In 2013, dancer and musician Leah Casper was struggling to find a band or performance troupe that fit her skills, style and schedule.
"Being a single mother of two, it was important for me to continue making music and performance art," she says. "I had to work full time, and joining another band or dance company wasn’t compatible with my lifestyle as a single mother. Also, I never quite seemed to be a good fit for other dance companies or bands. But I knew there had to be other dancers and musicians that felt like me, and I found them."
Once she did, she established her own collaborative music, dance, fashion and art collaboration, LuneAseas. "It soon developed into a much larger project and has become a refuge for dancers, musicians and creatives who are drawn to reimagining ways to create and present their work," says Casper.
When the LuneAseas summer 2020 performance plans were scuttled by COVID-19, Casper and crew decided to invite dancers and performers to submit art videos that local musicians could score. Movement artists from groups such as Wonderbound, Dance Express and Circus Foundary, as well as individual performance artists, teamed up with musicians including Rae McAlister, Peaches Embry, Kirk Petty and others. The result: the Silent Film Festival, which launched on August 21 and has been extended through September 6.
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Westword caught up with Casper to learn more about the festival and her work.
Westword: Tell me about the origin of the festival.
Leah Casper: Last year we built a production called Le Voyage Dans La Lune, based on the work of Georges Méliès. My partner Steve and I were playing around creating characters based on silent-film stars, and thought it would be cool to get a group of musicians together to improv to silent films and see what kind of music and sounds we can discover by watching movement. This idea has been the basis of LuneAseas's sound for the past couple of seasons, but we wanted to see what happens when we bring more collaborators into that world.
We wanted our 2020 season to be an expansion of the work we created last year with a focus on opening our creative process up to more artists.
Working in shows with Rainbow Militia and learning from them, Pilobolus and Control Group Productions opened up a whole can of ideas on how to incorporate more artists in our work. Originally this summer we were going to do that with a community event in Fort Collins, the Zabiti Circus Wagon. LuneAseas was going to host live performers, local musicians and do a jam to classical films.
When the pandemic hit, we had to change our plan and think about how we could have the same type of performance experience but be safe and socially distant. That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. Oh, yeah, I thought, we were going to do a silent-film jam anyway. Why don’t we see if movement artists want to submit an art film and then musicians can create a soundtrack like an old silent film right from home?
How did it come together?
When the pandemic hit, I knew a bunch of artists were having a really tough time financially, and I wanted to use the small amount of resources LuneAseas has been blessed with to touch and support as much of the performing arts community as we could. In Fort Collins, the Lyric has a beautiful outdoor movie theater, and when social-distance measures opened up, they were gracious enough to trust our idea and let us have a limited-ticket event there. Having the event open at Lyric gives audiences a safe way to go, and they will get to experience the performing arts in a new way. We still get to do our silent-film jam with a small group of local musicians, and we also get to show fifteen new films by professional dancers and musicians from all over the country.
When I put out the call for artists, I wasn’t originally anticipating excitement from the bigger companies or from others so far away. With so many artists on hiatus for the time being, I think being able to be involved in a performance even distantly is a breath of fresh air.
What will the online and live components look like?
The call for artist submissions went out a little later than we had wanted it to. This gave artists involved shorter deadlines to get their works completed. Also, it has given them a creative challenge to learn new skills with video editing or sound creation. All of the submissions we have had really complement each other and are a beautiful display on how we can work on a short timeframe, apply our artistic skills in new presentation formats, and work together yet apart.
Why silent film, in particular?
When you watch films from the silent era, they say so much without using words. Watching classic stars and directors like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Georges Méliès was inspiring as a dancer, because the physicality of their acting had so much dialogue. You can say so much by just a slight movement of your hand or brow without saying a word. Movement artists are the best at showing this.
I see it like a music video, but instead of the video being driven by the music, the composition of the music is driven by the movement in the video. This can lead to some exciting musical creations and create a million different song stems that can be developed into tighter songs or help find harmonics that you didn’t know could exist. We wanted to see what others would do with this idea, and it's been exciting to see how different artists interpret this.
Obviously, the pandemic has made life tough for artists and musicians. Talk about these particular performers and groups you're working with, and how this gives them an outlet and possibly resources to perform.
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Some of the companies already were creating videos in the style that we were looking for. Wonderbound’s Sarah Tallman had a collaboration with our friend Rae McAlister that was touching on how she choreographed the dancers partnering with objects that kept them at safe distance while still sharing weight. The Circus Foundry are showing a new, innovative circus film from their show Captured. In the Wings from Denver have a beautiful socially-distant film inspired by Alvin Ailey. Their film was given to Fort Collins musician Kirk Petty without the sound, and he set a seamless soundtrack to it. The film looks like it was made for that music.
A lot of the movement artists involved have yet to meet the musicians they were paired up with in person; however, lots of virtual connections were made. It has become a wonderful way to meet new artists and work together in a new capacity.
This has given some companies a new outlet to show the video work they have been creating, and it has given other artists a challenge to create a new work.
The festival has been extended through August 28. Films will be shown online; for tickets and a complete schedule, go to LuneAseas's website.