Cellista calls performance “my imaginary autobiography”
By Bridgette M. Redman
Sometimes an artist’s most fanciful fantasies are also the closest ones to you.
Performance artist and composer Cellista said her latest album – a creation part opera, part theater, part poetry, part beatbox – is a piece that is ultimately her story. The title character, Pariah, represents the artist.
“Pariah – I am her,” Cellista said. “It’s my imaginary autobiography.”
The album was released on October 1, the same day that she debuted a live staging of the story at the Santa Monica Playhouse. That show started with Kristen Lynn and the Fox Gloves, which Cellista said would play a number of very moody Leonard Cohen covers.
The composer Sean Renner provided the overture and the Buoh dancer Ibuki Kuramochi played the cello to accompany Cellista. Other collaborators on the recording include composers Mazz Swift, Joshua Icban and Peter Colclasure.
Performers include works by actress Dawn L. Troupe, soprano Carla Canales, soprano Hilary Whitmore, rapper Demone Carter, beatboxer Track IX, and poet and journalist Gary Singh.
Cellista purposely hired a production crew led by 65% women, including Heidi Trefethen, SF Jazz and Symphony Orchestra Musician, as lead engineer and Anna Frick as astering engineer.
Cellista wrote the original treatment and full story arc, then passed it on to her father, a former philosophy professor.
“I let him fill in the rest,” Cellista said. “He got it back and I edited it and after I got it all set to music, it dawned on me that I would like to record it in immersive audio.”
Born out of fear
The story follows the journey of Pariah, a woman who was cast out of her community for daring to tell the truth to power. Dreamlike and theatrical, the album follows her exile from her hometown Cloture to her encounters with apparitions, love and their ultimate acceptance of themselves.
“I call my work platform poems,” said Cellista. “They are resistance art, they are politically engaged, observant and informative. Their intention is to break down barriers between audience and performers in a collective act of witnessing. “
“Pariah” was born in the depths of the pandemic, an event that disrupted a lot for Cellista. She had been on a national tour and was due to go to the EU in March, but the pandemic ended that tour very abruptly.
It was an event that she said hit her hard, but she tried to keep creating. She put together an EP with her friends and connected remotely. During this time Pariah was born.
“I started writing,” said Cellista. “’Pariah’ was born out of my fear. I wrote freely. “
The work falls into the realm of the fairy tale due to iconic elements of the journey, mystical characters and magical transformations. Cellista explained that she takes pillars of reality and inserts them into a surreal setting. It gives her the chance to speak about the truth, about being different.
“Parian’s gift is that when she looks at others, she sees a true reflection of herself,” said Cellista. “That gives her a lot of strength.”
Her work is always politically rooted, although she states that “Pariah” is not overtly political. It does, however, examine boundary crossing, the idea of being different, and the idea of seeing the truth and not being able to truly tell the truth to power without fear.
“It’s about being stared at,” Cellista said. “It’s a continuation of all of my work, but more of a fairy tale format. In my work, I really try to break the boundaries between audience and performer. The act of performance is an act of collective witness. The audience and the performers have equal rights. “
She said that for the past nine months she has been talking about Pariah as if she were a real person, especially when the process is interrupted.
“Whenever something goes wrong, I say, ‘Damn it, Pariah, why do you have to be like this.’ It really feels real, ”said Cellista. “She is someone who is not afraid. She is not afraid to exist in the cracks. It belongs everywhere. “
There have been a number of mishaps including one of her sopranos who was attacked by a dog, which bit her hand and took her to the hospital. Another time Cellista was on the way to mix the album with Skywalker Sound. She stepped out the door with her soprano and a car ran over her foot.
“It was always on the way to the studio to record that something was going to happen,” said Cellista. “We were wondering if Pariah was a witch. Perhaps this Delta variant is Pariah. Every time something happens, we say, ‘My God, Pariah.’ “
Cellista said this was one of the toughest projects she’s ever worked on.
“It’s only 25 minutes and I feel like I have 10 babies,” she said.
Pariah – the project’s title character – exists in a town, Cloture, where she is literally a pariah because of her superpower, her ability to see the truth and dare to tell it to power. When she is exiled, she is thrown down the mountain top and she wakes up in an enchanted forest. There she encounters several appearances and through their gaze she finds herself and gains acceptance.
Eventually she realizes that everywhere she goes is her home. In the end, after meeting her lover, she realizes that she wants to go alone and instead of being a pariah – someone who is undesirable – she is now a wanderer – someone who willingly wander the world.
Cellista is a new Santa Monica resident who only moved there in February. She is eager for her neighbors and other Santa Monicans to see her work.
“I really try to reflect with my work a place that I call my home,” said Cellista.
“Pariah is my artistic statement and my way of saying hello, I’m here, this is my home.”
Her artistic hello is steeped in various genres, political commentary, and beautiful imagery.
Genres include classical music, opera, hip hop, and rock. Since her foundation is that of a classical cellist, the shapes are classic, even if they are spiced with non-classical pieces. Cellista plays a carbon fiber cello made by Luis and Clark and a Czech cello from 1885.
All genres, she said, create a platform from which she can examine topics such as otherness, exile and banishment. It also enables her to break down barriers between the audience and the performers.
The work encompasses many media from music, books, film and dance.
Since it was created during the pandemic, it made project management very difficult. Cellista said that looking at the logistics alone that she is amazed sometimes that she was ever born.
“The work could sometimes be unbearable due to the sheer number of employees,” said Cellista. “I’ve had actors who rightly withdrew at the last minute because of COVID. We could only have one or two people in the chamber at a time. “
Despite the challenges, the makers are proud of the final work. You even submitted the work for a Grammy in the Immersive Sound category.
Cellista chose immersive sound and composed music allows audiences to hear the sound approaching and moving around them.
“It’s like being in the forest,” said Cellista. “You hear something weird and don’t know where it’s coming from.”
There is an accompanying book for the release of the album, which cellista’s father Dr. Frank Seeburger co-wrote, with a foreword by the composer Daniel Felsenfeld and illustrations by Jaclyn Alderete.
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