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John King’s “Dice Thrown” at CalArts

April 23, 2010

For as long as I can remember I’ve wondered why CalArts keeps to themselves. Like the mad scientist’s up on the hill, they stay behind closed doors, and they seem to like it that way. But, since I’m part of an organization that’s trying to educate suburbia about art, I’ve always wished that they would be more involved with the community – especially since they seem to create some of the most amazing work.

Well, I have changed my mind.

This last Wednesday I was privy to attend a preview showing of alumni John King’s (Music BFA 76) world premiere of his contemporary opera, Dice Thrown. Based on the visual poem “Un coup de dés jamais n’ abolira le hazard” by Stéphanie Mallarmé (loosely translated: “A throw of the dice will never abolish chance.”), this opera is unique in that the entire show is ordered based on algorithms from a computer program. And let me tell you: it is trippy as hell.

You have to pay attention throughout the entire program if you want to retain any inkling of a story, because things change at a moment’s notice.

What’s even more amazing about this piece though is that, because the entire performance is determined at random by a computer, not only does the audience have to pay close attention, so do the performers. By looking up at a screen above the audience, the performers figure out where to stand on stage, what to sing, and which key and/or register to stay in. Part dance, part opera, and part film, there is always something going on, and there is always a puzzle to be piecing together.

Regarding the spontaneity of it all, John King has said, “Anyone who comes will create their own opera and bring their own experience to Dice Thrown. They might come back a second night and see something different… To me, the excitement is that the audience has to engage with the work.”

This is truly live and active art. Something that, if suburbia got a hold on, would be watered down in an instant. Watered down to something “understandable”. Something easy. After experiencing this, I’m convinced that CalArts needs to continue to create and unveil work at their own will – not at the will of the community.

I’m completely fine with taking the trip up to the mountaintop.


If you’re interested in buying tickets for this Saturday’s performance – even though I’m pretty sure they’re all sold out – click here.

Quotes taken from CalArts blog.

 

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