Amy Querin knows how to make an evening soar.
Her Fresno Dance Collective, known as NOCO for short, last August anchored one of the most elegant arts events of the year. The inaugural Summer Soirée featured NOCO dancers and aerialists performing to a Fresno Philharmonic string quartet in a transformed Fresno Art Museum lobby gallery.
This year NOCO is back for more in Summer Soirée 2.0. The event has been expanded to two performances: a swanky evening show (including open bar and heavy appetizers) on Saturday, Aug. 15, and a matinee (desserts and refreshments) on Sunday, Aug. 16. We caught up with Querin, artistic director of NOCO, via email to chat about this artistic and social hot ticket.
Q: Set the scene for us.
A: We want that lovely summer oasis feeling that was so noticeable last year. The Fresno Art Museum is the perfect space for this kind of event. I mean, I can fit an aerial rig inside the lobby gallery, and I get to hang aerialists from a tree in the sculpture garden. Add a string quartet and an open bar, and I think we have a pretty sweet party.
Q. The orchestra’s executive director, Stephen Wilson, worked closely with you on musical selection. How did that process work?
A: One of our biggest inspirations this year is the music by Michael Nyman, an English composer best known for his scores to movies such as “The Piano.” The music was written to accompany a performance based on South Indian Bharata Natyam dance forms, which dictate the rhythmic patterns, cyclical structures and speeds of the quartet’s six short movements. We’ve included subtle Indian-inspired themes, like muslin umbrellas, wooden chimes and a bamboo photo booth!
Last year, I got to choose (Kevin Volans’ “White Man Sleeps”). This year, Stephen got to choose. Maybe we’ll take an audience suggestion for next year to keep it even.
Q: How many aerialists and dancers can we expect?
A: There are 17 NOCOs in our 2015 season. I say this every year, but this is a great year in terms of the talent in NOCO. Audiences will see a cast of 13 aerialists and dancers for our indoor performance, several of our project aerialists outdoors during the cocktail hours, and a special guest performer: NOCO junior Alisa Gonzalez (10 years old). We’re all pretty sure she’s going to steal the show.
I think the magic of this event is that it’s held indoors and outdoors, so it feels like a sophisticated house party.
Q: When you’re up in the air, is there any fear?
A: I feel like there’s two modes for aerialists: rehearsal and performance. We test the boundaries a lot in rehearsal where there are crash pads and accountability and community support. Once something goes on stage, it’s at the safest, most executable state possible. I’m very confident in our rigging, equipment and our training. But when I asked the company this question, several aerialists told us their worst nightmares of falling, so I think it might be based on personality.
Q: Have you ever looked at a bird and thought: I want to try that?
A: I asked two other people that question. Rehearsal director Zach Garcia said: “I think birds want to try what we’re doing.” And Nicholle Debbas, aerial education director, said, “YES!”
Personally, I’ve always been a little more inspired by butterflies than birds, but yes, I dream of flying. Metaphorically... and I also have recurring dreams of being able to fly.
Q: You and Stephen have a vision with Summer Soirée of an elegant summer evening in Fresno. Some people would scoff and say: Ha. Too sweaty. It has to be crisp outside to feel elegant. What’s your response?
A: I think the magic of this event is that it’s held indoors and outdoors, so it feels like a sophisticated house party. Fresnans wait in line for hours in the heat for the first taste of Fresno State sweet corn; they sweat themselves through a series of graduations and weddings all summer long; I think they can handle a cocktail hour in a shaded sculpture garden with an open bar. But I have a unique cheerful belief in Fresno.
Q: What’s in the future for Summer Soirée?
A: We want to make this an annual event! Why not? In all honesty, we believe we are strengthening the arts community, and it’s such a special event to share with those who really want to see the arts grow in Fresno. I feel lucky to produce this, and who knows? If people really love this collaboration as much as we do, maybe we’ll do it more often.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: The thing I’m looking forward to most is the champagne toast Saturday night; I ordered sparklers that are supposed to last four minutes, and I don’t have to make the speech!
Summer Soirée 2.0
- 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, with 7 p.m. performance followed by dessert and cocktails
- 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, with 2 p.m. performance followed by reception
- Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. 1st St.
- www.nocodance.org, 559-420-0795
- $75 for Saturday performance, $50 for Sunday performance