A work in progress

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Is it nature or is it nurture? At Perry-Mansfield, it's arguably both.

Students and professional dance and theater artists participating in the "New Noises Festival" at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp during the past two weeks have had the privilege of peace, quiet and a place to pursue their artistic visions. Domestic obligations have been replaced by camp meals in the dining hall, and the hum of the city has been quashed by the silence of the Rocky Mountains. Their mission: to create something new.

New Noises -- A Festival of New Stageworks at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp Tonight Dance Presentation -- six new works choreographed by Takehiro Ueyama 8 p.m. in the Main Studio Saturday "Purple Hearts," a repertory dramatic theater reading. 8 p.m. in the Julie Harris Theatre Sunday "The Hudsucker Proxy," a repertory musical theater reading. Tickets are $10 and available in advance or at the door. Call 879-7125

The fruits of their solitude in Strawberry Park will be on display at Perry-Mansfield tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The festival's three performances -- "staged readings" with symbolic sets, minimal costumes and the assistance of scripts, as opposed to formal performances -- are an opportunity to see something fresh, new and up-and-coming in the broad spectrum of performance art.

"You're seeing a part of the process, whereas in six months you might see this as a full production," explained the festival's artistic director, Peter Flynn.

The three performances are works in progress, allowing the audience a window into the creative process of writers, choreographers and directors who are getting a rare opportunity to develop their work on stage, Flynn said.

"There are only a small handful of festivals like this anywhere," Flynn said. "Perry-Mansfield brings an abundance of health, mental clarity and safety."

The safety component, he said, is being able to be creative "out of the scrutiny of the business, out of the hubbub of sink or swim.

"For two weeks we can protect each other while we do good work." Flynn said.

Friday night will showcase six original dances choreographed by Takehiro Ueyama, a former member of Paul Taylor Dance Company who studied at The Juilliard School and now has his own Take Dance Company in New York City. Three of the dances are making their debuts at Perry-Mansfield.

"This is one of the best places I can come to create something," Ueyama said while soaking up the fresh air and sunshine in between rehearsals with Jill Echo, his rehearsal director.

"Beautiful artwork is not going to get better than these stones, rocks, mountains," Ueyama said looking out on the camp's natural surroundings.

Echo marveled at the "carte blanche" artists are given to be creative during Perry-Mansfield's New Noises Festival.

"Here's a facility in Shangri-la," Echo said. "This is art in the middle of nature. It's easier than New York to keep your focus. It gives you more internal space, less clutter."

That open-mindedness will give way to modern dance pieces that Ueyama described as "organic." A men's trio accompanied by the sounds of the dancers' own noises, a romantic classical piece and contemporary dance are each represented in tonight's performance. Ueyama and Echo described the overall program as physical, exciting, off-balance choreography with a formal dance foundation.

The theatrical productions Saturday and Sunday will be two staged readings that include narration and stage directions. Flynn said that he read dozens of musicals and dramatic plays before selecting these two. The scripts were selected for the festival because Flynn considered them "effective." That means they have a potential commercial future and are artistically viable, he said. The scripts also had to be a good match for Perry-Mansfield's faculty and facilities, he said.

"Each of these is something I'd like to go to a theater and see," Flynn said.

Saturday night will showcase a dramatic reading of "Purple Hearts," written by Burgess Clark and directed by Peter Flynn. It is a World War II drama that takes place six weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The story is a fictional account of three sailors who survived on the submerged USS West Virginia for two weeks after it sank. It explores what gave them hope while following the complementing chaos of three doomed men below sea and the three significant women in their lives.

Sunday night will debut a musical reading of "The Hudsucker Proxy," composed by Stephen Weiner with lyrics written by Glenn Slater and directed by Tom Kosis. The musical is a take on the Coen brothers' movie of the same name. It is a "screwball comedy, a contemporary, old-fashioned Broadway musical," Flynn said.

Both plays' writers have been developing their pieces throughout the New Noises Festival. This is the first opportunity they have had to see their first acts performed out loud, and they wrote their second acts at Perry-Mansfield, Flynn explained.

"There are very few opportunities for them to hear their pieces out loud, and very few writers get to develop their pieces out loud with new talent," Flynn said.

At show time, the audience will see the "clearest incarnation of the play at this point in its development," he said.

For Perry-Mansfield students, New Noises is an opportunity to get additional professional direction and a peek at how things work in the business. Flynn said theatrical productions typically get finished in five to six weeks these days, not two to three months as in the past.

"This is a great launch pad for them to see that," Flynn said.

For Perry-Mansfield, the festival is about getting back to basics for the oldest performing arts camp in the nation. The spirit of the festival goes back to what Charlotte Perry and Portia Mansfield originally intended for the performing arts camp, executive director June Lindenmayer said.

For the festival's evolving creative works the past two weeks, that has meant nurturing in nature.

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