Fringe Day 4: Flying pianos, photographic memories, and eye candy 

click to enlarge A shadow of the acrobats dangling from a hot air balloon over Parcel 5 during “Cirque Inextremiste: EXIT” on Friday night.


A shadow of the acrobats dangling from a hot air balloon over Parcel 5 during “Cirque Inextremiste: EXIT” on Friday night.

One flew over Parcel 5
"Cirque Inextremiste: EXIT" | Sept. 16 | Free | All ages

If you’ve dreamed of seeing theater performances built around gas cylinders — and at some point in our lives, we all do — “Cirque Inextremiste: EXIT” is the opportunity.

click to enlarge KSENIYA KALAUR.
A huge lozenge in the midst of downtown Rochester’s Parcel 5 green space has been cordoned off, creating plenty of working space for the avant-garde, artsy-Frenchy theater group. They arrived on this beautiful Friday evening riding on a siren-wailing Jeep filled with a straitjacketed crew wielding a sousaphone. And towing a piano (or, a close approximation of a piano).

Their purpose was slow in developing: inflate a large hot-air balloon. But once Cirque Inextremiste got that up and into position, slapstick balloon follies were wild, and very edgy.

The story, and a very slim one at that, is about inmates escaping from a mental hospital. It seems to follow the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," with the balloon substituting for a chartered fishing boat.

But the story doesn’t matter. “Cirque Inextremiste: EXIT,” which returns Saturday to
click to enlarge KSENIYA KALAUR.
 Parcel 5, is all about the stunts.

From its slow start, the show picks up, literally. Going aloft, and dangling from cables, is an upside-down sousaphone player. Another four cast members are caught up in cables and carried away. Shoes fall to the ground. An opportunity for tightrope walking presents itself. There is a brief reminder as to why smoking around gas is not a good idea. A spotlight is turned on the balloon, casting its shadow on an E. Main Street apartment building.

As anticipated, the piano finally soars into the night sky over Parcel 5, leading to a session of cocktail lounge music. And, at show's end, as the balloon is slowly deflated, it falls gently over the actors and crew, as though the curtain has been brought down. — JEFF SPEVAK

Make a jazz noise here
21st Century Percussion – Including Music of Frank Zappa” | One night only

The late Frank Zappa’s 1991 album, "Make a Jazz Noise Here," is a label that could be equally applied to the Eastman Percussion Ensemble’s “21st Century Percussion – Including Music of Frank Zappa.”

Mallet-driven vibraphones and xylophones were crowded onto the floor of the school’s Sproull Atrium at Miller Center, like shopping carts herded into a tight space in a grocery store
click to enlarge PROVIDED PHOTO.
 parking lot. Barely leaving room enough for a handful of Eastman students, a drum kit, guitar and keyboard, and tools of percussion: an array of wood blocks, chopsticks to scrape along ribbed surfaces, and empty wine bottles, and tomato sauce and jam jars. The three-story high ceiling of the Sproull Atrium was an acoustic match for this array, once a potted plant was moved out of the way of one of the xylophones.

Most the six compositions were composed by former Eastman students or the Eastman  Percussion Ensemble’s director, Michael Burritt, professor of percussion and chair of winds, brass, and percussion at the school. As a leader, he has a sense of style: the students wore all-black outfits, looking like the wait staff at a restaurant.

This was not a show for traditionalists. “See Saw,” a 2021 piece by former Eastman student Ivan Trevino, saw Ben Blaesing and Remy Thomas hovering over a table on which an acoustic guitar was lying flat, allowing the musicians to tap away, eliciting delicate sounds.

But for the most part, it was a big night for mallets, the students frequently wielding two in each hand throughout the hour-long show, sometimes pausing for compositional breath to accent the rhythms with chimes, making a sound like ice falling from tree branches. “Shi” was a cacophony of tiny clockwork sounds, with Brandon Berlanga, Sean McWilliams, and Anders Wong brushing wood blocks, and slowly raising them in the air, producing an effect like a flock of birds taking off.

Joining in was Larry Aberman, who played drums with the rock bands Foreigner and David Lee Roth. He proved to be particularly handy during the final piece of the evening, the solo percussion opening of Zappa’s “The Black Page.” Then keyboardist Matt Curlee and seven – seven! – sets of vibe players descended on the remainder of the piece. Which led into the second set of Zappa’s “The Black Page,” with, as Burritt noted, an oddly “disco vamp” feel.

Disco aside, this was a waterfall of sound. Fascinating noise. —JEFF SPEVAK

Photo exhibition meets rock concert
35mm: A Musical Exhibition” | Sept. 14 + 15 only

A picture is worth a thousand words and exactly one contemporary pop/rock musical theater number—right?

