State of the Arts


State of the Arts: November 2021

Angela Davis was an icon for Black Americans in the early 1970s. A new exhibit explores her legacy through rare archival material and contemporary art. A profile of American Repertory Ballet’s artistic director Ethan Stiefel, one of the most celebrated dancers in the world. And The Secret Trio, a band of Armenian, Macedonian and Turkish musicians with a mission of pursuing peace through music.

AIRED: November 20, 2021 | 0:26:46

Stiefel: You're just a little bit, like, toe-tapping, here.

Male Narrator: One of the world's greatest male dancers

is now the artistic director

of New Jersey's American Repertory Ballet.

Monteiro: When I heard that he was coming,

everybody was, like, gasp.

It's like, "It's Ethan Stiefel."

It's, like, "Center Stage" Ethan Stiefel

American Ballet Theatre.

Like, it's a huge deal.

Female Narrator: "Seize the Time," a groundbreaking new exhibition

at the Zimmerli Art Museum,

explores the visual and activist legacy of Angela Davis.

Davis: Artists often allow us to grasp

what we cannot yet understand.

[ Music plays ]

Male Narrator: And a world famous Armenian-American musician

crosses boundaries with his group, The Secret Trio.

Ara: Historically and political enemies

can enjoy the same melody,

and suddenly, realize, "Wow. You feel that, too?

Yeah, me too."

That's why I'm proud to be a musician.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music plays ]

Female Narrator: "State of the Arts" is going on location

with the most creative people in New Jersey.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and engagement in the arts

since 1966, is proud to co-produce "State of the Arts"

with Stockton University.

Additional support is provided by

the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

and these friends of "State of the Arts."

[ Music plays ]

Gustafson: The Angela Davis story starts in 1969.

She's a assistant professor at UCLA,

in the Philosophy department.

She has already joined the Black Panther Party

and then, she leaves the Black Panther Party.

She joins the Che Lumumba Club,

which was a Black Marxist organization

associated with the Communist Party.

So, she's a member of the Communist Party.

She was outed for that.

Beegan: She was a Black Communist.

That was why she originally came to prominence,

because Governor Ronald Reagan thought he'd score

some political points by kicking a Commie.

And so, that's when she first became prominent

in the public eye.

Female Narrator: Soon, she was making even bigger headlines.

In 1970, guns legally owned by Angela Davis

were used by a high school student

in a botched kidnapping attempt where four people died.

Angela was charged with three capital felonies,

including conspiracy to murder.

She went underground, but was caught,

and stood trial in Marin County, California.

In 1972, an all-White jury

found Angela Davis innocent on all charges.

For me, what's important about this

is this incredible campaign.

Really, the exhibition's, as much as it is about Davis,

it's about the campaign to free her.

And this was an incredible example of grassroots activism

on an international scale.

All of this work that's in the show,

much of it is produced by, now anonymous groups

and people who thought,

"Well, we can't let this young woman disappear

into the prison system."

Davis: The campaign around the demand for my freedom

was absolutely amazing.

At the time, I was charged with three capital crimes.

And even people who were who knew that I wasn't guilty...

...did not understand how it was ever going to be possible

for me to extricate myself from that situation.

And so, I see those images as symbolic of harnessing

the power of masses of people,

and achieving what was considered to be impossible.

Female Narrator: "Angela Davis: Seize the Time" puts iconic headline images

from 1969 to 1972 into historical context.

Gustafson: We have a whole series of photographs by Stephen Sheamus.

So, it starts with Angela Davis in 1969,

speaking at a Free Huey gathering in Oakland.

Then, the next image we have is after Angela has been arrested.

There's a boy wearing a Free Angela t-shirt.

Then, there's some images of demonstrations in Oakland.

And then, there's a photograph of a street in Oakland

with a sign that says "Angela is free on bail,"

which was a very dramatic moment.

That happened only five days before her trial started.

And then, the final photo by Steven Shames

says "Angela is now free."

Female Narrator: Photographs and artworks related to Angela Davis

are embedded with materials

from the collection of Lisbet Tellefsen,

an archivist who describes herself as one

in a long line of "community keepers of the papers."

Tellefsen: I don't know the stories that you can tell.

That's not my job.

My job, and my obsessive passion,

is to gather this trove of historic material...

...and try and make sure that it lives.

The curators used Lisbet's archive

to create a through-line.

They added works by contemporary artists

responding to Angela Davis and her activism

on issues like prison reform.

I love the material I hadn't seen before.

