Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Back in April I wrote a piece that appeared on this blog about a multimedia concert piece then in-progress called Portals. Omaha’s creative nurturing place, KANEKO, served as producer and its bow truss live event space is where some  of the project’s principal filming was done. My story then – “Open Minds, Portals Explore Human Longing in the Digital Age” – quoted creative director and virtuoso violinist Tim Fain and co-lead filmmaker Kate Hackett explaining the concept behind the project. In addition to his playing and her visuals Portals features the poetry of Leonard Cohen, the music of Philip Glass and a bevy of other top composers, and the choreography of Benjamin Millepied. A preview that month gave me and a few hundred others glimpses of the work. It was stunning and definitely whet the appetite for more, certainly for seeing the finished project. The completed Portals had its world premiere in New York City in late September and last night (Oct. 5) the piece made its Midwest premiere in Omaha. The multimedia concert mostly delivered on its promise to explore the open spaces between and betwixt the real and virtual worlds. My two more recent stories below appeared just in advance of the Omaha performance and tried to further frame what Portals intended. Something I meant to include in my print Portals stories were some notes about the violin Fain performs on, but I offer it here now for your information.





“I often find people are very interested in the violin I play,” he says. “After concerts I get a lot of people asking. It’s a beautiful old Italian violin that’s on loan to me right now. It was made in 1717 by Francesco Gobetti, one of the real Italian masters. It’s on loan to me through an organization called the Stradivarius Society of Chicago. My patrons, who live in Buffalo, Clement and Karen Arrisson, are part of this network of people who think it’s cool to loan their zillion dollar instruments to players.

“While I do consider myself the biggest winner, everyboy wins because the instruments, if they’re not played on, they deteriorate a lot quicker. I’ve had the Gobetti for almost four years now. You really get to know the instrument in an entirely different way. It’s almost like I have the feeling I’m communing with another soul. Makers were able to invest a part of themselves in the instruments they made. It’s very mysterious – I don’t claim to understand it really.”

I can attest that Fain is one with his instrument and whatever spirit it possesses.


Portals opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes ome for Midwest premiere

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in The Reader (


An April program at KANEKO offered a preview of the mixed media work, Portals. Virtuoso violinist Tim Fain and filmmaker Kate Hackett provided tantalizing glimpses of a phantasmagoric experiment in performance and social media. KANEKO director Hal France and the Portals creative team also laid the groundwork for a residency in the collaborative arts.

There’s great anticipation for the finished piece making its Midwest premiere here. The two shows follow on the heels of the work’s September 25th world premiere in New York, where Portals was well-received. It’s hard not being curious about a work that integrates multiple mediums and styles into a seamless experience. There’s music by acclaimed composers Philip Glass, Aaron Jay Kernis, Nico Muhly, Kevin Puts, Lev Zhurbin and William Bolcom. Images are by Hackett and Benjamin Milliepied, whose choreography is also featured. There are the words of Leonard Cohen. And the musicianship of Fain and pianist Nicholas Britell.





So, what is Portals exactly?

Think of it as a performance piece bridging the divide between real and virtual, live and digital, all expressed through a merging of set design, lighting, music, video, dance, literature, spoken word and the Web. It’s about finding new portals of communication and connection between old and new forms. New York Times reviewer Allan Kozinn felt Fain “succeeded admirably” in finding “new ways to frame the music.”

Where does the social media aspect come in?

During the concert Fain will perform live on stage, as will his accompanist, but he will also interact with several performers, even a virtual version of himself, seen via rear-projected videos that give the impression of social networking exchanges. It’s meant to be an immersive, sensory, boundaries-breaking, genre-bending experience.

KANEKO, along with Silicon Prairie News and local universities, is hosting a Live Social Media event that seeks “experimenters” to participate in the Portals experience and offer feedback. To sign-up, visit

What about the team residency?

Portals principles will conduct free previews, lectures, master classes and conversations in Omaha and Lincoln. Students from local universities are encouraged to attend. To register, visit




‘Portals’ Unveiled

Last month a New York City audience embraced the world premiere of the multimedia concert piece, Portals, and now the work’s come back to its other home, Omaha’s KANEKO, for performances October 5-6.

