A Comparative Arts guest artist inspired an ambitious, interdepartmental collaboration this year.
Comparative Arts, funded by Interlochen Presents, commissioned indie composer Ryan Lott--known as Son Lux--to compose a new piece as the centerpiece of the collaboration. The Comparative Arts students were tasked with creating a music video to accompany the piece, with the aid of several additional guest artists.
Lott began his collaboration with Comparative Arts last fall. He and his wife, dancer Jennifer Lott, brainstormed ideas based on the comparative arts theme of “Pilgrimage,” eventually developing a concept rooted in ancient rituals and the conflicting feelings of togetherness and isolation. The Lotts said they were deeply impacted by the political climate at time the song was written, and as a result, the song is a response to the results of the 2016 presidential election.
In October, Ryan Lott visited campus to work with students in the music composition and comparative arts programs. During his master class with comparative arts students, he revealed the early version of the new song and challenged students to create their own musical responses to his composition.
With the new song in hand, Director of Comparative Arts Nicola Conraths-Lange tasked students with responding to the song through the creation of a music video, with Jennifer Lott serving as artistic director.
The Lotts and the comparative arts students began collaborating with several other departments. Music composition students collaborated with Ryan Lott to produce their own responses to his work. Singer-songwriter students were also a part of the piece’s premiere, serving as choral accompaniment.
Visual Arts students were asked to create a design element for the video; they captured the conflicting themes of isolation and togetherness by creating plexiglass puzzle pieces etched with the sparse words of Lott’s songs.
Fashion design instructor Johnson Hunt was tapped to create a costume for Interlochen Arts Academy alumna and Hubbard Street dancer Alice Klock to wear in the video. Hunt responded to the puzzle pieces her students had created by designing a clear plastic poncho and accompanying makeup design for Klock.
“We stepped back and looked at the elements that we had so far,” Jennifer Lott said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we have a narrative? What might it be?’”
Lott and the comparative arts students decided to craft the video’s narrative around Klock and her costume. “Alice emerged as a sort of muse,” Lott said. “She’s kind of the center figure.”
The video begins with Klock dancing alone on a frozen lake, which Lott says represents the character’s actual physical space, then transitions to scenes filmed inside Phoenix Theatre, where Klock leads a troupe of comparative arts and dance students through the choreography they created.
“The scenes filmed in Phoenix represent Alice’s inner world,” said Lott. “Alice is sort of floating in a no-man’s land, and the students are characters of her own inner world.”
“She goes from a big open space to something condensed and dark,” Lott added. “There’s a lot of really powerful imagery.”
The video was filmed, edited and animated by Adam Teninbaum, a New York-based visual effects artist whose clients include Intel, Nikon and Beyonce. Teninbaum frequently collaborates with the Lotts, who invited him to join the project.
Conraths-Lange said that there are many reasons why she invited so many guest artists to participate in the project rather than opting for a fully student-run production.
“Working with professional artists gave us a better end product,” she said. “I also wanted the students to be able to engage and connect with professional artists and to experience collaboration at the highest level. I wanted to encourage the students to think big.”
Jennifer Lott said that, while the guest artists contributed many skills to the project, many of the creative ideas were presented and designed by the students. “I hope all of the students feel like their vision and their work is represented in the final project,” she said.
Directed by Jennifer McQuiston Lott
Music: "Patterns Change" by Son Lux (unreleased)
Featuring: Alice Klock with Rylee Lynch, Austin Dabney, Michaella Barron
Director of Photography: Adam Teninbaum
Lighting: Susan Byrnes and Tyler Thomas Johnston
Costumes: Johnny Hunt
Animation and video design: Adam Teninbaum; Dylan Weiler; Blaine Rubenson
Photography: Blaine Rubenson
Production assistants: Ben West and Tyler Thomas Johnston
Produced by Nicola Conraths-Lange