Sensoria — which began as a literary festival in 1993 — now sports almost 90 events that celebrate the written word, visual art, opera, dance, theater, food and wine at Central Piedmont Community College.
(And last year’s featured speaker provided a killer quote for this year’s guide: The April 6-15 festival is “one of the very best of its kind in the world,” according to George Saunders, of long-term short-story fame and recent “Lincoln in the Bardo” success.)
Woven throughout is a unique educational component; indeed, many offerings spring directly from classroom curricula. Sensoria brings art alive through discussions and demonstrations between the audience and the artists, who range from national luminaries to local treasures.
“Our students deserve the absolute best,” says Amy Bagwell, co-chair of literary events. “We want to get as many students as we can into galleries and auditoriums to experience something connected to the curriculum, and we want our community to experience those same things.” Many of the productions are collaborations with other art institutions across the county.
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Hours after Tracy K. Smith was named U.S. Poet Laureate, the brain trust behind Sensoria sought and landed her presence as the Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer. Smith, who will read from her work and lead the audience in discussion (general admission and free), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for her collection “Life on Mars.”
In addition to elaborate stage productions, here’s a random sample of distinctive offerings:
- Attend a special effects make-up workshop by red-carpet make-up artist Kymm McLean.
- Hear goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain discuss the new system of metal working he invented called Fold-Forming.
- Celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” with Dr. Leslie Klinger, editor of the “New Annotated Frankenstein.”
- Local literature is represented by novelist and UNC Charlotte professor Bryn Chancellor, who will read from her novel “Sycamore.”
- Virginian Jon Pineda, the featured regional writer, has published three poetry collections, two novels, and a memoir.
- Children book illustrator Matt Myers, whose most recent book is “BB-8 on the Run,” will read at the Harris campus.
Large stage productions include seven performances of the heart-tugger “On Golden Pond,” by CPCC Theatre. “L’elisir d’amore” is the Italian title of Gaetano Donizetti’s comedic opera, “The Elixir of Love,” a premiere for CPCC’s Opera Theatre. First performed in Milan in 1832, the opera is lauded for its humor and character development, and as an excellent representation of the bel canto tradition. It will be sung in English with “supertitles.”
Among the most ambitious performances is Benjamin Britten’s haunting “War Requiem,” originally commissioned for the reconsecration of England’s Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed by the Luftwaffe on Nov. 14, 1940. The chorale and orchestral work integrates World War I poems written by English soldier Wilfred Owen with texts from the traditional Latin Requiem, or Mass for the Dead. More than 150 performers are featured in this collaboration between CPCC Music and the College of Arts and Architecture at UNC Charlotte.
Visual artist Felicia van Bork will lecture about her collage and painting exhibition "color + color = space," and show a time-lapse video of a mural she created with students at the CPCC Levine campus. Exhibiting artist Jeremy Pelt will hand out wax markers for attendees to draw on the walls of the Gorelick Gallery.
In celebration of delicious things to eat and drink, Piedmont Culinary Guild is partnering with CPCC Culinary Arts to offer a Food & Wine Festival, where 11 local chefs will create locally sourced dishes and pair each with a wine from North Carolina. The four-hour event includes the option to attend any of six hour-long classes (Chocolate and Wine, anyone?). Proceeds will go toward culinary scholarships.
“What is exciting to me about all the arts is they are alive and relevant,” says Bagwell. “They are a mechanism to sustain us and to show us through things.
“Tracy Smith is so accomplished, and she wants to talk about how we are in this divided place, and about how does language help us with that,” says Bagwell.
And “Frankenstein,” written centuries ago, is thematically applicable here and now as we debate the ethics of cloning and genetic testing.
“There are tools in these pieces of literature," says Bagwell, "that we can use to help us live today.”
The full schedule is available at sensoria.cpcc.edu/events/.