To create regardless of criticism, to quell the dithering of self-doubt — Frank O’Hara explored this perseverance in his poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” Using his poem, Arts Fusion Initiative created the American Fusion Project “Into the Sun,” an ambitious collaborative effort of chamber music, dance, song and spoken word.
Kansas native Kristen Doering, studying piano at the Juilliard School, instigated the project. The presentation included the talents of fellow classmates and was supported by friends, family and her hometown of Garden City.
Saturday night’s concert at the Folly Theater was the final performance of a weeklong Kansas tour. The crowd anticipated it with chummy conviviality.
The hourlong show began with the audience being prompted to read the poem, provided in the program. The excited chattering subsided as they read simultaneously, a calm settling before the house darkened.
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The lights came up with the musicians downstage: Doering at the piano, Maria Im on violin and Colin Stokes on cello. Center stage the dancers, Kyle Weiler, Cleo Person and Taylor Hansen, and baritone Jake Alan Nelson lay contorted, feigning sleep. Rising, Nelson intoned the opening lines, the dancers circling, looking up as though the sun really were speaking.
The performance was staged simply, segments differentiated through lighting; the artists were costumed casually. They chose selections from American composers — Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, George Gershwin, Willie “The Lion” Smith — to suit the poem.
They watched one another, listening, engrossed and deliberate, absorbed in each particular interpretation.
Following the arc of the poem, the action was subdued, aggressive, humorous, coy or pensive. Dramatic themes engendered bold gestures, tight pizzicato accompanied angular, elbow-lead moves, softer melodies brought about graceful, rounded twirling, or a change of attitude was initiated with an assertive stomp, thigh slap or hand flair.
This was also the world premiere of “Into the Sun,” written by Gabriel Medina. Although Nelson spoke most of the text, accompanied by strings and piano, Medina set to music the encouraging words of the sun, emphasizing the work’s emotional high point, yet maintaining the conversational lilt.
The poem complete, Nelson and the dancers turned away, settling down as though in contemplation, while Stokes and Doering played a dusky epilogue of Philip Lasser’s “Vocalise,” the final chords on a black stage.
The entire work was a seamless, expressive response. It was, undoubtedly, a thorough fusion of art forms and a compelling initial presentation.