Interview: Redmoon Theater Collaborator Alex Balestrieri

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 4, 2009 7:30PM

2009_09_04_Redmoon.jpg
photo courtesy Redmoon
Did you catch the forty person masked chorus making random appearances throughout the city this summer? That was Redmoon Theater’s Momentary Opera. Have you seen weird mechanical contraptions being installed at Belmont Harbor? That’s for Redmoon’s Spectacle ’09 (subtitled Last Of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan). What is ricocheting around in these people’s brains? We have no idea. But we tried to find out.

Chicagoist: How would you describe Redmoon to someone who’s never heard of you?

Alex Balestrieri: Redmoon is an object and design-based theatre and spectacle performance production company that desires to provide momentary beauty in unexpected places. The spectacle work attempts to take a public space that we all know and to transform that space, through performance, imagery, gadgetry, light and sound, to highlight its innate beauty and to reveal something about the community that exists within that space.

C: What kind of reaction did you get to Momentary Opera?

AB: I would say, we ran the gamut from shocked to stupefied to overjoyed…

C: Was anyone really annoyed?

AB: Well, you’re at City Hall and there’s a boot on your car and you’re filing divorce papers, and you walk through the downstairs hallway - it’s the worst day of your life and then you turn around and there’s a 40-person two-dimensional opera happening behind you…

C: I think that could either be the best thing or the worst thing…

AB: The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The indifference - I’m totally fascinated by somebody who can walk by something as unusual as that and not glance at it. But there was not a lot of that, and even that I think is interesting. The emphasis right now is definitely on creating public art in public spaces. Different cities in the country are finally starting to consider the potential magnitude of performance-based public art - that to have a spectacle in a city can define the quality and experience of life in that city, and mark its moment in space and time, in the same fashion we are accustomed to enjoying public sculpture. I believe in the importance of common community experience and common artistic memory. This is something that I believe speaks very directly to Redmoon’s aesthetic, and Redmoon’s commitment to civic well-being.

C: Is momentary opera going to continue throughout the year or is it a summer thing?

AB: No, it’s going to show up in altered forms all over Chicago. Parks, museums, opera houses, hot dog stands, funerals, bathtubs…

C: On to Spectacle ’09: How did you guys find Laarna Cortaan? And what drew you to her?

AB: Redmoon met Laarna when the company was in Holland [for a festival] and she was interested in our aesthetic, and our missions are similar. She doesn’t record her music, so the ephemeral commonality is already there. I wasn’t in Holland so I can’t really say what the mindspark was - what I can say is her audience is so much a part of her effort. She culls as much material as she presents. She desires to be a medium, not the message, which I think is fascinating.

C: I read a little bit about what she does - that she asks other people to reinterpret her own music - how are you guys doing that?

AB: We’re rearranging some orchestrations, reinterpreting…creating the visual interpretation of these musical pieces.

C: I’m shocked that she doesn’t record her music.

AB: Well I think that recording would be antithetical to - and this is sort of a beautiful thing about her, is that she’s managed to cultivate an audience without physical material, which has a lot to do with spectacle too. When you talk to people about a Redmoon show, they talk about the show, but they talk about the place too, and then “when.” You know, “were you there when we were living in…when the evening was…and we saw this piece.” It’s this moment now, it’s you and this is your story through me. I am a medium that reflects back to you who you are. It is absolutely about time and place - there is a moment and a place and time, and who was there. It is unique, in a way traditional recording is not.

C: How did Redmoon pick Belmont Harbor - just because it’s a big space?

AB: Well, that’s a part of it, but it’s a space that perhaps Chicagoans have become desensitized to the beauty of, that is really just breathtakingly beautiful in and of itself, as landcape. It really is an ideal place for a concert, and it’s one of those locations that, when you get acclimated to living in the city, your eyes lose the ability to see it for what it is. We did Sink Sank Sunk in Ping Tom Park - this is another place that you pass by all the time, and you lose the ability to see it for what it really is. Which is just hyper-dynamic!!! Plus - a giant body of drinkable water…

C: I don’t know about drinkable.

AB: Well, let’s say arguably drinkable water.

C: How many people are involved in the concert?

AB: There are easily 100 collaborators. Teams of designers and performers that have dedicated themselves vocally and physically, made costumes, scenic construction, artists, several lead visual artists, three directors.

C: Three directors? How is that working out?

AB: Excellently. These are three people that have worked together quite a bit, and it’s a very communal process. One of the beautiful things about Redmoon is that everyone is incredibly creatively generous, which allows for everybody’s strengths to surface.

C: What else is happening with Redmoon right now?

AB: New material is being generated and shows are traveling, and there’s a lot of interest in more traveling, which is great, because the world can see what’s happening in Chicago, and we can see the world. But I’ve never been in a situation with the company where there’s been so much work happening at one time.

C: It’s interesting that you have so much going on when a lot of theaters are having to cut back. What are you doing?

AB: We’re not sleeping, I know that. The coffee machine is on. Many cigars are being smoked. People are feeling dizzily creative. It’s kind of amazing. And we need it so badly right now - there’s never been more of a call for poignantly beautiful metaphor and substance. Muscle-and-poetry, that’s the approach. To exhaust the self in the creation of making something beautiful. This feels good. This means that when you are sleeping, you are satisfied with your attempt. To work hard at something that we need because civic life is so tumultuous right now.

When people feel desperate, it’s a good time to go back to the theatre. Before we make big-time mistakes or lose our sense of perspective. Socially, economically, let’s look at who we are and who we want to be, let’s everybody take a breath. Content has never been more important. And I think I mean “lyrical” content. We need work that asks better, sharper questions as we make increasingly large national decisions.

C: How does Laarna Cortaan’s music fit in with that? What is the content - is there a coherent theme or not so much?

AB: I would love to run around in Laarna’s brain for a day. [The songs] are deeply personal and she would say that their meaning comes from what she hears her audience relate. I think she would say that she is expressing what is expressed to her. That she is the audience’s medium.

C: Are the things being expressed to her - are they positive things? Are they scary things? All of those things?

AB: I think it’s all of those things. If you come see the show you’ll see.

C: Would you say that it’s representative of the time that we are in as a city, as a country, as a community?

AB: I’m feeling that way, I’m also living incredibly close to this work right now, so… The hyper-accumulation of global psychology, expressed intimately, through concert and spectacle. It’s kind of amazing. To be specific and avoid literalism. To be poetic and respect content. To be substantively poetic is the mark of a fine artist. I understand that to be what Laarna strives for.

C: I like it. Sounds good. I’ll be there.

AB: Be Bombastic!!!

Spectacle ’09: Last Of My Species: The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan, through Sept 13. Belmont Harbor (east of Lake Shore Drive, just south of Belmont). Ticketsm
$15 ($10 under 10, free under 3). 312-850-8440.