications

of a changing climate.

♪♪

Narrator: A special collaboration

with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

meant that this world premiere of "Falling Sky"

had live music performed by a piano quintet right onstage.

Pott: Dancers love it.

They feel much more connected with the choreography

and the music, but it also can alter the timing.

And it may sound different than the recording

that we've been working with in rehearsals,

meaning that the musicians and dancers

had to rehearse together.

They found a piano and enough space

in a church in Jersey City where Nimbus Dance Works is based.

Woman: So whenever you're ready.

Naqvi: Oftentimes, there is this weird

sort of cognitive dissonance between the synthetic version

that the dancers are working with,

which is very precise, because it's just a computer.

And then when you give that music to musician,

things become a lot more fluid.

And this this "Patch of Turf" in particular

is like a really crazy --

it's like a very difficult piece of music.

And I feel bad.

It's the kind of music that requires, like,

you know, I think hundreds of rehearsals.

♪♪

It's very strict.

There are all these interlocking kind of parts,

and everything has to fall right in place.

Otherwise, things will get out of phase.

So that's been an interesting challenge.

♪♪

Narrator: Composer Qasim Naqvi worked with choreographer Samuel Pott

on both "Patch of Turf" and "Falling Sky."

♪♪

Qasim is known for his collaborations

and his experimental approach.

Schaefer: We first got to know Qasim Naqvi as the drummer

in the band Dawn of Midi, a group that created

a kind of almost electronic dance or trance music

without using electronics at all --

just piano, bass, and drums.

But at the moment,

he's here with his modular analog synthesizer.

Here is the title track from his recent album,

called "Teenagers."

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: Qasim describes the music he composed for "Falling Sky"

as somber, with themes descending within themes.

Choreographer Samuel Pott brought in a team

of video artists, as well, adding even more layers.

Pott: We have two video artists,

Laia Cabrera and Isabelle Duverger,

who are both Jersey City artists

but do work all over the world.

And for us, they've created a scenic design

that is mapped onto the backdrop

as well as some scenic elements on stage.

♪♪

When the company performs on stage,

one of the central questions is, "Why is this important?"

Art for art's sake is wonderful and beautiful.

But there needs to be the follow-up question,

which is, "And why?"

What are we trying to move in the world?

What impact are we trying to have?

♪♪

Narrator: "Falling Sky" is a meditation on our rapidly changing climate

and how it's affecting our lives.

As the founding artistic director of Nimbus Dance Works,

Sam is focused on his immediate community

of Jersey City, as well,

although that's not what first brought him here

as a young dancer.

Pott: It was a cheap place to stay, and it was close to New York

and seemed like a good idea, 'cause at that time

it was seen as kind of the artist's haven.

During that span of time, I started the organization.

Since then, Jersey City has grown in many ways.

A lot of construction.

Narrator: Nimbus Dance Works has grown with Jersey City.

For one thing, their educational programs

now reach thousands of kids here.

And in 2020, they're reaching another milestone --

by moving to a permanent home

not far from the Grove Street Path station.

Pott: So, this is the entrance to the future Nimbus Arts Center

at The Lively, and through here, we have a grand lobby.

It's triple-height ceilings. It leads to a mezzanine floor

where there's a 150-seat theater and backstage space.

And I will also say, for all of the kids

who participate in our programs

to have such a beautiful arts center

to come and to call their own is really meaningful.

♪♪

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Announcer: Coming up later in the show,

photographs of the people of Guttenberg, New Jersey,

made by focusing on their most precious objects.

But first, folk artists are making life better

for the homebound.

♪♪

Buss: At Perkins, I think what we've found

with the Homebound program is that the impact is so great.

It's really the impact for people

disconnected from their communities.

Narrator: Folklife Centers throughout New Jersey

are sending artists into the homes of the homebound.

It's a first-of-its-kind program in the country,

created by the National Endowment for the Arts

and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Queen Nur runs the Homebound Folk Arts Program

at the Perkins Center for the Arts

in Morristown, New Jersey.

