Dwight Currie, the Ringling Museum's associate director of programming, remembers a moment two years ago, during his participation in Wesleyan University's inaugural class of the Institute on Curatorial Practice in Performance, when a frustrated colleague blurted out a protest at the repeated attempts to define performance art that defied description.
"This is like trying to tatto a bubble!" the participant complained.
During a "Conversation with the Curator of Performance" at the Historic Asolo Theatre Tuesday night, Currie admitted that trying to capture in words work that is "time-based, ephemeral and different with each performance" is indeed a challenge. That is his obstacle in currying an audience for the museum's "New Stage: Narrative in Motion" series of performances that begin Jan. 24.
"I'm in the position of trying to talk about something that doesn't exist," Currie said. "These works represent a renaissance of language, gesture, character, emotion, situation, new media and musicality. The question is: How do we approach and appreciate this new art?"
What ties together the four upcoming works — "Word Becomes Flesh," by Marc Bamuthi Joseph; "Beyond Words," by Bill Bowers, "LEO," by Berlin's Circle of Eleven, and the Kate Weare Dance Company — is movement, Currie said. Like staring at a Jackson Pollock painting, your eyes takes alternating routes and you see the work differently each time you experience it.
"But in all these pieces, there is a truth and authenticity in the movement and gesture that makes an emotional connection," he said. "They are not abstract and inscrutable. They are a return to storytelling."
Currie described "Word Becomes Flesh," a spoken word/hip hop piece based on a father's letters to an unborn son, as "movement inspired by words," and mime Bowers' "Beyond Words," which explores the silences around gender issues, as "movement inspired by silence." Likewise, he juxtaposed "LEO," which pairs live performance and film projection to personify a man trapped in a box with opposing physical laws ("movement inspired by confinement") with Weare's choreography, which veers from the sensuous to the propulsive ("movement inspired by liberaton").
Curating a series of such avante-garde and experiential performances, Currie believes, should be done with the same eye and care for a cohesive "ligament" as a curator would use in choosing an exhibition of paintings. It also means, he added — with a self-deprecating reference to himself as a "door to door evangelist, trying to get my foot in the door and leave you some reading material" — that seeing the entire series would be a more powerful experience than viewing a single performance.
Admitting he was "probably preaching to the choir" — many of audience members said they already planned to attend — he also offered "pledge drive incentives and premiums" in the form of a lecture by former Harvard University dance department head Liz Bergmann on Jan. 19 and performances by Florida State University dancers on March. 22-23, both offered free of charge to those who attend the full series.
Tickets for "New Stages: Narrative in Motion," range from $15 to $25 and are available by calling the museum box office at 360-7399 or going to www.ringling.org.