On Saturday, April 23rd, between noon and 1 p.m., in the vicinity of the student plaza on the campus of the University of Memphis, there's going to be a spectacle. It will involve, but not be limited to, Rock'em Sock'em robots, a woman throwing popcorn, children in capes, and giant megaphones. This oddball gathering is the culmination of "Memphis Heavyweight," a collaborative project with Chicago-based performance artist Nick Cave.
Cave is best known for his "soundsuits." "He makes these elaborate costumes that are activated with dance," explains Cedar Nordbye, an associate professor in the U of M's art department and a participant in "Memphis Heavyweight." "He frequently supplements his [art shows] with guerrilla theater in city streets, and that was an impetus for this collaboration."
Eight groups — ranging from three people to as many as 100 — are participating. Among them are schoolchildren and their parents, U of M students, and interested individuals. According to Nordbye, Cave came up with the concept of "Memphis Heavyweight" and then let the groups interpret it any way they wished. Students from Overton High are working around a theme of water pollution with dance and drumming and water-themed masks and shields. U of M history students are creating a river from fabric for the piece "Memphis Egypt."
Nordbye is working with a group from the Natural Learning School and the Art for Life's Sake program on "Champion Trees," inspired by a willow oak in Cooper-Young. The trees (costumed participants and puppets) are attacked by outside forces (rollerbladers and hula-hoopers). When they come together to form one big tree, they are no longer vulnerable to the assaults. "It's strength in unity," Nordbye says, "and strength through diversity."
"Memphis Heavyweight" Parade, at the University of Memphis student plaza, Saturday, April 23rd, noon to 1 p.m.