NYU Abu Dhabi's Bill Bragin interview

The Arts Centre at NYU Abu Dhabi's new executive director is a musical omniore Discuss this article

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The Arts Centre at NYU Abu Dhabi has appointed a new executive director, Bill Bragin. He is a musical omnivore and has big plans to create a community centered on the arts. The department has announced a stellar fall programme with talent ranging from interpretive dance to interactive theatre to dancing robots with rhythm.

Bragin arrives from New York City having breathed life into the live music scenes of the renowned Lincoln Center and Central Park’s Summer Stage. He brings unbridled enthusiasm for both bridging and building communities through live entertainment. He says, ‘with everything that is happening with free, downloadable music and everyone tuning in through headphones, music can be a solitary experience. In the wake of that, live performance is thriving. People recognise that it’s a way of creating a temporary community. People come together to see something in the same space and time’. He adds, ‘the idea of creating a community in a place as transient as Abu Dhabi inspires me’.

Bragin’s tastes are eclectic, but the performers he has selected are linked. He explains, ‘for a lot of these artists, innovation is key to what they do, but I think quality is the unifier. Diversity is the unifier. People are hungry for more eclectic and interactive musical programming and we find Abu Dhabi fertile grounds for such innovation’.

He adds, ‘I select artists for many reasons, but another unifier is their ability to engage audiences. Take the Polyglot Theatre. It’s not traditional kids’ theatre where everyone minds their manners and sits in neatly arranged rows staring at a stage. Instead, the viewers are involved in the creation of the art’.

Bragin continues, ‘I want to open people’s minds as to how they engage with art. Most people see art as something to watch, to consume or receive in a passive way. We want viewers to take a more active role, to co-create their experience of the arts to some degree.’

Bragin hopes people will take a chance on unknown artists by mixing up venues. He explains, ‘A number of performances will be outdoors on the plaza rather than in the auditorium. When people take a chance on an unknown performer in a new cultural tradition, the ability to come and go and not have to commit formally to a seated, ticketed event opens up the experience to more people. We want people to check it out, to dance and bring their kids, not feeling nervous about them being disruptive. To sample something new and then be free to leave’.

And dance you will. The acts range from the engaging and manic family fun of Polyglot Theatre and the innovative South Indian dance company Ragamala Dance which simulates the feeling of playing a board game through dance to the modern string explorations of Kronos Quartet and the reunion of legendary Malian band Les Ambassadeurs.

Bragin views the NYUAD Arts Centre as a cultural incubator for artists to grow and audiences to sample. He says, ‘We are very excited to work with school groups and teach kids how to read art and become a generation of art lovers. You may not love everything you see, but we hope that you will be changed in some way by it’. Bill adds, ‘We know that a great way to build an audience of parents is through the kids. Your child might come home from school and say, “I saw this Korean group that makes music using video games. You have to see it.” Then maybe as a result you will.’

Most of the visiting performers will lead masterclasses and workshops, give talks, or guest-teach at NYUAD. Bragin adds, ‘we want people to view NYUAD as place to come and have a fun adventure, to discover a new favourite artist or a new style of music. I also intentionally picked artists who are dealing with ideas that expand beyond the art world, so we can engage diverse audiences’.
The Arts Center is on NYUAD’s Saadiyat campus. Reservations for free tickets will open one month before the event. Visit www.nyuad-artscenter.org for more information and bookings.

Mark your calendars for the NYUAD Arts Centre fall programme

Toshi Reagon
September 2-3

The extraordinary American singer-songwriter-guitarist Toshi Reagon’s new opera blends science fiction with African American spiritualism to construct a mesmerising meditation on the future of human civilisation.

Kronos Quartet
September 16-17

The most adventurous and accomplished small ensemble in the Western world, Kronos has redefined the realm of possibility for the string quartet. Kronos’ omnivorous approach to repertoire embraces 20th-century masters and contemporary composers, jazz legends and rock gods, world musicians and maverick experimentalists of every stripe.

Polyglot Theatre
October 8-11 and 15-17

Polyglot Theatre’s project, We Built This City uses thousands of cardboard boxes and the energy of kids and families to build a magnificent imagined city. It simultaneously places children in the role of performer, creator, audience and architect.

Ragamalla Dance
October 14

The South Indian dancer and choreographer Aparna Ramaswamy’s newest solo work explores the divine benevolence and strength of women as the guardians of ritual. In They Rose at Dawn, Ramaswamy, the co-artistic director of Ragamala Dance, examines and celebrates how we as humans endure and thrive through our transmission of wisdom from one generation to the next.

The Nile Project
October 29

The Nile Project’s powerful pan-Nile percussion section drives this orchestra of Ethiopian masenko (single-stringed bowed lute) and saxophone; Egyptian ney (end-blown flute), oud (pear-shaped, lute-like stringed instrument), violin, simsimiyya (plucked lyre), and tanbura (long-necked stringed instrument); and Ugandan adungu (arched harp), bass guitar; and vocalists singing in almost a dozen languages.

Tacit Group
November 11-12

This Korean electronic music and multimedia ensemble’s playful high tech mashups are mind-blowing: sensory fireworks displays where sounds and visuals co-mingle and blur together. Tacit Group’s visual and sound art is mad, experimental fun for audiences, who both participate in and are enveloped by the action on stage.

Les Ambassadeurs
November 18

Original members of the Malian supergroup Salif Keita, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Amadou Bagayoko (of Amadou and Mariam) reunite to revisit their pioneering blend of salsa, jazz, soul, rock and roll and more.

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Gamak
November 24

The dazzlingly inventive composer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa delves deep into the hybridisation of progressive jazz and South Indian classical. Taking its name from the South Indian term for melodic ornamentation “gamaka” and featuring longtime musical partners, this quartet exemplifies Mahanthappa’s matchless ability to blend music with culture.

In Celebration of National Day: Hekayah The Story
November 29

From Nabati poetry to spoken word to hip-hop, a multiple-artist celebration of heritage in poetry, prose and song, drawing from the diverse communities of the UAE. An exciting line-up of performers will honour National Day through words and music.

By Liz Totton
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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