Communion, Isolation: Installation captures heart of one friendship

Communion, Isolation: Installation captures heart of one friendship

What if you and one of your dearest friends, someone who has been in your inner circle for a decade, wanted to illustrate your relationship? You might sit for a portrait or share matching pieces of jewelry. As artists, you might create a painting together or as musicians, you might write a song. If you come from different cultures, you might look for a place where those paths intersect.

“An arresting piece of beauty and serenity; something in limited supply these days…Go see it,” wrote Operawire of “Ocean Body.” (Courtesy Image/The Momentary)

And if you are all of those things, you might create an immersive four-screen, multi-channel sound installation titled “Ocean Body.”

Opening this weekend at the Momentary in Bentonville, “Ocean Body” — described as “a multi-sensory experience of a place where sand, sun, and water surround experiences of intense communion and also of profound isolation” — was built around the friendship of Helga Davis and Shara Nova. Davis is a vocalist and performance artist who was principal actor in the 25th-anniversary international revival of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach.” Nova — who was born in El Dorado, Ark. — is the founder of the chamber pop band My Brightest Diamond and a composer whose works have been performed by the North Carolina Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, American Composers Orchestra and the BBC Concert orchestra.

“In 2011, I had the pleasure of writing an opera [in] which Helga was one of the five singers called You Us We All,” Nova picks up the story. “I was such a fan of her work in ‘Einstein on the Beach,’ and it was a dream for me to write for her then. As a musician and an actor, she has a power on stage that is incredible, and I had hopes of being able to work with her again.”

The Momentary is presenting the world premiere of the extended, 45-minute version of “Ocean Body,” featuring Shara Nova and Helga Davis, through Aug. 22. “Ocean Body” examines the sometimes conflicting needs for union and autonomy within a friendship and how we continually discover each other in new and transformational ways. (Courtesy Image/The Momentary)

The professional relationship blossomed, Nova says, around “our musical shared language [which] was and is very wide.”

“We became close through working together and became dear friends. Our connections in music, us both having grown up in Pentecostal churches, were surprising to us, that we knew a lot of the same songs but me being in a family of traveling ministers and her growing up in Harlem,” she explains. And “over the years we had many conversations around racism — and these were kinds of conversations that I had never had with anyone in this particular way.”

“Our years of friendship are inextricably linked to our creative process,” adds Davis. “Our friendship is the place where we’ve learned to take risks and make a safe space for each of us to experience our beautiful, strong, complicated selves, fully.”

So, Nova wondered, “what if we made a piece together showing people what we do when we are together? We sing. We write. We share. We listen. We hurt each other when we don’t want to. We learn what the other person needs. How do we make a musical piece about what being in an interracial friendship looks like? What’s hard and what is beautiful and what needs healing? It is from these questions that the piece emerged for me. And how might we be having this conversation not just with ourselves, but in community? And that’s where the choir collaborations began.”

The imagery of “Ocean Body” offers the performance artists interconnected within a sculptural dress built for two by artist Annica Cuppetelli. Tethered, the two cannot avoid affecting each other, as the actions of one will move, confine, support, or even wholly reshape the other. (Courtesy Image/The Momentary)

The result, directed by Mark DeChiazza and supported by fiber/installation artist and fashion designer Annica Cuppetelli, is “visually and sonically … a stunning work that I know our audience will appreciate,” says Cynthia Post Hunt, who programmed the piece for the Momentary. “At its depth, the friendship between two individuals speaks to me on so many levels. How we relate to one another — how we hold onto, project, expect and grow — how we relate to ourselves through each other . … I’m particularly interested in how the artists have created such a visceral, physical and emotional experience for us that is based in place, and body, and truth, and questions. It invites us to reflect on our own humanness, and the humanness of others. Now is a time to embrace similarity and difference.”



‘Ocean Body’

WHAT — 45 minute multi-screen film and music installation

WHEN — Through Aug. 22

WHERE — Fermentation Hall at the Momentary in Bentonville

COST — Free; registration required


Categories: Theater