Like, we were just discussing these pieces of, you know...

prisons and jails just right in the middle

of how we live.

Gustafson: Right. Tellefsen: It's jarring.

Gustafson: Kind of hidden in plain sight, right?

Tellefsen: I am so impressed with what they were able to come together.

I mean, I still haven't absorbed it all.

Like, I've seen young people, students,

sitting at these binders.

Like, I was commissioned

to make 10 binders of random archival material

that would tell some sort of story.

And I'm like, "I know what it means.

Can I transmit that to somebody else?"

But I'm seeing these young people sitting there for,

you know, taking pictures.

And who knows what they're going to do with that?

And for me, that's part of the joy of being an archivist.

Beegan: I'm a design historian.

I'm a historian of print.

So, this particular face, Angela Davis' face,

was probably the first time a young Black woman,

certainly a young Black philosophy professor,

had been spread as widely as it was.

And I think its importance is,

here is a young Black woman with a natural or afro hairdo

looking sort of calm in some of them,

looking proud, in others,

looking -- in the most widely distributed one,

she's looking rather fierce.

And so, these were -- these were models

that people could look up to,

that young Black women, that Black people, could look up to.

Here's an intellectual Black woman

who's fighting for her freedom.

Gustafson: Black memory and Black history

is a very important subject for young Black artists.

Female Narrator: "Black Gold (#3)" is a sculpture by Stephanie Jemison

and Justin Hicks.

It's a sound work that uses the past

as a creative element.

[ Music plays ]

The libretto is based on journeys taken

by three Black women --

The singer Nina Simone,

the playwright Lorraine Hansberry,

and the political activist Angela Davis.

Jemison: Each one is actually sung in a different octave.

The Lorraine Hansberry is the highest,

and sometimes, she can't sing it,

and so sometimes it's spoken.

But technically, you can actually kind of, like,

separate, pull apart those three threads.

Justin and I deeply admire Angela Davis,

and are fascinated by her work, and her impact, and her legacy.

We're just as interested in the fact that

Angela Davis doesn't, and has never, worked alone,

but lives and works as part of a community,

and as part of a network.

And so, what we seek to do in our practice

is often thinking about,

"Well, what are the kind of vocabularies

that make it possible to think certain things,

to dream certain things, to imagine certain things?"

Gustafson: The past reverberates in the present.

The past lives in the present.

That's a theme that Angela Davis brings up in the interview

that we have with her.

It's also a theme that I hope the exhibition

kind of brings home.

By the time you finish the circle of the exhibition,

you're looking at Sadie Barnette's piece,

which is about her father, Rodney Barnette,

who himself was a Black Panther,

and a bodyguard for Angela Davis.

Through the Freedom of Information Act,

Sadie and her family were able to obtain Rodney Barnette,

Sadie's father's, FBI files.

So, they got all these files from the FBI.

And Sadie has been using them in her own art production.

Jemison: "About Angela Davis" is very open,

you know, is very complex.

Davis' legacy itself is rich, and complex, and many-layered.

Female Narrator: In the 1970s, artist Faith Ringgold

created prints about Angela Davis

and about the prison-industrial complex.

"Angela Davis Seize the Time" features these

and many works made since then.

Gustafson: Thinking through archives, thinking about communication,

thinking about reinventions, and reimagining of futures.

And that's really what

Angela Davis has been doing all her life.

Davis: Someone said "The past is never past."

Artists often allow us to grasp what we cannot yet understand.

[ Music plays ]

Male Narrator: Later in the show, musicians from Armenia,

Turkey, and Macedonia play together.

But first, a ballet star from stage and screen

takes the helm at American Repertory Ballet.

[ Music plays ]

[ Classical music plays ]

Monteiro: When I heard that he was coming,

everybody was, like, gasp.

It's like, "It's Ethan Stiefel."

It's, like, "Center Stage" Ethan Stiefel,

American Ballet Theatre.

Like, it's a huge deal.

Reenstierna-Cates: In a word, I would describe him as "Quixotic."

He's very unique and relatable.

Monteiro: Super nice, super cool guy.

Male Narrator: And he rides motorcycles.

Stiefel: This is a BMW 1200 GS.

Johnson: Everyone knows him.

Everyone that dances knows who he is.

And a lot of people know him from the movie "Center Stage."

He was the lead star in that one.

And so, that's how a lot of non-dancers

actually know him, too.

Man: I won't forget.

[ Music plays ]

Hench: He's opening up so many doors in so many ways,

and it's incredibly exciting

to see where we're going to be able to go.

