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The YA/YA group designs sets for production of “Peter and the Wolf” at the Guggenheim « MAD Blog
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The YA/YA group designs sets for production of “Peter and the Wolf” at the Guggenheim

Rondell Crier (left) and Rontherin Ratliff (right) with members of the YA/YA creative team for “Peter and the Wolf”

Rondell Crier (left) and Rontherin Ratliff (right) with members of the YA/YA creative team for “Peter and the Wolf”

Have you heard of the YA/YAs of New Orleans? No, I don’t mean the “Divine Sisterhood” of movie fame, but the organization (Young Aspirations/ Young Artists) whose mission is to “empower creative young people to become successful adults.” Founded over twenty years ago by Jana Napoli this organization works to give the youth of New Orleans “educational experiences in arts” and encourage “entrepreneurship…by fostering and supporting their ambitions.” YA/YA artists have traveled across the United States, Ireland, Italy and Japan to establish both “cultural dialogues and art-market relationships.”

This year the YA/YAs were commissioned to design sets for the production of Serge Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” presented at the Guggenheim Museum by Works and Process, produced by my friend Mary Sharp Cronson, which provides a laboratory for creators to present works in process and communicate that process with audiences. I had a wonderful opportunity to meet here at MAD with YA/YA’s executive director Baty Landis, Creative Director Rondell Crier and the three YA/YA artists involved in the set production—Jourdan Barnes, Kawayne Powell and Paul Wright—before attending the performance on Friday, December 11 where I also met Studio Manager, Rontherin Ratliff.

The performance was delightful: designer Isaac Mizrahi was a witty and engaging narrator and Prokofiev’s delightfully evocative sound poems were captured by the Julliard Ensemble under the direction of George Manahan. Despite the lack of animation, moving sets and other visual stimulation, Mizrahi’s narration and the music–where different sounds were assigned to each character and animal in the story–were enough to capture the attention and the imagination of children in the audience brought by their parents and grandparents. And there were not a few of us adults unaccompanied by minors (including yours truly) who were there for the nostalgia of it all.

“Wolf” by Rontherin Ratliff

“Wolf” by Rontherin Ratliff

After the performance there was general agreement that the YA/YA designs were perhaps the most successful in all the series. Led by Rondell Crier (who created Peter) the artists brought the characterizations to life through witty assemblages of found objects. Chairs were a recurring motif for Peter and the three huntsmen whose chairs had boots and silhouettes of wooden rifles at one support element. The body of the Wolf by Rontherin Ratliff was a bicycle intertwined with rubber tubing. A metal basket sat on his hind quarters filled with coiled rope and his mouth articulated by cut-off gears. The Duck (designed by Paul Wright) had a bathroom fixture for a head attached to a sink filled with blue and green colored marbles that was surrounded by white planks that looked like they came from a picket fence. One of my personal favorites was the Cat by Jourdan Barnes. It was set on a side table and sported a leopard skin patterned lamp shade trimmed with tassels, and had a fishbowl full of furry tail. And Kawayne Powells’ Bird became a found bird cage set on a strong stick that spouted orange and red wings.

“Cat” by Jourdan Barnes

“Cat” by Jourdan Barnes

These interventions through recycling and assemblage–once was described by the African artist Fode Camera as the essence of African art–speak also to currents in contemporary design where strategies of repurposing serve as a statement of environmental awareness. In the context of post-Katrina New Orleans they are acts of memory and forging ahead into the future since this strategy also subscribes to the belief that objects convey their magic through the retention of the essence of their original owners, places of origin and events for which they are made.

Photo of YA/YA artists at the Guggenhim Museum, courtesy Rondell Crier Images of the cat and the wolf at http://www.yayainc.com/.

 

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