The award-winning “Salon” performance series is returning to The Launchpad in Carbondale on Jan. 28. The concept was founded in Philadelphia by composer Andrea Clearfield in 1986 and was brought to Aspen by Andrea Clearfield and Michele Kiley. It has celebrated over five years with co-curator/host Alya Howe who has been involved with performance arts since childhood.
This upcoming production, called “Optimism & Activism”, will feature six artists from around the world performing poetry, music, dance, opera and even presenting a film.
The artists are: composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh, a New York City-based Iranian composer and pianist; spoken word poet Uche Ogbuji, born in Nigeria and settled near Boulder; local bachata instructors Erik and Claudia Peña; Denver comedian A.J. Finney; singer-songwriter Brad Smith; and local poet José A. Alcántara.
Howe, Nourbakhsh, Ogbuji and Alcántara all sat down with The Sopris Sun to discuss their work as artists, and what they’re most anticipating for the upcoming Salon.
Those attending can expect to be “surprised, delighted and entertained,” said Howe. She hopes the production will inspire a sharing of perspectives, observations and commentaries about the world, and that the audience leaves with new thoughts thanks to the diverse group of artists.
“[The Salon] gives audiences a lens into the creative process of multiple art forms, in an intimate setting. Artists share the why and how of their work, giving an enhanced understanding and connection to the performance. Being bathed in the arts suspends time, creates magic, transforms and stimulates the senses and mind, unplugging you from the momentum of to-do’s,” said Howe.
Nourbakhsh, the pianist and composer, is also a strong advocate for music education and is a founding member and co-director of the Iranian Female Composer Association. She is presenting an aria from her opera “We, The Innumerable”, which tells the story of the 2009 Iranian protests and ties into the conflict presently occuring in Iran.
“At the heart of the story, it’s about the importance of protecting truth, the importance of being true to oneself, and how that can defy authoritarianism,” Nourbaksh told us.
She explained that she was present in Iran in 2009 when those protests were happening, and that those events shaped and shook her. Nourbaksh knew then that she wanted to write about it and express her feelings surrounding what she witnessed.
“I realized opera would be a good medium to tell the story of the events that happened and how they affected a lot of people in my life, my family and friends, and also my life. I hope that people can find a deeper way to connect to what is happening in Iran right now by watching this piece. There is always the news that we read every day, but connecting to a story in an artistic form on a deeper level [is different], and I hope that there is communication that happens through this,” she said.
Ogbuji, the spoken word poet, revels in bringing people, places and cultures together, and leaving them curious and excited to get in touch with where they are from ancestrally. He was once an engineering student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but always had an interest in music and literature and “slipped back” into his artistic side when he immigrated to the United States.
“There’s a lot that goes into my poetry and my music. I have traveled all over the world often, and I have a lot of influences. There are a lot of languages that rattle around in my head and I have a lot of musical influences and styles that go with what I do. I always learned to be comfortable not being in one bucket, not really being in one genre and not meaning anything clearly, just having fun with the things that I’ve heard,” said Ogbuji.
He concluded by saying the biggest thing audiences can expect from his piece is “a lot of fun with words and music” and imagery relating to his connections to the Colorado, Niger and Cross rivers and how they represent a sense of home for him and his family.
On the same rock of poetry, Alcántara, who won the 2021 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor and was a finalist for the 2022 Cantor Prize, will be reciting a handful of his original poems. While they do not follow any particular theme, he hopes that those in attendance will be able to connect.
“I want people to see that you can make art out of anything. You know, from the littlest things and things that you experienced. Sometimes it’s easy to let them pass by, but if you stop and give them your attention, there’s often more there than at first it might appear,” said Alcántara.
“Optimism & Activism” will take place at The Launchpad in Carbondale from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 28. To get tickets, visit thecarbondalesalon.eventbrite.com
Niloufar Nourbakhsh, courtesy photo