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'Fringe' Artists/Groups Gather at First BOOM Fest

by Kimberly Lawson

April 3, 2016

Photos: (top) Alban Elved, performing in “adam-mah”; (bottom) Former Moving Poets artistic director Sarah Emery, returning to perform at the inaugural BOOM arts festival (photos by Jeff Cravota; graphic by Brandon Scharr and Lou Kinard)

On a Saturday afternoon in 2015, between the bar and the small stage near the front entrance of the late Chop Shop, a long strip of what looked like brown packaging paper was topped with soil. The rich smell of Mother Earth was unfamiliar inside the NoDa venue, known during its tenure mostly for hosting concerts and other late-night events. Cocktail tables had been pushed aside, and strings of light bulbs dangled over the landscape. Soon, a crowd gathered around, as two ladies dressed in head-to-toe black began playing in the dirt.

The women were with Wilmington, N.C.-based Alban Elved Dance Company, performing a piece titled “adam-mah.” They writhed through the soil like worms, “tunneling” from one side to the other. They crumbled handfuls against the paper near a microphone; the sound of crackling filled the room. The women embraced, they struggled, they stared into the light in a piece choreographer Karola Lüttringhaus said was to explore “the symbiosis of human and nature, our creative and destructive capacities through the lenses of development of personal identity, territoriality and the shrinking of habitat.”

Not everyone who saw “adam-mah” understood it. That’s the risk artists take, though, especially when offering work that’s avant-garde or outside the traditional definitions of what we're told art "should be."

Locals will get another chance to plumb the meanings of "adam-mah," though, when Alban Elved and a host of other artists and groups take more of those risks this weekend (April 8-10) during BOOMan artist and community led festival of contemporary performance and visual art organized by Que-OS, the collective behind Charlotte’s Pecha Kucha Nights. The showcase will bring local, regional and national artists/groups to Plaza Midwood venues  Snug Harbor, Petra’s, Yoga One and Open Door Studios for more than 30 shows in three days. The goal? Bring some awareness to some of the lesser known artists and groups in the city.

“Charlotte has invested quite a bit in big institutions but not much in the art community itself, or people who actually create work,” says Manoj Kesavan, festival director and founder of Que-OS. “We feel it’s up to us to bring more attention to it, to create an annual gathering for people really dedicated to their medium—people pushing the boundaries, if you will.”

Locals scheduled to present include performing arts groups On Q, Taproot and XOXO, and poets Carlos Robson and Bluz. Former Moving Poets artistic director Sarah Emery, who relocated to Florida in January, will also showcase a piece.

It’s not the first time Kesavan and his team have tried to shine a light on the local arts scene. In 2012, they organized the Quasimodo Project (“We’re really good at coming up with almost nonsensical names,” Kesavan says with a laugh), an initiative to ensure that Charlotte’s creative class grabbed some of the spotlight during the week of the Democratic National Convention. Artists, designers, musicians, poets and others brought their works to public spaces all over Uptown.

“Compared to the DNC, which blew up, too, this time we have a far better infrastructure,” Kesavan says. “We have some amazing people involved. The good thing and the bad thing is that it just keeps growing. It’s definitely great. I’m so humbled that so many people want to be a part of it, considering we’ve never done this before.”

While the core performances have been locked down for some time now, the part that keeps expanding is the roster for the outdoor activity hub, located across from Common Market, on what they’re calling the Intersection. Here, Kesavan hopes to create an access point for people who might not otherwise be interested in fringe art. The schedule, filled with free events, includes Tosco Music Party, a version of the monthly gathering CreativeMornings/CLT, Hip Hop University and much more.

“The larger possibility, beyond showcasing experimental, fringier art, is to connect the dots; there are so many people doing so much cool stuff in town,” Kesavan says. “[BOOM is] really becoming the showcase of all the grassroots creative initiatives, more than just performers and art itself.”

Not only do organizers hope to draw in the uninitiated—for example, someone who’s never seen anything like Alban Elved’s earthy experiment— but they also seek to expand the horizons of those who already support independent artists.

“The audiences are so fragmented and segregated. There might not be any overlap between, say, the audience of On Q and the audience of Moving Poets,” Kesavan explains. “In a way, we’re trying to remove these walls and have people discover something they might not otherwise go to.”

At the heart of this festival is celebrating the spirit of collaboration. One performance that encompasses just that is Emery’s “Threads of Color,” in which dance, visual art and poetry converge.

Emery says that because BOOM is a lot about the community of local creatives, she wanted to offer a piece that utilized a variety of people. Through dance, she brings to life seven paintings that were a part of the ArtPop Street Gallery, which posted the work of local artists on billboards around town. Some of the ArtPop artists contributed their time to costumes, and the paintings will actually be in the space, either physically or projected. She also tapped students at the Behailu Academy to compose poetry to be incorporated into the presentation.

“I think it’s a different way to interpret visual art,” Emery says about “Threads of Color.” “I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘I don’t get dance, I don’t understand dance,’ and that always blows my mind when I hear that. I think this is an interesting way to use dance as a form to communicate visual art.”

The risk, though, is whether audiences will have seen these seven works around town to really get what Emery is doing. But that’s just a part of experimental art, which is as much about what the viewer brings to the piece as it is what its creator presents.

“Any artistic creation is a big leap of faith,” Kesavan says. As for BOOM, “we believe in doing it, we want to do it; it’s almost like we don’t have any choice, we have to do it. That’s how creation happens. We have no idea what’s going to come out. If we knew it, we wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a big, long, huge creative process. But if we don’t take that risk, if we as artists don’t take that leap, then who will.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Winston-Salem as the home for Alban Elved; the dance company is based in Wilmington, N.C.

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Tags: art, avant garde, performance art, dance, Charlotte, BOOM, Plaza-Midwood, Alban Elved, Sarah Emery, Manoj Kesavan

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