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Rochester Fringe highlights RIT short films and meditative listening

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Greg Woodsbie led "Relax: Music, Movement, and Mindfulness" at the Rochester Fringe Festival. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Greg Woodsbie led "Relax: Music, Movement, and Mindfulness" at the Rochester Fringe Festival.
Was life truly created from the excrement of a god-like being?

That’s Riley Zusi’s theory as expressed in his three-minute and 45 second animation, “The Wiz.” One of 32 student films aired at The Little Theatre Tuesday night at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Honors Show 2022.

Just as Francis Ford Coppola got his start at film school, it’s theoretically possible that RIT may have been launching cinematic careers on Day Eight of the Rochester Fringe Festival.

These shorts ranged from Diane Lee’s minute-long animation dissecting the tragic demise of “The Snowman,” to a couple of films that hit the 20-minute mark. These pieces were always inventive, and sometimes provocative.

Some took a serious route, as was the case with Rylie C. Field’s “Spin With Me,” rife with uncertain sexual identity.

Most took weird or wacked-out paths. Sahana Maheswaran’s “The Picnic” is two minutes of stop-action animation of a homicidal apple terrorizing other fruits. Sonnie Skinner’s experimental “Replay, Release” is a sci-fi story driven by virtual reality imaging and the thesis of mortal inevitability: “You trade a body for time.” In Elaina Couse’s “!,” simple items on a desk suddenly animate themselves.



“Serpentine Petrol Product Reel No. 7 ‘Skin Cream’” is three minutes of brilliant parody by Eddie M. Bazzett and Atlas Costa Aguilera, lampooning the lengths we go to for the perfect look: In this case a skin-shedding ointment.

Many of these shorts settled for “Hmmmmmm…,” unresolved endings. In Teng Chen’s “Tender Scent,” the question, “What is your favorite scent?” goes unanswered. What is the opossum of Rylee Arenson’s “Babbling Badlands” animation even doing in a building filled with surreal babies? Sit back and enjoy the weirdness, stop looking for answers.

Quite frankly, the questions some of these shorts pose really aren’t even the question. Often, the point is in the details behind the production.

These films were captioned: RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is the world’s largest technological school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and that sensibility was in place at this show. And some of the content went there as well.

“Say Cheese,” by Gabriel Pont-Fleury and Anna McClanahan, was actually a soft-drink commercial with an amusing mix-up over ASL, or American Sign Language. Kiyotoshi Sato’s “Anamnesis” opens with a murder, before the killer’s misunderstanding with a hearing-impaired convenience store clerk leads to a moment of clarity over his communications with his own hearing-impaired daughter.

And Sato returned with the 12-minute documentary, “Kiyo Sato’s Craft-Track Presentation Cinematography.” Where, among some heavy discussion of cameras and lighting techniques, we see that Sato is himself hearing impaired. As he said through ASL, “Deaf people are equals.”

Woodsbie’s exit strategy for mindfulness

There was a Beatnik sensibility to “Relax: Music, Movement, and Mindfulness.” A show that, as its creator Greg Woodsbie said, “bridges some of the boundaries between audio music and dance.” More to the point, “It’s about where your head space is at.”

And without pestering anyone, Woodsbie — a dance accompanist at SUNY Brockport — suggested this was an opportunity for the hundred or so people who turned out at The Theater at Innovation Square Tuesday night to get a little involved themselves. And view themselves as “a co-creator of the art.”

That’s a lot of esotericism for an hour-long performance featuring a five-piece band, with Woodsbie on piano, two violins, bass, and percussion. Plus three improvising dancers. There was some well-thought-out freedom onstage. And an opening number, “Fear Not,” in which relaxation was not at all the point, but energy was.

Then, Kyle Vock’s meditative bass brought on another invitation from Woodsbie. Audience members were welcome to climb onstage and lay down. “We want to feel your energy,” he said. “Allow yourself to arrive.”

No one actually climbed onstage, but some people did move into the aisles to dance, or at least move a bit. Or stay in their seats, but assume poses of relaxation, or stand and reach for the ceiling. Woodsbie struck a Tibetan prayer bowl, and now the room was getting somewhere.

Is a dancer dancing when he or she is simply lying onstage?

“Our minds are thinking machines,” Woodsbie said, as the band moved on to Kurt Weill’s “My Ship.” Woodsbie suggested concentrating on “the space between the notes.”

And focus on a meditative object in the auditorium, he said. Look around. There, over the door by the side of the stage. A sign lit up in red letters: “EXIT.”

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 or  jspevak@wxxi.org.