Impressions of BEAT Festival
Peforming in The Brooklyn Museum After Hours
Thursday, September 12, 2013; 7PM
A Canary Torsi, Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure (IPA), Storyboard P, Third Rail Projects
Trina Mannino for The Dance Enthusiast
|Pamela Vail in A Canary Torsi's Nancy. Photo Courtesy of BEAT Festival.|
In a brightly lit glass building in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, I look up and see eight women squirm, shake, and writhe on an outdoor pavilion. No, this isn’t a club or a loft party, but the opening night of The Brooklyn Emerging Artists in Theater (BEAT) Festival.
In its second year, BEAT Festival occupies four venues across the borough and includes nine Brooklyn-based performing arts companies. Tonight, the Festival launches at one of Brooklyn’s most prestigious cultural institutions, The Brooklyn Museum.
BEAT Artistic Director Stephen Shelley declares the evening “the festival’s first mash up event.” He’s referring to the diverse disciplines and various ways the companies and artists will use the 560,000-square-foot Beaux Arts style building as they perform simultaneously. The most captivating performances transform the space and environment, allowing the museum and its visitors to be characters in the work itself.
Before Shelley cuts us loose to roam, we watch an excerpt from A Canary Torsi’s Nancy on a traditional stage to formally kick off the festival. The abrupt thunderstorm seen through the all-glass lobby is chilling and enhances dancer Pamela Vail’s serious demeanor as she tackles the challenging solo. She balances on one leg with her winged arms peeking out from behind a skinny fluorescent light, cutting her image in half. Will she falter as latecomers noisily enter the lobby and cracks of thunder erupt? Vail’s concentration doesn’t waver, setting a high bar for the rest of the performers. The museumgoers’ chatter and frequent milling around fuels each of the presentations, especially Nancy, adding to its intense psychological nature.
|Marissa Nielsen-Pincus of Third Rail Projects. Photo Courtesy of BEAT Festival.|
As I step off the elevator on the fifth floor, I see Marissa Nielsen-Pincus of Third Rail Projects primly sitting with her hands in her lap on an antique area rug in the American Identities room. Clad in a wine-colored evening gown and resembling a subject in a nineteenth-century portrait she comes to life. Nielsen-Pincus’ gestures are never stilted, and she takes her time exploring her surroundings. We contemplate her through glass encasements containing silver bowls and vases, under the warm glow of an antique lamp, and between the armpit of a tall bronze statue while she grazes with her fingertips the toes of the audience members sitting in stately chairs, lining the parameter of the rug. Nielsen-Pincus entrances with her soft yet deliberate gaze even though she never leaves the rug.
As the room swells with people, I follow a cluster of giggling teenagers through a wing filled with severe-looking portraits and stumble upon what I think is a group of eager museumgoers. They are actually members of the theater group, Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure (IPA). A subtly choreographed scene without reams of dialogue or steps, IPA interacts with silver vases, landscapes, and an elaborate wooden cabinet to tell their story. IPA members give a confused observer a smile and lunge toward a painting, directing us to examine the colonial-looking woman in the portrait. In other instances, they dodge people or artwork as if they are pawns in a game. The looped work constantly changes, and I stay in the room for almost 30-minutes, eagerly discovering new characters and art in each rendition.
|Storyboard P and guests. Photo Courtesy of BEAT Festival.|
I could watch IPA’s extemporaneous scene for hours, but I dash downstairs to catch the final performance in the Beaux-Arts Court. In signature Brooklyn fashion, street dancer Storyboard P and dance guests close the evening to songs from native Brooklynite Jay-Z’s Magna Carta. The grand space is too big to capture all of Storyboard P’s hand gestures and quirks. I crave to see spines rippling and elbows and knees snapping — qualities Storyboard P inhabits so vividly on film. Instead, Storyboard P and guests look like tiny blips on a map, their charisma and majestic quality evaporating into thin air before we can fully experience it.
It would seem almost sacrilegious to not include Jay-Z,who gives his hometown countless shout-outs in his music, in the BEAT Festival. Even if he is only with us in spirit through recorded songs. In spite of this, the works that resonate with me as I head into the rainy night are the ones that transformed the galleries, lobby and unexpected tiny spaces encouraging me to get lost in them.