The September 2021 issue of the Robert Lax Newsletter has just gone out to subscribers. The newsletter, now in its 6th year, is a compendium of the latest Lax news alongside features about his relationships to individuals, the arts, poetry, Greece, and many other subjects. It is filled with photographs and links.
The latest issue includes:
A meditation on Lax and the visual arts.
News about the death of Corcaita “Corky” Cristiani, the last performer Lax knew personally in the family of acrobats he loved and was inspired by–with links to Corky’s film career and other Cristiani information.
Images of some of Lax’s first poems, published when he was 18.
News of new Lax-related publications.
Words by Lax on how to be present and truthful and soulful in writing.
Newsletter subscribers receive stories and news before they’re posted on the website, as well as exclusive information, stories and meditations.
The newsletter is free. To subscribe, click here and enter your email on the left side of the page.
This past spring, Cirkus Cirkör, the Swedish circus company that co-produced Philip Glass’s new opera, “Circus Days and Nights,” based on Robert Lax’s circus poems, asked me to be help with a video introducing Lax to its audience. The video won’t be released until dates for the opera’s upcoming world tour are ready to be announced, but Cirkus Cirkör has given me permission to give Lax fans a sneak peak.
Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the schedules of virtually all arts organizations. Malmö Opera, where composer Philip Glass’s circus opera based on Robert Lax’s poems is set to debut, is no exception. The opera house has been dark since December. Happily, though, the premiere of “Circus Days and Nights” will go on as scheduled on May 29, 2021.
Here’s what Henrik Sundin, marketing manager for co-producer Cirkus Cirkör, just wrote to me about the potential audience for the premiere: “At the moment, the restrictions in Sweden is 8 persons. But it’s reviewed every month so we don’t know. Maybe it will be a digital premiere. Maybe we will have 8, 50 or 300 in the audience.“
Because of the uncertainty, ticket sales have been suspended and the dates for the opera’s world tour are yet to be set. I’ll pass on further information when I have it.
You’l find more information on the opera, including costume sketches and set models here.
The images above are of the cover and information page from the original hardcover edition of Lax’s The Circus of the Sun (only 500 copies printed).
Shortly after Germany ended its coronavirus lockdown in May, the Kunstverein Röderhof Gallery near the small town of Halberstadt opened an exhibit called “Robert Lax Remembered.“ The show ran through the end of July. Here are some pictures of it.
Lax admirer Jörg Kowalski and painter Olaf Wegewitz designed the exhibit, which included “text flags” that were three meters long, photos by Lax and of Patmos, objects from Kowalski’s Lax collection, and materials from the Mailart project “PATMOS–PROJEKT: Hommage á Robert Lax.”
I announced this several months ago but now it’s official: “Circus Days and Nights,” the new circus opera by Philip Glass, based on poems by Robert Lax (with libretto by David Henry Hwang and Tilde Björfors), will have its world premiere at Sweden’s Malmö Opera on May 29, 2021.
Cirkus Days and Nights is a co-production between Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera. After its premiere at Malmö Opera, Cirkus Cirkör, Scandinavia’s leading contemporary circus company, will take it on tour.
Here’s a description from the press release sent out this week:
“An entirely new work meets an entirely new form: Circus Days and Nights is a circus opera in three acts, written by legendary composer Philip Glass. Its inspiration is Robert Lax’s masterwork Circus Days and Nights, a collection of poems that draws us into the poet’s fascination with acrobats and the circus lifestyle and takes us on the road with him when he “runs away” and joins a circus in 1940s America. For Lax, the circus becomes a metaphor for life itself – the cycle of life and death –and for human yearning and striving. Circus Days and Nights will be a boundary-crossing performance that brings the circus ring into the opera house.”
You can read the full press release here and see photographs ofCirkus Cirkör shows here.
Some quotes from those who created the opera:
”I have had the rights to the poem for about ten years, but I couldn’t write the piece because I hadn’t found my circus. When I saw Tilde’s staging of ‘Satyagraha’ it struck me: Here’s my circus.” –Philip Glass
“In Robert Lax’s poem and vision of the circus as a metaphor for life, I discovered a soulmate and ever since, Circus Days and Nights has had a permanent place on my nightstand. In Philip Glass’s music, I heard the ultimate circus music, music that commingles with the circus disciplines. Having the opportunity to bring together these two sources of inspiration is dizzying and fills me with a sense of humility in the face of life’s breathtaking leaps of faith.” –Tilde Björfors
“I read the poems and I was really touched by their beauty, their simplicity in a sense, and yet their profundity. The way Lax envisions Circus as an act of creation and the cycle of putting up a show and taking it down is the cycle of life itself.” –David Henry Hwang
The course is part of being offered by the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University. Below are details and a short bio for the instructor:
Course Title: Robert Lax: Mystic Poet Dates & Times: June 8-12 | 9 a.m.-noon | Monday through Friday Presenter: Dr. Joshua C. Benson
This course will explore the life and mysticism of Robert Lax. Utilizing new biographical information and new sources from the Lax Archive at St. Bonaventure University’s Friedsam Library, the course will introduce Lax’s life, including his connection with St. Bonaventure and the Franciscan Institute, explore his thoughts on the virtue of Charity, and study his introspective poetic mysticism.
