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    Millions Danced Joyfully to Her Song. She Drew on Her Pain to Write It.

    Nomcebo Zikode, the South African singer of the pandemic hit “Jerusalema” that inspired a global dance challenge, wrote the chorus while battling her own depression.It starts with a clap, and then the feet tap along to the beat: four times on each side, followed by a quick jump. As the melody rises, dancers dip low and twirl.It’s a dance easy enough for anyone to learn, and people all around the world have done so, with everyone from an urban dance crew in Angola to Franciscan nuns in Europe showing off their moves on social media.The “Jerusalema” dance, named for the South African hit song that inspired it, provided a moment of global joy during the lockdowns of the pandemic, a welcome distraction from the isolation and collective grief.But it was the chorus, a lamentation over a heavy bass beat, that was balm to millions. Sung in a low alto in isiZulu, one of the official languages of South Africa, audiences didn’t need to understand the song to be moved by it.The singer Nomcebo Nkwanyana, who goes by Nomcebo Zikode professionally, drew on her own intense pain when she wrote it.“Jerusalem is my home,” she sang. “Guard me. Walk with me. Do not leave me here.”After more than decade as an overlooked backing vocalist, and with her faith in music faltering, Ms. Zikode, 37, was in a dark place in 2019 when she wrote those words.Her manager, who is also her husband, insisted she write the lyrics to help her crowd out the voices in her head that were telling her to give up on music, and herself.Ms. Zikode, 37, was in a dark place when she wrote lyrics that would uplift millions.Alexia Webster for The New York Times“As if there’s a voice that says you must kill yourself,” she said, describing her depression at the time. “I remember talking to myself saying, ‘no, I can’t kill myself. I’ve got my kids to raise. I can’t, I can’t do that.’”She didn’t listen to the recording of the song until a day after it was made. As the bass began to reverberate through her car, everything went dark, she said, and she almost lost control of the vehicle. She pulled over, tears streaming down her face.“Even if you don’t believe it, this is my story,” she said. “I heard the voice saying to me, ‘Nomcebo, this is going to be a big song all over the world.’”And that prognostication soon proved true.In February 2020, a group of dancers in Angola uploaded a video showing off their choreography to the song, and challenging others to outdo them. As lockdowns were enforced just weeks later, the song was shared around the world.The global success of “Jerusalema” has taken Ms. Zikode on tour to Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. It also led to her being featured on the song “Bayethe,” which would win the Grammy award for Best Global Music Performance earlier this year.But while “Jerusalema” has brought her global renown, she has had to fight to earn any financial reward from it and to be recognized as part of its creative force.She sued her record label, and a settlement in December called for her to receive a percentage of the song’s royalties and to be allowed to audit the books of the label, Open Mic Productions, that owns the song.At least as important, the agreement also states that Ms. Zikode must be cited as the song’s “primary artist” alongside Kgaogelo Moagi, more commonly known as Master KG, the producer behind the instrumental track on “Jerusalema.”But even this victory in South Africa’s male-dominated music industry comes with significant caveats: For one, Master KG is receiving a higher percentage of royalties. And Ms. Zikode said she has yet to see payment. “I’m still waiting for my money,” she said.Open Mic did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a statement put out after her Grammy win, the label said: “She is a very talented artist and we welcome this agreement as a progressive resolution.”The global success of “Jerusalema” has taken Ms. Zikode on tour to Europe, the Caribbean and the United States.Alexia Webster for The New York TimesStruggles with money are nothing new to her.The youngest of four children born in a polygamous marriage, Ms. Zikode’s father died when she was young and her mother, the third wife, was left destitute. Desperate, her mother let a church outside Hammarsdale, a small town in South Africa’s eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, take her daughter in for four years.There, she slept on bunk beds among rows of other children. She sewed her own clothes and helped to clean the dormitories. The church choir was a solace, but she sorely missed home until she was able to return in the 10th grade.Her mother sold maize or bartered what vegetables she could grow for secondhand clothes. The neighbors who would ask the young Ms. Zikode to sing for them would feed her and take her in for a few nights as her mother struggled.When she was old enough, Ms. Zikode learned to braid other people’s hair to earn some money, but remembers self-consciously pressing her elbows to her side, for fear that her customers would smell that she could not afford deodorant.But what she really wanted was to sing, and she got her break at an open-call audition. She spent years singing backup for gospel stars, sharing crowded apartments with other backing vocalists. When gigs dried up, she took computer classes as a career backup plan.Ms Zikode’s first major South African hit came in 2017 when she sang vocals on the song “Emazulwini” for a well-known house music producer and D.J., Frederick Ganyani Tshabalala. But what had seemed like a long-awaited break turned into a letdown when DJ Ganyani, as he is known, did all he could, she said, to prevent her from performing the song live on her own.“They try by all means to suppress the singers,” Ms. Zikode said of the D.J.s and producers who hold most of the power in South Africa’s music industry.DJ Ganyani did not respond to requests for comment.Hoping a record label would better protect her rights, Ms. Zikode signed with Open Mic, but once the deal was inked, the label went quiet, she said, and she was left hustling to record her debut album.Feeling abandoned by the record company, her husband and manager, Selwyn Fraser, sent messages to other artists, masquerading as his wife on Instagram and Twitter, trying to get bigger names to work with her.This outreach campaign connected Ms. Zikode with Master KG and resulted in “Jerusalema.”It’s not only the song that has made her a household name in South Africa, but also her very public fight for her royalties and recognition, in the courts and on social media, said Kgopolo Mphela, a South African entertainment commentator.“She’s coming across as the hero, or the underdog, taking on Goliath,” Mr. Mphela said.For all her struggles with reaping the monetary benefits of “Jerusalema,” Ms. Zikode’s musical career has made her financially comfortable and she now has a music publishing deal with a division of Sony Music.Her 17-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son want for nothing, she said. She and her husband renovated their home, adding an in-house studio.Ms. Zikode can also bask in the accolades that have come with her Grammy win for “Bayethe.”Ms. Zikode won a Grammy for “Bayethe,” which she performed with two other South Africans, the flutist Wouter Kellerman and the performer-producer Zakes Bantwini.Alexia Webster for The New York TimesOn a chilly April night in Johannesburg, in the Grammy’s afterglow, Ms. Zikode stepped out of a borrowed Bentley at an event to celebrate South Africans who have achieved international success.As she walked the red carpet, determined to own the moment, she granted every interview request, whether from the national broadcaster or a TikTok influencer. Later that night, she accepted two checks, one for herself and one for a charity she founded that helps impoverished young women.When she took the stage to perform the song that made her famous, she hiked up her gown to dance the “Jerusalema.” More