As creative director, acclaimed violinist Tim Fain has integrated music by Philip Glass and other noted composers, including Pulitzer Prize winners Aaron Jay Kernis and William Bolcom, with the words of Leonard Cohen, choreography by Benjamin Millepied, visuals by Kate Hackett, and his own virtuosic playing.

KANEKO, whose Open Space for Your Mind mantra invites projects to explore creative boundaries, is a co-producer. The 1111 Jones Street venue’s bow truss space is where Hackett, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker known for multimedia work, did some principal taping-filming. KANEKO is also where Hackett, Fain and pianist Nicholas Britell presented a preview of Portals last April.

Portals is really a celebration of music that epitomizes what I love and what I think is worth sharing, and the presentation of that music is meant to push what’s possible in a performance and bring it into the digital age in a way that does justice to the music and also to our times,” says Fain.

At its core is a new seven-movement partita Glass composed for Fain.

“This piece has as its inspiration one little moment from Philip’s (song-cycle) Book of Longing, where the whole stage went black except for a spotlight that came down on me as I launched into a two-minute, really intense piece for unaccompanied violin.”

Fain also wanted to “recreate that feeling as a performer where you walk into a hall before the performance and nobody else is around. It’s just you and the stage … The lighting is golden and beautiful. There’s this almost seductive feeling of privacy, intimacy and communing with the music. All leading up to sharing it with the audience …”

Portals is a “fluid collaboration between music and film” Hackett says. “There’s going to be sort of three prongs to this evening, three different feels, all of which come together. All of the pieces are going to be interconnected by spoken-word text. The films accompanying those pieces will have a Webcam feel as they show a day-in-the-life sense of the different collaborators going about their daily business. We’ll get the feeling they’re speaking to each other via Webcam and Skype.”

“The second prong will have a much more produced feel, where Tim will be on stage playing and projected behind him will be films of a violinist and a pianist playing,” she says. “The idea is these players have come together in the Webcam-Skype world and now they’ve created a concert together that only exists in their head space. The third prong is the dance films Benjamin created in New York to accompany the Philip Glass piece. Those films additionally feel like a collaboration that happens through these different portals.”

“The whole idea behind Portals,” says Fain, “is really to … make the multimedia and film element not only something cool and exciting to look at but also a very necessary part of the experience. Musicians and dancers and the audience will all in a sense be signing on to collaborate in an artistic expression through the digital medium.”

At certain intervals, Fain seemingly becomes part of the images projected around him. He hopes this melange creates “something meaningful and beautiful and human.”

This convergence of forms and ideas is what KANEKO seeks, says executive director Hal France. “This as a collaborative project is perfect for us. It’s cross disciplinary. It has a purpose.”

The outside-the-box merging of live and virtual performance creates a new kind of immersion-ensemble experience, he says, sure to provoke dialogue. That’s the point.

For tickets to the 7:30 p.m. shows call 402-341-3800 or visit

Open Minds: “Portals” explores human longing in the digital age

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

UPDATE: Well, I saw the preview performance of the multi-media work Portals and I think my reaction grooved with most of everyone who attended – that this is a project involving world-class talent and sublime synergies of music, video/film, and, eventually, dance and spoken word.  The bow truss, open space for your mind venue of KANEKO in Omaha makes a harmonious space for the work’s existential themes and ethereal moods.  The fully fleshed out performance premieres in New York in the fall, then comes to KANEKO Oct. 6, and then onto L.A.  It will be a must-see event. One of Omaha’s and the regions most compelling cultural organizations is KANEKO, which serves as a forum and staging ground for creativity in various fields.  One of its newest programs is Portals, a multimedia project that is interested in exploring human longing in the digital through the contours, the limits, the possibilities, the modalities of communication and performance.  I had been looking for an opportunity to write about KANEKO, whose name is derived from Omaha artists Jun and Ree Kaneko, and so when I got the assignment to write about Portals I was quite glad.  Its executive director, Hal France, helps program a roster of events there that is unique in covering so many disciplines and mediums.  Something tells me I will be writing much more about this place and its programming over time.  At least I hope to.  My story about Portals, which has an April 21 preview in Omaha before fall performances, appears in The Reader (  I based the story on interviews with the project’s originator, lead producer, and featured violinist, Tim Fain, co-producer and filmmaker Kate Hackett, and the KANEKO’s Hal France.

