Did Manoj Kesavan call his new festival Boom because he wants to blow up Charlotte’s ideas about culture? Because he wants to tell us avant-garde performers are going through boom times, whether the general public knows or not?
Kesavan, the motivating force behind Charlotte’s Pecha Kucha nights, has expanded his efforts to keep the arts fringe thriving. Boom runs April 8-10 in Plaza Midwood as a scaled-down model of fringe festivals everywhere: Nearly continuous performances in Petra’s, Snug Harbor and Open Door Studios Friday through Sunday.
He tapped into five local creative individuals/groups, asking them to present and import presenters. He picked On Q, Taproot, XOXO, Sarah Emery and CarlosAlexis Cruz.
They picked spoken word artists, cutting-edge dancers, groundbreaking theatrical artists and uncategorizable folks. Cynthia Ling Lee’s blurb on the Boom site says, “Part ritual, part performance art, part colonial history inscribed on the body, ‘Blood Run’ will investigate her Han Chinese colonizer and Taiwanese plains indigenous heritage within the context of larger political histories, combining experimental video, movement research, and poetic text....”
Kesavan realizes people won’t queue down Commonwealth Avenue for such challenging pieces, and that’s OK. He’ll preach to the faithful and make converts with performances lasting 45 minutes, venues you can walk among and cheap tickets: $10 per event, reduced-price day passes or an all-event pass to 30 shows for $75. (There’s also a Pecha Kucha kickoff on April 7.) He also plans visual art installations and an “outdoor living room” with furniture and a play space for kids.
“My immediate intention is to make us part of the creative community,” says Kesavan. “The larger goal is to be a gathering point for artists who have pushed hard to remain nontraditional. They deserve an audience.”
They don’t always get one. Choreographer Emery ran the revived Charlotte arm of Moving Poets Dance Theatre until it gave up the ghost last year. She has moved to Jacksonville, though she’s eager to see Boom explode.
“I think there’s a lot more going on in Charlotte’s underground than people realize,” she says. “If this succeeds, it could help nationally, making this more of a destination for the arts. Manoj was careful not to say, ‘Everyone be a part of this festival!’ He wanted a curatorial group to raise the bar for quality.”
She invited Alban Elved Dance Company, founded in Berlin and now in Wilmington, to do “adam-mah.” It “explores the symbiosis of human and nature, our creative and destructive capacities through ... development of personal identity, territoriality and the shrinking of habitat.”
And she came up with “Threads of Color,” a seven-section collaboration with ArtPop artists who’ve designed local billboards. She incorporated movement, music, paintings and costumes designed by the artists, and poetry from Charlotte’s Behailu Academy.
“I wanted to connect with the community as much as I could,” Emery says. “(Fixing) the visuals and sounds set boundaries for me, (which) keeps me on my toes to be more creative.”
Kesavan and Emery think the results will be mind-expanding yet accessible. Boom-ers don’t want to do mainstream work but do want to reach mainstream audiences. They are, says Kesavan, “blurring lines, redefining what art is.”
Can the festival meet its likely budget of $60,000 through a combination of tickets, donations and grants?
“We’ll see,” says Kesavan, who offered artists “a little money but not as much as we’d like. I am encouraged by the fact that so many cities have fringe festivals now. Greensboro has had one for 14 years. If they can support one, Charlotte can, too.”