Dr. Joshua C. Benson is chair of the Department of Theology and Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University. His prior research includes studies of St. Bonaventure and other Franciscans. His most recent research has focused on unpublished materials in the Robert Lax archive, some of which appeared in the recent publication of Lax’s “21 Pages and Psalm” by the Franciscan Institute.
I just learned from composer Kile Smith that The Crossing’s performance of his composition “The Arc in the Sky,” a choral arrangement based on Lax’s poetry and other writings is a finalist for a 2020 Grammy Award!
Here’s what Smith wrote about the news on his website this morning:
“When The Arc in the Sky was thrown into the Grammy hat a couple of months ago, I thought the chances were slim of its advancing, just because of how large the pool is at that stage. And since The Crossing won Grammys the last two years in a row, those chances, to me, felt even slimmer. But now The Arc is one of the finalists, it’s up against all worthies, including great friends of mine, and so here we go. See you January 26th!”
January 26 is the date the Grammy Awards will take place and the winners will be announced.
Here’s a full list of the finalists in Best Choral Performance:
Boyle: Voyages, Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
Iconic American composer Philip Glass, known for his minimalist approach, is working on a “circus opera” based on Lax’s Circus Days and Nights. Since Lax has often been called a minimalist himself, this seems like a perfect match.
A cooperative venture between Cirkus Cirkör, a well-known circus group in Sweden, and the Malmö Opera, the new Glass/Lax work will have its world premiere in Malmö, Sweden, in May 2021. After that, Cirkus Cirkör plans to take it on a world tour.
A circus opera in two acts, based on the American poet Robert Lax’s book by the same title. Circus Days and Nights is a collection of existential poems where the Circus acts as a metaphor for life and the human condition.
This brand new opera, commissioned by Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera is composed by the legendary Philip Glass with a libretto written by Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang. The piece is co-conceived and directed by the Swedish circus director Tilde Björfors, recipient of the Premio Europa/New Theatrical Realities.
The story follows a travelling circus company from day into night, and investigates the circularity of time, the constant travelling and seeks the joy in the repetition of the daily chores of everybody involved in this extended circus family. The circus tent acts as an image of the world, and of a greater spiritual side to the world’s perpetual journey through space, here interpreted as a circus act.
For more information, go to Cirkus Cirkör and download the “info sheet” PDF.
“I have had the rights to the poem for about ten years, but forgot to write the piece. But when I saw Tilde’s staging of ‘Satyagraha’ it struck me: They could do it!” –Philip Glass
(from “Circus Days and Nights” info sheet.)
Here are a few more details from the Cirkus Cirkör website and a recent press release (with thanks to Tomas Einarsson for translations):
Since the 1970’s, Philip Glass has been one of Americas most successful composers. His music is sometimes labeled as minimalism but it is powerful and suggestive, and often has a hypnotic force. He has a large fan base all over the world through his rich production of film music, operas, world tours with his own ensemble, and cooperations with artist such as David Bowie and Laurie Anderson.
Cirkus Cirkör began when Tilde Björfors (artistic leader and co-founder, who will direct the new Glass/Lax work) and several other artists traveled to Paris and fell in love with the possibilities the contemporary circus offered. They decided to stop dreaming big and living small and instead give their all to make a reality of their dreams. Twenty years later, more that 2 million people have seen a Cirkus Cirkör show on stage and in festivals around the world. In addition, 400,000 children and youth have been trained in contemporary circus techniques. Contemporary circus is now an established art form in Sweden. You will find it in all sorts of places, from preschools to universities and homes for the elderly.
Cirkus Cirkör and Philip Glass:
In 2016, Cirkus Cirkör, together with Folkoperan, performed the Philip Glass opera “Satyagraha” in Stockholm, which began a relationship between the circus and the composer. “Satyagraha” played almost 70 sold-out shows. It also made guest appearances in Göteborg, Copenhagen, and BAM in New York. All of the New York shows were sold out and Philip Glass attended the premiere.