IOWA CITY - Equal parts grit, determination and artistry have whirled into a 70-minute performance of contemporary music, dance and paintings.
The cutting-edge composition "GRIT" is the brainchild of choreographer Rebekah Chappell, composer Joshua Marquez and visual artist Dana O'Malley, all finishing up graduate degrees at the University of Iowa.
This program headed to the Englert stage Sunday (2/21), however, leaps outside their course studies. It's something each felt called to do, in the wake of earlier collaborations between Chappell and Marquez and O'Malley and Marquez.
"GRIT" builds on those successes and combines their artistic strengths. O'Malley created the paintings, chairs and music stands that meld with the seven musicians performing pieces Marquez has written, as well as the five dancers performing Chappell's choreography.
It's a blending of three forces and three disciplines, Marquez said, all of which reflect the final product's title.
"We thought about the grit - the toughness and beauty of working together, and the effort that it takes to collaborate," said O'Malley, 29, of Minneapolis, an MFA candidate in painting. "And I was thinking about with my own work, the textural grit: the dirt and grime and sanding away of rough edges to find something precious."
"It's all about the collaborative grit, and what we as independent artists use to rub up against one another," added musician Marquez, 25, of Raleigh, N.C., a Ph.D. candidate in composition. "We've all worked together separately. The way in which we interact - the opinions, what we each bring to the table - is not always smooth and easy to work with, so these little particles that come from it end up being the piece and the collaboration. It's this weird, gritty conversation between two forces or three forces that end up (where) the sum is greater than the parts."
"We actually started with 'GRIT' as the title of our show before we really sunk our teeth into the work," noted Chappell, 29, of Williamsburg, Va., an MFA candidate in dance. "Obviously, all three of us are coming at it from different perspectives, but it's something concrete that we could all grab ahold of. And for making movement, it can be very generative to have a word that has so many different kinds of layers to it."
All three forces will interact in unexpected ways onstage, with paintings projected on-screen, ensemble musicians seated onstage at an angle, solo musicians moving around the stage, and dancers moving around the musicians and music stands. They nearly collide at times, causing others watching the rehearsals to lean forward in a moment Marquez calls "so special" and exemplifies the work's immersive experience.
"Instead of this idea of passively sitting back and watching," choreographer Chappell said, "I'm really hoping that we've created moments where the audience leans in or feels that tension, or feels some sense of relief physically, that they are experiencing something in their own bodies through a sense of empathy."
Even though Williamsburg fourth grade students who heard the music described it as "eerie" and "mysterious," all three collaborating artists said viewers will be drawn into the work's environment.
"It becomes this interactive world, and although the audience can't touch it, they can metaphorically touch it," Marquez said.
"Of the world we live in," O'Malley said, "there's every sense. We see things, we hear things, we move throughout this world. Being given that opportunity to engage all of those facilities without putting a framework around each thing, or putting one thing on a pedestal, is quite special and valid for today's world and how we express ourselves in it."
The reality is that a show of this scope takes time and money to bring to fruition. The trio began talking in earnest last spring and contacted the Englert in May. The group also had to raise funds to not only produce the show, but to pay the performers, as well. Various small businesses and university groups jumped onboard with $13,000 in sponsorships, grants and in-kind donations.
That's another example of the collaboration fueling the project, and the lasting impression the producers hope to impart to audiences in this one-time only performance.
"We hope (the show) makes people want to collaborate and it creates a sense that maybe these sort of specialized fields can support each other and work well together," O'Malley said. "We don't want people to see this paring of things as a novelty ... but that (such) partnerships create growth."
WHAT: "GRIT," a collaboration of music, dance and visual art
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday (2/21)
TICKETS: $10, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/event/grit