For their debut production “35mm: A Musical Exhibition,” the Sunday Stages Theatre Company turned the SOTA Black Box into a hybrid theater and art gallery. Before the show, audiences were encouraged to see the art pieces up close, which included a locker filled with crumpled paper and a backpack, a bowl of condoms, angel wings made of newspaper scraps, and copies of both “Twilight” and “The Book of Mormon.” Then, the lights dimmed and the rock score began.

click to enlarge PROVIDED PHOTO.
Composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver based each song in this 2012 musical on a different photograph by Matthew Murphy. In a clever twist by directors Stevie Burggraaf and Alessandro Martellaro, this production asked photographers to create new photos inspired by each song, projected as backdrops for their corresponding musical number.

A snapshot of a smiling toddler smeared with ice cream, for example, accompanied “Caralee,” where a nanny sings about why the child in his care (played by a doll) is Satan, and thrusts her upon an audience member. A portrait taken on Park Ave was paired with a song about unrequited love.

Unfortunately, the live band (especially the drums) drowned out most of the singing, making the lyrics—crucial to understanding each song’s story—unintelligible. There were also some messy lighting cues that left actors performing in the dark.

Though lacking in technical proficiency, the energy was abundant. The cast of five performed with zest and heart, whether portraying abusive relationships or high schoolers living out a horror movie at prom. When audible, their voices were lovely, such as during the a capella harmonies of “Mama Let Me In.”

The show ended with the actors taking a selfie before bowing to an uproarious, sold-out audience. After this promising and quintessentially Fringe-y debut, the Sunday Stages will hopefully become more than a snapshot. —KATHERINE VARGA

Purple people
"stARTment" | Sat. Sept. 16, 22 + 23 | Free | All ages

One benefit of having a show outdoors on bustling East Avenue is that passersby may stop in their tracks, wondering what the hell is happening, and join the audience. And they did pause, many with bemused expressions, to watch a group of students explore various concepts of art and creativity through movement and sound on the opening night of “stARTment,” a performance piece by Monroe Community College’s On The Edge Theatre Troupe.

click to enlarge REBECCA RAFFERTY.
It was a beautiful, if chilly, evening to sit on the lawn beside Rochester Contemporary and watch the handful of MCC students in purple masks and holding various purple shapes move around one another in affected cool aloofness. They swapped the masks for sunnies and what-does-it-all-mean expressions and gestures, grooving around to electronic music and a series of spoken artists’ quotes. Goofiness paired with profound statements.

Many of those quotes were iconic quotes by household name artists, musicians, and writers about the meaning, usefulness, and power of art — and the ways they’ve grappled with their instinct to create. Voiceovers read the words of historic and contemporary greats, and some local artists spoke about their own experiences, while the troupe members moved around one another slowly, collectively forming and reforming their shapes into a question mark, a bird, a butterfly, a landscape, at times illustrating what was being said.

At 40 minutes, the performance felt just a bit too long, but the piece is a pure, playful, simple reminder about the ways that art and artists enrich our lives. —REBECCA RAFFERTY

click to enlarge REBECCA RAFFERTY.

A spectrum of vessels
Peter Pincus | Sept. 16 + 17, 22 + 23 | Free | All ages

Fringe is largely a performance art affair, but a handful of galleries participate in the festival with visual art exhibitions. During this year’s run, RIT City Art Space is showing the immaculate porcelain vessels of ceramic artist Peter Pincus, who is arguably as much a painter as he is a potter.

Pincus paints his vessels — which are usually a study in utmost perfectionism — with bands of color, creating works that experiment with color theory and allude to both the deep history of decorative arts and the work of conceptual painters.

But it’s also just rows and rows of eye candy. Shelves and platforms line the space. Some installations are long rows of bowls, cups, amphoras, pitchers, and vases arranged gorgeously to contrast various heights and show off a spectrum of bright and deep hues.

I said his vessels are “usually” perfect because they are — all perfect forms and crisp lines of paint. Most of them in this show are perfect, but for some of this work, Pincus is playing with imperfections. A row of amphoras titled “Lapse” has ever-so-slightly tilted lips, a fact emphasized by the accompanying animated video of the vessels that flips through photographs of each one, making it seem like they’re dancing.

With just a little imagination on the part of the artist and audience, quite a few of these simple vessels are imbued with personalities, or at the very least, moods. A highly relatable piece after a long week is the pale, bulbous amphora that’s leaning against the wall, appropriately titled “Sloucher.” —REBECCA RAFFERTY

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