Art brings people together to share experiences and ideas. Collaborations between different kinds of artists can create truly memorable moments of connection for audiences and artists alike. One such opportunity has been traveling the country and is making a stop in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Soundsuit performers and crowd at Cincinnati Art Museum
Described by Fast Company as "one part Abominable Snowman and one part Mardi-Gras Indian", Chicago-born artist Nick Cave fuses fashion, sculpture, and body art in his amazing Soundsuits. These monumental mixed-media semi-human forms are named for the sounds they make when worn. Committed to sustainability, Cave constructs many of the suits from cast-off materials including hot pads, buttons, and scavenged old toys. Other suits are built using human hair and dyed in fantastic neon colors.
Nick Cave sees each Soundsuit as two separate works of art—a static sculpture when displayed in a gallery, and a kinetic one when worn on the human body. For the exhibit at Cincinnati Art Museum, Nick Cave: Meet Me At the Center of the Earth, over 40 Soundsuits are on display. 13 of the Soundsuits are available for performers to utilize to choreograph unique dances.
Emily Holtrop, Cincinnati Art Museum’s Director of Learning and Interpretation, knew immediately who she wanted to choreograph a dance for Cincinnati. She called Heather Britt, Regional Director for Rhythm & Motion at Cincinnati Ballet and lecturer in Theatre and Dance at NKU. An independent choreographer, Heather has created dances for a variety of local and national groups including Cincinnati Ballet, Uptown Arts, NKU, and the ArtsWave Splash Dance from 2010.
Heather says she took one look at the suits and thought “Wow. Those suits are amazing. I’m in.” She set about recruiting dancers from among her NKU students and fellow Rhythm & Motion teachers. It was a quick process—the Soundsuits arrived about a week before the first performance. Heather had a very short time to choreograph a dance with the Soundsuits.
In watching YouTube videos of other works that had been created for the Soundsuits, she noticed that most dances treated each person as an individual in the choreography. “The dancers didn’t touch or see each other. I wondered what would happen if these unidentifiable people met each other on the dance floor, and so I tried to create opportunities for the dancers to interact.”
They started with one whole day of “playtime”, allowing the dancers and Heather to discover what each person could do in their Soundsuit by moving at different speeds, jumping in the air, even rolling across the floor. That night Heather went home and created the dance. After a weekend of rehearsals, it was time for the Soundsuit Invasion at Cincinnati Art Museum. “I felt like no one could help having a blast whil exploring,the suits are so joyful in nature” says Heather. “We felt like kids!”
Cincinnati Art Museum Director of Marketing and Communications Regina Russo remarked that the late-January event brought together people of all ages and backgrounds, including many who had never attended an opening event at the museum before. Heather says her NKU students benefited from the experience. It made a strong impression on the Rhythm & Motion staff, and encouraged them to take time to return and explore the rest of the Art Museum on their own.
Heather Britt and Soundsuit performers
Emily Holtrop comments that one of the most fascinating things about the suits is the way they erase identity. “We had dancers of all ages and body types, some with classical ballet training to those with more hip hop-- But once you put a suit on, you change shape. Unless you knew which suit someone was wearing, you couldn’t recognize them.”
Heather notes that the Rhythm & Motion dance class is a great equalizer in the same way—“The class includes people of all ages. When you’re in your workout clothes, you don’t know if the person next to you is a doctor or a waitress. And no one cares. It becomes irrelevant.”
Nick Cave created his Soundsuits to bring people together, to encourage community and therefore understanding and change. By connecting his art, local dance students, and the broader community, Cincinnati Art Museum is inspiring people to see each other in a new way.
You can see the Soundsuits Invasion dance live at the Cincinnati Art Museum at Art After Dark on March 30th at 7 PM; on April 17th at Family First Saturday at 2:30 PM; and on Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati on April 20th at Noon.
Welders. Artists. Residents. A Hardware Store. Students. Dozens of people, all with different parts to play, have worked to create a new outdoor art installation at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. Visitors passing the lawn at the corner of Clifton and McAlpin Avenues can see hand-shaped bells tinkling merrily in the breeze, sounding out news of the team that worked to create them for all to hear.
The installation was a joint effort between the neighborhood art center and students from the Clifton branch of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and two local schools: Annunciation School and Fairview/Clifton German Language School. In November the students came together to make an outdoor art project for the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. Clifton resident Kip Eagin had the idea of creating a wind chime and artist Steve Adkins developed the idea.
Program coordinator and Public Ally for the CCAC, Melissa Miller, describes the process the project underwent: "Annunciation students under the direction of their art teacher, Kathy Chabot, made the bells from clay and decorated them. A local artist welded the superstructure, the vision for the piece was guided by Kip Eagen, the brilliant guy behind StreetScapes each fall, and the bells noise mechanisms are actually keys donated by Norwood hardware."
The oversized outdoor "Wind Chime" will be on display until May, at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center located at 3711 Clifton Ave. Miller said, "I love the whimsical music it creates across our front lawn, the bright colors, and how many different facets of our community came together to make it happen!"
