As any educator will tell you, one of the greatest challenges today is preparing youth for an ever-changing world. With its upcoming performance, Imagined Worlds, Baltimore School for the Arts Director Chris Ford strives to do just that. His method? A large-scale, production that integrates all departments of the Baltimore arts high school and uses artists from all over the world. On April 17 and 18, in collaboration with BSA alum Kate Fisher and Brazilian-born composer Marcos Balter, Ford will showcase a collaborative dance, music, art and technological piece unlike any other.
The reason for Ford’s ambitious project is the students. As director, his main mission is to prepare young artists and creative workers for the future. With this motive in mind, Ford contacted BSA alum, Kate Fisher, whose recent experience as a professional dancer and performer in Einstein on the Beach, helped inspire Imagined Worlds. Fisher’s production, a five-hour epic opera revitalized for worldwide audiences, provided inspiration for the idea of an interdisciplinary collaboration. In both performances, musicians, dancers, actors, artists, and technicians are asked to inhabit the same space, to stretch out of the comforts of their own disciplines, and integrate with others in a unique and innovative way.
Fisher reached out to many of her own contacts for the project. Catapult Entertainment, featured on the 2013 season of America’s Got Talent, helped with one of the main features of Imagined Worlds, a shadow dance that uses dance, story-telling, and mixed media. Although just two minutes long, the shadow dance took Fisher and the students a solid week of 8-hour days to coordinate. Visual art students created cardboard cutouts that are manipulated by dance students to music and technical enhancements.
The show relies heavily on this integration of live music and technology. Both Fisher and Ford credit the BSA’s new Center for Collaborative Arts & Technology, founded by Scott Plank, for the ability to undertake such a project. With its cutting-edge capabilities, the program allows for 3D motion graphics. In line with Ford’s mission, it also offers students a brand new program, the extension of the visual arts into the world of graphic arts. With the integration of live music, the scope of the project is enhanced.
To create just the right sound for the project, Fisher turned to a fellow artist and BSA graduate, Nadia Sirota. With a short timeline to conceive of a project idea and execute it for audiences, Sirota suggested Marcos Balter, a Brazilian born composer living in Chicago, with whom she had also worked. Recognizing the rapid growth of Balter’s career, Fisher was thrilled.
Because of the time constraints, Balter suggested adopting a piece he had recently developed for a 40th birthday concert based on Luigi Serafini’s book, Codex Seraphinianus. Originally composed for a quartet, Balter’s score sought to capture the fantastical journey of an artist scribe in his search for his lost love.
Balter suggests, “The beauty of the book is that you can’t quite understand it.”
This ambiguity is Balter’s favorite kind of art.
“It’s not fully described…so it can be based on your experience and you can tell your own story. It is hand-tailored for you.”
In the Codex story, the artist’s search draws him into the world that he created. During his journey, he is faced with evil spells and an enchanting priestess. The complexity of the story allows for much creative genius. BSA faculty member and costumer, Norah Worthington, contacted alum, Dante Baylor, to work with the project. He is wardrobe master for Alvin Ailey Dance and tours with them.
Baylor worked closely with junior stage design and production students in a master class to design several featured costumes, including those for the characters of the ferryman and the conjuror. They also conceived of costume designs that could incorporate projection mapping.
One challenge of the Codex story is that it is written in its own language. To honor this, Balter created a musical score that spoke to its own language. He jokingly compares himself Tolkien, creating his own lexicon through the repetition of certain notes and sounds.
Details like this push the performance beyond the limits of typical high school productions. Fisher admits that while she knew Balter’s reputation as an out of the box composer, his score is “way further out of the box than I expected.”
Ford agrees that the project, as a whole, is “bigger than I would have expected” but this makes it so remarkable and, for the BSA, a shift to rethinking how they prepare students for the future.
Ford cites the students’ exposure to world-renowned performers like Fisher, Balter and others as one of the greatest benefits of the collaboration. Imagined Worlds has given his students role models and examples of what the world of the arts is truly like. The technological piece, facilitated by Bravo Media, gives his visual art students a target for which to reach and a career path to truly envision.
The uniqueness of Imagined Worlds goes beyond the nuances of the project itself. It pushes a high school beyond the bounds of its traditional curriculum and draws professionals from around the world to Baltimore. Despite the seeming challenge of attracting big names to a small town production, Fisher suggests that the opportunity to give back made contributing to the project a no brainer. She reflects on her own memories as a BSA student.
“This was a special place that changed my life….These kids will uplift your soul. [Despite their varying socio-economic backgrounds], they are so talented, so dedicated.”
Balter could not agree more. In fact, despite the demands of his schedule, he was “won over.”
He calls the opportunity to “work with young folks doing what we do ‘really, really’ magical.”
In fact, he credits these young folks with his future, and considers them his most important audience. They will determine the future of his art because they will shape the understanding and reception of his work.
“Everyone here is an artist.”
What better collaboration could these students and their mentors hope for?
Imagined Worlds will run April 17th and 18th at the Baltimore School for the Arts Schaefer Ballroom. For more information, visit www.bsfa.org