Creativity's in the air
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Friday, May 4, 2012
If you have plans next week to pick up lunch on K Street, thrift your way through Eastern Market or meet friends for happy hour, a couple of words of advice: Look out. You just might find yourself starring in the Kennedy Center festival "Look Both Ways: Street Arts Across America."
The week-long festival, which begins Sunday, is the center's grand experiment in taking performances out of its halls and into places where crowds can stumble onto them, almost serendipitously, and find themselves drawn into the action.
With hipster marching bands, jugglers, dancers and high-flying aerialists, the free festival will be innately family friendly. The key, says Garth Ross, the center's vice president of community engagement, is to take "the art outside to the community. We want to step outside our own walls."
The first performers - stilt walkers, jugglers and a mildly garish plush thing known as Mouth Monster - make their debut not in the Kennedy Center's lush Opera House or Eisenhower Theater, but somewhere amid the vintage purses, rhinestone necklaces and poster art of Eastern Market.
On another evening, a San Francisco-based dance troupe will fly high above the city in a performance staged on the side of a historic building. And on the final day, contemporary artist Nick Cave will give a rare performance with a group of talented local dancers. In between, office workers can immerse themselves in "Lunchtime Invasions" in Farragut Square and mingle with the Yo-Yo People. (The "invasions" are just one of the mini-series within the festival.)
"It's going to be this amazing collection of the greatest performers from all over the country," says Molly Ross, director of the Baltimore company Nana Projects, which will stilt-walk its way through two shows during the week. "People in D.C., you're going to almost feel like you've got whiplash. Every time you turn around, you're going to see something that's going to make you want to stop and watch."
Below, we take a look at some of the performers about to capture audiences on Washington's streets, in its parks - even in the skies.
It could well be the most daring feat ever attempted at a government building: a half-dozen would-be Spideys and a jazz musician will scale the iconic Old Post Office Pavilion building in little more than modified rock-climbing gear and put on a graceful, modern ballet nearly 300 feet in the air.
"While we dance in theaters, on the ground, in the air, on structures, on sculptures and on climbing walls, we specialize in dancing on buildings," says Amelia Rudolph, artistic director of Project Bandaloop.
The San Francisco-based dance company, which has leapt from glass towers in Mumbai, the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York and Seattle's Space Needle, will add the 19th-century Washington building to its list of conquests next week when it stages its full-length work "Bound(less)" on its surface. Musician Dana Leong, who provides the score, will be hoisted up right along with the dancers.
"Bound(less)," says Rudolph, is about "how tiny and insignificant we are, and how vast and powerful we can be as a group. It is complex modern dance on the side of a building."
The work, which debuted late last year, will be adapted around the idiosyncrasies of the Old Post Office Pavilion. "There are ledges, there are walls that jut out. There's no place that has one big, wide, flat area for very long," Rudolph says. Then there's that clock tower.
But the grueling rehearsals, the many permissions that must be secured and the physical challenges posed each time Project Bandaloop climbs high onto a building are simply part of what the group has done for two decades, acting as what Rudolph calls "ambassadors for the form."
"What I've discovered in doing the work this way is that you will still get dance audiences," she says, "but you will also get the skateboarding 14-year-old tough kid, boy or girl, who would never go see 'Giselle' to go see dance for the first time."
Project Bandaloop's "Bound(less)" will be performed May 11 at 9 p.m. as part of the Look Up! Night Street Fair from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Old Post Office Pavilion, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Nick Cave with Lesole's Dance Project
Contemporary artist Nick Cave's towering, bijoux-covered "Soundsuits" drew oohs and ahhs when they flanked the entryway to the Corcoran Gallery of Art's "30 Americans" exhibit in the fall. But that was just a glimpse of what Washingtonians will see as part of "Look Both Ways."
Soundsuits are Cave's calling card. Crafted with jaw-dropping detail from vintage textiles, buttons, twigs and other objects the artist culls in his travels, the suits are stunners inside the quiet galleries of major museums, taking their name from the curious rustle they make when worn.
Yes, these suits were made for walking.
Cave, a former dancer, told an audience at the Corcoran recently that to wear the suit is to adopt "a new identity. Gender, race and class are no longer evident."