Nur: There are five Folklife Centers

in the state of New Jersey, and the Homebound program

is being conducted through each one of the centers.

So, it's in Middlesex County,

it's in Paterson, it's down South Jersey,

it's in Wheaton,

it's in Tuckerton.

Man: I am an apprentice blacksmith.

Nur: And we do it also from Perkins Center for the Arts.

It is a phenomenal program.

And then, at different Folklife Centers,

they offer different things. You have basket weaving,

decoy making, Jewish papermaking, folk art forms.

So, throughout the state, these art forms are being taken

into Homebound. What we're really hoping

is that we're a model for states across the country.

Ylvia Asal teaches Turkish lace making.

Asal: I was born in Turkey,

and I learned from my grandmother,

and my grandmother and also the community.

The woman does this art form.

Narrator: Kelly Davis has M.S. and increasingly

has difficulty leaving her home.

Davis: It's not good.

It's not good. You just have to find, you know,

things like this to do to keep me able to do things

and don't get depressed. And plus, it helps my hands.

♪♪

It makes me be proud of something that I did myself.

I accomplished something.

I was able to take this little lace

and able to make a necklace, make earrings.

Asal: Art is many things.

And going to their house and teaching, sharing,

it's so much meaning to me.

Narrator: In addition to running the Homebound arts program

at the Perkins Center, Queen Nur

is one of the Center's most in-demand folk artists.

She is an internationally recognized storyteller.

Nur: And the cat said, "Hey, we want to get in the game, too!

We want to run around, too!" And Miss Mary Lou,

she said she was gonna be a fortune teller that day.

And she had the cat right there with her.

When she was walking by,

she stopped me, and she put her hand here

and leaned her forehead against mine.

Then you know you make a difference.

♪♪

Miha and Mugu Radu,

who are husband and wife, play folk art music,

both from the country they come from, Romania,

as well as American.

They play a lot of American folk art music.

Miha: So we come in their houses

and we perform pretty much, like, traditional music.

So we play Italian traditional music,

Mexican, Scottish, Romanian.

Right? So we have a diverse program.

♪♪

We performed for Mr. Stewart today

and his friends and neighbors.

This is, you know...

It's the joy of life,

just sharing music and touching their heart.

Stalnecker: I have chosen to care for my husband in our home.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's seven years ago,

and his decline has been slow but consistent.

♪♪

Mugu: These people are homebound. They cannot get up.

They cannot move outside.

And when you bring these instruments

and bring these sounds that touch their soul,

it has an effect, it has a reaction.

So, we saw people crying.

We saw people...

Don't want to let us go -- "Do it one more time."

Miha: Oh, absolutely.

Mugu: This is a -- It's a beautiful thing.

♪♪

Stalnecker: What I know through my walk

through Alzheimer's with my husband

is that so many basic functions are lost.

Music is maintained.

[ Applause ]

Someone once said to me that he'll forget what I say,

he'll forget what I do,

but he'll never forget the way I make him feel.

And I think it's the same way with music.

♪♪

Nur: If you talk to any of the artists

that have been in this program, you'll hear them say

that this is some of the most rewarding work

they'd have ever done.

I've been storytelling for 26 years.

And I've storytold across the country, out of the country,

in Africa and in Canada.

This is some of the most heartwarming

and most rewarding work that we're doing.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: In our next story, a broadcast news reporter

makes a radical change in her life

and says poetry is the reason why.

♪♪

♪♪

Narrator: It's the 40th anniversary of the Poetry Center.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan founded it in 1980.

The celebration includes a poetry reading, of course,

by the winners of the annual Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards,

Woman: ...shaped like Model T Fords...

Narrator: Allen Ginsberg grew up in nearby Newark,

and one of his mentors was Paterson's most famous poet,

William Carlos Williams.

Gillan: I love poetry.

