BAM's Next Wave Festival has permanently changed the artistic landscape, featuring breakout performances and landmark productions. Using a name that plays on the New Wave in French cinema, BAM president and executive producer Harvey Lichtenstein launched a series entitled "The Next Wave/New Masters" in November 1981 with four productions: three dance works, plus Philip Glass' new opera Satyagraha. A more ambitious program followed in 1982, including a two-evening performance work by Laurie Anderson entitled United States: Parts I-IV.
The success of these first two years helped propel a bolder and riskier program in the years to come—one that has defined BAM and an entire generation of artists. Current Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo was the producing director of the Next Wave in its inception and continues to spearhead BAM's adventurous programming roster with emerging and established artists, including Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, and Lev Dodin.