Posts Tagged ‘The University of the Art’s’

The Embedded Joy of The Elementary Spacetime Show

Posted September 15th, 2016

“How can we look at one of the most terrible things that happens in our society and try to find some hope, some way of thinking about it that doesn’t gloss over it but also doesn’t send us all spiraling into sadness?” writer and composer César Alvarez ponders. We’re discussing the great challenge at the heart of his latest production, The Elementary Spacetime Show, a musical that grapples with teen suicide and the difficult questions of existence that arise in the face of an enigmatic universe. Oh, and it’s also a vaudevillian comedy set in an absurd cosmic game show.


(photo by Paola Nogueras)

So, how does an artist best address such difficult subject matter with enough gravitas and humor to leave audiences feeling changed for the better? The answer, as Alvarez sees it, lies in the show’s form itself. “No other form has the embedded joy that a musical has, the antidote to that kind of sadness,” he asserts. There’s no doubt that The Elementary Spacetime Show possesses this sense of joy with it’s enthusiastic young cast, uptempo music, and dazzling gameshow set, but in talking with Alvarez it becomes clear just how joyous realizing this show has been. Developed largely in conjunction with the University of the Arts and sporting a cast featuring wildly talented UArts students, the show is the product of a radical experiment in combining education and new musical development. Through its success, Alvarez has helped chart a new path for how great, unconventional musicals like it can get produced.

As an artist-in-residence at UArts, Alvarez and former director of the Brind School Joanna Settle launched Polyphone back in 2015. Conceived as a forum to explore the musical’s creative future, the annual festival creates much needed space for forward-thinking new musicals to develop. Five concert productions are mounted in just six weeks time with the help of UArts students. It’s an intensive process, but one that affords each creative team invaluable time and resources to hone their shows and work on their craft, and it’s time they’ve taken full advantage of. “For every single show there’s been all sorts of new songs written, new things added, huge changes, different big conceptual risks taken, and the students get to be in the room for all of that and be a part of the process,” Alvarez says.

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Music is the perfect metaphor for the way the universe is built: An interview with César Alvarez

Posted September 10th, 2016

The Elementary Spacetime Show is a musical comedy set in a cosmic vaudevillian game show. Featuring up-tempo music that defies easy classification, a healthy dose of the absurd, and a cast featuring UArts students, the show will have its world premiere this week as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, a co-presentation between FringeArts and The University of the Arts. Composer and writer César Alvarez spoke with us earlier this year about the show’s premise, his inspiration, and his interests in working with music.


(photo by Eric Wolfe)

FringeArts: Why the title The Elementary Spacetime Show?

César Alvarez: From the script . . .

ELEMENTARY for dealing with fundamentals
SPACE for where you are
TIME for when it all takes place
SHOW because we know you need for us to bear witness to your difficulties.

FA: What was the initial inspiration for the show?

César Alvarez: The show started as a combination of two ideas. I wanted to write a musical about a kid who was trying to figure out why there is “something” instead of “nothing” and would travel around through time and space and meet with scientists and philosophers in a sort of ontological revue. Then I wanted to make a more autobiographical piece about a kid who sat under his desk pretending to go to space and finding himself in a sort of fantastical world where he could work through his problems. My wife and I lost a close friend to suicide in 2013 and both of those ideas morphed into The Elementary Spacetime Show. Our friend’s journey to suicide and the intense depression that followed really informed the course of the piece. The question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” became very linked to the question, “Why live when it hurts so badly?” aka “To be or not to be”

FA: What was the first song you wrote for the show—was there a particular inspiration?

César Alvarez: The first song I wrote was “When It Starts” which is about a question at the heart of the piece. Why exist? Now that song is at the end which indicates how the show starts over for the next contestant who is making the same choice that Alameda did to take their own life. The second song I wrote was “VOID”, which opens the show. “VOID” really set the piece in motion for me as it created the character of Alameda. That song came out of a really dark moment. I was so sad and dealing with profound weight of grief and hopelessness. I went down to my studio and just wrote the song in one fell swoop. It created a very clear point of dark matter from which the show could emerge.


(photo by Paola Nogueras)

FA: Can you discuss the set up of The Elementary Spacetime Show—and how you got to that point?

César Alvarez: The show begins with Alameda attempting suicide by overdosing on pills. She collapses and finds herself in a liminal vaudevillian game show, which she has to win in order to finally enter the void. The whole piece is a bit of a catch-22. The more Alameda wants to die, the harder she has to work to beat this ridiculous game. The set up allowed me to create a non-judgmental space to explore an incredibly touchy and complicated topic. Also the game is absurd and I’ve found that the humor opens people up to the darkness of it all.

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Dance And (Healing) The Broken Body

Posted August 9th, 2012

Sarah Jordan has written extensively for national and regional magazines and newspapers. She is also the author of four books and a regular contributor to the Festival Blog.

Before Pilates.

How bad does it have to hurt to keep a dancer off the stage? Often, near catastrophically. Dancers, especially classically trained, continuously battle the limits of their bodies’ abilities to tolerate damaging physical repetition all for the sake of creating the illusion of effortless beauty on stage. Chances are that Georges Balanchine ballet that dazzled you with its speed, attack, and precise musicality, was performed by a dancer concealing a bum knee, murderously throbbing feet, and an aching back. Dancers are known for their high thresholds for pain and will push through most suffering, making physical accommodations to achieve the look they want and to perform their choreographic assignments. But there is a physical price they pay.

Dancers’ bodies require atypical strength, power, flexibility, agility, fine motor skills, and proprioceptive and kinesthetic awareness. Properly trained, rested, fueled, hydrated, and lucky, a dancer’s body will thrive season after season. But when hurt, dancers often wait until they are in significant pain before seeking help. And the line between temporary discomfort and career-ending pain can be blurry.

Many young classical dancers will push past the levels of their training to perform challenging choreography, and set themselves up for ticking time-bomb injuries. Forcing turnout (the rotation of their leg outward at the hip) beyond normal range can eventually cause stress fractures in the spine or knee issues; going on pointe without necessary foot and ankle strength can create tendonitis, stretched ligaments, and bone spurs; improperly strengthened lower abdominal muscles and hamstrings can lead to their own chain reaction of problems. Dancers dance through the pain for their art—and often for fear of losing work or being branded as a dancer who is “injury prone.” According to the US Department of Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics), 90 percent of all dancers get injured.

But change is afoot for encouraging safer dance practices. I talked with three dance veterans to learn how attitudes towards dancing injured are evolving and messages of preventative wellness are being preached to younger dancers. New programs such as The University of the Art’s Body Pathways, the brain child of associate professor of dance Jennifer B. Johnson, is a powerful model for dancer education and preventive health care.

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