Tehee: Take a chance on the stimulating Rogue Festival

The Fresno BeeFebruary 26, 2014 

Nicky Watts, "Separation," a Rogue Festival 2014 performance

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It's time to step outside our comfort zones. Trying new things is good for us — it stimulates the brain and forces it to create new pathways.

It's mind exercise.

Which makes the Rogue Festival like a P90X.

For 13 years, Fresno's performing arts festival has been the place to see stimulating, thought-provoking (and sometimes just plain weird) dance, music and theater.

While this is not officially a "fringe festival" (meaning the Rogue is not a member of the USAFF, the organization that governs such affairs), its performers often come from the fringe world.

A quick sampling of this year's shows (read more here):

-- "Separation" is performance art from Nicky Watts. Watts lives (at least during the show) with a Plexiglas box on her head. The box is a physical representation of the emotional barriers we all create.

-- "Tunes Blue and Grey" is based on songs that soldiers would sing across the battlefields during the Civil War. Sounds eerily beautiful, no?

-- "Raw Meat and Dignity" is the new show from Fresno Dance Collective. What I know of it comes from press photos, which feature balloons that look like giant cuts of raw meat.

-- "Can Death be Staid by a Catchy Chorus" is Blake Jones' attempt to work through the grief over the death of his son by writing catchy pop songs.

These shows may not seem easily accessible for mass audiences. There are no doubt those who stopped reading already, and will take a pass on the Rogue because the whole thing sounds too off-the-wall.

I'd ask them to reconsider.

This is how I like my art: creative, challenging and teetering on the line between utterly mesmerizing and train-wreck gory. There's an excitement in not knowing on which side of the line it will ultimately fall.

Sometimes it can be both. My favorite show from last year's festival was "The Madness of Alphabet," which I called an audio equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. From my review:

"I still enjoyed the show, for the same reasons I enjoy abstract expressionist paintings, or any art that challenges you to 'get over yourself' and experience stuff outside your comfort zone. I still have no idea what Clatterbox was going for with 'The Madness of Alphabet.' And I am very OK with that."

My tastes aren't for everyone and mostly these shows are mentioned as examples, not official recommendations. They do represent the strength of what the Rogue Festival has to offer: For two weeks a year, an outlet for true artistic expression and an opportunity to have a cultural experience unlike anything else in town.

If you want safe art, you can stream "Downton Abbey" (I know it's a great show). If you want to be stimulated, take a chance and take a trip to the Tower District (perhaps a new experience in itself) and watch a Rogue show.

Worst case, it'll be a waste of $10. But it will be good for your brain.

This reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com

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