Bricolage smears art all over the place

by Amy Kingsley

There was a time when the Piedmont Triad – before it was the Piedmont Triad – was a pretty homogeneous place.

Before the advent of radio, the area’s cultural offerings consisted of folk music and live theater. Most social networking happened at church picnics and public school outings.

These days the Triad’s cultural output is much more diverse, and it competes with everything from touring Broadway performances to YouTube.

That variety was on display this weekend during the first ever Bricolage Arts Festival, a unique cultural experiment where artists crossed county and disciplinary lines to create new work.

The festival had been going for two days when I checked in for the first time on Saturday afternoon. A small crowd waited in a dim room at the High Point Historical Museum for On Track, an interactive film, to begin.

And begin it did, with a hitch in the frame and a booming welcome by Philip Shore, an actor who lent his voice to the project. Shore paced the aisle between folding chairs – which had been arranged in the fashion of a passenger train – with a microphone and a script.

The images flashed on a wall beside the audience. Trains evolved from horse-drawn contraptions, we learned, to steam-powered behemoths capable of shaping the economy of the region. The film, which was written, shot and edited by Greensboro resident Zora Medor, cut between grainy stock train footage and shaky, pixilated Digicam video.

The second installment, a fictional film about the adventures of Emily and her husband Jacob, covered the same thematic ground. The audience met the elderly couple in the middle of the nineteenth century during their first trip on a steam engine.

The train whisks them through the next century and a half, through the various wars, Civil Rights and women’s lib. The years treat Jacob and Emily kindly, shaving decades off their age as they hurtle toward the present day.

The theme, conveniently introduced on a still screen, is that train travel traps the eternal present. But the present, and its implications for Jacob and Emily, end up buried under reams of historical exposition.

Bricolage closed with Flow, a beautifully realized piece by choreographer Duane Cyrus and visual artist Virginia Shepley. The work consisted of three acts, each directed by Cyrus around Shepley’s shimmering set pieces.

The first featured four men, bare to the waist, navigating a forest of botanic shapes. Giant multi-cellular forms hung from the theater rafters and caught the smoky stage light. The dancers held single, small lights that moved across the stage like constellations of shooting stars to a soundtrack of classical and jazz music.

For the second act, Shepley designed a set of suspended, illuminated forms crossed between clouds and ice crystals. Cyrus’ dancers, dressed like an army of corporate warriors, moved the pieces as they marched across a stage dominated by singer LaToya Weathers.

Weathers, dressed in an evening gown, wailed and wondered about her short marriage, a union doomed by the realities of Jim Crow. The throng behind her broke ranks and took up her tale like a silent, sinuous chorus. A live three-piece scored the scene with an unnerving acid jazz soundtrack.

For the third act, Cyrus and Shepley introduced a dose of Vegas glamor. The scene opened with a sultry duet against a shimmering backdrop. A crowd gathered upstage, and when the couple finished, a quartet of male dancers faced off. The act ended with the entire cast onstage, costumed in ball gowns and sharp suits, busting a sequence of disco and jazz moves.

Bricolage was conceived by Greensboro resident Anne Willson and developed over the course of more than two years. The first festival featured nine events, seven of which I did not attend. The next Bricolage is scheduled in 2009, which gives you plenty of time to clear your calendar, and your mind, to experience the future of Piedmont Triad art.

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