Baltimore School for the Arts takes bold step with 'Codex Project'

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore School for the Arts tackled a big multimedia project and soared with it.

It's not news that the Baltimore School for the Arts is one of the city's prime assets -- the place has been crawling with creativity for years. But there was something a little extra newsworthy about the school's big spring production, "Imagined Worlds."

Half of the production was devoted to works created and performed by BSA students; the other half to "The Codex Project," a brave new swirl of dance, music and visuals.

I had a chance to catch one of the final rehearsals for "The Codex Project" -- assorted other commitments kept me from getting to a performance over the weekend -- and was quite taken with everything I saw and heard in this multimedia venture.

The musical foundation for the piece was commissioned from Brazilian-born composer Marcos Balter, who was inspired by the ever so strange "Codex Seraphinianus" by Luigi Serafini.

Balter, who teaches at Montclair State University in New Jersey, has written for a wide range of artists and ensembles and has earned several major fellowships and other honors. This was my first introduction to his music; it made me want to hear more.

For nearly a year, BSA worked on creating a visual journey to go with the Balter's eclectic, multilayered, often strikingly atmospheric score.

Helping to guide the project were two stellar BSA alumna: Katherine Helen Fisher, who directed and choreographed; and violist Nadia Sirota, who served as music director (Mark Hardy conducted the BSA orchestra and chorus).

Fisher's many credits include performing in the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson epic "Einstein on the Beach" in Paris and Berlin, as well as choreographing for "America's Got Talent."

Sirota is a major player on the new music scene, working with such ensembles as Alarm Will Sound and the much in-demand composer Nico Muhly.

Other guest artists involved in "The Codex Project" include Adam Battelstein, a dancer and choreographer who contributed an exceedingly cool shadow dance; and Dante Baylor, wardrobe master for Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, who served as specialty costume designer (BSA resident designer Norah Worthington was also part of the imaginative team).

A lot of BSA folks were crucial as well, of course, especially Pat Galluzzo, who served as art director and had a lot to do with the crucial, striking visual projections (David Title, chief creative officer of Bravo Media, was involved in the early stages of the production).

In more than a dozen tableaux, "The Codex Project" presents an intriguing narrative involving a Scribe, his Doppleganger, a Ferryman, a Conjuror, an abducted girl, conjoined twins, a big fire and much, much more.

The BSO staging clearly aimed to bring all of this vibrantly to life. Judging by the rehearsal (not an ideal perspective, I know), the effort succeeded.

The young dancers carried out both the most kinetic and most unhurried, stylized gestures with  considerable technical poise; everyone seemed quite at home in the fanciful world conjured up onstage. The orchestra and chorus sounded quite confident, too, as they faced the many challenges presented by the score.

All the while, the projected images revealed not just professional quality, but also abundant cleverness.        

If more high schools enjoyed even a fraction of the imagination and commitment the BSA demonstrated with "The Codex Project," we wouldn't have to worry so much about the state of education in this country.

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