“The Eye is the First Circle” by Simone Dinnerstein is a welcome piece for the return to live performances

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From October 14 to 17, the Alexander Kasser Theater hosted the world premiere of “The Eye is the First Circle” by American pianist Simone Dinnerstein.

In this 55-minute presentation, Dinnerstein performed Charles Ives’ “Piano Sonata No. 2”, also known as “Concord Sonata”, accompanied by visuals of his father’s painting “The Fulbright Triptych”.

“The Fulbright Triptych,” painted by Dinnerstein’s father, is included in the performance.
Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

What makes this piece unique is that this is Dinnerstein’s first attempt to lead and design a complete process. She worked in conjunction with projection designer Laurie Olinder and lighting designer Davison Scandrett. Dinnerstein was able to sit down with the team to try and display different images while listening to recordings of the music, checking to see if they matched his ideas about what each scene could be.

Jedediah Wheeler, executive director of arts and culture programming, explained the purpose of the PEAK performances, for which “The Eye is the First Circle” kicked off the 2021-2022 season.

“PEAK performances is a series that focuses on contemporary dance, music, theater, opera and the circus from around the world,” Wheeler said. “And we support the best new ideas in these disciplines. “

Jedediah Wheeler is the executive director of artistic and cultural programming.  Photo courtesy of Alison Jackson

Jedediah Wheeler is the executive director of artistic and cultural programming.
Photo courtesy of Alison Jackson

What prompted Wheeler to take an interest in Dinnerstein and his work in particular was his originality.

“It was unprecedented,” Wheeler said. “She’s never done anything like this before.”

Prior to the show, Wheeler welcomed both familiar and unfamiliar faces to the audience at the theater. After over a year and a half without live performances, it was quite an experience for all who watched.

The lights went out and the curtain rose to reveal three screens: two on either side of the stage and one in the middle, just above Dinnerstein playing the piano. The three screens showed different visuals, including trees, family photos and a video projected of Dinnerstein’s hands touching the keys in real time.

One particular theme of the visuals that really stood out was nature, as tree projections and birdsong were included. We even see a projection of Dinnerstein walking through the garden his parents owned in his childhood home. This particular musical piece relates to the era of the Transcendentals, and nature was an integral part of their philosophy.

Dinnerstein feels more connected to nature as an adult than when he is younger.  Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

Dinnerstein feels more connected to nature as an adult than when he is younger.
Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

The display of screens has changed throughout. In the third movement of the piece, there was a wall screen behind Dinnerstein as a background, and in the fourth and final movement, it reversed with a canvas in front of it. But in the end, all the fragments came together in one visual: the painting, including the copper plate on the table that symbolized the circle, or more precisely, an eye.

"The eye is the first circle" kicked off the 2021-2022 PEAK performance season.  Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

“The Eye is the First Circle” kicked off the 2021-2022 season of PEAK performances.
Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

Much of the performance and its symbolism is to be interpreted, notes Dinnerstein.

“Art is more powerful when it is both specific and abstract,” Dinnerstein said.

Whether you consider this performance to be a story of family, love or memory, it is a piece that deserves the standing ovation and cheers that were saved from the audience until the very end.

This performance is seen as a milestone in the return of live performances to the Alexander Kasser Theater and seen by Wheeler as a way to get audiences excited with an artist who has done something unusual. “The eye is the first circle” shows how one can get out of one’s comfort zone by returning to the theater to have a positive experience after coming out of a negative experience such as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

Dinnerstein herself was very keen on the opportunity to perform in person.

“It’s really amazing,” Dinnerstein said. “It made me appreciate the audience a lot more.”

Not only do I recommend checking out the rest of the PEAK performance series, especially if you are a campus resident, but also make sure to listen to Dinnerstein’s work as his in-person performance of “The Eye is the First. Circle “will move you. It might even put a tear in your eye.


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