Evolving technology, public expectations, and a constantly changing world are leading to surprising developments in artistic disciplines. In coming weeks, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will present a performing arts show with no performers, and a film screening with no film.
Every year, the Walker's Philip Bither goes hunting for the latest in performing arts for the "Out There" festival. The January series presents what's new, what's different, what's "out there."
Bither said the goal is to raise the question: What is theater today? And every year brings a new answer.
"It can both be rigorous, and complex, while at the same time wildly entertaining," Bither said.
So that's why this year's festival includes British actors Gob Squad doing a live recreation of Andy Warhol's 1965 experimental movie "Kitchen." It's deliberately self-conscious, with plenty of explanation on the side.
There's a play about a Frenchman who does intricate shows in his basement for his long-suffering friends and neighbors. There's a Slovenian company called Betontanc that depicts modern European history using a toddler's snow suit.
And finally, there's that performance with no live performers. Instead, "Bonanza" uses multiple movie screens in an elaborate theatrical set.
"You can't believe any thing you hear, and only half of what you see," said a character. "That's the best advice I can give to anybody coming to this place."
"Bonanza" was created by a Belgian group called Berlin.
"They don't like to be defined either as film makers or as theater artists. They really say 'We're a mix of theater, installation and film,'" Bither said.
Philip Bither said Berlin specializes in making movies about places. In the past, their movies have been about large cities, like Jerusalem. But this time they chose the tiny Rocky Mountain town of Bonanza. It has just seven residents, and they don't like each other.
There are six screens on stage. The largest shows the main narrative. Walker Film Curator Sheryl Mousley said the smaller frames each represent one of the five households in the town. As the story progresses, the smaller images switch off on the main screen.
"When you are seeing a part of that story, what you see is their frame lit up," she said.
Underneath the screens is a scale model of Bonanza itself. Portions illuminate, depending on which household is being represented at any given time.
Both Mousley and Bither say this multi-disciplinary approach is exciting, but involves practical problems. Few if any movie houses could present "Bonanza" because of the multiple projectors and lighting involved. And few art museums have the film expertise to present the show.
“You can't believe any thing you hear, and only half of what you see.”A character in "Bonanza"
Philip Bither said it does concern him to be doing a performance with no performers, but only to a point -- because "Bonanza" is an example of current artistic exploration.
"Many of the artists are dealing with what is it to be living in our world today, how is it people can't figure out how to get along with one another, and what is the relationship between popular culture and fine art," Bither said.
The Walker's curators are doing some redefining themselves. "Bonanza" is not only part of "Out There," it's also the opening presentation in the film department's "Expanding the Frame" series which runs into February.
Sheryl Mousley said that event will shatter boundaries too. It includes a new work by Oscar-nominated documentary maker Sam Green. Called "Utopia in Four Movements," it's essentially a documentary performed live.
"Sam Green himself stands at the microphone reading his voice over narration. But at the same time, he is mixing images from varying sources from his computer and putting them onto the screen," Mousley said. "So there is no real film here."
For some time, film purists have argued cinema is a community experience, best shared with many people. Mousley said Green's film meets a demand from movie audiences wanting even more: something live.