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Student, faculty and alumni show: 'Elemental' set for Feb. 22-23

| Denise Olson

Blugolds are always looking for ways to join forces with one another and take a good idea to the next level. From student-faculty collaborative research in diverse disciplines to cross-campus partnerships in advocacy work, immersion experiences or campus events, we see every day how much better things can become when they are a shared effort. 

This month, a collaboration between Blugold students, faculty and alumni is taking the idea of a music and dance performance to a whole new level as well.

On Feb. 22 and 23, a faculty/student music performance ensemble called Notorious will perform with the Torch Sisters, a local collective group of female movement artists, in a performance called "Elemental." The project explores the seven elements of earth, water, space, air, metal, wood and fire through performance of newly composed and existing music joined with movement flow arts. The project brings together 10 music faculty, five student musicians, three student composers and four music alumni with the community movements arts group.

Performances of "Elemental" will take place at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 and 3 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Riverside Theatre of the Haas Fine Arts Center. Tickets are available online or through the Service Center in Davies Center.

Notorious has performed in the community as an official ensemble since 2017, although some faculty members in the group have played together in various incarnations since 2003. They perform in a variety of venues, generally in the Chippewa Valley, but sometimes as far as the Minneapolis and Chicago metro areas.

This is Notorious's first performance on campus and their first collaborative project with movement artists. They describe it as "not just a concert, but more of something akin to Cirque du Soleil, complete with costumes, props and aerial movement work joining the music." It is also the first time that Notorious has performed works written by Blugold students. Abbey Monreal, Noah Reedy and Leighton Tuenge are the student composers, who have found the process to be an amazing artistic and educational opportunity.

Monreal, a junior choral major from Grafton, found out about the opportunity through her composition professor, Dr. Chia-Yu Hsu, associate professor of music, and is quite pleased with the music she and the other students have composed.

"The best part of composing is always working with live musicians," Monreal says. "Having my pieces performed and receiving feedback is such an awesome experience that I always value so much. I learn so much every time I compose, especially when I write for instruments that I don't play."

Dr. Christa Garvey, professor of music, is one of the faculty members of Notorious, a performance ensemble that aims to push artistic boundaries and create innovative performing experiences. The group emphasizes the need to include both current and former Blugolds in their ensemble, which helps current students to see how real-world creative performances develop. 

"Creative work doesn't just magically spring to life, and it can often be a much richer experience when you join forces with other artists/thinkers outside of your expertise," Garvey says. "Having the opportunity to work together as colleagues with our own students and alumni is especially meaningful — we get to join forces with the adult professionals they have become."

As for the visual side of the "Elemental" show, the Torch Sisters flow artists are thrilled to have a rare opportunity to perform with live musicians to a new genre of music they have not worked to in the past. 

"I'm excited to perform to the original songs written by UWEC students," says Sara Brunsell-Raehl, a 2019 English-technical writing graduate. "It's the premiere of those pieces and we are making something new together that never existed before."

By focusing on physically representing the seven elements, the troupe approached creating movement conceptually, considering how to logically portray each element using their aerial apparatuses such as lyra, silks and chains, as well as acro yoga and flow props such as veil fans, wings and hula hoops. Some of the movement has been created without the completed music, as it was simultaneously being written by the students.

Kerri Kiernan, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography from UW-Eau Claire in 2008, enjoyed the new process and challenges in creating the performance and looks forward to sharing it.

"This has been such a fun and creative experience together as a troupe," Kiernan says. "We didn't start with any preconceived notions about what the final product would look like since we have never done anything like this before. During our practices we used improvisation and made videos of ourselves trying out new ideas together. It feels so good when we are all on the same page as individual artists. We have been very open minded in creating our movement together."

Photo caption: The Torch Sisters perform at Pablo Center at the Confluence in March 2019. (Photo credit: Lee Butterworth)