In early January, Eric Jaenike and Jennifer Mosquera of immersive-arts duo Prismajic met over drinks with Amber Blais and Staza Stone of circus-arts troupe Rainbow Militia. Both groups had spent the past few years pushing the boundaries of immersive arts in Denver and were mutual admirers of each other's work. They started talking about how they might collaborate, and it didn't take long before they settled on an idea: a performance set in the clouds and rooted in Greek mythology.
During the meeting, Jaenike and Mosquera conjured up images of clouds, lighting, starlight and an idyllic cabin in the woods. “Amber and I left that meeting and came up with the entire plot and storyline," says Stone.
The result is Celestial Chaos, an immersive-art experience running at the Exdo Event Center through March 21.
The interactive performance takes audiences on a ride through the clouds in the company of a few backseat-driving Greek Gods. Each night is a unique experience, as performers tour audiences through the ether, reflecting on the complexity of human struggles and hopes, creating a new world with mythic characters.
Blais has long been fascinated by folklore of all cultures. But to her, Greek mythology is particularly interesting because the culture's gods were so very human and made a whole bunch of relatable mistakes, getting tangled up in both humorous and messy relationships. Those entanglements set the tone for the show.
The production opens with audience members sitting at socially distanced tables at the Landing Pad, a fictional bar beneath the wings of a great white owl. Three Greek gods, Harmonium, Nemesis and Adrestia, enter to explain a predicament: The sun and the moon have been created in a new world, and the characters' relationship — whether it becomes love, friendship or separation — will determine the fate of what comes next for the entire planet. The gods place a bet, but the humans — the audience — will decide the outcome.
Both Prismajic and Rainbow Militia specialize in creating magical worlds. Prismajic is known for art installations such as Natura Obscura, an interactive walk through a surrealist forest, and Shiki Dreams, a meandering journey through the dreams of an imagined creature. And Rainbow Militia is known for interactive circus performances such as Zabiti, a traveling circus wagon; Gnome Away From Home, a gnome adventure through worlds shaped by folklore; and Death’s Unraveling, a trip to the underworld to meet Death face-to-face.
“We have complementary skill sets,” Jaenike says. “We bring forth really positive, upbeat, transformative experiences.”
However, transforming their arts to fit into the world of the pandemic hasn’t been easy. Jaenike explains that most of the installation pieces had to be built off site, disassembled and reassembled, taking time and limiting potentials. Despite the hurdles, the rooms of Celestial Chaos are lined with installations that leave impressions of far-away lands, with disco-ball lights and billowing drapes.
Rainbow Militia performers had to overcome their own set of struggles to share their art with others. “What we’re doing is very difficult while wearing a mask,” Blais explains. They’re aerialists and acrobats and jugglers and singers. These arts take breath to voice and more breath to move. Much of the magic of Celestial Chaos is the dynamism of each choreographed act: the strength to twist and turn in the air — on hoops, on balls, on ropes and with the aid of another person.
But many of the performers have been “wearing a mask and training circus since day one, or when we were allowed to return to our studio spaces,” Stone says. “It’s been months of being conditioned to do it — both your body, but also vision. We have to trust and rely on our abilities and instincts.”
The team of twenty created the production in six weeks, instead of the six months to a year that a show like Celestial Chaos would normally take to mount. But Blais and Stone turned that obstacle into another opportunity to trust the creative process and each other. They communicated the main plot line and scenery to each performing duo, then left the creative decisions to each act.
After the initial scene at the Landing Pad, audience members are divided into three separate groups to walk through individual rooms. Each doorway offers a portal into the home of a different pair of gods, who creatively offer advice about the predicament between the sun and the moon. In between those acts, the audience rejoins in front of the central stage to witness the sun and moon be born and grow in their love. And their group reactions contribute to the plot, altering small details during the production and completely changing the ending scene depending on how the audience votes.
“Humans have this amazing ability to create stories around things we don’t understand,” Blais says. “It’s so fascinating how these stories shift and change over time.” Every showing of Celestial Chaos allows audience members a chance to sculpt those old stories themselves.
The production was created with great attention to COVID-19 safety guidelines, and the distance between audience members adds to the singular immersive experience of each spectator.
“I think that people can appreciate just being in the same space as other humans, even if they never interact,” Stone says. “It’s comforting to have the energy of others in your presence.”
Celestial Chaos performances begin at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays until March 21, at the Exdo Event Center, 1399 35th Street. Tickets are $55-$65.
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