'Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)' to have its world premiere in Ann Arbor on Friday, Saturday

University Musical Society to welcome new theater work on Robert Mapplethorpe

By Sarah M. Parlette - Associated Producer

"Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)" has music composed by Bryce Dessner (left) and a libretto written by Korde Tuttle Arrington (right). Photo | Pascal Gely

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - On March 15, 16, the University of Michigan’s University Musical Society will present, for the first time, "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)," an immersive experience in the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

With music composed by Bryce Dessner and a libretto by artist Korde Arrington Tuttle, the commissioned piece is the result of Dessner and Tuttle’s fascination with the stylized yet brutally honest depiction of controversial topics in Mapplethorpe’s photography.

The experience will be held at the Power Center at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

“Situated somewhere between erotic heat and cool classicism, Mapplethorpe’s work obliterates the high-low divide, exploding classical conceptions of beauty.”  - UMS 

Including poetry by Essex Hemphill and Patti Smith, music sung Grammy-winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth and an eight-piece chamber orchestra, "Triptych (Eye of One on Another)" explores and honors Mapplethorpe’s black and white photography, which sparked public outcry and controversy in the 1980s.

The theatrical experience will take place on March 15, 16 at the Power Center. Photo | Maria Baranova.

“As a teenager, I was told by the authorities that I was not allowed to look at Mapplethorpe’s photographs and that these tremendous works of art were not art at all, but pornography,” says Dessner. “This censorship made a significant impact on my life at the time and on my decision to pursue art and music as a career. Thirty years later, I have decided to respond in my own way and to look at these pictures again myself and through the eyes of my wonderful collaborator, the librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle. This project has challenged me more than any work to date, and I am honored to share this journey with this ensemble.”

“In the work of Mapplethorpe and Hemphill, I find kinship, pierced by its beauty and rage,” adds Tuttle. “I am thrilled to birth this dream project into the world, along with Bryce Dessner, a personal inspiration. In the spirit of looking across time and cultural divides, it is an honor to place my voice alongside those of Hemphill and literary hero Patti Smith.”

Directed by Kaneza Schaal, the immersive experience will also incorporate projections of the striking imagery that not only illuminate the artwork itself but renew Mapplethorpe’s startlingly and direct look at humanity.

Composer Bryce Dessner at work. Photo | Pascal Gely

After both performances of "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)"​​​​​​​, there will be artist Q&A sessions.

On March 14, Dessner, Tuttle and Schaal will discuss how Mapplethorpe’s photography impacted them and the steps they took to turn his work into an immersive experience for audiences. This discussion will be part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker series at 5:10 p.m. at Michigan Theater.

Tickets range from $34 to $60 but students, seniors, large groups and family can receive discounted tickets. Due to mature content, the program is recommended for those 16 years and older. 

For a full list of those involved in the commission as well as details about the theatrical work, look at the "Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)" event page.

The Power Center is located at 121 Fletcher Street. 

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