To write is to live forever—right?

Elegy for a Dead World is writing prompt wrapped up in a darkly gorgeous world of speculative fiction.

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After booting up, you are floating in space. How did you get there in the first place? Photos courtesy of Dejobaan Games

 

Within seconds of booting up Elegy for a Dead World, you’re controlling a lone astronaut f loating in space. You can hear the explorer’s steady breathing as you scoot around the glowing void with the help of a jetpack. You start to hear radio transmissions, faint, but growing stronger, as you head toward the middle of the galaxy. You find the central portal where you find the main menu. And you’re forgiven for thinking you are Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.

Elegy, from Dejobaan Games, is a side-scrolling game with no objective other than writing a short story. You accomplish this by moving your astronaut through a world of about 10 city-, space-, and landscapes. Along the way you’re given writing prompts, such as: “They say everything comes to an end. Here, in the sand, their first colony,” and “The settlers of Byron’s World formed their settlement far below ground, initially because.” Finish the sentences with whatever comes to mind. Type one word; type a page. When you’re done, make your way through the ruined world until another prompt appears.

Photos courtesy of Dejobaan Games
Photos courtesy of Dejobaan Games

Aurally, Elegy is serious. The empty world hums with reverb- drenched drones. They can grow discordant, with cricket-like swells of intensity. They further the tone of austerity and bleakness—we are tasked with recounting the history of a dead civilization, after all. Your breathing and footsteps barely register. There isn’t any emotional bandwidth available for precious melody, and the creators are tactful enough to avoid heavy-handed dirges.

The various ‘scapes are flat but saturated in color; they’re gorgeous, somehow minimal while suggesting infinite, brooding possibility. Silhouettes of structures and lengths of pipe and scaffolding are interspersed between faint geometric outlines. You duck into buildings with phantasmagorical pieces of machinery and look up at blacked-out suns. Mountains and stars stand silent in the far, almost washed- out background. You can fly around with your jetpack for a quicker pace, but finding the patience to walk slowly tis worth it. The effect is meditative and solemn.

The game intends to be specific enough juices f lowing without giving you too many narrative crutches. There are no animations or flashes of light or color to spike your blood pressure. All told, the game is limited in that there is only one world to explore, and it’s not particularly large. You can select one of seven prompt themes, as well as a grammar exercise (don’t forget about learning!) or have a go at prompt-less free writing. The game’s possibilities for expansion seem endless. The thought is enough to seriously excite this poet and video game lover. There is hope yet for a poetic, artful, writerly approach to gaming that is hard to find.

Elegy is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that ended last October. It maintains the spirit of open communities by allowing you to publish your stories for others to read and recommend. Some of the most popular are gorgeous pieces of speculative fiction—minimal and extravagant, poems and funny yarns. With solid to great ratings from Steam, Metacritic, and Eurogamer), the game appears to be a modest, important success.

A traditional elegy is a poem of loss, of mourning the dead. Elegy takes that form and transmutes it, with the help of image and sound, into a living, interactive entity. Regardless if your story is one of hope or sadness, carnage or folly, that you wrote it down means you gave life to something.

Taking the initiative

The Collective’s Baltimore Dance Invitational is in its third year—and it’s just getting started

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Collective Co-Director Jessica Fultz performing in “Stay Tuned.”

 

Dance hasn’t enjoyed much of an infrastructure in Baltimore. The overall community is relatively scattered and isolated with sporadic audience crossover, but there’s a great wealth of passion and commitment, especially from The Collective, Baltimore’s 16-year-old modern dance company that’s about host the third annual Baltimore Dance Invitational.

Established as a non-profit organization in 2001, part of The Collective’s vision is “to connect with and to the local arts community through collaborations with other artists, guest residencies, bi-weekly dance classes, and performance projects.” That last goal— performances projects—couldn’t have a better manifestation than BDI, which The Collective conceptualized and kicked off in 2013. Co-Director Sonia Synkoski took the time to answer a few questions from the Post.

UB Post: How was BDI created?What was the creation process like?

Sonia Synkowski: BDI was created through collaborative conversations with the company. The Collective has always annually produced an informal showcase event called Open Marley Night. In more recent years, that event started to feel more formal (polished work, fully produced) than informal with in-progress work. That realization lead to the suggestion that we create a new showcase event for work that was fully produced and would benefit from a showcase performance. The Baltimore Dance Invitational was born. The idea was to create multiple dance events for artists/community under the label of “The Baltimore Dance Invitational”—like a mini- festival. In the past two years that included workshops, Open Marley Night, a professional showcase, two dance concerts, and meet-the-artist receptions that spanned four days. This year, we are doing a community workshop, a professional dance showcase, and a meet-the-artist reception all on one day.