The project is the cherry on top of the CCAC's second annual Young Artists at Work showcase, which begins this year on Feburary 2nd. The show is curated by the art teachers at the two schools, and kids and their parents from the area get to meet each other and interact through art.
Executive Director Ruth Dickey loves the connections that happen under the roof of the Clifton Cultural Art Center. "[The collaboration between the Fairview/Clifton German Language Schools, Annunciation, and the Center] is great – we see lots of the students and their families at our summer concerts and our Second Sunday events during the year, so it’s really wonderful to have a time when the center is featuring the students’ art.
I had several families say to me last year that they saw one another during the summer (through Wednesdays on the Green, swimming or soccer) but that the art show is the only time the families had to see one another during the year, all gathered together to celebrate their children’s art!
"It’s incredibly powerful for students to see their artwork celebrated in a community space," says Dickey. "At the art show last year, one little girl got off the school bus and announced to her father 'I am a famous artist, and tonight we are going to see my work at the museum!' She was a kindergartener with a gingerbread man on our wall."
One of the most powerful drivers behind the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, and other community arts centers like it, is that CCAC is a shared community space. These centers draw together families and the larger community around shared art experiences and builds relationships across schools, neighborhoods, and beyond.
Music Director J.R. Cassidy says that the founding principal behind the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra was to make symphonic music attractive, accessible, and affordable. This desire to reach people outside of the traditional audience has driven the organization to experiment with a variety of settings, repertoire, and collaborators — and to reach over 500,000 people over the last 20 seasons.
“We have performed at local venues throughout Northern Kentucky — Devou Park, Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, NKU, Notre Dame Academy, Elk Creek Winery as well as at grand openings of major employers like Toyota and Fidelity Investments or civic celebrations in Ft. Wright and Dayton, KY,” says General Manager Angela Williamson.
An upcoming performance of the opera Samson and Delilah, a collaboration with the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, will be held in the Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion and at the Singletary Center in Lexington. Cassidy believes that fresh programming that presents classical music in different settings makes the concert experience more friendly and inviting.
The Kentucky Symphony Orchestra strives to create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere without the dress codes, pretense, staid perceptions, or perceived barriers that separate the musicians and audience. Summer concerts in Devou Park, particularly, offer families a chance to picnic together, let the kids roll down the hill in the grass, and discover a variety of interesting music all at the same time.
Cassidy’s thematic approach to all programming helps to attract first-timers. Some concerts have combined music and film, with the orchestra providing live accompaniment to showings of silent films, classic cartoons, and even The Wizard of Oz.
Semi-staged productions of musicals from West Side Story to Sweeney Todd, and concerts featuring the “Killer Bs” (Barber, Berg & Bartok) or special collaborations featuring Hasbro Toys, and local performers Over the Rhine and Blessid Union of Souls. All have expanded the audiences’ idea of what symphonic music can be. “If music employs any acoustical instruments that are found in the orchestra, it is fair game at the KSO,” says Cassidy.
Perhaps one of the most ambitious KSO concert events was last fall’s “Of Rings & Myths" program which paired Richard Wagner’s four Ring-cycle operas with Howard Shore’s three Lord of the Rings film scores. Author and “Ring” specialist Doug Adams and Cassidy created a completely unique concert format: Adams crafted a comparative narrative that took audiences through both stories—boiling down 15 hours of opera and 11 hours of film score to just 92 minutes of highlights from both. Cassidy’s intriguing concept married similar literary works about two mystically powerful rings and their musical portrayal from the early 1870s to today.
Over the years, the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra has also formed smaller subsidiary groups, including the KSO Boogie Band, Newport Ragtime Band, Flood Wall Jazz Quintet and KSO Chorale, to explore and perform different genres of essentially American music.
These groups allow the organization to perform in venues and at functions that could not accommodate a full Symphony orchestra – further expanding its community outreach. By seeking to bring classical music to people where they live, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra enriches the entire Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region.
Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus is extraordinary for many reasons—it’s the oldest continuous choral festival in the Western Hemisphere, it serves as the chorus for the world-class Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is made up entirely of volunteers. Over 100 men and women ages 18 to 70+ rehearse at least three hours each week from September through May to bring choral masterworks and new commissions to the region.
The May Festival Chorus draws its membership from all over the Tri-State and from all different backgrounds, bringing people together who might never otherwise have met, but who share a passion and dedication for vocal music. Many chorus members have been singing with the choir for several years—or even decades -- and the friendships and partnerships they make in the process enrich their lives and our community in surprising ways.
Lauren Peters began singing with the chorus eight years ago, shortly after moving to Mason. She enjoys singing with her husband, a former member of the May Festival Youth Chorus, and says that the process keeps her connected to her artistic roots. “Many of our closest friends are in the chorus. There are several people we socialize with on a regular basis...and former chorus members that we've remained close to. For many of us, it's like a second family.”
