On the anniversary of 9/11, Lincoln Center awakens with hope

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On the anniversary of 9/11, Lincoln Center awakens with hope
Dancers perform in “Prologue” on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 at Lincoln Center in New York, which has been closed since March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The dancers were drawn from around the city, including Lloyd Knight, center, a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Joshua Barone

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- On Friday morning, as the call of conch shells summoned dancers to the fountain of Lincoln Center’s plaza, the sun’s softly circular glow broke through clouds that lingered from a passing storm.

The dancers — 28 of them, in costumes of draping white fabric — processed onto the plaza as violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain played a distortion of the national anthem on his electric instrument. This was the premiere of “Prologue,” an adaptation of Buglisi Dance Theater’s “Table of Silence,” which has been presented at Lincoln Center every Sept. 11 morning since the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

It was a more subdued edition of “Table of Silence,” a solemn, ritualistic call for peace through choreography. In earlier years, the plaza was flooded by more than 150 dancers and filled by audience members standing in the round or perched from the promenades of Lincoln Center’s theaters. Friday’s event, however, was closed to the public, available only as a livestream online. Columbus Avenue and Broadway, typically howling with honking cars at rush hour, instead exhaled in a steady flow of traffic.

“Prologue” was, nonetheless, remarkable for even existing. It was the first large-scale performance at Lincoln Center since March 12, when the coronavirus pandemic rendered the complex of theaters indefinitely dormant, sealed off with barricades and signs saying “We’ll be back after a short intermission.”

And this annual ritual, designed to observe a moment of crisis in New York history — the loss of more than 2,700 lives, flickering economic fallout and long-lingering side effects — is unfolding against the backdrop of another. The pandemic has killed nearly 24,000 people in the city so far, ravaged small businesses and, at Lincoln Center and on Broadway, brought down the curtain on the country’s performing arts capital.

That may be why Friday’s performance attracted an arts-starved audience from a distance. The sidewalk was lined with spectators, one person using a selfie stick as a periscope to get a better view from the bottom of the plaza’s stairs. Inside David Geffen Hall, construction workers watched through windows. Henry Timms, Lincoln Center’s president, was there as well.

“I think that ultimately pieces like this remind me that we’re all desperate for these moments of community,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We have lost so many rituals, rituals like this that connect everybody, where we actually are all New Yorkers.”

For the 15-minute “Prologue,” Jacqulyn Buglisi, artistic director of Buglisi Dance Theater, greatly reduced the size of “Table of Silence,” while retaining many of its ceremonial gestures and the climax of outstretched arms held toward the sky. But she also recruited new artists: Roumain, who composed the score and performed it live; and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who wrote the lyrical poem “Awakening” for the work and read it for a recording played over speakers on the plaza. Terese Capucilli, Martha Graham dancer and teacher, reprised her role as “bell master,” the ritual’s leader.

The poem, like “Table of Silence” itself, is meant to be “a beautiful message of awakening and hope,” Buglisi said in an interview. “I think that it’s a really incredibly important time for awakening. We desperately need it.” On Friday, it overlapped with Roumain’s faintly patriotic music as the dancers formed concentric circles around Lincoln Center’s fountain, their billowing costumes bouncing from the movement and gusts of wind that also animated the flag at half-staff outside Geffen Hall.

There was modest, if unexpected, applause for “Prologue” — called such because for people watching on the livestream, it was the beginning of a program that continued with a new video work, “Études,” the 2019 recording of “Table of Silence” and a moment of quiet at 8:46 a.m., the time when an American Airlines plane was flown into the World Trade Center’s north tower. At the premiere’s close, Capucilli remained ruminative. She exited slowly.

“It’s a beautiful energy that radiates from the plaza no matter what year it is,” she said Thursday. “There are storms raging inside us. The Earth is crying in the same kind of turmoil. But every year, when the dancers set foot on that plaza, we choose hope.”

Hope that, for now, has to be transmitted virtually.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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