How Great Art is Made

A Guggenheim series offers rare access and deep insights into the creators and the creative process behind musical and theatrical performances

Sep 09 2019 | 02:06 PM

Where does the artistic journey begin? How does it evolve? Did you ever find yourself wondering ‘Who came up with this?’ as you watch a play, listen to music, or see an opera or a dance performance? The Guggenheim has some answers. Since 1984, the "Works and Process" series has drawn back the curtain on the creative process, introducing the artists, talent, discipline, hard work, collaborations and creativity that go into the masterpieces that appear on New York's stages.

In the intimate setting of the museum's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Peter B. Lewis Theater, audience members meet the individuals behind the magic, in an encounter that's both humanizing and inspiring. For every great work that appears fully realized, there are countless hours of imagination, concentration, practice, editing, reworking, feedback, and finally knowing when something is complete. "Works and Process" offers insights into those hours, along with excerpts of the completed pieces.

Where Artists and Audiences Meet

Caroline Cronson is the producer of the series. Along with Duke Dang, the general manager, they search out new, interesting, and important works to bring to the Guggenheim's audience. The goal is to elucidate the creative process and support the artists. "We're all about the creators," Cronson said. "It's all about helping the individuals."

There are commissioned works, previews and selections from major productions. Each season highlights a number of specially created works performed in the majestic rotunda of the museum. The program has become beloved by artists and audience alike, with many of both coming back year after year.

"Our very first show in 'Works and Process,'" said Cronson "was the New York City Opera production of ‘Akhnaten’ and we are reprising it this year." On October 16th, the stars and creative team behind the Metropolitan Opera's much anticipated production of the Philip Glass opera will be on the Guggenheim stage. "It's an 80-minute program that opens with a performance," Cronson explained. "For example, it may be ‘Akhnaten,’ in act One, where he's transformed into a god. Then, they might discuss how Philip Glass came to create it – what voices he chose, what musical instruments he chose. And then we'll have another excerpt." The opera's director will talk about his approach, as will Anthony Roth Costanzo, who stars as the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, and J’Nai Bridges, who performs the role of Nefertiti. Then, Cronson said, "they'll finish with an excerpt and the audience will go off dying to see more."

A Stellar Lineup

The season opened last week with a performance by multidisciplinary artist and costume designer, Machine Dazzle, which was "dazzling," Cronson admitted. Upcoming highlights include performances in the rotunda by Dance Theatre of Harlem and Roomful of Teeth. There will be previews of new works from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet West, National Ballet of Canada, and Washington Ballet. For the New Group’s world premiere of "Cyrano," a musical adaptation of the classic tale, a discussion with director Erica Schmidt, actor Peter Dinklage, and composer Aaron Dessner will be presented. A Merce Cunningham centennial celebration, The Metropolitan Opera’s "Porgy and Bess," and a much-beloved and only at the Guggenheim production of "Peter and the Wolf" featuring Isaac Mizrahi performing, along with his costumes and sets, are all on the schedule.

"The museum closes and the rotunda opens to the audience at 5:30 p.m.," Cronson explained. "At 7:00 the theater opens. The show is about 80 minutes. After the show you go to the glorious rotunda, and you have wine, water and snacks with the creative team, the actors, the dancers, and everyone in the show. So, the audience gets to mix and mingle with the people on stage."

Cronson and her team keep the programs diverse, with productions that appeal to young and old, serious and curious, what she calls "core super users," and first-timers. The season winds up with a swing dance party with Caleb Teicher, Ben Folds, and Eyal Vilner Big Band.

Mingling with stars under Frank Lloyd Wright's skylight with masterworks of modern art looking down is something that only happens in New York, only at the Guggenheim.

IF YOU GO

What: "Works and Process" worksandprocess.org

Where: Peter B. Lewis Theater, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave at 89th St

When: Through December 16th