I've dedicated my life to poetry, basically,

and I love hearing the different voices

and just hearing the poems aloud that I've only read before.

But then hearing the people read the poems

is quite wonderful.

Man: An embarrassed one, and another smack.

Narrator: This year, there were two first-prize winners.

One was Francesca Marguerite Maximé...

Maximé: This is called "Pleather."

Narrator: ...a poet, who began her career

in broadcast news.

Maximé: ...new guidelines that ban federal law enforcement

from profiling on the basis of religion,

national origin, or other characteristics,

can be a model.

Narrator: Francesca has a new career now as a life coach

and a trauma healer.

But she sees it all as connected.

Maximé: There's definitely a thread.

The first question I had

when I wanted to be a reporter/anchorperson

was, "Why do people do what they do?

Why do --

Why does anyone do what they do?"

I was curious. I wanted to ask questions.

When I was a little kid,

I remember I was in church, and in front of my mom,

I asked the priest, Father Foley,

you know, "Why are there no altar girls?"

[ Laughs ] You know?

On Friday night at 8:45...

Narrator: But TV news was not making her happy.

Francesca had already started writing poetry

and had even published her first book.

But there was a lot she didn't like about her life.

Maximé: I made a pivot because I was desperately unhappy,

desperately unhappy because my ex dumped me

two days before the wedding,

a family member tried to sue me about my book

or threatened to do it.

Living in New York was difficult,

and it's just very difficult

to find any footing or community.

And I was so unhappy because I couldn't understand

why I was so unsuccessful at finding the relationship

or finding meaning, finding purpose.

Narrator: These days, Francesca's life

is all about finding purpose.

She still asks questions now as the host of her own podcast

on the Ram Dass Be Here Now Network.

Announcer: Welcome to the "Rerooted" podcast with Francesca Maximé,

trauma sensitive mindfulness meditation teacher and poet.

Maximé: Hi, everyone. I'm Francesca Maximé,

and thank you so much for joining us

for this edition of the "Rerooted" podcast

on they Be Here Now Network.

It is the 13th of June.

Narrator: The good place where Francesca finds herself now

is, in part, because of her practice of poetry.

Maximé: Poetry helped me pull in the threads of,

"Oh, well, maybe this is about my father,

or maybe this is about my mother,"

or, "There's something unresolved here about,

you know, my family

or there's something unresolved here about my ethnicity

or there's something unresolved here about my social class

or about my way of being in the world."

And the poetry gave me space to unpack some of that.

"Perhaps the one thing that I had in common

with my half sister was hair,

she sporting a short afro in her high school photo,

me with my curls locked down in ponytail braids

for many of my middle and high school years,

then later worn loose and unleashed

as I so became in college

and then straightened out and highlighted again

once I started my career on TV."

And so in writing a poem like "Tangled,"

what I think happens is -- and it just sort of happened.

I was literally on my couch at home.

I was literally just sitting there,

like, pulling my -- you know, sort of fiddling with my hair,

playing with my hair.

And then, like, "Oh, you know,

yeah, there's a little tangle here."

I mean, look at it. It's a Chia Pet, you know?

And then I was like, "Oh, the computer's here.

I'll write it."

"I'm reminded that the basic nature

of the hair on my head is curly,

that no matter how much conditioner I put on

and soaks in,

that at the end of the day it is still prone to knots."

♪♪

I'm making sense of my life, in a way,

pulling into what I see out there

and how things impact me and land on me,

but also, like, how does that inform

how I live and show up today?

"It is cool for August in Brooklyn,

and so I wear my new black pleather pants to meet this

bespectacled software attorney in a coffee shop with Blackbird

in its name to talk about our respective careers

and his desire to publish his poetry."

Gillan: I think all the judges felt that it was very risk-taking,

that there was a lack of fear and a kind of courage

in the poem that I think really

Allen Ginsberg would have admired.

