“New Orleans is here, we’re still here,” said Bennie Pete, leader of the Hot 8 Brass Band. The band’s performance is part of the series Spirit of New Orleans at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Spirit of New Orleans is part of the larger series of events called Life Out of Balance which aims to portray the metamorphosis of art through times of upheaval in history.
“We’re taking a look at the thematic way in which artists cope with moments of major dislocation,” said Jeremy Ganter, Mondavi Center’s associate executive director and director of programming. “Spirit of New Orleans is about taking a look at New Orleans before and after Katrina — how it celebrates itself through music and dance.”
The series is truly a celebration of the vivacity of the the crescent city in its brave and commendable process of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. It began with a screening of Spike Lee’s 2010 film If God is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise and continues this week with a performance by the Hot 8 and the Trey McIntyre Project in conjunction with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The Spike Lee movie, which focuses on the restoration of New Orleans post Katrina, documented the city’s unyielding ability to celebrate life with soul and warmth.
“The film was critical,” Ganter said. “It kind of showed that despite its reputation as a party city, New Orleans has serious social and economic issues that existed before but were exacerbated by Katrina. The entire series was about how artists interpreted this moment. It presents a very broad view of New Orleans — its power, its joy and its troubles.”
The Hot 8 Brass Band was also featured in the Spike Lee movie. Ganter claims that The Hot 8 Brass Band is “the real deal”.
The members of the band who were born and raised in New Orleans are the face of the city’s long standing culture of street music.
“It’s New Orleans music,” Pete said.
The Hot 8 lost some of its past members to violence post Katrina. However, Pete counts the crescent city as the band’s biggest inspiration.“It’s hard for me, but it just makes us value our music that much more,” he said of the aftermath of Katrina. “Nothing was really the same — but we made it through with the music and faith in God. It’s like healing, it just changes the spirit.”
According to Ganter, however, it was The McIntyre Project’s ballet pieces Ma Maison and The Sweeter End that birthed the entire series, “We knew we wanted them to perform at the Mondavi Center and the idea for the series just fell into place with Ma Maison.”
“McIntyre choreographed the piece in 2008,” said Chanel DaSilva, a dancer with The McIntyre Project. “It focuses on how people in New Orleans view life and death — to them death is just a new chapter of life and the people left behind celebrate this.”
DaSilva described the costumes for Ma Maison as colorful yet eerie with a touch of both New Orleans style Mardi Gras and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
“I’m very excited for the performance,” DaSilva said. “There’s skull masks and they add to this creepy feel but it’s a very exciting and poignant part of New Orleans culture. The Sweeter End is much edgier.”
The denim clothing designed for The Sweeter End makes use of New Orleans influenced motifs such as the fleur-de-lis and — post Katrina — the crosses drawn into the sides of buildings by restoration workers. The crosses symbolized whether or not there were living people inside a home. DaSilva describes the performance as “electrifying.”
The McIntyre project is performing to live music provided by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. New Orleans’ eminent musical venue Preservation Hall is the eponymous birthplace of the band.
“They bring New Orleans with them,” DaSilva said .
Spirit of New Orleans promises a holistic view of a tragedy that forever changed the face of the crescent city.
The series continues this week with performances by the Hot 8 Brass Band (Nov. 9 to 11), and The Trey McIntyre Project (Nov. 12).
Students can buy tickets by phone, online at mondaviarts.org or in person at the Mondavi Center ticket booth at 50 percent off.
SASHA SHARMA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.