A Global Arts Celebration

By

Dancers, musicians, visual artists, actors - artists of every kind - will

use their creativity to dazzle and unite communities around the world on

New Year's Eve and throughout Y2K.

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Two thousand years. Pretty good, eh?

How about 7,000? That's the cultural anniversary Egypt is marking Dec. 31 in grand style with an outdoor performance of an electronic opera (see "Culture vultures" below).

Musicians on the pyramids are but one example of the outpouring of creative energy from dancers, visual artists, actors, acrobats, and writers - artists from every discipline who are using the year 2000 as an opportunity to produce events or creations of cultural significance.

Two of the most common themes are exploring community and diversity. The locations of celebrations range from the small-town harbor of Eastport, Maine, to the international time line running through the Fiji Islands.

"This is a perfect time for community reflection and assessment," says Pat Shifferd, project director for Continental Harmony, the umbrella organization sponsoring 58 musicians who are creating Y2K musical compositions for communities in each of the 50 states.

"We're giving ourselves a thousand-year report card," says Ms. Shifferd with a laugh, pointing out that in today's rushed lifestyle, people find it hard to sit still.

It takes an event of this gravity to force the kind of self-assessment a society requires to stay creatively healthy, she adds. "An experience like this, where a community throws a party and plays music that is written expressly for them, gives them a chance to assess where they are and where they're going," Shifferd says.

Turning 1,000-year page of culture calendar

In Los Angeles, 2,000 gospel singers will perform at a mall in the predominantly African-American Crenshaw District, 2,000 folk dancers will perform in the mostly Latino Alameda, and 2,000 black mariachi drummers will hold forth in the San Pedro harbor.

"The arts can bring a deeper, more spiritual dimension to the millennium," says Al Nodal, general manager of L.A.'s cultural affairs department. "Along with being important in their own right, the arts are a fabulous tool to get people together."

L.A. is the world center for entertainment, Mr. Nodal adds. The coup de grce, a celebration of the technical and creative expertise for which the city is known around the world, will be a "way cool animation and light show" for the city's international landmark, the Hollywood sign.

The worldwide celebrations of dance, music, theater - all the arts, Nodal says, are a perfect vehicle to allow people to think more deeply about the turning of a 1,000-year page in humankind's history.

Communities around the globe agree. Some events will take place on New Year's Eve. Other efforts, such as the White House Millennium Council and the American Composers Forum's Continental Harmony, are supporting multiyear and multimillion dollar projects.

"People seem busy creating meaning," says dancer Liz Lerman, whose eponymous troupe will welcome the first rays of the new year's sunshine to hit the continental US in the harbor of Eastport. Led by Lerman's dance troupe, residents will come out to the harbor and explore the elevation of everyday life into a "dance of celebration."

"That is one thing artists can give to culture," she says. Lerman points out that native American cultures are observing the date as a funeral as well. "We're letting go of the last thousand years. Let your mind rummage through what that means, particularly the bad," the dancer says, "and then say goodbye to it."

Her company's performance piece, entitled "First Light," is designed to welcome the new opportunity. "We can create an experience in [which] there's a moment of acknowledging that as well as the awe of this light coming, how grateful we are to try again."

Later in the year, on the other coast, in Santa Cruz, Californians will be encouraged to consider what 1,000 years of invention have wrought on our culture. Beyond the obvious technical contribution, "I believe there is a loss of humanity," says composer Henry Brant, who has written a composition entitled "Glossary." For singers and a chamber orchestra, the work employs words from the online world such as "netiquette," "yahoo," and "flamingo."

"[With computers], so much more comes in a predetermined way and less from a place of individual expression," Mr. Brant says. His piece presents singers scatting and randomly singing within a wide range of spaces to challenge what Brant sees as a loss of improvisation in our increasingly computerized lifestyle. "Glossary" will be performed twice next May in Santa Cruz.

Building a community through arts

In an effort to give top-down support for the grass-roots organizations, President Clinton invited in his 1999 State of the Union address "every town, every city, every community to become a nationally recognized millennium community, by launching projects that save our history, promote our arts and humanities, prepare our children for the 21st century."

In keeping with its designated theme, "Honor the Past - Imagine the Future," White House millennium projects have included on-site concerts by jazz great Wynton Marsalis and poetry readings by the nation's former and current poet laureates.

In Oregon, Portland Taiko, an Asian-American group devoted to the ancient art of Japanese drumming, will pull in drummers from a variety of cultures to perform.

"We're losing a sense of community," says Ann Ishimaru, the group's co-director. "Maybe it's time to look to other cultures to help us solve [this problem]."

Taiko drummers used to serve this purpose, she points out.

"The drum would sound in the center of town and whoever could hear the drum was considered part of the community," she says.

As artists think about the new millennium, embracing the future is as important as recognizing the contributions of the past, says John Axelrod, artistic director of OrchestraX, a Houston musical group devoted to building new audiences for classical music.

"Wagner used to invent new instruments to play the sounds he heard in his head," the musician says. "For some reason, that adventurous attitude toward sound has been lost." His group aims to meld the acoustic sounds of earlier eras with the technology of today.

"We're conditioned to think that the future will begin in the year 2000," says the musician, "but the future is already here. It's now; it's the next day."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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