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    American Ballet Theater Chief Resigns Suddenly

    Janet Rollé, who had helped lead the company through the turmoil of the pandemic, stepped down a week before its summer season begins.Janet Rollé, the chief executive and executive director of American Ballet Theater, resigned a week before the start of the company’s summer season after 17 months on the job, the company announced Wednesday.Rollé, who helped lead the company through the turmoil of the pandemic, did not offer an explanation for her departure, saying only that she would turn her focus to service on corporate and nonprofit boards.“It has been a privilege to lead such a storied company during such a crucial period of time, and I am grateful for this experience,” Rollé, a former leader of Beyoncé’s business empire, said in a statement. “I would like to extend my sincerest best wishes to A.B.T. as they embark on this new chapter.”Susan Jaffe, Ballet Theater’s artistic director, will serve as interim executive director until a successor to Rollé is found, the company said. “I am humbled by the board’s confidence in me and excited to lead A.B.T. during this transition,” Jaffe, a former Ballet Theater ballerina who took office in December, said in a statement.The announcement jarred the dance world, coming just before Ballet Theater begins its season at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 22 with an expensive New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Like Water for Chocolate.” Ballet Theater’s leaders are set to host a gala that night to celebrate the start of the season, a high-profile event that draws donors, cultural executives, celebrities and artists.Rollé’s hiring was announced with much fanfare: She had made a name in the entertainment industry, having served as the general manager of Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé’s media and management company. Rollé, who is Black, was the first person of color to lead the company.Ballet Theater’s executives expressed gratitude to Rollé but offered no details about the circumstances surrounding her resignation. Rollé will advise the search for a successor, the company said.“Janet joined A.B.T. at a critical time, and we are appreciative of her leadership and contributions,” Andrew F. Barth, chairman of Ballet Theater’s board, said in a statement. “We thank her for her continued counsel during this transition period and wish her the very best.”Ballet Theater said that Rollé, Jaffe and Barth were not available for interviews. Rollé did not immediately respond to calls and messages seeking further comment.When Rollé started, in January 2022, she faced several immediate challenges, including helping Ballet Theater recover from the pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of two seasons and cost the company millions of dollars in anticipated ticket revenue and touring fees.In a rare interview with Sports Illustrated last year, she said that she hoped to find new audiences for Ballet Theater.“What I think about is how to make that definition of being America’s national ballet company real and true for all Americans,” she said in the interview.The company endured some artistic struggles under her tenure. In December, the renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky said he was leaving after 13 years as artist in residence, a significant blow to the company. Soon after, New York City Ballet announced he would join that company as artist in residence beginning in August. More

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    Review: In ‘Plays for the Plague Year,’ the Soundtrack of Our Lives

    Suzan-Lori Parks wrote one play a day for 13 months during the pandemic. Those stories come to life onstage in the form of monologues, dialogues and songs at Joe’s Pub.Upon entering Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater for Suzan-Lori Parks’s “Plays for the Plague Year,” audience members are handed a Playbill, a pencil and two yellow notecards, each with a question about the pandemic: “What would you like to remember?” “What would you like to forget?” The responses are placed in a basket from which they are picked and read during the show. At my performance, someone wrote that they’d like to forget “fear and worry, foreground and background.” People in the audience murmured in assent.We’d all probably like to forget our own experiences of fear and worry during that first year of zealous hand-washing and ever-changing mask mandates. Parks, however, made a project of remembering: For that first pandemic year, she resolved to write a play a day about “whatever happens,” including the mundane goings-on in her apartment, the deaths of friends and strangers, and the Black Lives Matter protests.Here, Parks performs a version of herself called the Writer, who creates plays each day while quarantining with her husband (played by Greg Keller) and their 8-year-old son (Leland Fowler) in their one-bedroom apartment.What unfolds is some configuration of those plays, though “play” is too restrictive a word for these micro-performances, which take the forms of monologues, dialogues and songs. Parks, who also plays the guitar here, is joined onstage by seven other cast members in various roles and a band (Ric Molina, guitar; Graham Kozak, bass; Ray Marchica, percussion).An accounting of each day — an electronic placard hanging above the stage flashes the date and title of each section, presented chronologically from March 19, 2020, to April 13, 2021 — provides the show with a built-in structure to link what often feels like a hodgepodge.Parks wisely uses a series of shorthands to quickly bring us back to specific moments in those early pandemic days — an actor, for example, gliding past Parks in an ornate doublet and Tudor-style cap to signal theater closures, the cast hollering and clapping for a brief moment to signal the daily 7 p.m. cheer for frontline workers.In the plays in which Parks isn’t writing or with her family, she’s talking to a dead Little Richard or negotiating with her Muse who, fed up with Covid, threatens to abandon her. In another, a character named Bob looks for a job. There’s one in which Earth, embodied by a woman wearing a crown of branches and holding a scepter, warns that the pandemic is only the beginning of the world’s disasters.From left: Orville Mendoza, Martín Solá, Danyel Fulton and Rona Figueroa in a short play about Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Ky.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesRuth Bader Ginsburg appears, on the day of her death, as a triumphant Lady Liberty, and the virus, personified as a horror movie villainess named Corona, wheezes and stalks the stage in a black-gray-white ombré dress and virion headpiece with red “spikes.” The costume design, by Rodrigo Muñoz, is as imaginative and visually stunning as runway couture, especially the layered fabrics of the Muse’s handkerchief hem skirt, made to resemble scraps of paper with scribbled writings, and the 3-D elements, like the butterflies on Earth’s chiffon dress.But not all days are created equal, and this three-hour production does feel as if we’re reliving a year’s worth of material. At least the variety in Parks’s script keeps things unpredictable enough to hold our attention.The direction, by Niegel Smith, occasionally gets too darling, like the first scene, when the family members introduce themselves (“I am the writer. I am the hubby. I am the son.”) while passing a red paper heart to one another. But Smith, who also choreographed the show, does make organized chaos in the intimate space (design by Peter Nigrini), rotating characters on a tiny stage adorned with a few pieces of low-sitting furniture — table, armchair, dresser, lamp, rack covered in books.The show’s music is as eclectic as the storytelling; the songs are short, plucky, with hints of folk, jazz and R&B. The surprising mash-up of genres include the doo-wop style of “Bob Needs a Job,” and the bluesy “Praying Now” soon picks up tempo, turning into an upbeat clap-and-stomp. Most aren’t particularly memorable, but the strongest songs — “RIP the King” and “Whichaway the World” — build with an alternating mix of spoken word/rap and soulful crooning from two performers in particular, Fowler and Danyel Fulton.Sometimes it seems as if Parks is overreaching, as when she speaks to her former mentor, James Baldwin (perfectly embodied by Fowler, who replicates his posture and cadence of speech), so he can muse about American history. Or in a long ceremony during which the cast hands flowers to the audience at the end of a section about Breonna Taylor, played by Fulton; but Fulton’s performance is poignant enough on its own.The playwright’s conversations with the dead, however, many of whom begin their scenes unaware or in denial of their demise, is the show’s most compelling motif. She speaks to several who are Black, especially those lost to Covid and those to police brutality. Through these post-mortems, Parks is asking trenchant questions about how we memorialize Black bodies. What would the dead say? How would they want to be remembered, if at all? So the Brooklyn educator Dez-Ann Romain, who died from complications of the coronavirus, snapping “Don’t make me speak of myself in the past tense,” and George Floyd asking, “Would I be safe if Harriet Tubman was on the 20?” become tragic self-written elegies. We’re watching the dead mourn themselves.Then there’s Parks, who, even playing this version of herself, always feels earnest, as when she listens to the speeches of her characters, while sitting off to one side of the stage, leaning forward attentively. You can easily imagine this being the way Parks sees the world refracted back to her, conversing with the dead, building abstractions.Unfortunately, her own domestic narrative feels flat by comparison. So “What’s the takeaway? What’s the concept? What’s the tone,” as the Writer’s TV producer asks her at one point during a conversation about the Writer’s plays project.“Plague Year” never answers these questions; the Writer ultimately discovers that the plays “didn’t save us.” But this isn’t Parks renouncing her ambitious undertaking. She’s offering another way to think about the production, which isn’t always a cohesive work of theater: Perhaps it doesn’t have to.Theater doesn’t save us, the Writer says, “but it does preserve us somehow,” so this piece still is a record. This is catharsis. It’s preservation.Plays for the Plague YearThrough April 30 at Joe’s Pub, Manhattan; publictheater.org. Running time: 3 hours. More

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    Livestreaming ‘Made All the Difference’ for Some Disabled Art Lovers

