“Don’t forget the Field is Green” guidelines for interdisciplinary art

I’ve had a remarkably full month of neato arts experiences: 3 weeks ago I was at Rite of Spring and Firebird by the Nashville Ballet, last weekend was a sound installation and studio hop at SeedSpace/Chestnut street artists group, and last night was Emergence by the Nashville Ballet.

So, once upon a time I was a part of a performance group who broke new ground and won a few awards for doing new stuff well. That group was Carolina Crown, a drum and bugle corps, and the show was Bohemia, in 2004.  Our costume/visual designer talked to us about his designs once and said.. “dont forget the field is green”- many innovative new ideas are weakened by some of the most basic realities. Oftentimes its things like the fan on a harddrive, or the sound of the projector, the color of the floor, etc…

Which brings me to Emergence last night. The Ballet deserves high marks for pursuing what’s next in the performing arts.  Ballet is a historically conservative genre.. it’s primary products are displays of classical beauty, gracefullness and stories that involve queens and princes.  As an artist, it was great to be up close and personal to incredibly athletic, mindbendingly fluid dancers doing new work! But it was weird to be so close that you could hear them breathe over the music.  For the first time ever, you could tell how hard the choreography was because the dancers–with all the grace and poise of true professionals– got more winded as each performance went on.

To my mind, the challenge is the change of scale.  I imagine that this is just what i would hear or experience if I were on stage at the Nutcracker.. but the audience experiences the Nutcracker at a much larger distance and in a completely different acoustic environment.

An additional thing to think about in doing cross-disciplinary projects is which system of etiquette will be in force.  Classical music has one system, ballet has a system, and visual art does too.  It’s not all that common for musicians to join hands and come forward for a curtain call… ever.  It struck me that many of these “social protocols” may have something to do with the personalities involved.  It’s probably good to just formally acknowledge which system will be used- at least for the sake of the performers. Curtain calls take a bit of practice to get right.

Lastly, if you’re endeavoring to put on one of these cross-disciplinary performing events.. it might be good to enlist a few technical theatre people.  There are some techniques and devices (as well as terminology) that can really help professionalize the innerworkings of an event like Emergence.  I loved that each piece was followed by a 7-10 minute talkback by the creators, this allowed for set and costume changes by a very busy and very valuable stage crew.

Emergence was a great success!  There’s another show tonight if you want to get tickets:

PS:   if you’re dreaming about doing something like this, consider renting a video switcher/scaler, and enough video monitors so the technical team can see what each feed is receiving- without the audience being able to see.  It’s a fantastic safety net for events involving projection.