Filament @ EMPAC

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Nippertown! I was planning to see some events at Filament, the weekend long fest at EMPAC, AKA the finest performing arts center in the region, but thanks to the free pass I won, I got to see a LOT. It was a gorgeous weekend — inside and out. Cool but sunny and the big wooden ball inside the glass case looked lovely. That’s the thing about EMPAC, it’s aesthetically appealing but also amazingly and intricately functional. Each performance space can be endlessly rearranged to accommodate sound, lighting, screens and so on. The small studio spaces have mobile seating as well.

Things we saw: Early Morning Opera’s ABACUS performance in the main concert hall, presented by Early Morning Opera, directed by Lars Jan and performed by Paul Abacus. It was inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller, he of the geodesic dome, whom I learned about from the inner sleeves of Harry Nilsson albums. The multimedia presentation, was a combination of Abacus’ exhortations, video screens, music, the steadicam dancers and — briefly — a giant panda. It was meant to be a melding of Powerpoint business lectures, stadium church preaching and genuine appeal. Much of it worked well, although I thought the final shooting in the hallway tried too hard to connect the radical notion of a world without borders to the fates of leaders who had been assassinated for their radical views. The Q&A after was hampered by Abacus appearing in one of the studios in another performance and for me, because Jan looks disconcertingly like David Baddiel but talks Californian. We went to the installation afterward, which happened in the same space but for one person at a time. We each went in for our encounter with Dr. Hieronymus Yang, “the world’s first accredited giant panda” which involved touch screen control of images projected on the six giant screens (although not all the bugs had been worked out).

By far my favourite pieces were the live shorts, which were in Studio 1 (in various configurations). Standouts included “The Golden Veil: A Cautionary Entertainment” by the National Theater of the United States of America who offered a spookily creepy, fairytale-like narrative. “Sheepspace” by Sue-C and Laetitia Sonami offered a video projection into the secret world of sheepwomen who live between the boundaries of known worlds. “Intervention #2” by Wally Cardona + Heidi Jo Newberg, professor of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy at RPI, featured an interview with Newberg to which Cardona creates a choreography. Items that seemed like random things strewn across the space
ended up being part of the tools by which Newberg helped students understand infinity and the vastness of space. Cardona’s amazing movements created an extra layer of wonder. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a dance performance, I had forgotten just how amazing the human body can be.

MTAA did a twitter performance called “You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About” which allowed the audience to tweet things that they would read. Of course I was pleased that several of my tweets got read 🙂 It was great to see people tweeting ways to involve the whole audience, too. Despite the short time (10 minutes) it was wonderful to see how the performance innovated. I liked the ideas behind Trouble’s performance “A Narrow Vehicle” but their attempt to utilize ritual elements for a kind of spiritual performance fell a little flat because the ritual didn’t go anywhere, it certainly wasn’t (as they claimed) shamanistic in any way and wow, people are not observant. A lot of people just walked off the path. The ballet-centric piece “Another Circle” by Jen DeNike and Rose Kallal likewise tried to call on the power of ritual magic, but didn’t quite come together. The hypnotic pirouettes of the dancer on screen and live did offer a sort of abstract meditative energy, but the assaultive soundscape undercut any meditative impulse. A real crowd-pleaser was “Amazingland in Troy EMagicPAC” by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle, which used the practices of popular magic and showmanship.

We finished Saturday night with BalletLab’s Miracle, “a triumphant onslaught of choreographic hysteria performed against repetitive mantra, movement, and hym-like voices.” It was cathartic, emotional — I think I felt exhausted just watching the dancers perform. It was remarkable how they evoked scenes of religious and social hysteria, cult behaviour and terrible emotional suffering. Near the end the sound became almost too much for me to bear (high sharp tones at high volume always bother me), but it was an arresting performance that left the audience simply limp by the end.

There was more — installations, performances, the crowds roosting in the trees surrounding the site, lots of conversation and a gorgeous weekend of weather. I’m exhausted just typing all this and it’s taken me all day to finally sit down to do it, so this will have to do for now. But if you haven’t got yourself up to EMPAC, you need to do so with all due speed. Amazing and beautiful. My head is humming with ideas and inspirations — and that’s what it’s all about.