Commissioned by the University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, "Lightning at our feet" celebrates Dickinson's inimitable writings in a multimedia song cycle that interconnects theater, music and dance. Featuring music from composer Michael Gordon and the talents of New York's cutting-edge performance company Ridge Theater, the production will have its world premiere at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 29 in University of Houston's Wortham Theatre (in the Mitchell Center building at Entrance 16). It also will be performed at 8 p.m., Oct. 30 and Nov. 1. Tickets are $15 and $10 for students and seniors. They can be purchased at the theater's box office or by calling 713-743-2929.
"Lightning at our feet" is the Mitchell Center's largest and most ambitious commissioned event to date. Following its exclusive three-show run in Houston, it will be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in December.
With large-scale video projections and a distinctive stage design, audiences will be transported to Dickinson's Massachusetts Civil War-era home, the site for most of her writings. There, four women are channeling Dickinson's spirit through poetry and songs.
"The songs were written first, and the piece was cast afterward. We ended up with four very different stage personalities, and the performers basically cast themselves into the songs," Gordon said.
The production also imagines how she might have used her home as her own theatrical setting and instrument of her musings.
"You'll find little biographical detail here. Accounts of her life, though somehow intriguing, are not included in this piece," said Ridge Theater's Daniel Zippi, the production's dramaturg. "Instead, here are presented her words, her expression and thought."
Augmenting Gordon's original score is a rich visual tapestry rendered by Ridge Theater's filmmaker Bill Morrison and visual designer Laurie Olinder. A blend of projected graphics, elaborate lighting and film clips will create an onstage world that personifies Dickinson the poet and the person.
"I wanted these films to depict Dickinson's world as being timeless," Morrison said. "I created films mainly showing her negotiating various terrains meant to be representative of her inner landscape."
"Lightning at our feet" reunites Gordon with Ridge Theater. Their previous collaborations have received critical praise and include 1998's "Chaos," 2001's "Decasia," 2004's "Gotham," and 2005's "Shelter."
Gordon's multi-dimensional., rhythmic compositions have often found a home within multimedia projects. He is one of the founders of award-winning contemporary music organization Bang on a Can, which is noted for its multi-hour Marathon Concerts. In 2000, he received an OBIE award for the opera "The Carbon Copy Building," a production in which the stage narrative was driven by projected comic strip panels.
His frequent collaborators in Ridge Theater have earned critical acclaim for creating visually versatile and musically eclectic performances that redefine modern stagecraft. With productions that use film and video projections as set elements, Ridge productions are layered with distinctive imagery.
Three special events will be conducted in conjunction with "Lightning at our feet."
At 2:30 p.m., Oct. 22, a collection of scholars will participate in "Discussing Dickinson." Led by Dorothy Baker, UH professor of English, this panel discussion will feature nationally recognized Dickinson experts Martha Nell Smith, professor of English as the University of Maryland and Eliza Richards, associate professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This event will be conducted in the UH Honors College (second floor of M.D. Anderson Library).
Poets will read the works of Dickinson in addition to their own poems during "A Long Shadow: Dickinson and Contemporary Poets" at 7 p.m., Oct. 22 at Rothko Chapel (1409 Sul Ross). Acclaimed poet and former UH professor Mark Doty will share his own works alongside fellow wordsmiths Alice Fulton and Susan Howe.
"The subject matter for most of Dickinson's poems is filled with an urgency that is very ‘now', Gordon said. "Her poetry is not pastoral, it isn't narrative, and its purpose is not to express sentiments or to be moralistic. It is very modern in its expressions of loneliness, anxiety and alienation and in its piercing social commentary."
At 8 p.m., Oct. 24, Aurora Picture Show (800 Aurora St.) will showcase Morrison's short films, and at 7 p.m., Oct 25, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1001 Bissonnet St.) will present the documentary "Decasia: The State of Decay" featuring a score by Gordon. Both Morrison and Gordon will be in attendance on Saturday.
For more information on "Lightning at our feet" or the Mitchell Center, visit www.mitchellcenterforarts.org. To learn more about Ridge Theater, visit www.ridgetheater.org. For a detailed biography on Gordon, visit http://www.bangonacan.org/about_us/michael_gordon.
About the Mitchell Center
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts cultivates interdisciplinary collaboration in the performing, visual and literary arts. From our base at the University of Houston, we offer public events, residencies and courses that fuse artistic disciplines, ignite dialogue and present new ways of experiencing the arts in contemporary life. The Mitchell Center forms an alliance among five units at the University of Houston: The School of Art; Creative Writing Program; Moores School of Music; School of Theatre and Dance; and Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston. For more information about the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, visit www.mitchellcenterforarts.org.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.