    When shuttered venues embraced streaming during the pandemic, the arts became more accessible. With live performance back, and streams dwindling, many feel forgotten.For Mollie Gathro, live theater was a once-a-year indulgence if the stars aligned perfectly.Gathro has degenerative disc disease and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, resulting in joint pain, weakness and loss of mobility. Because of her disabilities, going to a show meant having to secure accessible seating after hourslong phone calls with her “nemesis,” Ticketmaster; finding a friend to drive her or arranging other transportation; and hoping her body would cooperate enough for her to actually go out.But when live performance was brought to a halt three years ago by the coronavirus pandemic, and presenters turned to streaming in an effort to keep reaching audiences, the playing field was suddenly leveled for arts lovers like Gathro.From her home in West Springfield, Mass., Gathro suddenly had access to the same offerings as everyone else, watching streams of Gore Vidal’s drama “The Best Man” and of a Guster concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. For a while, it seemed, everything was online: performances by the Berlin State Opera or the Philadelphia Orchestra; dances by choreographers like Alonzo King and a New York City Ballet Spring Gala directed by Sofia Coppola; blockbuster movies that were released to streaming services at the same time they hit multiplexes; even the latest installment of Richard Nelson’s acclaimed cycle of plays about the Apple family for the Public Theater was streamed live.“I was overjoyed, but there was also this tentative feeling like waiting for the other shoe to drop because they could take the accessibility away just as easily as they gave it,” Gathro, 35, said, “which feels like is exactly what is happening.”It is happening. With live performance now back, and some theaters and concert halls still struggling to bring back audiences, presenters have cut back on their streamed offerings — leaving many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, who have been calling for better virtual access for decades, excluded again.While many presenters have cut back on streaming, there is still more available than there used to be. In September the San Francisco Opera streamed a performance of John Adams’ “Antony and Cleopatra” starring Amina Edris. Cory Weaver/San Francisco OperaLivestreaming “opened up the door and showed us what is possible,” said Celia Hughes, the executive director of Art Spark Texas, a nonprofit that aims to make the arts more inclusive and accessible. The door, she said, has begun to close again.Aimi Hamraie,​​ an associate professor of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt University who studies disability access, said that the decisions to cut back on streaming options “were not made with disabled people in mind.”“We’ve all been shown that we already have the tools to create more accessible exhibitions and performances, so people can no longer say it’s not possible,” Hamraie said. “We all know that that’s not true.”One in four adults in the United States has some form of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But more than three decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act made it illegal to discriminate based on disability, advocates say that it remains difficult for many disabled people to navigate arts venues: gilded old theaters often have narrow aisles, cramped rows and stairs, while sleek modern spaces can be off-the-beaten-path or feature temporary seating on risers.To be sure, there are far more streaming options available now than there used to be. The San Francisco Opera has been livestreaming all of its productions this season, and last month the Paris Opera announced new streaming options. Second Stage Theater simulcast the last two weeks of its Broadway run of “Between Riverside and Crazy” and “Circle Jerk,” a Zoom play that became a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for drama, returned for a hybrid run last summer for both live and streaming audiences. The Cleveland Orchestra has joined the growing number of classical ensembles streaming select performances. And this year’s Sundance Film Festival was held in person in Park City, Utah — but also online.Second Stage Theater simulcast the last two weeks of its Broadway run of “Between Riverside and Crazy.” From left to right: Stephen McKinley Henderson, Victor Almanzar, Common.Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesBut venues and producers have cut back on streaming for a number of reasons: the costs associated with equipment and the work required to film performances; contracts that call for paying artists and rights holders more money for streams; and fears that streams could provide more incentive for people to stay home rather than attend in person.Arts lovers with disabilities are feeling the loss.“It made all the difference because I felt like during the pandemic, I was allowed to be part of the world again, and then I just lost it,” said Dom Evans, 42, a hard-of-hearing filmmaker with spinal muscular atrophy, among other disabilities, and a co-creator of FilmDis, a group that monitors disability representation in the media.The recent experiments with streaming have raised questions of what counts as “live.” Some events are heavily produced and edited before they are made available online.“It’s better than nothing, but it’s not the same,” Phoebe Boag, 43, a music fan with myalgic encephalomyelitis, who lives in Scotland, said in an email interview. “When you’re watching a live performance at the same time as everyone else, you have the same anticipation leading up to the event, and there’s a sense of community and inclusion, knowing that you’re watching the performance alongside however many other people.”More venues are providing programming specifically for people with disabilities and their families. Moments, at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, for example, is geared toward people with dementia and their caregivers. “Our main goal is that everyone has choice, everyone can get access to what they want in ways that work best for them,” Miranda Hoffner, the associate director of accessibility at Lincoln Center, said.Moments, at Lincoln Center, is geared toward people with dementia and their caregivers. Ayami Goto and Takumi Miyake, of American Ballet Theater’s Studio Company, danced.Lawrence SumulongThese types of programs have been welcomed. But others say that presenters must do more to make all of their programming accessible.“We need arts programs that are fully integrated,” Evans, the filmmaker, said.Even as presenters have cut back on streaming options, many have stopped requiring proof of vaccination and masks — placing new barriers to attendance for some of the estimated seven million American adults who have compromised immune systems that make them more likely to get severely ill from Covid-19.“It’s easy to feel just like you’re farther and farther behind and not only forgotten, but just completely disregarded,” said Han Olliver, a 26-year-old freelance artist and writer with multiple chronic illnesses who would like more access to the arts. “And that’s really lonely.”Still, new opportunities have led to more connections for and among disabled people.Theater Breaking Through Barriers, an Off Broadway company that promotes the inclusion of disabled actors onstage, has presented more than 75 short plays since 2020 that have been designed to be performed virtually. Last fall, it streamed a series of plays, including some that were created on Zoom and others that were performed in front of live audiences. Nicholas Viselli, the company’s artistic director, said the goal is to make streaming more regular.There is an idea that “‘doing virtual stuff is not really theater,’ and I don’t agree with that,” Viselli said.“It’s not the same as being in the room and feeling the energy from the audience and the actors,” he said, “but it is when you have artists creating something in front of your eyes.”Gathro continues to take advantage of streaming options when she can from her home in West Springfield. But she hopes that more presenters will stream their work in the future.“I wish I always had options for livestreaming, for really everything, because I would,” Gathro said. “For me, it’s worth paying as much as I would pay to see it in person. The accessibility is just that much more helpful.” More

