|April Arts Continuum|
|Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor|
Two festivals will keep your calendar full
Until recently, the cultural season reached its peak in March and tapered off by April. But a couple of month-long festivals have changed all that.
The O, Miami poetry festival and Tigertail Productions FLA/FRA (Florida France) fest are packed with events, concerts, dances, film, and spoken- and written-word performances from all over the globe, but heavily focused on local talent.
O, Miami has morphed into a unique combination of artistic endeavors, having expanded far beyond simple poetry readings in one setting. For instance, you can attend the O, MicroTheater at the Spanish Cultural Center; a poetry workshop on kayaks in Biscayne Bay; O, Wolfsonian Day at the South Beach museum; and a spoken-word evening downtown of Afghan women’s writings, where the audience is asked to respond to them by writing notes of their own.
But there are two particular stand-outs in this fascinating and crowded roster.
From the Corner of Cassius Clay is a mixed-media dance performance inspired by the early 1960s, when the boxer trained and fought in Miami, before he became Muhammad Ali.
The genesis of this project and the woman behind it are as intriguing as the performance itself. Shaneeka Harrell, a Carol City native, left Miami to pursue a career in dance in 1998, eventually becoming a member of the Urban Bush Women and Bill T. Jones companies, and an original cast member of the hit Broadway musical Fela!. When she returned in 2010, she says, she couldn’t believe how much the cultural community had grown, and she decided to stay.
One night she came across the film Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, co-directed by BT contributor Gaspar Gonzalez.
“I honestly didn’t know Cassius/Ali was ever here,” Harrell recalls. “Watching him move, in black-and-white on the screen, it blew me away. This was art, not just boxing.” She says that his movements looked like modern dance and she was entranced by the poetry of his speech.
“And the backdrop of black Miami in that era, how vibrant Overtown was, with all the music and culture” inspired her to make a piece that incorporated all these elements.
To begin with, she trained as a boxer for a month with a protégé of Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. “That was hardcore,” she says with a laugh. “But I wanted to know what it feels like to be a boxer.” Harrell was told that there was a local musician going by the name DJ Le Spam (Andrew Yeomanson) who had the most extensive collection of Miami music.
The two of them pulled out music from the era to form a soundtrack, and then she asked him to include the sounds of the boxing ring, as well -- the bells, the jump-roping.
Harrell also wanted to mix in graphics and text, and decided she needed a director. So she approached playwright/performer Teo Castellanos, who immediately came aboard. “He’s incredible,” she adds.
With the help of a Knight grant, the resulting collaboration will premiere April 9 at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood.
Castellanos is a catalyst for another compelling -- and likely moving -- performance during O, Miami, “MDC Live Arts Veteran’s Lab Showcase.” This had its origins in a traveling play, Basetrack Live, that presenter MDC Live Arts was bringing to Miami, based on the stories of soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghan, and their families. MDC set up several programs surrounding the play (which came to South Miami-Dade in March), including a weekly workshop where veterans could tell their stories and interact in creative ways.
For Anthony Torres, who served in Iraq in the mid-2000s, the workshops were cathartic. “It became such an awesome opportunity, a great vehicle” to express themselves, in a stateside, noncombat world that he says too often wouldn’t or couldn’t listen.
Not all stories related in the workshops were based on war, Torres says. They included childhood memories, family tales -- it was, in a sense, an artistic therapy session. The spoken-word piece that evolved out of it will be performed April 19 at the Betsy Hotel in South Beach.
Meanwhile, the FLA/FRA festival is in its second year, with a mix of international and local offerings. There will be several concerts, including one from gypsy jazz guitarist Adrien Moignard, a contemporary leader of le hot jazz, which started in France in the 1930s; a “French Corners” musical night in collaboration with Books & Books; and dance from Nadia Beugre, who hails from the former French colony of Ivory Coast.
Look also for a retrospective of movies from the groundbreaking filmmaker Jean Cocteau, culminating in an outdoor screening of 1946’s La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) on the Soundscape wall of the New World Center.
“You turn in your cinephile card if you’re not a fan of Cocteau!” says video artist Barron Sherer, who is taking part in “Culture Clicks,” the festival’s quirky and innovative series of 12 five-minute “pop-up events” throughout the month.
Sherer has created a video essay called Cocteau Motif. “I got lucky with the theme this year, as Cocteau has been on my brain,” he says. “Cocteau is like a great magician-mathematician -- his additions, combinations, and sleight-of-hand all equal cinema.”
In five minutes Sherer will pay tribute to this. The fact that these are short pieces (usually before a longer event) is what excites him. On April 2 and 30 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, he’ll add his own-voice over to the video, making it a performance and not just a screening. “At the movie house is when and where this piece will exist. It’s totally ephemeral.”
Randy Burman has produced three absurdist videos screening April 17 at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. It’s Jean-Paul Sartre who inspired Burman’s five-minute version of No Exit, which stars a French fry, a jar of mustard, and a bottle of French dressing as the three main characters in the existentialist classic.
Sartre wrote the absurdist play, “but I have a question, was it absurd enough?” Burman asks. “If ‘Hell was other people’ when Sartre wrote the play, what was Hell now? It was just then that the industrial food complex knocked at the stage door, ready to audition. And, if I may say so, given the rather limited range of expression of condiments and fast food, they gave it all they had.”
Burman has also made a video starring baguettes, based on word play and the poet Arthur Rimbaud.
Numerous other artists are adding their five-minute voices through film or performance, almost every day.
The wrap-up: There’s absolutely no excuse to stay home this month.
For details about the myriad events in April, go to www.omiami.org and www.tigertail.org.
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
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