Maximé: "I continue to circle the merry-go-round,

wasting time, hoping that maybe I might eventually want to see

a 'nice man' like that naked.

I continue showing up on coffee dates, sometimes in pleather,

hoping that maybe one day perhaps I'll encounter someone

who'll really appreciate them and give me that look

which I'll shoot back that says we know they're coming off."

[ Laughter and applause ]

♪♪

Announcer: Last up, a story that focuses on the powerful meaning

of the treasured objects in our lives.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Man: You see a glance into other people's lives.

If your imagination can move,

you know, these are the kind of pieces that move them.

Narrator: Elisabeth Smolarz is an artist in residence

at Guttenberg Arts in Guttenberg, New Jersey.

She's working on a town-wide portrait

called "The Encyclopedia of Things."

Residents of Guttenberg were invited to bring objects

that held personal significance for them.

Elisabeth used these to create a collection

of distinct portraits.

Together, they build a composite sketch of the town.

♪♪

Bareluce: Guttenberg -- it's one of the smallest towns in the country.

It's one of the most densely populated, too.

It's about two blocks wide by like 10 blocks long.

Narrator: Guttenberg is located atop the Hudson Palisades.

This tiny city is nestled between the towns

of North Bergen and West New York,

across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan.

Bareluce: So we met Elisabeth in, I believe,

it was the summer of 2015.

And, you know, we just hit it off immediately.

We get roughly anywhere from 200 to 300 applicants each year.

So when Elisabeth came in to interview,

we just fell in love with the project,

and we thought it was a perfect fit.

Smolarz: I realized that we all have these objects

and then, I looked at mine,

and as I was gathering them together

and started to arrange them,

I realized that they built this really very quiet

but very powerful still life.

Then I started asking people to gather the objects

and arranging them for me.

Narrator: Elisabeth provided a roadmap

for how participants arrange their objects,

reviewing their history and importance.

Smolarz: Which one is the most important one?

Let's start with that.

Sosnowski: Most important...

Smolarz: If there's a fire and you saved everybody

and you got your important documents, you go back,

which one would you grab?

Sosnowski: Probably my mom's picture.

Smolarz: Well, I'm not constructing them,

but it's usually the person who I'm working with

that has to do the installation and that construction

because it is a self-portrait.

I like to put the person behind the camera.

And then I go in front, and then I rotate the objects,

so maybe I move them just a little bit.

And then, once they are behind the camera, then they --

then they start directing me.

Perez: You want to hide the broken piece?

It needs to be moved, yeah, closer together,

'cause it doesn't capture everything.

Ah, much better now.

When I left Cuba, there were very few things

that you could take of value.

My grandmother, paternal grandmother

who got married in 1916,

she made it herself with her sister.

So this is all handmade.

It represents, to me, the past, my tradition that came with Cuba

and the social and emotional connection

because she was my beloved grandmother.

♪♪

Barteluce: When my wife and I got married 50 years ago in January,

we bought an old Jaguar that we had restored

and that became kind of a legacy of our lives, that that car,

no matter what happened, the car was always there.

So she mounted all my artifacts and that on the car

when she photographed.

♪ I love you, baby

♪ And if it's quite all right

♪ I need you, baby

Sosnowski: My portrait, basically, was my things

that belonged to my family.

The rolling pins -- I love to cook.

And every time I use them, that's my connection to my past.

♪♪

Smolarz: I think now I can say what is really important

is that the language of these objects is universal.

That's what I learned, that it doesn't matter

where you're from, how old you are,

what gender you are -- none of it matters.

We all have these objects that are very important to us

and we all treasure them.

♪♪

Narrator: That's all for "State of the Arts" this week.

To share a story that you've seen or to leave a comment,

visit us at StateoftheArtsNJ.com.

Thanks for watching.

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and public engagement in the arts

since 1966,

is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"

with Stockton University,

New Jersey's distinctive university.

Additional support is provided by

the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

and these friends of "State of the Arts."

♪♪

♪♪


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