O n a geologic time scale, humanity is at best a blip.
On a human scale, Terra Tractus: The Earth Moves—an after-dark ode to the tectonic shifts and continental drifts that have long shaped the globe—is vast and deep and wondrous, much like the Stony Creek Quarry where the breathtaking arts spectacle is so fittingly staged.
The granite quarry, by the way, isn’t merely a stage; it’s also a subject of the artwork, and a nice visceral reference point for audiences not used to walking through big tracts of mined rock. During the show I caught on Sunday, a strong musical score composed by Istvan B’Racz filled the quarry’s geometrical contours with moods from meditative to energized. High-grade light cannons and precise lasers managed by local lighting guru Jamie Burnett (whose brother, Tom Burnett, directs) illuminated and shadowed chosen pieces of the landscape, helped along by releases from well-placed fog machines. Projected against a large sheer wall in the distance, Daniel Fine’s and Matthew Ragan’s animations of geological features and biological creatures (among other subjects) lent narrative heft; so did occasional snippets of poetry intoned over the crisp sound system. Determined young dancers choreographed by Nazorine Ulysse and a seemingly fearless crew of spelunkers led by Silas Finch also pushed the narrative, adding human purpose and suspense to boot. Throughout the performance, ropes and zip lines carried various ornate objects and adorned performers up from the floor, down from the rim and across the chasm between. As a logistical feat alone, Terra Tractus is a marvel to behold.
Logistical considerations are more serious than usual for the guests, too, who must bring along signed copies of a waiver and a list of “rules” that often amount to recommendations. Meanwhile, due to limited parking onsite, most ticket holders park at the Francis Walsh Intermediate School (185 Damascus Rd, Branford), taking a yellow school bus a short ride over. Oh, and there’s only room at the top of the quarry for a single non-ice cream food truck, which means a long line in front of it. The easy fix? Bring your own food and drink (no alcohol, though), especially if you’re planning to arrive near showtime. Bring bug spray, too, and a flashlight for making your way out of the quarry at show’s end.
It’s all pretty much common-sense stuff, to the credit of Projects for the New Millennium (Projects2K for short), the driving force behind the whole event. The idea for Terra Tractus first formed in the mind of P2K’s founder, the artist and luminary Joy Wulke. Since Wulke’s passing in February, the vision’s been carried forward by a team of more than 25 artists and organizers including Wulke’s daughter Gioia Connell and husband David Connell, plus gobs of volunteers. P2K’s broader mission involves catalyzing shifts in human thinking and habituating, which at times seems to require overcoming a degree of inertia that puts tectonic resistance to shame. Wulke’s welcome note in the program implores us to gain the “wisdom to protect and preserve” this gleaming blue planet, and during the show that follows, the organization employs a stunning blend of art and science to inspire us.
On Sunday, well before darkness had arrived to signal that it was showtime, the crowd—getting a little restless, perhaps, having so far been kept at the rim of the quarry to allow performers to test and finalize things below—was greeted by an exuberant and very tight drum circle. Led by Bill Fischer, audience members were quickly roused to clapping and dancing and shouting. An invitation to pick up unclaimed instruments was made and a surprising number of attendees accepted; within a few minutes, the performance group had grown from 12 to 35 players and counting. Despite this unwieldy influx of untrained players, the circle kept grooving along, individuals paying attention to the rhythms of their surroundings, adjusting, tweaking, finding joy in synchronization and mutual benefit.
Maybe it was the start of something bigger?
Written and photographed by Dan Mims.