Stiefel: You're just a little bit, like, toe-tapping, here.

You may have to put weight on it, correct?

Make Narrator: Ethan Stiefel, often described as

"the greatest male dancer of his time,"

has just become the new artistic director

of New Jersey's American Repertory Ballet, ARB,

based in Princeton and New Brunswick.

His wife, Gillian Murphy, also a superstar in the ballet world,

is a ARB's new associate artistic director.

Stiefel: I think there's any number of reasons that we decided

to move to this area.

I mean, I'm completely grateful, and have the honor

of becoming an artistic director again, which is immense.

I think, also, that, uh, Gillian and I were just thinking

about a place for our our son to grow up, as well,

and a little bit about quality of life.

And the fact that people seem to want us here

was also greatly attractive.

But we also took into account Gillian's performing career,

and the possibility to commute,

and to keep -- to keep that going.

And I have to say that one of the main,

if not main reasons, are the dancers.

I mean, those are the people I'm going to be working with

day in and day out.


But if we can get a little bit more tucking that back leg.

I worked with the company about two years ago,

and they performed a piece of mine called "Overture,"

which is a short piece,

but I got to know the company then.

[ Classical music plays ]

[ Classical music continues ]

[ Classical music continues ]

Murphy: We met dancing at ABT.

And we were friends for about a year,

until it turned into something more.

And that was 23 years ago.

Stiefel: I did, indeed, pop the question

the opening night of American Ballet Theater's season

at the Metropolitan Opera House.

And Gillian had just performed Tchaikovsky's "Pas de Deaux."

And so, I was on my knee.

And I said, "Will you marry me?"

And she looked at me, and said,

"We've got to get off the stage."

And so, that was -- that was the answer, no?

Murphy: No. That was not the answer.


Stiefel: So, it keeps the fullness of the movement,

but it also keeps this kind of large and wow.

Johnson: Ethan is much more vocal.

He's very to the point, very, you know, says it all.

Whereas Gillian's a little bit more laid back.

So, it's interesting how he's more on top of it here,

where, then, we'll do it.

And then, Gillian will come in with all of her --

everything she's observed us doing,

and then, correct us on that.

Male Narrator: In his first few weeks with ARB,

Ethan started teaching the dancers

a work he originally created

for the Washington Ballet called "Woodwork."

Stiefel: "Woodwork" is inspired by the music played

by the Danish String Quartet.

[ String music plays ]

And what I really like about the music

is that they've taken these traditional songs,

or folk songs in Scandinavia,

and decided to make more contemporary string quartets.

There was a sense of community behind it,

that these folk songs were perhaps intrinsically

part of the communities that they grew out of.

There's a Viking Street dance, as I like to call it.

There's no hard-core narrative story,

but there is a sense of atmosphere

and a sense of place.

[ String music plays ]

The dancers are a talented group that's very responsive,

I think that's very open, has a great energy.

And I see that as the biggest asset that we have here,

are the people in the organization.

[ Classical music plays ]

[ Classical music continues ]

[ Music plays ]

Female Narrator: Last on the show today,

The Secret Trio finds common ground in music.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music plays ]

Ara: More than anything, I consider myself a composer

even more than than an instrumentalist

or oud player.

I've spent most of my professional life

accompanying others.

So, when it comes time for me to play my music,

selfishly, I want the best.

Ismail Lumanovski is an incredible clarinet player.

And I could honestly tell you that Tamer Pinarbasi

has to be amongst the greatest kanun players in the world.

If you were to ask me, "How do you find guys

like the guys in The Secret Trio?"

The simple answer is, when there are people

of that caliber, of that talent, living somewhere near you,

you're going to find them.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues ]

The Secret Trio started getting together in my room downstairs

to play music for us,

Lumanovski: Playing for ourselves, playing out our hearts.

Pinarbasi: That's why it's -- it's The Secret Trio.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues ]

Ara: It's not a very traditional approach

to our ethnic instruments,

but we're not trying to be museum pieces.

We're trying to move the music,

our history, and our instruments forward.

[ Music plays ]

[ Applause ]

[ Music plays ]

The oud is fretless, because the music that we play

is microtonal.

In the West, we use 12 tones.

In the East, that octave is divided into many more tones.

We have notes in between the notes.

The instrument accommodates those microtonal notes.

[ Music plays ]

Tamer Pinarbashi, who plays the kanun,

he's from Turkey.

