Be Holding

BE HOLDING  is a large scale operatic performance work created by poet Ross Gay, composer Tyshawn Sorey, New Music Ensemble Yarn/Wire, and director/artist Brooke O’Harra. 

This dynamic collective of artists will draw from Ross Gay’s long poem Be Holding as the libretto for a large-scale operatic performance, which will premier in 2023. Be Holding is currently being developed at Girard College (Philadelphia, PA). The creative process for the piece will engage the students at Girard College, a tuition-free boarding school for academically capable first-through-twelfth-grade students from families with limited financial resources. The school will host the artists in a multi-year residency to develop the multidisciplinary performance. The artists will work in close collaboration with the school, which will incorporate the development of the new work into its curriculum. Support for Be Holding is provided by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

“It has occurred to me, with much sorrow (though I’m getting over it), that not everyone knows who Dr. J (Julius Erving) is.  I have learned this over the years, as I was trying to write this poem and would occasionally be talking to an audience that consisted, at least in part, of, shall we say, millennials, about what I was working on.  “Oh,” I’d say vaguely, “I’m working on a poem about Dr. J.”  In these encounters I realized that many of these otherwise decent people had never heard of The Doctor (though LeBron James, et a few al, they had all mostly at least heard of).  

This strikes me as a generational ignorance, not a moral one, and for that reason I begrudge these people (or you, if you are one of them) not at all, for I have never read Harry Potter, etc.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  And feel at least in the realm of being a decent person.”  -Ross Gay 

In moving passages about his own loving but economically hard-pressed upbringing in a biracial family, Gay poses the living breath of memory against the dispiriting “museum of pain.” More broadly, like those photographic subjects who seem to look back and beyond the lookers who threaten to fix them for their own purposes, readers are invited to participate in a more humanizing communal vision. No less than the poet, and along with Dr. J, getting to his feet again after his flight from fallenness, we can experience a “beholding” both generous and reciprocal…

–  Kenyon Review (Kevin O’Connor)

Composer Tyshawn Sorey claims Philly as a second home, Ross Gay claims it as his first home and Brooke O’Harra as her current home.  And although this project is not a celebration of a city, or solely about the flight of Julius Irving it is a project that is born out of Philadelphia. 

Be Holding is a moving and visceral poem that speaks to the urgencies of this moment. Gay describes it as a poem “a poem that meditates, very slowly, on this tiny, impossibly beautiful moment of black flight, black genius, black beauty—and the meditation maybe is a specific mode of intentional looking (and wondering) in the midst of or as an alternative to what might be common ways of looking at, imagining, confining, black life. I guess I’m wondering about the common violence involved in looking at black people, the commodification of that violent looking, and, truly and deeply and aspirationally I’m wondering about the ways we might look tenderly and lovingly at one another, how we hold one another, how we might be holding one another, how we are beholden to one another.  That, I think, is the poem’s question.  Among a few other things! The poem’s in conversation with (beholden to) not only the Dr. J move, but also the work of Carrie Mae Weems, Christina Sharpe, Kevin Quashie, Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Aracelis Girmay, Patrick Rosal, Amiri Baraka, Allen Iverson, and definitely lots (and lots) of other people.”  

Sorey who is known for his epic and transformative percussion and composition work is the ideal collaborator to work with and inside of Gay’s epic poem.  Gay will perform the poem alongside Sorey’s composition for the new music ensemble Yarn/Wire (a percussion and piano quartet) and a chorus of four singers. O’Harra will stage the event with dance, video and possible hundreds of basketballs.

Read more about Be Holding:

in The New York Times

in Penn Today

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