Collective member Adrienne Kraus Latanishen performing in “Growl.”
Collective member Adrienne Kraus Latanishen performing in “Growl.”

UBP: How is it funded?

SS: We have had a different funding source every year. Artists have always been paid for their participation in the professional showcase. Funding has been essential to ensuring that the artists are compensated. We are thankful for support received to make this event a success.

In year one we got started with help from the William G. Baker Fund. In year two we launched a successful Kickstarter project. This year we received funding from the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences.

UBP: Where do you see BDI in three years? Five? Ten?

SS: Interest has grown every year so I don’t see the event going away anytime soon. This year we moved BDI to a new venue. In three to five years, I would like to continue to see BDI as a staple annual regional festival with more expanded workshop offerings. In 10+ years, I would like to see BDI as a national festival/conference that ties the community and the professional artist together through workshops/ learning experiences/participatory events/dance.

Collective members Martha Johnston and Rachel Wolfe performing in “Static: If I, Then We?”
Collective members Martha Johnston and Rachel Wolfe performing in “Static: If I, Then We?”

For more information and to see the Invitation’s schedule, head over to http://www.collective-dance.com.

All images courtesy of Matt Roth

Beyond infinity and back again

Interstellar takes its place in the sci-fi canon

It’s not that hard a thing, capturing the vastness of space, and with it, the adventure of transcending our home planet: just look up. What is hard is capturing something bigger than that—the stars behind the stars, really. Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s epic spacescape of a film, gets pretty close.

Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley in Interstellar.
Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley in Interstellar.

Interstellar takes the science fiction of its premise quite seriously. So seriously, in fact, the film is a solid three hours long. We are in it for the long haul, so dig in. Blights are decimating the planet’s food sources, one at a time. There’s less than a generation’s worth of time before everyone starves.

Matthew McConaughey is Cooper, a chiseled former NASA pilot who, like most of the world’s working people now, is a farmer. You know how serious the situation on Earth is because you have the conversations between Cooper and his father-in-law ( John Lithgow) that painstakingly draw out for us the movie’s moral lodestones. “We’re a caretaker generation,” he says to Cooper at one point. There are a handful of shots of Cooper sipping a beer and squinting his eyes as he looks up over his cornfields and at the hazy horizon.

The yarn spun for us is an improbable one involving ghosts inside gravity and Cooper finding a hidden space compound in the middle of nowhere. See, even though world governments gave up on space travel so as to focus on feeding the planet, somehow NASA survived (alright science!). They’re led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine in a perfect oxford shirt), and they’ve discovered a wormhole in our solar system. They sent 10 solo explorers through the wormhole so as to locate a new home for Earth. Three are pinging back good news, so it’s time for a bunch of scientist to go find them before it’s too late. They just need a pilot.

And so McConaughey joins a crew that includes Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway), and we’re off into the biggest space adventure story I’ve ever seen.

The pace of everything up to this point, and everthing that follows, is measured and calm. Every line, every scene is carefully crafted to bring the story along, one plot point at a time. It’s mechanical. McConaughey and Hathaway deliver solid acting performances that are ultimately tied down by the script itself. That’s too bad, since; again, the move is three hours long, more than enough time to flesh out memorable characters.

The flaw is easily forgotten, however, in the face of mind-bending graphics and spaceship sequences that are overwhelming and tragically beautiful. If nothing else, Nolan captures the Platonic silence of space.

When we’re watching ships docking or wormholes wormholing, more often than not the scenes begin with deep silence. The effect is almost monastic, reverential.

Never has space felt as big as it does in Interstellar. Never has space felt so alone, either. The crew locates one of the original explorers, but the planet in question is so close to a black hole that time f lows vastly slower. One hour on that planet equals seven years in earth time. Something goes wrong, they take longer than they thought to return to their ship (which lay outside the black hole’s effect), and they find their remaining crew member Romilly with gray in his beard. The look on his face when he says “I thought you would never return” is chest-hollowing sad.

On Earth, everything is hidden beneath an enormous sepia smudge of dust, farms, trucks, and bureaucrats. There is little light and lesser saturation of warmth or color, and so the high-contrast angularity of space is that much more pronounced, that much more full of awe and gravity. And it is gravity that plays the most crucial role in the whole story. Nolan is completely committed to explaining the science behind everything, going so far as to have McConaughey explain the exact sequence of scientific plot points to a robot. That penultimate scene could be a live action rendering a scene from Futurama—and I mean that, mostly, in a good way.

Nolan’s film is epic in scope and limited in character development, but in the end the former trumps the latter. Interstellar is ambitious and gorgeous, the sort of film that leaves you with a different understanding of what makes a great space film and a greater appreciation for all that matter above our heads, impossibly out of reach.

All photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures