The Sarus Festival is in its 6th incarnation; this weekend is the Sarus Fall Equinox Retreat. Yoga, meditation, drum circles, wiggle therapy and more public exercises are ongoing, and a performance of The Invisibility Project is Saturday evening at Riverfront Park.
Breanne Horne from Charlotte is directing this experimental project, and founder Karola Luttringhaus is now the General Director. For the spring Festival, Luis Adorno will be the Artistic & Executive Director. I spoke to Karola, Luis, and Kelly Rae, one of the artists working on the The Invisibility Project, a movement exploration of the 1898 Wilmington race riot. Listen above and read the extended conversation below.
Gina: Tell me about how the Sarus Festival is expanding.
Karola: So this is the sixth year. I started the Sarus Festival in 2007 and at that point it was a dance festival, and then it grew to incorporate other art forms, and then it changed again to become the arts festival for site specific and experimental art. And it's been out for a few years now. This year we're expanding and the team is growing. We have two events now instead of just one. One in the fall that focuses on process and community and exploration. Bringing artists in to collaborate with each other and to exchange with other artists and the community members in Wilmington and to try and create works that are made for Wilmington about Wilmington. I go to these sites around town that are uniquely tied to the history and the identity of the community.
Then in the spring, these artists will come back and they will have worked further on these pieces. I have a focus on performances in the spring. We bring artists in to perform. There will also be lectures and things like that, always, as part of it, because we like to give audiences opportunities to meet the artists and find out a little bit more about what their motivation is, or their inspiration.
Gina: Kelly, tell us about the Invisibility Project.
Kelly: The Invisibility Project was curated and choreographed by Brittany Patterson and co-curated by myself. I am doing the score and the poetic narration for the production. There's five cast members and myself that will be putting together a dance that highlights the historical atrocities of Wilmington's 1898 race riots. We will be highlighting that site specific work down at the Riverfront because the culmination of that event ended with bodies being dumped into the river, which is something that many folks don't talk about. Originally, Brittany wanted this to be done at a graveyard because we wanted to pay homage to those that had lost their lives in movement. But we felt like the Cape Fear River is actually an invisible graveyard because many people, their bodies, our ancestors bodies, are in that river. It's just that we didn't give them a burial.
So that's what the Invisibility Project is and we're hoping to have a Q&A afterward that will help with the community aspect that Karola is discussing to get the community involved in asking and answering questions of how can we move forward past what occurred.
Gina: When can people see that?
Kelly: They can see that Saturday, September 23rd at 6 p.m. on Water Street right in front of the Federal Building. So it'll be halfway in the street, halfway on the sidewalk and that area will be dancing.
Gina: Luis, you are the new artistic director of the Sarus Festival.
Luis: I've been living in Wilmington for about eight years and I've heard about it but never went or participated. I met Karola and I worked on a piece with her for last summer's Sarus Festival event with Gray Pascal, Benjamin Billingsley. We all did a site specific piece at Cape Fear Community College and sort of just went from there. I’ve been involved ever since.
Gina: Is it daunting to step into Karola’s place?
Louis: Oh yeah, definitely. I thought it was pretty crazy that after working together once she was like, Hey do you want to help me out with this? I was pretty honored. Honestly. She's been doing this a long time and it's very established here in town.
Gina: Karola, how did you choose Luis?
Karola: Well, I worked with him and found that our collaboration was very professional and always reliable. It was creative and it was also pushing boundaries in a way that I want the festival to push boundaries. So I recognized that there was sort of a familiar soul. He goes out and he looks at what's out there, he meets artists, and he will bring these artists here. Some of them that he finds inspiring and that are beneficial for the community and for the artist to meet and work with. He's trying to make a lot of things happen. And it's not like I'm leaving entirely. I'm not out of the picture.
Gina: How is the festival deepening its experience in process as opposed to being focused on product or performance.
Karola: What's really important to me for Sarus Festival is that the artists get a chance to really explore and not worry about having to fulfill something specific at the end. Because that's counterproductive to creativity. So we want to take a risk. If you take a risk then you can come across something new, something different that you haven't done before. So, experimental means you don't know what the outcome will be. It also gives community audiences a chance to become part of something and to influence something and with works such as the Invisibility Project, I think that's an important aspect. Because that's going to also give the directors more insight about how people are processing this information, how it's affecting their lives.
Luis: I feel like it's important for people to see that process happening because it makes them feel more connected to what's created and they actually see that a lot of work and time and effort goes into these things. But it's also important to see that process because if somebody sees it, a lot of the time they feel, Hey, I can do that too. They get motivated. And I feel like that's what a lot of these types of events are good for as well. Showing the community, hey, this is a possibility. You know you can do these things as well if you so desire.
Karola: That reminds me- the festival always has a topic. So this time it's light, water, darkness. So that fits right in with the Invisibility Project. I picked these titles because I like to pick up specific political topics. But I leave it vague enough for people to choose that way or to leave it and go a more abstract route.
Gina: Kelly, have you experienced a different way of approaching work?
Kelly: This is the first time that I have ever worked with a choreographer or an artist that their process was almost backwards-the way that they curate something. Brittany wanted the process to be where we had a conversation. We talked about Wilmington, 1898. We talked about race relations. We talked about what makes us uncomfortable touching somebody else from another background or having to interact with them on a very intimate level, because some of the things that we're doing are very intimate. And some of the dancers didn't know each other. So we had a discussion first, then we sat in the space and listened to each other and then created work out of that. And then I created my piece last by listening to their comments. It was a crazy process. I've never worked with anyone who creates like that. But it's beautiful. It was gorgeous. And we grew so much from that type of process.
Gina: Can you imagine that that process could keep going forever?
Kelly: It could. We could literally come back to this piece and have another conversation now that we're more mature in our relationships, and it could shift and change.
Karola: I would also really love it if certain projects would come back over the years. So the idea is that the Invisibility Project has the freedom and the space to explore and to try something that we're all willing to take a risk for. And then they have six months to work some more and then there'll be another performance, hopefully, in the spring for the festival. And then it can also be experimental so it can still keep growing. In my experience no work is ever really finished. Everything is a work in progress and communities change. You know, new audiences come and different voices are raised, so I would love it if pieces like that would come back over the years.
Gina: What are some of the artists doing?
Luis: It's going to be a lot of different types of performance art. There's going to be music, experimental dance. I believe that there's going to be some workshops on ecology. Especially with our situation with our water here recently, the water aspect of the theme feels even more relevant than normal. One of the people I'm really excited to see is a musician from Atlanta named Dendera Bloodbath. She's going to come and do a great performance on hope and I'm excited to see her. Bitter Ink from Rocky Mount is coming. There's a lot of good stuff. I'm just really excited in general. Like Kelly was saying, I really don't know some of these artists, I've never met them before, seen any of their work. So, it's all mystery.
Gina: And who's this festival for? Who should come see this?
Luis: Everyone. It's for everyone. That's one reason we're putting it out in public and leaving this free and open to people, because we really want to give the community something to see, something to experience, something to think about.