The Pomona College Department of Theatre and Dance will present the world premiere of Free As Air, a collaborative performance work on the subject of air and air quality, conceived and directed by U.K.-based performance artist Karen Christopher '85 and co-created with students. The performances will be held at Allen Theatre at Pomona College (Seaver Theatre Complex, 300 E. Bonita Ave., Claremont) on Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 21-23 at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23-24 at 2 p.m.
"From air looms to flying machines to the preservation of the upper atmosphere, the company and the audience will find a route to uncovering what matters to the individual, to society, and to the ecology that supports and surrounds us," says Pomona College Professor of Theatre James Taylor.
Free As Air was created using theatrical methods known as collective creation, which Taylor describes as an egalitarian, evolutionary and highly experimental process, with each member of the company contributing to the text, decisions about design and staging, and performance.
Jiaqi Chen '16, from Hangzhou, China—one of 12 students collaborating on this project—says the process of devising the piece is different from Chinese theatre works and probably most Western theatre works, where actors are handed a script and then try to be the characters. In Free As Air, through improvisation and speeches, "we are creating the play, and can just be who we actually are. The actor-audience relationship becomes more dynamic," Chen says. In many of the pieces, they will be improvising, meaning audience members will influence their speeches and emotions. Watching the play, "you just breathe it in and breathe it out, like air. It presents the audiences the way we live, the way we think, the way we communicate on our planet. It is a play of sensations and emotions. It makes you relax and reflect."
For Christopher, making a show with students is always unlike any work she could create on her own and the endeavor poses challenges. "It's not always easy because we have to navigate a series of boundaries and assumptions that we all have. This means the task involves trying to understand how to get through to people and in doing so we find out what is beautiful about them," she says.
Exploring the topic of air is a contemplation on how that element influences us in both good and bad ways, Christopher says. "Sometimes it is beneficial to reflect on something which is so ever-present that we hardly think of it at all. This can improve our lives and well-being in surprising ways," she says.
Professor of Theatre Thomas Leabhart says the topic of air pollution is a pressing one and Christopher and the students have orchestrated "a poetically provocative production."
Christopher's company, Haranczak/Navarre Performance Projects, creates duet performances. She was a member of the Chicago-based Goat Island performance group for 20 years until the group disbanded in 2009. She is an honorary fellow of University College Falmouth and a Chelsea Theatre associate artist. Until recently, she taught part-time at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama.
Free As Air is sponsored in part by the Mellon Elemental Arts Initiative, a four-year multidisciplinary project started at Pomona College in 2011 to explore the elements of water, earth, air and fire through music, dance, theatre, visual art and environmental analysis.
Tickets to Free As Air are $10 general admission and $5 for students, staff, faculty and seniors.