Video by Ilona Brand
Together, We Are Fiction
April 2015, Oberlin Conservatory
Together, We Are Fiction was a feature-length audience-interactive performance, functioning as a Senior Bass Recital. Composed of five sections and performed by 26 instrumentalists and dancers, the project wove together classical music and dance to tell a non-linear story. The title refers to the main character’s unrequited love and impossible ideals, in addition to the concept that all of the performers and audience were creating the fictional story together. The performance transitioned between a couple sections of indeterminate group movement and three composed classical pieces for string quintet, bass and piano, and bass and full orchestra.
The first section, Memory Garden, was a dream-scape. Conceptually, the entire room and everyone in it embodied the mind of the main character. Different small-group choreography painted various emotional vignettes, which referenced memories that had happened, and memories that had yet to happen. As the doors opened, the audience entered the room to find these dance vignettes already in action. Performers and audience alike found ways to move and improvise together, learning simple choreography and developing new movement. The audience could watch dancers and embellish upon physical activity, thus creating their own presence in the performance. In this way, they were not only observers to an unfolding story, but they could become a part of the plot themselves.
Much of the movement was slow and flowing, taking influence from contemporary dance and Contact Improv. Repeated patterns within choreography of the vignettes helped teach the audience what movements could fit in. The tone of the room was dulled and sleepy, aided by the low-light environment. The performance started with only natural light barely leaking in from the windows. But as the sun set, RGB lights around the floor slowly faded in shifting colors.
Speakers around the room played a four-channel fixed soundscape. The bulk of the audio was four separate mono field recordings of birds, wind, then water, gently building in activity. The four-part mono audio painted an impossible space where people could hear up to four different locations at once, or the same location from different times. Occasionally within this sonic natural world, distant sounds of musical themes appeared, quoting passages from the pieces of music that were eventually going to be played live.
As the activity of the room built slowly, running footsteps could be heard, perhaps escaping, perhaps chasing. At that point, five string instrumentalists began entering the space and improvising musically and physically. Sine tones added to this sonic texture. Eventually, the string players moved to the front of the room, where I joined to form a quintet. We improvised around a dominant chord as the field recordings, running feet, and finally sine tones died away. Then, we resolved our improvisations to play Dragonetti’s String Quintet No. 26.
The dancing and improvisation continued as it transitioned from the structures of the Memory Garden. After the Quintet finished, there was a frantic indeterminate full-group choreography. This chapter, Escape, finally brought me forth as the dance soloist with wild movement, as the group choreography dissolved. After collapsing from exhaustion, my character revived to play a tender bass and piano duet: Melodia in E by Bottesini. From the completion of this piece, the 18-piece orchestra assembled to begin the final chapter, Concierto para Contrabajo No. 1 by Andrés Martín. The remaining performers danced specific choreography around the room to accompany the three movements of this modern concerto.
Most audience members sat in chairs set up in the middle, to observe events as they happened around them. But many people joined in the actions fully, making it impossible to distinguish who had rehearsed and who was experiencing it for the first time. Even when there was a clear focus on the seated orchestra performing in a familiar context, the physical narrative was continued by the dancers. There were no written or spoken words to tell the story, and there were many ways to interpret the events. In addition to being seen and heard, this narrative was designed to be felt.
Concept, choreography, sound design, and editing: James Vitz-Wong
Light and sound board: Sage Jenson
Footage: Ilona Brand
Maurice Cohn, conductor
Candy Chang, flute Emi Ostrom, oboe
Rory O'Donoghue, clarinet Giovanni Bertoni, bass clarinet
Justin Gunter, Louis Pino, percussion
Caitlin Mehrtens, harp Daniel Hautzinger, piano
Clara Engen, Yuri Popowycz, violin I
Olivia Gutfreund, Mwakudua, Wangure, violin II
Emily Edelstein, Nicolas Vigilante, viola
Jake Klinkenborg, Chava Appiah, 'cello
Casey Karr, bass
Molly Barger, Nicholas Bassman,
Miryam Coppersmith, Savannah Crespo,
Sage Jenson, Julia Sheppard, Amanda Siskind,