On the rise: Dallas celebrates contemporary art with inaugural music and arts festival

On the rise: Dallas celebrates contemporary art with inaugural music and arts festival

Kevin Beasley’s recent performance at the Dallas Museum of Art began with the artist taking his seat in a microphone-infused rocking chair in the museum’s soaring atrium, his dark throne linked to 24 seat cushions, similarly wired with microphones, scattered on the floor around him. A melody formed by the creaking chair, the choir of cushions and musical tracks chosen by Beasley. A smattering of spectators swelled into a massive crowd of participants that stayed until midnight, talking and dancing, eating and drinking, looking and listening.

This Friday ‘late night’ at the museum was the latest collaborative crescendo for a city that has long been on the up, channeling its booming economy into the largest urban arts district in the United States. This 68-acre swath of downtown Dallas is, in the words of DMA director Maxwell Anderson, ‘a very tidy street, with all of these different monuments by starchitects.’ Buildings by I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, and Rem Koolhaas line the road. With its impressive infrastructure complete, the district’s cultural organisations are now focused on defining their individual identities and their shared goals and desired audiences. The ambition and intensity of that cooperation was revealed in the inaugural Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, a three-week event that concluded on Sunday.

Led by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Jaap van Zweden, the festival was conceived as a collection of collaborations - among disciplines, Dallas cultural organisations, and visual artists such as Beasley, Pipilotti Rist, Alex Prager, Yael Bartana, and Monte Laster - around the theme of ’Destination (America)’. ‘The city has spent a billion and a half dollars on this Arts District and until this festival there really hasn’t been a recurring sandbox to play together in,’ says Jonathan Martin, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. ‘We’re all here geographically but we had all been politely doing our own thing.’

A key force in expanding the festival beyond the orchestral was van Zweden’s daughter, Anna-Sophia, who is passionate about contemporary art. ‘There is a great opportunity for performance art and projects that push the boundaries,’ she says of Dallas. ‘What we want to create with Soluna a platform where artists can meet each other, collaborate, and come with crazy, outside-the-box ideas, and it’s our dream to make those ideas happen for them and with them.’

The festival’s opening night featured Los Angeles-based Prager, whose three films - Face in the Crowd (2013), La Petite Mort (2012), and Despair (2010) - were screened along with original scores performed live by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Another evening was dedicated to Rist’s new film, commissioned to accompany a performance of Miklos Rozsa’s Andante for Strings, Op. 22a. Beasley’s work, also commissioned for the festival, was concerned with the physicality of sound itself.

Another festival highlight came in the form of a video commission from Laster, a Texas native who has worked in Paris since 1994. His Destination, in Five Movements unfolded on screen as van Zweden conducted a program of patriotic favourites on the eve of America’s Memorial Day. The five-part video, created in collaboration with students from a local performing arts high school, dealt with migration and identity issues. ‘What I found interesting about the theme of destinations was the individual journey and physical displacement; "Movement" takes on many meanings and prompts new questions.’

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