Lauren is also a member of Cincapella, a small vocal group that experiments with more contemporary pop music and performs at small local venues like art galleries and Northside Tavern. Many chorus members sing with their church and temple choirs, on local community theatre stages, and in small events throughout the region.
Sally Harper has sung with the chorus for 41 years and has spent many hours outside of rehearsal with her fellow singers. “I have made many close friendships in the chorus. A group of us attend Friday night CSO concerts with dinner out beforehand. Some of us have traveled to Europe together, sailed on a schooner, attended out of town weddings and concerts. Recently my friend Berdie and I took classes at the OSU Extension to become Master Gardener Volunteers. The front row of the alto section goes out for dinners on the rare Tuesday nights we are not in rehearsal.”
Lawrence Coleman, a chorus member for 15 years who lives in Kennedy Heights, also finds that May Festival Chorus has connected him to a wider community. “I've recorded, had other singing engagements and opportunities, all because I've been connected to the May Festival Chorus and the people in it.” Lawrence also sings with the contemporary gospel group Fo Mo Brothers, performing at churches throughout the region and at the Midwest Black Family Reunion. He also volunteers with District A arts collaboration in Kennedy Heights, all the while meeting new artists, collaborators, neighbors, and friends.
When asked about how singing with the May Festival has influenced his life, Lawrence says, “It has really confirmed my belief that all people are basically the same even though there can be very stark differences. I have friends in the chorus from very different walks of life. We come together for the single purpose of making great music. People of different backgrounds and schools of thought can do more than coexist. We can learn to celebrate our differences when we have a common goal.“
From building friendships across the region to adding to Cincinnati’s long tradition of excellence in vocal music, Cincinnati May Festival Chorus creates community through the arts.
This year, Cincinnati Ballet debuts Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker, a fresh interpretation of the beloved holiday classic featuring new sets, costumes, designs, and new choreography by Artistic Director and CEO Victoria Morgan. Hundreds of artists, staff members, volunteers, and donors have worked together to make this new ballet for the entire community.
Missie Santomo, Cincinnati Ballet’s Managing Director, is particularly grateful for partnerships with other local arts groups -- Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s costume department built costumes throughout the summer, and Madcap Puppet Theatre created a new Nutcracker head, Mouse King, and Dragon. Collaborative relationships like this between organizations are just one of the reasons our region enjoys a thriving arts scene.
At the heart of The New Nutcracker are the dancers. In addition to the Cincinnati Ballet’s professional company, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker features young aspiring dancers from Cincinnati Ballet Otto M. Budig Academy, the CincyDance! program, and other dance schools throughout the region. The more than 500 dancers currently enrolled at the Academy represent over 50 communities in 16 counties. Now in its fifteenth year, CincyDance! enables underserved and at-risk students to receive in-school, long-term dance instruction from dedicated, professionally-trained Cincinnati Ballet faculty. In 2011-2012, CincyDance! will reach at least 1,000 economically-disadvantaged students at nineteen schools. For some especially gifted students, it even opens a door to become accomplished ballet dancers. The New Nutcracker cast includes 12 CincyDance! students. What happens when dancers from all over the region come together to become toy soldiers, mice, gingerbread children, and more? According to their parents, lots of new friendships blossom during Nutcracker rehearsals—both between their children and the parents themselves.
Angela Roush, mother of 10 year-old dancer Emma, writes that her daughter has made many friends in the cast. “None of these children live around us but we do things outside of ballet with our children. We have gone to see a couple of ballets together, invited each other over for playdates, birthday parties, etc. I am also close to several of these girls’ parents. We talk on the phone and e-mail often, as well as do dinner together. It is very nice to have close friends around while you are at the Cincinnati Ballet-- especially during Nutcracker season when you are down at the studios quite often for extended periods of time.”
Parent Julie Denlinger agrees. “It’s fun to compare stories about driving, recitals, and how much the kids love dancing. It really makes it easier to see I am not the only parent with a crazy schedule!” Many parents discover joy in becoming even more involved. Ingrid Fridenmaker writes, “Through the connections and friendships I've made, I have become part of a team of parent coordinators. Our role is to act as "go-between" for the Company and the parents of the children in the cast. My husband has actually been able to be on stage during many Nutcracker performances as a "Guard Dad" and this year's New Nutcracker, as a "Ginger Dad."
When asked, their children all agree that they’ve made friends through dancing and being in The New Nutcracker that they would not have met otherwise, and that these friendships are important to them. Megan Fridenmaker, age 14, writes “These friendships mean the world to me… My friends and I are constantly e-mailing each other, talking about anything from dance to school to TV shows. The thing I like best about being in the Nutcracker would either be being on stage or being with my friends. The feeling of being on stage, in front of hundreds of people, is the most amazing feeling you will ever experience. However, being with my friends is always so much fun. I wouldn't trade either experience for anything in the world.” A holiday tradition that connects people from across the region and builds friendships and memories that last a lifetime, Frisch’s Presents The New Nutcracker is Cincinnati Ballet’s gift to the whole community.
Nutcracker rehearsal photos provided by Cincinnati Ballet.