Making paintings dance
“Shanghaied” is a multimedia ballet conceptualized from one student's painting and will debut Nov. 18 and 19.
University of Nevada, Reno bachelor of fine arts student Jane Kenoyer has a rare opportunity to watch her paintings come to life. With the help of an artistic team of faculty and staff members from the School of the Arts and Teaching and Learning Technology, Kenoyer's saga of love, betrayal and forgiveness is transformed from the canvas into a live ballet called "Shanghaied."
The production's original choreography was created by Barbara Land, lecturer of dance; music by Jean-Paul Perrotte, lecturer of music; costumes by Gini Vogel, art professor; and stage effects by Theatre Design and Technology Specialist Michael Fernbach and Media Production Specialist Maryan Tooker. University student Kevin Davies is the assistant stage director.
The transformation of "Shanghaied" began a year-and-a-half ago when Kenoyer was an undergraduate student in Land's capstone class.
"Jane handed me a postcard for her upcoming art show," Land said. "When I saw the painting on the postcard, I immediately thought, ‘we can make these characters dance.'"
Kenoyer's artwork, which was featured in Reno's Stremmel Gallery last fall during the inaugural "Emerging Artists" exhibit, stems from a deep desire to explore her family's history. The female figure and seascapes can be seen in all of Kenoyer's work.
"My work is like a dreamy documentation of my family history, tradition and storytelling," Kenoyer said. "The sea represents an unattainable, porous boundary. It reminds me that it's the process that's important, not the end result."
Kenoyer has seven paintings debuting in the production, four of which were created prior to the show. To her, the ocean represents an emotional intensity.
"The sea's emotional vastness is overwhelming," Kenoyer explained. "Having the female figure by the sea represents a maze of inner contemplation; she is pondering a life choice or regret. This spawned the idea for the story of "Shanghaied.'"
Kenoyer's great-grandmother Pearl, who worked as pioneering performance artist, was the inspiration behind the tattoos shown in several of the paintings. Pearl had six socially unacceptable tattoos during the 1920s.
"I incorporated the tattoos because they symbolize her strength and the daring moves that she made during her life," Kenoyer said.
The main painting used in the production was also inspired by Pearl. To Kenoyer's knowledge, Pearl was asked to travel to China for a dance performance. Women would often travel overseas to perform. The production company would run out of money and the dancers would be forced to find their own way home back to the United States. As a result, Pearl never traveled to China. Her motto was, "it's a long swim home."
Remembering her great-grandmother's life story, Kenoyer took a family vacation to Santa Cruz where she wrote the story of "Shanghaied."
Once the story was completed, Land loved it and recruited other faculty from the School of the Arts to the project, "I wanted to work with the best of the best," she said. Once the team was established and the vision was set, Land set out to identify possible funding sources. At that point, the School of the Arts Development Director, Robyn Powers, approached board member of the Reno Chamber Orchestra David Reynolds, and Gary Yup, both financial supporters of the School of the Arts. Reynolds and Yup liked the concept of "Shanghaied," and agreed to fund the project and serve as executive producers. Everything was now in place.
"This process has been amazing, the work is romanticized and idealized by all of us coming together for this production," Kenoyer said.
Perrotte composed the music in "Shanghaied." Perrotte's compositions have been performed across the United States and in Europe at national conferences and university concert halls.
Land and Perrotte agree that the production is very connected among all the different aspects of art, music and dance.
"First, we had the paintings that gave us a visual character," Perrotte said. "Then we gave that character a musical sound and personality and then we gave them physical movement."
Perrotte saw Kenoyer's paintings as realism, and the inspiration for his music is based on the early 19th and 20th centuries. Three composers came to mind: Debussy, Satie and Ravel. Using a guitar and original sound clips collected from his travels and a computer, Perrotte began composing the melodies for "Shanghaied."
Perrotte strived to define the characters musically by studying the paintings of each character. He spent a lot of time determining what makes each of them unique and then worked at capturing their personalities with music.
"The instrumentation includes the clarinet, percussion, cello and computer," he said. "I chose the clarinet because it is very melodic; the percussion is perfect for the sound effects, and the cello, as it is low, beautiful, mournful and expressive. With this combo, I have a huge pallet of moods to choose from."
Once the music was composed and given to Land, the "Shanghaied" images began to come alive through the movement created for each character/dancer in the story.
"I loved the music from day one," Land said. "Jean-Paul created the musical score to accommodate the story and the characters. He was often called upon to make musical changes to fit the choreography and I had to make choreography changes to fit the music. The music and the movement are truly integrated in this work. All egos aside, we truly worked as a team. The characters were now complete, with sound, personality and movement. It's beautiful to see everything come together."
"I was blown away and very happy to see the dancers bring to life the notes that I had put on paper," Perrotte said.
Kenoyer is thrilled as she watches the story of her artwork spill over onto the stage.
"The whole process is very poetic to me," she said. "It is exciting to see how the dancers move to the melodies of Jean-Paul. The first time I heard the music, it brought me to tears."
"Shanghaied" is part of the University's Fall Dance Festival to be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 and Friday, Nov. 19 in Nightingale Concert Hall.
"You have to be clever to be able to convey a story with movement and stage magic so the audience can understand it," Land said. "When you work with such wonderful people you want to do your best work. This project is bigger than any individual. Being good at what you do isn't easy (she smiles)."
For more information about the Festival or "Shanghaied," including ticket prices and discounted student admission, visit www.unrschoolofthearts.org or call (775) 784-4278.