Open Minds: “Portals” explores human longing in the digital age

©by Leo Adam Biga

As published in The Reader (


On April 21, KANEKO previews Portals, a multimedia event examining different modalities of creative expression.

When the finished production premiers in the fall, it means to seamlessly join live performers on stage with remote artists via video and the web to extend the limits of performance and the dynamics of human connection in the digital age.

The work of several national artists is featured, including a partita by acclaimed composer Philip Glass, verse by iconoclastic poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen, music by composers Aaron Jay Kernis (a Pulitzer Prize winner and Grammy nominated artist) and Nico Muhly (The Reader) and choreography by Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan). Then there’s the virtuoso violin playing of Tim Fain and the video stylings of filmmaker Kate Hackett.

Fain conceived Portals on tour with Book of Longing, a Glass song-cycle adapted from Cohen’s same-titled book, but says its themes long brewed in him. For Portals, Fain performs Glass’ new seven-movement partita for solo violin inspired by Cohen’s work.

Conceptually, Portals blends private moments with public gestures, improvisation with formality, virtual with reality. At various points Fain plays live on stage and in video vignettes recorded in New York City. Music by Glass accompanies dances choreographed and filmed by Millepied. Glass and other artists are seen in interactive, cinema verite profiles shot by Hackett, who’s also shooting concert-style footage. Fain and Hackett are filming at KANEKO and other Omaha locations. New York City shoots are set for May.

Portals’ creators want audiences to have an intimate glimpse of the creative-collaborative process and to experience communication-performance through these various channels in what Hackett calls some “dreamy metaphorical space.”

Ethereal mood pieces by Glass and Cohen articulate the longing at the heart of Portals. Fain calls the artists “kindred spirits,” adding, “There’s a real intensity and searching quality I’ve always felt in Cohen’s poetry and music and in Philip’s music.” About Glass, he says, “Even in his calmest textures it seems there’s almost always a real undercurrent of reaching or longing or wanting something more.” In the work of both men, he says, “that desire can become even ferocious at times.”

Fain feels a kinship with their work.

“When I perform I’m always looking for something new-different to say, to really explore emotionally what’s going on in a piece from the ground up. This searching quality, this desire to find meaning, to find beauty and power and conflict is something we share very much,” he says.

“My performing has often been described as incredibly communicative and perhaps a little bit dangerous — living on the edge and reaching for what are the boundaries and then pushing beyond that if possible, which is what I’m trying to do with this project. The overall idea behind Portals is to explore beyond the traditional confines of what a performance can be.”





Hackett, a veteran of multimedia works Ask Your Mama and 110 Project, says this co-mingling of forms “opens the audience up to experiencing live performance in a new way. I think that’s what’s really exciting about it.”

“There’s a very hopeful perspective in Portals, which is to connect all of the new forms of connection — the portals of today, with traditional art forms” says KANEKO executive director Hal France.

France says KANEKO’s “open space for your mind” makes a perfect marriage with the genre-bending Portals. “It is cross disciplinary, which is where we think the really revealing things about creativity happen, not that individual creativity isn’t incredible, but if it’s all self contained in one unit the opportunity for it to get out into the air so that others can understand it better is less. The more people there are, the greater the synergy possibilities.”

The project is presented as part of KANEKO’s experimental studio program, which France says supports “accomplished creative people who have an out-of-the-box idea or want to extend themselves into some new territory.”Portals, he says, fits KANEKO’s mission to “explore and illuminate creativity,” adding, “Our goal is to have people experience creativity but also see it in a different way that may be less mystical or at least more familiar, which hopefully makes it a richer experience.”

For the preview, Fain and Hackett will provide a sampling of Portals and engage the audience about its evolution.

“It’s a very important process,” Fain says. “I hope to come away having really learned something, possibly even something that will affect the course of the project.”
KANEKO, 1111 Jones St., welcomes dialogue.

“The mere fact you can come to a place and be part of an exchange of ideas is a good starting point,” says France. “It is the common thread we see with people coming here, and we see that growing.”

The Portals preview is Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m. KANEKO, 1111 Jones St. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Call 402.341.3800 or for more information.

%d bloggers like this: