Oz Arts Presents
Local Artists in “The Longest Night”
On December 20th and 21st Oz Arts Nashville presented The Longest Night, an interdisciplinary collaboration celebrating the winter solstice, and the next installment of their season’s eight different projects spearheaded by Nashville-based artists. It was an all-inclusive celebration in song, dance, improvisation and spoken word with some of Nashville’s most creative minds.
Overall the two-act performance was organized around a narrative of birds surviving the longest night as drawn from the poetry of Wendell Berry, especially his To Know the Dark:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
From these lines Director Jason Shelton created an exploration of this idea that privileges the darkness as a creative force, an idea which played the ruling narrative of the production.
The evening opened with Ryoko Suzuki performing a meditative and self-reflective prelude on a harmonium
soon joined by the ensemble in a performance of Berry’s poetry. Then world jazz vocalist Marcela Pinilla came
onstage to perform “Oscuridad.” In the second act she also sang “Farolito,” (“festival light”) with a remarkable charisma that warmed the room in an extroverted performance that balanced nicely with Suziki’s introspection, particularly in the latter’s performance of the “ancient and mystical” mantra “Om Namah Shiviaya.”
Then the Portara Ensemble performed, “Kalado” a Latgallian winter solstice folksong, the first of three arrangements they would perform that evening. Of these, Patrick Dunnevant’s arrangement of Stille Nacht was my personal favorite, playing as it did to the ensemble’s
strengths in timbre and texture with a harmonic language that seemed to lie somewhere between Copland’s pandiatonicism and Hindemith’s stacked perfections. (Much of the performance is available on Portara’s new release, here)
Virtuoso bassist Victor Wooten performed a solo arrangement of “The Christmas Song” rich in extended tapping techniques and a jazz flavored romantic nostalgia and his brother Roy “Futureman” Wooten led a rhythmic but free improvisation with Jeff Coffin and Ramakrishnan Kumaran. This jazz inspired celebration continued deep into the second act with Jeff Coffin’s “As Light Through the Leaves” featuring solos by Coffin on Flute and Pat Coil on piano. Soon, too soon, the concert came to an end with the uplifting “And All the Earth Shall Sing,” during which the audience was invited onstage for a dance party.
Depicting what I believe were the birds exploring the night, the Epiphany Dance* Partners, ingeniously choreographed by Lisa Valeri Spradley, were a constant presence onstage and throughout the performance.
Their role in the production was interesting and quite autonomous; they could interpret the music, or ignore it, or just sit down and watch the performance with us. Their dance could create a simple distraction, or become quite poignant as it did during Roxanne Crew’s dance to “Oscuridad” and Allison Hardee’s dance to the Futureman’s “Improvisation.”
Across the evening, Poet Ciona Rouse’s reading (she has a marvelous voice) assisted in unifying the evening with richly-told “Narratives.” Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Story “If Not Higher” was funny and quite intimate.
At the end, I remembered being quite excited by Director Jason Shelton imploring the audience to participate in the performance. In a country so fraught with division as ours currently is, I was excited for a concert that emphasized diversity in content and inclusivity in performance, especially with the opportunity to sing with those around me and those onstage. Unfortunately, all we could join in with were the chants and with Peter Yarrow’s festive “Light One Candle.” My only wish was that there were more opportunities for this, perhaps we might all have sung a carol or two together? In any case it was a wonderful holiday and perhaps my favorite holiday concert event of the year—I hope to see it again next year!