For more than five decades, Alverno Presents has been the city’s premiere performing arts series, bringing challenging, one-of-a-kind, and thrillingly impermanent live performances to Milwaukee. In recent years alone, it has produced a live, avant-garde score to a forgotten Soviet silent film; an experimental rock concert straight out of Eyes Wide Shut; and a gonzo variety show dedicated to finding the scientific answer to life, the universe, and everything. Clearly, no genre, means of expression, or big question is out of bounds.
Beginning Monday, April 14, Alverno Presents will close out its 54th season by embarking on “Solo Flight,” a weeklong, multi-venue exploration of artistic expression itself. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry: One of Alverno’s neatest tricks is how it grapples with heady artistic concerns in the most accessible, unabashedly entertaining way possible. Last year’s “Nick Sanborn: Lend Me Your Voice” stealthily explored the nature of collaboration by putting on a jaw-dropping night of music; this year’s “Unlooped Vs. Marvin Gaye” investigated musical legacy and interpretation by doing the same thing. In both cases, abstract issues were smuggled in and addressed right under the nose of the audience. To quote Red Letter Media’s Mr. Plinkett (truly the most astute critic of our time), you might not notice these things, but your brain does.
In preparation for “Solo Flight,” Milwaukee Record did its own surreptitious homework, broke down the fest’s schedule (a free opening party is scheduled for Monday, April 14 at INOVA), and delved into the work of the three principle solo performers: Colin Stetson, Jeanine Durning, and Morgan Thorson.
The music that blares forth from Colin Stetson’s bass saxophone is not easy listening. Stetson’s New History Warfare albums are filled with menacing, swirling sonic landscapes that seem to be beamed in from another planet. Despite that fact (or more likely because of it), Stetson has a résumé to kill for: A touring member of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, the Michigan-born musician has also performed and recorded with Tom Waits, David Byrne, The National, TV On The Radio, Sinéad O’Connor, and many, many more. For “Solo Flight,” Stetson performs solo Saturday, April 19 at Alverno College’s Wehr Hall.
What makes Stetson unique is his use of “circular breathing,” a complex dual breathing technique that, when combined with an instrument like a bass saxophone, produces a sustained, otherworldly, and strangely synthetic sound. Even more impressive is that Stetson refrains from using pedals or effects to achieve the sound. In 2011, he told Pitchfork: “It’s important to me in the creation of it because I figured as soon as I crossed that threshold into effects and loops it would completely undermine the premise of how I go about creating things physically, with the instrument. The element of breath through everything injects it with a life that it wouldn’t have if I started playing around with machines.”
What to expect: A polyphonic wash of noise, an aural assault on the senses, and a Cronenberg-esque melding of performer and instrument.
Spoken word performances can be tedious, filled with ponderous, calculated pronouncements too precious by half. But what if that calculation was removed entirely, and a spoken word piece was about the impulse of speech itself? New York City-based choreographer and performer Jeanine Durning does just that with her latest piece, “inging,” which she brings to the Lynden Sculpture Garden Wednesday, April 16, and Friday, April 18.
The title of the piece refers to the suffix “ing,” which denotes an action currently in progress. Durning explores that concept in an entirely unscripted spoken word piece that is less about the words and more about the act of speaking itself. The lines between thought, action, and reception are blurred, creating a continuous (and kinetic) circuit of information. It’s instant, non-stop speech. As she told Movement Research last year: “My brain, at the beginning, is still working on a frontal lobe capacity—making rational associations, linkages, correspondences—but after a while, after that aspect of my brain gets tired, there is some other organizing principle taking effect. The body becomes more active, by necessity. The body starts to inform the language and the action of my body starts to affect the relationship of thought.”
What to expect: The phrase “Did I say that out loud?” in action.
Dance and choreography are daunting only if you let them. Don’t know the first thing about dance? Fine, then simply sit back and enjoy the sight of a body in motion. Simple. Minneapolis-based choreographer Morgan Thorson adds a few wrinkles to that simplicity, however, with her new two-part dance piece “Journeyman,” which she performs to the general public Thursday, April 17 at INOVA.
The “general public” part is key: The first part of “Journeyman” will be a dance inspired by and performed for a single person—a person that Thorson meets at the opening party. The second phase will be a public performance of the same dance, accompanied by video documentation and written commentary. The result is a piece that’s both intimate and open, interactive and deeply personal—a private act of art made public
What to expect: A body in motion. Simple.
Stetson, Durning, and Thorson will also take part in a panel discussion moderated by INOVA director Sara Krajewski Saturday, April 19 at MIAD’s Todd Wehr Auditorium. Tickets for all events can be purchased through the Alverno Presents box office at 414-382-6044, or at alvernopresents.alverno.edu.