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    ‘Covid Vortex Anxiety Opera’ Review: Gloom, Zoom and a New Bloom

    The veteran performance artist Karen Finley leads the audience through the troubles that plagued New York City at the peak of the pandemic.Restlessness, fear, despair, loneliness, exhaustion, worry, anomie: Remembering the peak of the pandemic in New York City, the performance artist Karen Finley takes the audience through a maelstrom of feelings in her new solo show, “Covid Vortex Anxiety Opera Kitty Kaleidoscope Disco.” That, of course, is after her grand entrance, wearing a white hazmat jumpsuit and a surgical mask zhuzhed-up with sequined fringe, she sashayed through the Laurie Beechman Theater to a mix of the disco classic “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and a chorus of pot-banging like the one that cheered frontline workers in 2020.Yep, she’s still got it.Even though she has long ago abandoned the shock tactics that made her a habituée in the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Finley, who is also a poet and visual artist, remains as unwieldy and messy as ever. A scene in which she enacts a vintage Betty Crocker commercial by trying out a “recipe” onstage, mixing it in a plastic bucket, has an old-school sloppy, feral energy. At a time when the tiniest Off Off Broadway shows can have a soulless professionalism, this rawness feels like a jolt.Also unchanged are Finley’s obsessions: with art as salvation, with the incantatory power of words, with the issue of agency over our bodies, and with our often misguided, often awkward attempts to communicate with other humans. You can see how she would have a field day tackling an epidemic that kept New York residents at home and allowed communication only through masks or video calls.The evening is divided into short sequences organized around themes of sorts and accompanied by costume changes and projections of Finley’s videos and illustrations. (Her daughter, Violet Overn, oversaw the production design.)Reading her text from behind a lectern, Finley is in turn impassioned, mocking, beseeching, goofy, coy. The effect lands halfway between haunted sermon and ramshackle TED Talk — Finley has been a professor of art and public policy at New York University for several years now, so she has acquired a tiny bit of polish, but not all that much.The show is not as corrosive as “Unicorn Gratitude Mystery,” in which Finley covered politics a few months before the 2016 presidential election, but it is just as angry. Because if one thing has not dulled over the years, it’s her rage — at all those deaths in the early days of the pandemic, at a city in agony, at the breakdown of social rules and responsibilities. In a hallucinatory segment, Finley instructs people to put on a mask or, if they have one on, to at least wear it correctly. “I’m saying it nicely,” she insists. Sure, if “nicely” means exuding furor.A few beats later, Finley boogies to “Disco Inferno” while a video of men dancing in a club plays behind her. In one canny move, she ties together generations of deaths in New York caused by AIDS and the coronavirus, with a reference to the falling twin towers quick enough that it doesn’t feel exploitative but still pierces the heart.Like the most inspiring religious services, “Covid Vortex Anxiety Opera Kitty Kaleidoscope Disco” ends on an optimistic note, with Finley pivoting from shock and horror at the lost lives, access and control over one’s body into hope — for change, peace, courage, love. And art. Always art.Covid Vortex Anxiety Opera Kitty Kaleidoscope DiscoThrough May 6 at the Laurie Beechman Theater, Manhattan. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes. More

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    53 Years After Miles Davis’s Album, a Fresh Spin as ‘London Brew’

