On Stage: Young Guns

If you build it they will come. So went the philosophy of Kevin Costner’s classic baseball movie, Field of Dreams. But what does that have to do with the arts?

Building a concert hall would be cost-prohibitive. But why not turn the tables? Take a group of cool, young and, of course, talented musicians to play in a gallery. Or a Pittsburgh landmark. Then tailor it with the addition of dancers and/or visual artists.

As a dance writer, that’s where I come in. This is the next generation — composers and dancers and artists who are still trying to find their brand, who don’t mind meeting on common ground, who do this all out of passion.

Or else why would we have Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra joining with Shana Simmons Dance Company, first at a robust collection of more than 20 groups on view at the Union Project this summer, then at Future Tenant, where the two ensembles and audience had a 1:1 ratio (about 25 of each) in that intimate art gallery space.

Then there’s OvreArts, spearheaded by composers Blake Ragghianti and Luke Mayernik, who took a more traditional approach at CAPA recently with eight dancers from Texture Contemporary Ballet, a ninth from The Pillow Project and a 50-piece(!) orchestra.

They can’t be getting paid much, but they are making a discernible buzz.

E.L.C.O. lo-o-oves John Cage and they are betting that, given the right format, they can attract audiences who don’t necessarily need to hear tonal harmonies or simple melodies. Or to be educated. They want the artists play with it. In other words, classical contemporary music doesn’t need to be a solemn affair.

The premise at Future Tenant gallery focused on time, space and memory. Futurist John Cage was sandwiched in amidst music by minimalist Steve Reich, E.L.C.O. artistic director  David G. Matthews (not to be confused with rocker Dave Matthews) and Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides, Now, using a pretty straightforward melody surrounded by clouds of ethereal chords.

Shana Simmons brought a couple of dancers who responded to the music while creating a thoughtful and discernible structure. They also involved audience members, drawing them into the overall experience. And VJ/DJ Casey Hallas reflected it all in her video work — A Starry Night reflected on her screen, clocks, real time memories of the audience.

A wide swatch of great communication between the disciplines resulted in a sophisticated concert format that will stretch an open-minded audience, whether beginner or advanced, visually-oriented or aurally-oriented, in highly effective ways.

OvreArts cofounders Blake and Luke obviously have big plans. They built their own orchestra and chorus and each composed a ballet for the occasion, which attracted a good crowd, splashed with new and equally young faces.

Both have substantial credentials and composing skills, which gave the performance a great foundation. Luke chose The Alkonost, which looked like a variation on The Firebird, with a phoenix-like twist.  Based on an actual Russian legend about a mythological bird (Kelsey Bartman), it had a Stravinsky-esque accompaniment.

Blake supplied Infinity, a highly skillful abstract work with changing meters and textures, actually well-suited to the dance and something that pushed Texture out of its comfort zone at the two CAPA performances.

These organizations were symbolic of a cadre of artists armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, something we have not seen to such an extent before here in Pittsburgh. It’s an overwhelming sense of unbridled creativity. And in the process, they are treading uncharted waters, confident that they can attract and sustain adventurous audiences who want to redefine art and entertainment.

Check them out. Electric Laboratory Chamber Orchestra. OvreArts. Texture Contemporary Ballet.

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