Now, the kanun is a 76-string zither, or lap harp.

Traditionally, for 1,000 years,

it was played with two picks on each index finger.

Tamer made through those picks away,

grew his nails,

and developed the technique of playing it with 10 fingers.

If you can imagine playing the piano with two fingers,

imagine the first person who said,

"I'm going to try it with 10 fingers."

It's literally that much of a revolution of technique.

And this allows him to use the kanun

as an instrument that can play harmony and rhythms.

[ Music plays ]

I feel sorry for people who come to see us,

and have never seen a kanun player before.

Because they hear him, and they think,

"Oh, that's what the kanun can do."

No. That's what Tamer can do.

Pinarbasi: This is the piano of Turkish music.

[ Music plays ]

On the piano, between whole notes,

you have just two white keys, and one black key in the middle.

I have nine black keys between two white keys --

nine microtones.

Ara: But it's not enough just to have the technique.

He's also studied Western music.

Pinarbasi: Thanks to New York for this.

Because when I moved here, I was playing with Peru.

Colombian or, you know, everybody.

And then, it opens your mind.

Ismail Lumanovski, from Macedonia,

graduated from Juilliard with the highest of honors

with Western classical music.

But at the same time,

he can improvise and perform Eastern music

with the greatest of ease and joy.

[ Music plays ]

Lumanovski: My father is a folk singer,

so I grew up playing folk music with my father.

But at the same time, I went to classical music school

since I was eight.

By living in the United States,

there is a lot of space here for music-making.

[ Music plays ]

We were trying to find a new language that could fit

both Middle Eastern music and Western music.

Ara: We also challenge each other.

If somebody goes off the road, the other two of us

will follow, and see,

"Where is that going to take us?"

Like, almost a jazz kind of mentality.

Lumanovski: Whenever we are three of us, I just feel so free.

And there are some things coming out of me

that would never come out otherwise.

[ Music plays ]

Onnik: I think, The Secret Trio,

you notice that, each one of those musicians,

they are specialists in their own instrument,

and it blends together.

And there's no music.

There's no sheets in the front.

It's all -- It's all coming from the gut inside.

[ Music plays ]

Ara: My father is an Armenian folk and liturgical singer.

Amongst the Armenian community, everybody knows my father.

And of course, because of my father being who my father is,

I grew up accompanying him.

Onnik: I remember those days.

Ara: Every party, every picnic,

it was all about our Armenian culture.

I was 5 years old,

and I played at the New York World's Fair,

playing my little doumbek,

which was a Middle Eastern hand drum.

But at the same time, I grew up with The Beatles.

So, it's always straddling this, you know, East and West.

What a great education.

Did I ever thank you for that?

Onnik: No. But here's your opportunity.

Go ahead.

Tell me how grateful you are.

[ Music plays ]

Ara: His ancestors are from a city called Dikranagerd.

As it turns out, he kept that dialect alive,

and he kept these folk songs alive.

Now, my father did not do that consciously or intentionally.

He just loved to sing.

[ Music plays ]

He went back to Dikranagerd,

where there are virtually no Armenians left,

and brought those songs back in concerts.

It was really eye-opening.

They explained to us that we had kept alive

the Armenian folk music outside of its birthplace,

sort of like discovering a dinosaur that's alive somewhere.

It was quite an emotional experience.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues ]

"Picture" is a song that,

like the best songs, came fully formed.

I didn't have to work at it.

It was, suddenly, it was there.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues ]

I recorded it on my first album.

That album had worldwide distribution.

Many different countries took that song,

wrote their lyrics to it, in their language,

and it became a very important song in many different cultures.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues]

Pinarbasi: I was living in Turkey at that time, 1986,

and I was playing that song.

And then, I moved here, and I met him.

I said, "Oh, man."

it's a special piece for everybody.

[ Music plays ]

Ara: Tamer is a Turk. I'm an Armenian.

A simple Google search will tell you,

"Wait a minute, you guys don't get along."

Tamer and I get along very well.

He's one of my dearest friends.

Historically political enemies can enjoy the same melody,

and suddenly realize, "Wow. You feel that, too.

Yeah, me too."

[ Music plays ]

[ Music continues ]

There's an emotion to the piece

that reached a great variety of people.

It confirms my feelings about trying to unite,

and come together.

That's what this group is about.

That's what my personal musical life is about.

That's why I'm proud to be a musician.

[ Music plays ]

[ Music plays ]

[ Applause ]

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

Visit us online for more.

Thanks for watching.

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