    A 12-member collective of noted U.K.-based musicians used “Bitches Brew” as a springboard, improvising a new LP after the pandemic thwarted a 50th anniversary celebration for the original.In 1970, Miles Davis released “Bitches Brew,” an album so musically daring that some critics and listeners didn’t know what to make of it.By then, the trumpeter’s ear had drifted from traditional jazz to edgier blends of funk and psychedelic rock; he wanted to craft an amorphous sound only loosely tethered to any genre. “Instances of subtlety and formal improvisational mastery come thick and fast,” the critic Carman Moore wrote of “Bitches Brew” in The Times upon its arrival. “It is all so strange and new and yet so comfortable.”Others weren’t sold. “With ‘Bitches Brew,’ Davis was firmly on the path of the sellout,” Stanley Crouch wrote in 1990. “It sold more than any other Davis album, and fully launched jazz-rock with its multiple keyboards, electronic guitars, static beats and clutter. Davis’s music became progressively trendy and dismal.”“Bitches Brew” did indeed sell well. It delivered Davis’s first gold and platinum albums, and shifted mainstream jazz from elegant arrangements optimized for cramped nightclubs to bigger, grungier structures tailor-made for stadium speakers. Now it’s the focus of an ambitious jazz album called “London Brew,” out Friday.The LP convenes a 12-member collective of noted musicians in Britain — including the saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, the tuba player Theon Cross, the D.J. Benji B and the guitarist Dave Okumu — and uses “Bitches Brew” as a springboard to a new album informed by the Davis classic without recreating it. The idea was to improvise an album with the same fiery expanse, with samples from Davis’s electric period of the late 1960s and early ’70s as the binding agent.“We wanted to do something that would be our imagination of what it could possibly have been to be in his presence during those sessions,” the guitarist and “London Brew” producer Martin Terefe, 53, said in a video interview. “The kind of freedom that the musicians on that album were given.”Bennie Maupin, 82, the acclaimed reedist and a featured player on “Bitches Brew,” said spontaneity was a key to the original recording. “Everything that happened, happened right in the moment,” he recalled in a telephone interview. “Miles never told anybody what to play, not once. He allowed us to totally be ourselves. He would give us some direction to just kind of start. And when we started something, we might play for 10 minutes, and then he would stop us and go onto something else.”Okumu, on guitar, was part of the group that convened in December 2020 at the Church Studios.Nathan WeberDavis’s double album, with its dark aura, thick acoustic-electric instrumentation and seemingly endless grooves, also made way for like-minded bands to assemble in its wake. Maupin would go on to play with the pianist Herbie Hancock in his Mwandishi and Head Hunters bands; the keyboardist Joe Zawinul and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter formed Weather Report; the pianist Chick Corea and the drummer Lenny White started Return to Forever; and the guitarist John McLaughlin and the drummer Billy Cobham founded the Mahavishnu Orchestra. They all played on “Bitches Brew,” a record that’s still bearing fruit 53 years later.“That was a golden moment,” Maupin said. “Miles is gone. Wayne just left. I just thank my lucky stars that he invited me to come and be myself.”“London Brew” was supposed to be a one-off live event at the Barbican Center in London in 2020 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bitches Brew.” Bruce Lampcov, a 69-year-old veteran producer and engineer who has mixed Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel and Eurythmics and had recently signed a deal to administer Davis’s publishing catalog, happened to be in London in late 2019, and was thinking of ways to introduce the legend’s music to younger listeners. The signing, along with the upcoming anniversary, presented “an obvious sort of launching-off point, a record that in itself built a wider audience at the time for jazz music,” Lampcov said in a video interview. In London, he was introduced to the local jazz scene, and was taken by what he saw there.“I went into a theater, there was a capacity crowd with a reggae sound machine going, and D.J.s playing jazz music,” he said, describing then seeing a live show with “a crowd of like, 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds. It was like being at a rock gig. And I thought, ‘This is amazing. This is perfect. We just need to do something that connects Miles to this audience.’”Cross, Garcia and Hutchings in the studio. “The whole thing was meant to be a mesh,” Garcia said.Nathan WeberIn February 2020, Lampcov started reaching out to musicians to see if they’d want to do the “Bitches Brew” tribute gig. After making some initial contacts, he boarded a plane back to the United States as the world was about to change. “Everyone was wearing a mask and I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’” he recalled. “And that was it. That’s how it fell apart.”Covid-19 lockdowns shuttered venues and canceled the show, leaving any sort of celebration in limbo. But as the pandemic lingered, and it became clear the concert couldn’t be rescheduled, Lampcov put the idea to rest — until Terefe called with another idea: Get everyone in the studio and record an album.“I couldn’t really let go of it, it felt like such an exciting project,” Terefe said. “There was a point when I kind of suggested to Bruce, ‘Listen, when it’s so rough out there, what’s better to do than to find a good studio and self-isolate with all these musicians and make a record together?’”On Dec. 7, 2020, the group convened at the Church Studios in North London, with Covid testing personnel in place and a scaled-down technical crew, to record what would become “London Brew,” an eight-song, almost 90-minute LP of genre-hopping experimentation that blurs the lines between rock, jazz and ambient, sometimes within the scope of one song.At the beginning of the three-day session, Terefe asked the collective to play a single note for as long as it could hold it, “just expressing their frustration with the pandemic.” Where the two-part title track on the new album centers hard-thumping drums, breakneck electric guitar riffs and squealing wind instruments, “Raven Flies Low” is a methodical collage: Raven Bush plays the violin through effects pedals (a nod to Davis running his trumpet through tape delay on “Bitches Brew”), slowly bringing the track to a volcanic peak, with crashing drum cymbals and undulating saxophone.While “London Brew” is foremost a nod to one of Davis’s most famous albums, songs like “Bassics” and the title track’s midpoint evoke the cosmic Afrocentricity and tightly coiled funk of Davis’s “Live-Evil,” released in 1971, and “On the Corner,” from the following year. Toward the end of “London Brew Pt 2,” the producers sample the wafting guitar and subtle organ of the ambient-leaning “In a Silent Way,” from 1969, a direct repurposing of Davis’s music.“His recordings are so special and so unique that to actually try and repeat something that’s very much so improvisational wouldn’t do it justice,” Lampcov said. “We really didn’t feel like it would be a celebration of the record, and it never would be as good.” On purpose, there’s no trumpeter on the new album: “Because how could you do that?”Garcia, 31, the saxophonist, gave herself a directive in the studio: Just be free and in the moment; don’t interrupt anything going on between other musicians. “If there’s something special happening between the flute and drum kit, why would I get in the way of that?” she said over the phone from London. “I don’t need to be talking all the time.”Still, her voice persists, much like everyone else in the collective, much like the large ensemble Davis convened all those years ago. A half-century after Davis brought the likes of Maupin, Hancock and Shorter into one room for one common goal, that same sense of community dots “London Brew,” an album built on the same organic principles, scanning as the same inscrutable jazz. Like “Bitches Brew,” it’s an album that just is.“The whole thing was meant to be a mesh,” Garcia said. “We were in the room together, we played things, then we left. I hope it conveys the necessity and beauty of community. I hope it conveys that we need each other.” More

