Ecstasy and despair don't seem like obvious topics for a spring arts festival, but for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' City Dionysia project, they play nicely into a time of renewal.
Guided by new theater director Kevin Landis, the college has plans for a TheatreWorks production, an art show, a video installation, poetry slams, concerts, a weekend film fest and a closing parade. Landis, who came to UCCS from Tufts University last August, pitched the idea for an interdisciplinary arts festival based on the dual forces that drive many spring fests.
"Like Mardi Gras or like many of these major community festivals," he says, "there's always an element of life-giving force and the very real presence of death and destruction."
The name City Dionysia comes from ancient Greece's annual celebrations honoring the creative and destructive nature of the gods, namely the rough-and-tumble partier Dionysus, as well as the new harvest. At the heart of the festival was a tragic-play competition.
One of the most famous tragedies to come out of this was Euripides' The Bacchae, the story of the god Dionysus — also called Bacchus — and his followers, the wild women known as the Bacchae, who punish the family of Dionysus' mother for not worshipping him.
In its first-ever production of a Greek tragedy, TheatreWorks will perform an unpublished translation of The Bacchae, one written by an acquaintance of Landis', Laurence Senelick, with a live music accompaniment.
Of Senelick's take, Landis says, "He's pumped up a little bit what I call sort of 'blasphemous sexuality.' That's not to say this is some sort of soft-core porn or anything — it's just that he's hitting on some of the sexual issues that are brought up in this play.
"Many Greek scholars say, in an ironic way, this is the most erotic of all the Greek tragedies."
This current of sexuality flows from the stage to the gallery, where it's encapsulated in Moan: Pleasure and Pain, a student-faculty art show. It's the first show back in the Gallery of Contemporary Art space (now called GOCA 1420) since it was closed last year due to nearby renovations.
Ten UCCS art faculty and 10 art students paired up for this exhibit, all responding to the theme of the tipping point between pleasure and pain. Some worked from the sound of a moan itself while others borrowed from The Bacchae.
Valerie Brodar, associate professor of media arts and director of visual arts, collaborated with student Dom Puleo on a multimedia work depicting the moment in the play where one of the main characters is torn apart by his mother, a member of the Bacchae herself, during a trance brought on by the Dionysian spell. Her pride drains into shock and grief when she realizes that the animal she thought she killed was actually her son.
Brodar and Puleo's work certainly illustrate the vehement darkness inherent in City Dionysia, but as Landis reiterates, the overall project bears an equal amount of revelation.
"Festivals have been based around that dichotomy for centuries."