On the final day of the festival, audiences will see - and hear - Cave's Soundsuits come to life in a collaboration with Lesole's Dance Project, a Washington-based South African dance company. Fifteen dancers will perform traditional South African and modern dance in Soundsuits that take the shape of horses - tall, long-locked beasts that will stomp and sway in a colorful spectacle at the Yards Park.
The show, dubbed "Heard," recently debuted at the University of North Texas. With Lesole's dancers in the suits, however, an entirely new performance will be created for Washington, with just one night of rehearsals and a few phone conversations.
"It's very different - we don't know what's going to come out of it, but we are very excited," says Lesole Maine, the company's artistic director.
"We personally have never danced with our faces covered," Maine says, explaining that costumes are typically minimal in the South African tradition. The opportunity to don a soundsuit with his dancers might be one he can't pass up.
"I think I'm going to be part of it," Maine says with a laugh. "I want to have that feeling - that no one sees you, being covered from head to toe. It's going to be a new experience for me as well."
"Heard," part of Street Arts in the Park, will be performed May 12 at 3 p.m. in the "boardwalk" area of the Yards Park at Third and Water streets SE. Street Arts in the Park will be held from noon to 6 p.m.
If Baltimore's Nana Projects sweeps you up in one of its processions at the Yards Park, you just might feel as though you've run off and joined the circus.
Those who get in on the artful parades will circle the park alongside stilt walkers, musicians from the band Sac au Lait and other artists in a grand celebration of, well, nothing in particular.
"We want to transform the ordinary landscape into something magical, even if it's just for a moment," says company director Molly Ross. (Nana Projects once staged 17 such parades in three days for Baltimore's annual Artscape, leading roving bands dressed in 1980s neon colors around the city.)
The more participants, the greater the procession. To that end, Nana Projects will first gather crowds to make elaborate, colorful hats from paper plates - the perfect attire for silly, ostentatious parading.
Nana Projects' hat-making workshops are on May 12 at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. and processions are at 1, 3 and 4:30 p.m. at the Yards Park, Third and Water streets SE. The group will also perform Sunday during a Lunchtime Invasion from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Eastern Market, 225 Seventh St. SE.
With 30 marching musicians and a coterie of peppy cheerleaders, Chicago's Mucca Pazza certainly looks like a marching band, but it takes only a note or two to realize that this is a drum line gone rogue.
Few conventional marching bands bring accordions, violins, guitars and mandolins; fewer still mount speakers on their performers' heads and march headfirst into crowds.
That's precisely what will make them so much fun to watch when they perform at the new Fairgrounds space near Nationals Park on Sunday.
Many of the members of Mucca Pazza cut their teeth in the orchestras of Chicago's theaters, says bandleader Mark Messing, but their interests went beyond the pit to include rock-and-roll, world music and punk, all of which are woven into the boisterous big-band music the group composes and plays.
"Since we can move, the music is physical," Messing says. "It's often a game with us - there's dancing, there's chasing and there's fun and games." Sunday afternoon's show will be pure street theater, he says. If you miss them at the park, the group will also march its way onto the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center that evening at 6 p.m.
Mucca Pazza performs Sunday for a Lunchtime Invasion from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Fairgrounds, 1299 Half St. SE.; and Sunday at 6 p.m. at Street to Stage, held on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW.
The performers of Chicago's Midnight Circus are masters of the art of spectacle: How could a company that pairs dancers, actors, physical comedians, aerialists, acrobats and acrobatic jump-ropers in a single show not be?
For "Look Both Ways," this traveling caravan is rolling in on a strange contraption that looks like a 25-foot-tall crane but is effectively a mobile stage. The crane, says Julie Jenkins, co-artistic director of Midnight Circus, "goes up and down, and people can climb over it while it's moving. It's pretty spectacular in terms of grabbing the space."
On it, the performers will weave a tale about a boy who's finding his way through their madcap world. Grammy-nominated saxophonist Mars Williams of Liquid Soul and a DJ will provide the score (and they might just go airborne themselves).
The aesthetic, Jenkins explains, is pure "urban gypsy."
"We do a lot of outdoor spectacle," she says. "Our goal when going outside is to create something highly visual that grabs people's attention. We try to keep people surprised."
Midnight Circus performs Thursday at 6 p.m. at Street to Stage on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW. It will also perform May 11 for a Lunchtime Invasion from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Farragut Square, 17th Street NW between K and I streets.