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    The Shed Changes Leadership Structure

    In the face of financial challenges, the arts institution is making adjustments: Alex Poots, its founding artistic director and chief executive, will now just focus on being artistic director.Having come into the world just a year before the coronavirus pandemic started, the Shed — an architecturally ambitious $475 million arts center in Hudson Yards — has weathered a bumpy beginning. In addition to sold-out performances (such as the recent play about Robert Moses starring Ralph Fiennes), the institution has had its share of financial struggles (28 of its 107 full-time workers were laid off in July 2020).Now, the Shed is making perhaps its biggest adjustment yet, announcing that Alex Poots, the founding artistic director and chief executive, will no longer be chief executive — but will continue to focus on the creative side of the institution as its artistic director.The change is effective immediately; Maryann Jordan, the Shed’s current president and chief operating officer, will handle day-to-day management in the interim.“It has become more and more clear to me that, to really take us on to the next chapter, I need to dedicate my entire time to the artistic direction of this organization,” Poots said in a telephone interview, adding that the change was his decision. “I see it as a positive step forward.”“I’m not going to say it’s not been a struggle, but we’ve gotten through it every time we’ve been confronted with challenges,” he added. “We’re very robust to have built the first arts center since Lincoln Center on an entirely new model with a completely new team.”More on the Coronavirus PandemicNew Subvariant: A new Omicron subvariant, known as XBB.1.5, is surging in the northeastern United States. Scientists say it remains rare in much of the world, but they expect it to spread quickly and globally.Travel: The European Union advised its 27 member nations to require negative Covid-19 tests for travelers boarding flights from China to the region, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.Misinformation: As Covid cases and deaths rise in parts of the United States, misleading claims continue to spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.Free at-Home Tests: With cases on the rise, the Biden administration restarted a program that has provided hundreds of millions of tests through the Postal Service.Jonathan M. Tisch, who in April succeeded the Shed’s founding chairman, Daniel L. Doctoroff, and who — with his wife, Lizzie — in 2019 donated $27.5 million toward the building’s construction, insisted this was not a demotion for Poots. “Alex has done a remarkable job over the past eight years of establishing the Shed as one of New York City’s — and probably the country’s — premiere cultural institutions,” Tisch said in an interview. “But it’s a tough job to be artistic director and C.E.O. at the same time. In conversations, Alex expressed interest in stepping back from being top executive to allowing his focus to center on ensuring our success.”Cultural institutions across the country have struggled mightily throughout the pandemic, primarily because of the lost revenue from closures and canceled performances. The Shed had the added hurdle of being just a year old, without the opportunity to build a loyal audience or donor base. In the wake of the pandemic, the Shed reduced its annual operating budget to $26.5 million from $46 million in 2020; its full-time staff is now 88.Last month, Poots sent an email to staff members saying that “in an uncertain economic environment,” the Shed would consolidate some of its artistic operations.“To align our program developments and resources, we are exploring ways of merging program areas into an interdisciplinary department that works within and between art forms in unified ways,” Poots said in the email, obtained by The New York Times. “After much deliberation, this new model includes the discontinuation of the visual arts Chief Curator position.”That curator position was held by Andria Hickey, who last February left Pace Gallery to join the Shed. She will be staying on, as curator at large.Having one chief curator “makes less sense now,” Poots said in the interview, “because we need expertise across a very wide range of disciplines.”The Shed has also had to adjust to the stepping back of Doctoroff, because of illness. Doctoroff led its successful fund-raising efforts and shepherded the institution into existence after he served as a deputy mayor under Michael R. Bloomberg, who himself supported the Shed.Other successes include the Fiennes play written by David Hare, “Straight Line Crazy”; the comedian Cecily Strong’s New York stage debut; and an ambitious three-part exhibition by the Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno. In addition, the Shed was among the first arts institutions to reopen after New York’s pandemic shutdown. And the institution managed to raise the remainder of its building costs — $135 million — during the coronavirus crisis, Doctoroff said in an interview.“We’re still learning,” Doctoroff said. “We’ve started to understand the model. I’m encouraged, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t normal start-up bumps and bruises. I think we will be incredibly successful over time.” More

