From the Kansas City Star ...WaterFire returns to KC to fan the flames of art By JAMES A. FUSSELL The Kansas City Star, October 19, 2011
Art can be steamy and smoldering, searing or incendiary. But Saturday night on Brush Creek it will be on fire.
It’s time for WaterFire Kansas City 2011, a dramatic “visual art installation” featuring 55 floating bonfires, or braziers, lit at dusk on the water. Now in its fifth year, the free event will light up the Country Club Plaza as it pairs the watery flames with jazz, blues, opera, show tunes, Irish vocalists, various styles of dance and more. Local artists will perform every 10 minutes until midnight along a five-block stretch of the illuminated waterway.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said WaterFire Kansas City’s volunteer chairwoman, Karen Holland. “Throughout the evening the boats continue to feed the braziers with wood to keep the fires going. This is powerful. You’ve got sight — the fire on the water — you can smell the fragrant wood, and all of this is accompanied by enchanting music and dance. So the result is a truly a memorable feast for the senses.” The event, sponsored by Brush Creek Community Partners, has become a showcase for local artists. It is expected to draw about 30,000 people to the Country Club Plaza, Holland said.
WaterFire is the brainchild of internationally recognized artist Barnaby Evans of Providence, R.I., who first installed the award-winning event in 1994 on the three rivers that run though that city. Evans, 58, works in many mediums, including sculpture, photography, film, garden design, architecture and writing. He specializes in site-specific installations where a visitor’s attention is brought to the particular qualities of a specific place. He’s been working on large-scale projects for about 20 years.
“We try to bring art out of the theater and out of the museum and into our lives,” Evans said. “WaterFire was part of an effort to look at what it is that inspires people about art, and bring it into the urban landscape of a city.” He’s seen the effect it can have. “We present live opera in Kansas City as we do in Providence,” he said. “And people who might never go to an opera are surprised at how much they like it. It helps expose people to a world of music and dance they might otherwise not experience. There are wonderful musicians out there just waiting for us to open up our ears and hear new things.”
Holland invited Evans to Kansas City after meeting him at a WaterFire performance in Providence seven years ago. The two collaborated to make Kansas City and Brush Creek the second location for the fiery spectacle in 2007. Holland credited generous public and private donations with making WaterFire possible.
One of the acts at this year’s event is Quixotic, a complex performing arts group that defies easy explanation. The multisensory experience employs the talents of musicians, composers, aerialists, dancers, costume designers, lighting designers, animators and more. The group will perform on the Wornall Road bridge. Anthony Magliano, a multi-instrumentalist, is the founder and director of the group, which has performed at WaterFire for several years. “One thing we love about it is how it brings a lot of people together,” he said. “To me there’s something special and spiritual about it. It’s almost like a citywide bonfire.”
Nathan Granner, an operatic tenor from Brookside, also enjoys performing at WaterFire. “The first year, right after Pavarotti died, I sang “Nessun Dorma” in a big red robe on a boat going up and down the creek,” he said. “People just went crazy. They cheered so loud I did an encore.”
In Providence, WaterFire has surpassed all of Evans’ expectations. That city now stages multiple WaterFires each year. It has had 18 so far this year. Providence police estimated the largest crowd for a single WaterFire event at 100,000 people. Kansas City doesn’t have to reach that level for its WaterFire to be a success, organizers said.
“One of the reasons I got involved in WaterFire was it actually brought (people) together (in) an underutilized space,” Holland said. “Brush Creek is such a beautiful park and waterway. This revitalizes that public space through art, and encourages people to stroll. And we have people strolling from all walks of life.”
WaterFire Kansas City, which organizers are working to sustain as an annual event, would not have been possible without help. “Zahner, an architectural sheet metal company, Sheet Metal Workers Union No. 2, Iron Workers Local 10 and Painters District No. 3,” Holland said, naming a few of the many volunteers. “It would not have been possible without their generous donation of time and labor. They basically made everything for us. And they continue to be available if we need repairs. It’s a testament to the generosity of our community.”
WaterFire events have expanded to more than just Kansas City. Evans also has lit WaterFires in Rome, Venice, Houston, Tacoma, Wash., and Columbus, Ohio. And last month it went global when braziers were lit in Singapore and Providence on the opposite ends of the Earth on the same night. “Being on the opposite sides of the globe, one was in daylight while one was in darkness,” Evans said. “We lit WaterFire at sunset in Singapore and kept a brazier burning until dawn when it was sunset in Providence. Then we lit a torch and sent it by video link to Providence, where they (symbolically) touched the torch to the screen and lit WaterFire in Providence.” Then they repeated the action the opposite way. Critics called it beautiful. But then “that’s the whole idea of WaterFire,” Evans said. “To bring the community together to celebrate the beauty of the setting sun, the enthralling attractions of a bonfire, and the rippling beauty of reflected light on a flowing river in an environment where you’re free to stroll, talk with your friends and listen to music.”
From the Kansas City Star ...
"WaterFire just keeps getting hotter. [...] If you've missed this free event before, don't let it pass by again. [...] Using a popular combination of music, fire and water, WaterFire Kansas City deserves its growing reputation as an event the entire family can enjoy."
From the viewer perspective … “We happened upon numerous friends that night who were aglow with the excitement over the beauty, the crowds, the selection of exquisite new music and the diverse performances throughout the evening. Hooray for the arts in KC.” – Ada K., Prairie Village, KS “What impressed me was the total artistic canvas of Brush Creek. There were so many families able to stroll through the park and got very excited when the fires were light on the water.” – Larry B., Kansas City, MO
From the artist perspective … “WaterFire has been one of the best community activities to come around in a very long time. Using an underused space and a simple concept, WaterFire has been remarkable effective to a stunning degree. This has put a light in people’s eyes. I’ve talked with at least a dozen people and if they went, they just go on about how great it was. If they hadn’t been yet, they marvel at how their friends went and they are definitely going the next time. Like a match, anyone who touches this lights up.” – Nathan Granner, featured WaterFire vocalist “WaterFire is a ‘can’t-miss’ event for the whole family! It’s a time for the community to gather and enjoy the beautiful fall weather and watch as Brush Creek is transformed for one night into a serene, magical world. Looking forward to participating again!” – Uriah, fire dancers, Vesuvius Tribe "WaterFire is a wonderfully unique artistic experience that gives creative platform to artists in Kansas City unlike any other. It allows local artists to enmesh their talents for a beautiful display free to the public; making many Kansas Citians aware of artistic groups that they didn't even know existed in their own backyard. Quixotic is very proud to consider WaterFire as one of our major performances of the year." - Anthony Magliano, artistic director, Quixotic Performance Fusion
"A wonderful event! We loved the spontaneity of performances, interacting with the audience, the amazing selection of music, a perfectly magical evening both as performers and spectator! Can't wait to do it again!" - Toi Shaw, tango dancer