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Robert Ashley, Quicksand

Dancer/choreographer Steve Paxton, producer Mimi Johnson, and composer/arranger Tom Hamilton in a conversation about and musical illustrations from the last opera by composer, raconteur, and memory sculptor Robert Ashley in advance of the premier of his final work at The Kitchen in Jan. - Feb. 2016.

Quicksand is an opera-novel for music, dance, and light, composed from a novel of the same name by the late Robert Ashley. Quicksand features a narrative entirely sung by Ashley, movement by legendary choreographer Steve Paxton, a light environment by David Moodey, and an electronic orchestra by Tom Hamilton. The dancers are Maura Gahan and Jurij Konjar.

Quicksand (left unfinished and completed by the team upon the composer's death) is a mystery story of international intrigue. It is divided into three acts, each containing 16 scenes accompanied by a unique set of specific harmonies that Hamilton used to create the electronic orchestra. Ashley asked choreographer Paxton and light designer Moodey to compose 16 visual scenes each, based on any image evoked by the opera.

January 28, 29, 30 and February 4, 5, 6, 2016 at The Kitchen.

Robert Ashley (1930-2014) is particularly known for his work in new forms of opera. In Ann Arbor in the 1960s, Ashley organized the ONCE Festival and directed the legendary ONCE Group, with whom he developed his first operas. Throughout the 1970s, he directed the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College and toured with the Sonic Arts Union. His opera for television, Perfect Lives, is widely considered the precursor of “music-television.” Staged versions of the operas Perfect Lives, Atalanta (Acts of God), the tetralogy, Now Eleanor’s Idea, and the more recent operas, Dust, Celestial Excursions, and Concrete, have toured throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. His last completed opera is Crash. 

Mimi Johnson is a founder and director of Performing Artservices, Inc., created to assist, promote, and present artists working in the fields of contemporary music, theater, and dance. Among the artists first managed by Performing Artservices were John Cage, David Tudor, Richard Foreman, Mabou Mines, The Sonic Arts Union, The Viola Farber Dance Company, and the Philip Glass Ensemble. Johnson is also the founder of the Lovely Music, Ltd., a record label dedicated to the dissemination of new American music. She is Robert Ashley's wife and producer.

Steve Paxton began his movement studies in gymnastics and then trained in martial arts, ballet, and modern dance. Paxton was a member of the Jose Limon Company in 1959 and a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1961 to 1964. He was a founding member of the seminal dance collectives Judson Dance Theater (1962-64) and Grand Union (1970-76). It was during his time with Grand Union that he first formulated Contact Improvisation, a dynamic, partner-based dance that is now practiced worldwide.

Tom Hamilton has composed and performed electronic music for over 30 years, and his work with electronic music originated in the late-60s era of analog synthesis. His CD London Fix received an honorary mention in the 2004 Prix Ars Electronica. An active participant in New York’s new music scene, Hamilton was the co-director of the 2004 Sounds Like Now festival, and he has co-produced the Cooler in the Shade/Warmer by the Stove new music series since 1993. Since 1990, Hamilton has been a member of composer Robert Ashley's touring opera ensemble, performing sound processing and mixing in both recordings and concerts.


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