Friday, September 2, 2011

On Being Briefed

Though it's been going on for more than five years and has yielded 17 different programs (and counting), last night was the first time I'd been to The Tomorrow Collective's Brief Encounters series (on at Performance Works through this evening). The concept behind the series is a time-based fusing of artistic sensibilities through cross- and multi-disciplinary collaboration. For each show, two guest programmers (in this case Laura Barron and Josh McNorton) select 12 different artists working in a range of forms and media; six pairings are then forged (the more unusual the better), and each group is given two weeks to create an original work of live art.

It's a bold experiment, not least in exposing artists--and audiences--to different creative practices. And as last night's show proved, the more each collaborator absorbs and immerses (or even risks subsuming) his or her own work within the other's discipline, the more successful the results. This was certainly the case with theatre artist Anita Rochon and singer/songwriter Dominique Fricot, who actually thematized the self-other encounter at the heart of collaboration in a funny, somewhat melancholic, and very trippy song/story cycle about time travel and connections lost and found. Ditto "fantasy stylist" Myles Laphen and flamenco dancer Rosario Ancer, who gave us a sumptuous--and literally kick-ass--version of the Coppélia story. Finally, dancer Julia Carr and puppeteer Maggie Winston combined for a winning and politically pointed slide-show/striptease about women's body image.

Less successful, for me, were the pairings in which the juxtaposition of disciplines was mostly illustrative and mimetic: e.g. percussionist Paul Bray's "sounding out" of the forms and shapes and minerals that landscape architect Pawel Gradowski works with; or the 605 Collective's Josh Martin busting moves to (rather than with) spoken word artist Prevail's rather too-dominant fairy-tale crossing of Pinocchio and Frankenstein.

I'm not usually one to advocate being overly explanatory in presenting experimental work to audiences. However, in this format I would have liked a bit more context behind each collaboration. Short video segments in advance of each piece feature the artists talking about aspects relating to the process of their collaboration, but nothing really about the motivation for the piece itself. Similarly, we are given no information from the guest programmers about why they chose these artists, if they had a particular vision for the program as a whole in selecting their pairings, nor even where they come from in terms of their own practices. Perhaps this is deliberate, but this is one instance in which I would definitely have liked to have been presented with some sort of curatorial statement--to have, in other words, been briefed.


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