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    Broadway Bounces Back With ‘Best Week Since the Before Times’

    Broadway shows grossed $51.9 million during the holiday week, the most since 2019, and “The Lion King” set a record for the most earned by any show in a single week.Broadway, still struggling to rebound from the lengthy pandemic shutdown, is starting the new year with a sign of hope: Last week was, by far, the best for the industry since the arrival of the coronavirus.The 33 shows running grossed $51.9 million, which is the most since the final week of 2019. And “The Lion King,” which last fall celebrated its 25th anniversary on Broadway, notched a remarkable milestone: It grossed $4.3 million, which is the most ever taken in by a show in a single week on Broadway.The boffo numbers — 21 shows grossed more than $1 million last week — come with caveats. Both Christmas and New Year’s days fell on Sundays, concentrating holiday travelers into a single week. Twenty shows added extra performances for the holiday week, giving nine instead of the usual eight. And ticket prices were high: The average Broadway seat went for $166, up from $128 just four weeks earlier.But the strong week sent a signal that under the right circumstances, Broadway can deliver. During the holiday week — the week that ended Jan. 1 — the 22 musicals and 11 plays running were, on average, 92 percent full. Overall attendance was 312,878, which is not a record (in fact, it was the 27th-best-attended week in history, according to the Broadway League), but is good (by comparison, attendance over Thanksgiving week was 259,298).The two final weeks of the year saw combined grosses of $86.7 million, which is up 115 percent over the previous year, but down 12 percent compared to those key holiday weeks in 2019.“What you see is that we’re continuing to build and maintain our audience,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers and theater owners. “We’re not back to where we were, but we’re doing very well at a time of uncertainty.”According to the League, last week was the third-highest-grossing in history. The highest was the week ending Dec. 30, 2018, when grosses were $57.8 million and attendance was 378,910; the second-highest was the week ending Dec. 29, 2019, when grosses were $55.8 million and attendance was 350,714.“The Lion King,” with a nine-performance week, toppled the previous record for the top-grossing week by a single show, which had been held by “Hamilton,” which grossed $4 million for eight performances during the week that ended Dec. 30, 2018. (The figures are not adjusted for inflation.)“The Lion King” earned $4.3 million last week, the most a single show has ever earned in one week. It resumed performances in September 2021.Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York TimesThe holidays are traditionally strong for Broadway, but in 2021 the final weeks of the year were a bloodbath because the Omicron variant led to cancellations of multiple shows. Now, despite the “tripledemic” of circulating respiratory illnesses, Broadway has largely figured out how to keep going: During the last three weeks, 12 scheduled performances were canceled, compared to 221 cancellations during the final three weeks of 2021.Throughout the industry, shows were trumpeting breaking records last week.“Chicago” had the highest-grossing week in its 26-year history, as well as its highest single-performance gross. The once-struggling “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which revived its fortunes after the shutdown by consolidating from two parts into one, was already the highest-grossing play in Broadway history, and last week set a record (nearly $2.7 million) for weekly gross by a play. And a starry revival of “The Piano Lesson” was on track to being the highest grossing play by August Wilson — the much-celebrated and oft-performed bard of 20th-century African American life — in Broadway history.Several shows set house records at the theaters where they are being performed, including the revival of “Funny Girl,” which had been floundering financially until its producers brought in Lea Michele to star. Also setting records were shows including “Beetlejuice,” which closes Jan. 8 after a bumpy ride; “Six,” the pop-concert-style reconsideration of the wives of Henry VIII; “& Juliet,” a new musical imagining an alternative history for Shakespeare’s famously star-crossed lover, and “MJ,” the Michael Jackson biomusical.“We had our best week since the before times,” said Victoria Bailey, the executive director of TDF, a nonprofit organization that runs the TKTS discount ticket booths, who said her staff is noticing increasing geographic diversity among ticket buyers.“We were seeing people from lots and lots of states and lots and lots of countries — it wasn’t the same folks making the numbers bigger, but it was folks from further away,” Bailey said. “I don’t have any reason to say we’re out of the woods, but I don’t think this was just a one-off. And if we get to a point where you periodically have good weeks, that will be helpful.”Bailey and St. Martin both noted that tourists from China have not yet returned in significant numbers as that nation battles surging coronavirus cases. But both said they were particularly heartened by returning domestic tourism.Broadway now enters a period of greater challenge: January and February have historically been weak months for the industry. There are 12 shows scheduled to close this month, which is at the high end of the normal range for January closings. But there are a raft of openings planned in March and April — it looks like the overall number of new shows this season will be within the typical range — and St. Martin said she is feeling good about the industry’s trajectory.“I am overwhelmingly optimistic about the spring,” she said. More