[Multimedia] I'm always happy to hear about and support productions in the vein of the Proving Ground that provide an appropriate space for amateurs to stage and develop their work, or perhaps professionals trying their hand at something new. It’s also nice to see an arts community as fecund as Salt Lake's fostering emerging and innovative talent by spreading funding, space, support and energy around to those that might be in need. That, in short, is the No. 1 reason I make an extra effort to attend such productions.
Proving Ground’s producers, Dance Theatre Coalition, decided to forgo traditional ticketing in favor of online reservation and a suggested donation of $15. Obviously this technique is aimed at getting more butts in seats. Still, it’s a risky venture in the sense that people might actually pay for what they feel they got—and Utah audiences are notoriously fickle (read: cheap).
I was under the impression that as a locally-grown production—funded for the most part by local monies and attended by local audiences—Proving Ground would consist of local emerging artists and talent. And there were some. Joey Guesthouse—a used-appliance salesman who attends school part time at Salt Lake Community College when not otherwise busy—and his VHS Quintet opened the show by twisting and tweaking various knobs, sampling and mixing sounds culled from the five VCR’s he’s ingeniously wired to a multi-tracker, delay pedal, delay unit, battle mixer and drum machine. A brilliant kaleidoscopic dance for the camera was choreographed and edited by Erin Kaser. And there was Lindsay Ellis-Ermidis’ Remote Beyond Control dance piece, half-heartedly constructed around the growing banality of America, fueled by a blind devotion to all things media. There was even a one-act scene directed by Alexandra Harbold that culminated with a passionate delivery of Ptolemy’s self-written eulogy.
The problem lay with the fact that this multi-disciplinary evening—which included dance, film, theater, music and mixed variations on all those mediums—included several artists that not only had little or nothing to do with Utah, but also didn’t deliver anything particularly unique. Sure, Dana Michel’s solo performances were filled with interesting and provocative movement that consisted mostly of hyperbolic, pedestrian themes made grotesque. But such movement always works better when juxtaposed with something beautiful and serene.
Still, the best example of the evening falling flat came with the closer: “Stairway to St. Paul’s” by the Dutch-born Jeroen Offerman. This short film, created in 2002, shows Offerman himself singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” backwards. He taught himself how to sing the entire song backwards, filmed himself doing so on a street somewhere, reversed the film, added Zepplin’s score and, voilá! What I thought was a local artistic Proving Ground turned into YouTube’s greatest hits.
And really that may be the theme for the evening. Proving Ground is supposed to be a space to develop new ideas, and a sphere for emerging artists. But the result was a stewing pot of ideas, many of which needed to simmer a little longer. (Jacob Stringer)