Back in 2011, when Together fest was in its second year, Colin Thurmond and Rich Chwastiak (The WIG) met with co-founders David Day, Alex Maniatis, and Joe Grafton, with a crazy idea.
Both classically trained instrumentalists who also love EDM, the two asked if Together would be willing to feature a show that takes the idea of a go-go dancer in a club, but combines it with professional dancers, ballet dancers, hip-hop dancers, musicians playing classical and rock instruments, opera singers, acrobats and aerialists—every genre of music, electro, drum and bass, house, trance—into one totally immersive performance. And Together festival said yes.
“Having Together be like, sure, why don’t you do this, why don’t you get involved with the festival … we’d love to help and support. The most important thing that happened there was that they said you have a really great idea, you guys should just keep going and see where it goes. That was really the beginning of this crazy ride.”
Two years after what some people call an “EDM festival” accepted an idea that is the very definition of “multi-genre”, Touch Performance Art‘s AcousticaElectronic has packed and transformed clubs in Boston and New York City alike with a 360-degree classical-meets-dance-music performance—
an experience that will make you tear up and dance at the same time.
It’s a show where the Habanera from Carmen turns into a house music remix but retains its chilling beauty, actually accentuating it within a new context. It’s a show where there’s no set focal point to look—the dancers and artists move amongst the crowd, beckoning you to join in and dance. Where sometimes, your head tips back as you’re mesmerized by aerialists performing acrobatics to the beat while hanging from the ceiling.
It truly is beautiful to see all forms of music and dance blended so seamlessly together. And that intersection, Thurmond told me, is very much the point.
“We’re interested in taking this idea of how can we fuse live music—instrumental stuff, or classical music—with EDM. How can we take something old and make it new? How do you make it feel really immediate and really visceral,” he explains. “At the core of everything we do is deconstruct and reconstruct. How do you take something like an opera and break it down? What about it is really great? At the end of the day, Carmen is about jealousy and lust and betrayal. When you see someone with that much vocal power, it’s about wanting to scream for that. That feels closer toward the actually truth of the matter than it is to sit in a theatre setting and just watch the opera happen.”
Acoustica takes place at club OBERON. I asked Thurmond what he would say to more traditional thinkers who might immediately buck at the word “club.”
“One of the really big things with ‘dance music’ or ‘EDM’ is there’s this feeling of energy, of wanting to move. That’s a really important thing. EDM producers and the people who created the opera Carmen ask themselves the same things: how do I create something that’s really great and emotional, that gets you to remember my hook, or my melody?”
We had a long discussion about what art should do for the audience. The reaction the creators of Acoustica (Choreographer Elizabeth McGuire, Theatre Director Marissa Rae Roberts, The WIG, and Thurmond) strive to bring out is exactly the same as dance music: it’s immediate, it’s without inhibition, and it draws the audience in, making them move and become part of the show. As someone who’s studied classical music, Thurmond sees a big problem in its inaccessibility to younger generations.
“At some point in time, I think classical music and dance—post WWII, into the ‘80s—there was this Ivory Tower feeling, this estrangement of the audience that happened in art form. That’s been a really dangerous thing,”
Thurmond says. “What makes a really good piece of art is one that incites an emotional, gut level reaction. Before the audience has time to think, they’re like ‘that’s beautiful, that’s wonderful, or that’s digusting.’”
“One of the biggest responses we’ve gotten is from people from more conservative, classical music schools, who’ve said ‘It feels great to be able to scream for that solo. That’s a classical piece I listened to last week in a concert hall and nobody would cough or speak or do anything.”
“Where I came to see [AcousticaElectronica], and all of a sudden, I felt free. Because of the environment, I felt uninhibited. And it felt closer to the composer’s intended purpose.’”
This year’s Together performance, Friday May 17 at OBERON, is even more in line with these ideas. Instead of eight tracks each telling their own story, they’re doing about 15 tracks. Thurmond said this makes the show—and the audience—move at an even faster pace. Acrobats will now dance while floating above the audience’s heads using an aerial hoop called a lyra, and stilt walkers have been added. The performance will expand even more from the traditional, with dancers interacting with the crowd even as they wait in line to get in, in line for the coat check and in the entranceway to the club.
“You’re immersed in the show even when you’re not in the building yet,” he tells me.
AcousticaElectronica has come a long way in two years. Before we said our goodbyes (until Friday), I asked Thurmond what’s up with Touch Performance Arts’ motto: “making it happen.”
“If you have a crazy vision and you have an idea for something, don’t give up on it. Hustle, hustle, and work to make that thing happen,” he says, which reminded me again of what he said about Together’s vision, and how they helped make it happen.
“It’s really not just about putting on a music festival. It’s about bringing technology and information and a lot of really bright people together that are passionate around the same thing, but it’s not exclusive of genre,” he said.
“It’s about meeting people that do really interesting things that might be a little off the beaten track, but there’s this great cross pollination of all of these ideas about technology and music, and a really great group of people coming together to share their experience.”
“Making it happen” is about “taking your dream, no matter how crazy it is, and making it real.”
TOUCH PERFORMANCE ARTS PRESENTS:
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH TOGETHER FESTIVAL
2 ARROW ST.
7:30 & 10:30PM/$25-$55.