On Thursday, just two days into Art Basel, film makers, dancers, and musicians gathered for a collaborative event dedicated to the late Kurt Cobain. There was a short film premier by Adarsha Benjamin, a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” tribute by choreographer Ryan Heffington, original music by Guy Blakeslee, and a performance from Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Why can’t every weekend be like this! The combination of these incredibly talented artists made for a night filled with revelations and moments of evocative reflection. Individually, each artist brought out something different to say about Cobain, a varied perspective. Together, it was a tribute like no other.
The first experience of the night, was the premier of up and coming film maker Adarsha Benjamin’s short film entitled simply, “KURT”. I use the word “experience”, because as Adarsha said herself, “It’s about the unspoken…It’s about feeling.” The film was also a collaboration with actor Henry Hopper, who acted as one of the views of Cobain on screen. Dubbed over grainy and nostalgic views of Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen as well as multiple portrayals of Cobain himself (striped sweater, white sunglasses and all) was Hopper’s voice reciting lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, in a beat poetry spoken word kind of way. His voice hissed and growled provocatively, and as waves of loud reverberation drowned out his words, blurry frames of Hopper as Cobain gave the audience and multi sensory experience. The clashes yet harmony of image and sound made Benjamin’s five minute film a beautiful and emotive thing to see, and feel.
Next up was an incredibly moving piece choreographed by Ryan Heffington. You may recognize his unique/spatially aware/ musically sensitive style of dance from the Sigur Ros video for “Fjögur píanó” (Yes that’s the one where Shia Labeouf is in…le buff). With a musical composition by Guy Blakeslee, this piece took a new look on the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, the music constructed by crescendoing vocal gasps and layers upon layers of breath. The dancers moved with such dynamism, going from slow and sluggish to rushing and urgent in a matter of seconds. They evoked the song’s (and Kurt’s, for that matter) multiple emotional dimensions purely through the vessels of their bodies. Through moments of thrashing chaos to moments of pure stillness and togetherness, they said so much without uttering a word. After the dancers parted from the stage, Guy Blakeslee appeared by himself on stage, guitar in hand.
He howled with such passion, the audience took a new reflective silence. His haunting and enchanting presence was mesmerizing and left us in awe. After performing his original music, and the intermission commenced, the crowd commenting amongst themselves how impressed they were by his performance.
Last but definitely not least, was the legendary (and South Florida native) Thurston Moore. Before he actually went on stage, Thurston had been in the audience, watching the performances with us. He even allowed a few people to snap a photo with him, (myself included) (dreams do come true). Speaking to fans he was incredibly modest and nice, and he carried this pleasant and humbled attitude with him onstage as he chatted about his memories of Coral Gables for at least 20 minutes before grabbing his guitar. He gave funny anecdotes about nuns at St. Theresa’s shoving holy soap in his mouth for cursing, and stories of his mother’s experience at the Gusman Theater many years ago. It was what every Thurston Moore/Sonic Youth fan could ever dream of, he made us feel like old friends. After realizing he’d been rambling, he shut himself up and instead recited a moving poem before diving amp first into a set of original songs. He ventured off into a loud Sonic Youth-y noise fest, nudging his guitar into his amp for more feedback, using a screwdriver (I think) to make those trade mark Thurston Moore sounds. He left our ears ringing.
KURT was, in my eyes, an extremely successful event, and if only for a night awoke this beautiful theater and populated it by equally amazing artists and performers. It was a night to remember and made me wonder why more collaborative events like that don’t happen more often. Oh yeah, Art Basel doesn’t last forever. But at least for a night, Kurt Cobain’s legacy and those who continue to evaluate, commemorate and continue it, brought us all together for a few precious hours.