Preview: The Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts

Written by Mariko Nagashima
The Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts
Photo by Joseph Lambert
The SeattleCenterhas gone all out to celebrate its 50th year and the anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair. With a series of events held from April through October the celebration has included everything from restoring the Space Needle to its original “Galactic Gold” luster, to museum openings, science exhibits, and music, theater, and dance performances. The celebration aims to “spotlight creative conservation, new energy sources and big, bold ideas that will help us meet the critical challenges facing our environment.” As one of the 25 arts projects selected for the celebration, The Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts, which plays at the Intiman Theater at the SeattleCenter September 7-–9, seems to fit the bill nicely. An amalgamation of media, the performance, directed by Tim Smith-Stewart and his co-creator Jeffrey Azevedo, takes the framework of the World’s Fair exposition and uses the relationship between man and machine to explore the possibilities of our industrial future. SeattleDances had the opportunity to interview both Smith-Stewart and the project’s choreographer, Amy Johnson, about their highly collaborative process and the work it produced.

SD: How did this project come about? Where did the premise of the show come from?

TSS: Since I graduated from CornishCollegeof the Arts in 2010, I’ve been making performance that attempts to create a poetic space to investigate large complex social problems. I’m always wondering how I can manifest a physical experience of the problem. For this show the problem was energy, the fact that our entire society is built on the infinite consumption of rapidly depleting, finite resources. This problem of energy was something Jeffrey Azevedo (electrical engineer/theater artist), Charlie Spitzack (visual artist), and I had been talking about finding a way to investigate. We were interested in how the visual world of a performance could become performative through the choreography of structure. How can an abstract structure help create a frame and context for non-linear performance? The three of us wanted to connect those ideas with human powered machinery that Jeffrey would construct, creating a physical experience of the problem.

SD: This is a hugely collaborative endeavor, with artists from almost every medium: music, theater, visual art, dance, even an engineer. What has the process been like working with so many different people and artists of different genres?

TSS: I love working in the in-between space. A space where many minds, thinking in different ways create a kind of group genius that allows for the generation of something no one person could have made on their own. Every person on this show has an expertise and focus they’re bringing to the table, but we’re all working toward one singular creation.

The biggest challenge in working with this big of group of people with so many artistic viewpoints is finding a common vocabulary. But that eventually comes the more the group centers around the specific area of research and starts to generate material. Working on this type of project, on this scale, with this many artists has been a dream of mine for a long time. I’m incredibly grateful to be working with this group of people.

In rehearsal for Electric Hearts
Photo by Joseph Lambert
AJ: It has been such an honor to work with all of the artists involved. Tim has pulled together an amazing group of people and it has made for such an exciting adventure of exploration. One of the treasured reminders I will take from this project is that even though we are all working and ‘speaking’ with different mediums we, as humans, are dealing with the same questions. Working together on this project we have been able to create something that is more comprehensive and articulated than any of us would have been able to create on our own. We have fed off of each other’s ideas and work – and above all, I think we have inspired each other to keep asking ourselves the ‘hard questions’ and to keep searching deep into The Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts. Dancers acting, actors dancing, sculptors dancing, performers building; in the end, all we are looking to do is express ourselves with help from our community.

SD: The theme of machinery and sculpture is an interesting concept to combine with dance. How are you utilizing the two together?

TSS: The goal is to create a cohesive, singular piece of art, with many different elements working together. When we started the project the goal for Charlie and Jeffrey was to create a structure with human powered machinery that was choreographically and visually engaging, allowing the bodies and the machine connected to be the poetic centerpiece of the performance as well as a real physical problem for the performers.

We created a lot of the performance material based on what was designed and built, but also a lot of what was designed was created out of inspiration from performance material (text, movement etc.). Amy and I came into this project invested in how she could work with non-dancers and structure to discover movement in new ways.

AJ: The machinery and sculpture has been has been so influential to the movement generated for The Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts. The sculpture has a very real presence in the space and the work we have to put into the machinery is very real work. Throughout the process and during the show those two elements helped keep our goals and questions in a central place physically and mentally. The human body’s relationship with something that is not flesh and bones but wood and steal, growth, progress, the desire to reach for something beyond what we have, and the conflict of where all of those things put us emotionally and socially. 

SD: What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?

TSS: I have to be careful with this question. Mainly because I don’t want to cheat the audience members from having their own experience and creating their own meaning from the performance. My work is non-linear and fairly abstract because that’s what feels close to an honest expression of the dualistic, chaotic reality of human living I experience. I always hope the work is accessible, and engaging to non-artists and artists. I try to generate work from a thorough investigation of a problem, that exists within myself and the world. I intentionally craft poetic imagery that allows the audience room to find meaning within their own view point and life experience.

Eternal Glow of Electric Hearts can be seen Friday and Saturday at 8pm or Sunday at 7pm at the Intiman Studio Theater. Admission is free, but to reserve seats email: next50pm@gmail.com