A cellist hands her instrument to an actor and dances a little shimmy. A percussionist sings a jazzed-up lullabye, tucking his daughter into a bed that rolls around the stage and morphs into a ship. A riddling tap dancer crashes a mad tea party, two crickets chirp in rhymed couplets, and a dragon fills the stage to a menacing drumbeat.
What does this all mean? It means you are witnessing a performance by the Open Dream Ensemble.
On Friday night, I caught a dress rehearsal for the debut of the Open Dream Ensemble, or ODE, a new multidisciplinary art project sponsored by the Kenan Institute for the Arts. ODE is comprised of three musicians (cello, sax, percussion), three actors, three dancers, two artistic directors and a technical designer.
The ensemble performed an original, 60-minute piece called The Amazing Adventures of Anna Marie — and amazing it was indeed. Conceived and written by co-artistic directors Mollye and Kelly Maxner, AAAM is visually and aurally dizzying, taking place in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl as she imagines herself facing her inhibitions and fulfilling her dreams. The remarkably gifted ensemble members, all graduates of the North Carolina School of the Arts, have met up with one another at the intersection of modern dance, new music and contemporary theater to produce a truly original performance experience.
The brains behind ODE belong to my wife, Rebecca Nussbaum, who would have been performing in the ensemble on Friday if she hadn’t just given birth in August. With the support of Kenan, she has been developing the plans for ODE for close to two years. As part of the plan, the ensemble members have all been trained by successful teaching artists from around the country, including members of the Lincoln Center Institute. They will spend the next few months traveling around the region, performing for thousands on stages large and small, and participating in residencies designed to stimulate children and adults with an appreciation for the arts and a better understanding of their own creative potentials.
This debut season is an opportunity to take the ensemble concept for a test drive; future seasons promise increasingly ambitious undertakings. It’s a bit early to prognosticate, but the generous funding, the high-level artistic vision and the educational potential make me think this project is going to be a big winner, which is good news for all of us who care about the present and the future of the arts.
I will be keeping a close eye on this venture for several reasons, and give further updates as appropriate.
UPDATE: Overheard, six-year-old boy after Saturday night’s performance: “Dad, that was the best movie I ever saw!”