PBS continues to show the diversity of its programming with two very different productions launching over the next few days on Valley PBS.
“Great Performances: Black Lucy and The Bard,” debuting at 9 p.m. Sept. 19, explores the love life of William Shakespeare and his muses, the “Dark Lady” and the “Fair Youth,” through a performance by the Nashville Ballet. It presents the idea that the subjects and inspirations in his love sonnets were a Black woman and a young man.
The ballet is set to an original score by Grammy-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens and co-composer Francesco Turrisi. Author and performer Caroline Randall Williams narrates the ballet with her own spoken word poetry from the 2015 book on which the show was based, “Lucy Negro, Redux.”
Williams says, “I wrote this book. I had no idea what kind of audience it had the chance of reaching. I was finishing up graduate school and obsessed with Lucy, obsessed with Shakespeare.
“I’ve been obsessed with Shakespeare for a long time. I had the great gift of [Nashville Ballet’s artistic director] Paul [Vasterling] getting his hands on my book and reaching out to me to ask me if I thought that it would have a life on the stage, which I very much had never dreamed that it could but was delighted to hear he thought it might, because I’m a Shakespeare girl. And who doesn’t want their Shakespeare story on the stage?”
Their efforts resulted in the ballet that explores themes of love, otherness, equality and beauty. Claudia Monja leads the cast as Lucy along with Owen Thorne as Shakespeare and Nicolas Scheuer as Fair Youth.
It was choreographed and directed by Vasterling using a minimalist set.
Vasterling says, “My process of choreographing is I do a lot of material, and then I start to winnow it down. We did a workshop up in Chautauqua, New York where I had two dancers. I was just experimenting and pulling things out, and I video everything obsessively and then sort of start to edit it down.”
Programming for Valley PBS gets a little more historical with “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” a new three-part documentary directed and produced by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein. The production, set to debut at 8 p.m. Sept. 18, explores America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history.
The film examines the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany in the context of global antisemitism and racism, the eugenics movement in the United States and race laws in the American south. It examines how racism influences policies related to immigration and refugees as well as how governments and people respond to the rise of authoritarian states that manipulate history and facts to consolidate power.
Burns says, “Holocaust denialism is a kind of subset of anti-Semitism. And what we felt incumbent upon us was to sort of lay the groundwork of not only worldwide, but American anti-Semitism that extends deep into our film, and to the 19th, and implied into the 18th century.
“And certainly, the 20th century manifestations are really unpleasant to consider and look at, even as the Nazi regime is rising; even as awareness of the atrocities of that regime are happening; even as the Second World War begins; even as we begin to learn about the mass slaughter of Jews; even as we discover, at the end of the war, these things, and they continue to this day.”
The film looks at American policy on topics ranging from Calvin Coolidge’s staunch anti-immigration ideology to FDR’s Lend-Lease bill and how these fights took shape on the home front, including the emergence of Nazi sympathizers.
The second episodes of “The U.S. and the Holocaust will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sept. 20 with the third episode set for 8 p.m. Sept. 21. All three episodes will be available to stream for free starting on Sept. 18.
When work started on the documentary five years ago, the production team hoped that when it was released the documentary would resonate with what was happening in the world. They just could not predict that it would touch on themes that are resonating very loudly at this time.
“I think, quite frankly, we didn’t anticipate it. But in all of our films we’ve always had our minds focused on telling the story, and always confident that once it’s done, and we lift our heads up, it will be resonating; it will be echoing in the present,” Burns says. “I think what is so perhaps disturbing but perhaps illuminating, is the fact that this is, in almost every sentence of this story, resonating in a very fraught and very complicated and very fragile present moment.”