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‘A Very Distinguished Beginning’

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    Duncan Alexander learned a special software program to develop the video for "The Color of Dissonance."

Southwestern student tops professionals in local arts competition

In his first attempt at doing video production for a theatre performance, a Southwestern student did work that was considered good enough to beat out professionals from Austin in a recent awards competition.

Duncan Alexander, a senior studio art major, won the 2009 Austin Critics’ Table Award for video design for his work on “The Color of Dissonance,” which premiered at Southwestern in April.

The Austin Critics’ Table Awards recognize the year’s most exceptional achievements in dance, classical music, the visual arts, and theatre. The competition is judged by art critics from all the major publications in the city. Those same critics also nominate the finalists for the awards. This was the 17th year of the competition.

“Duncan created a very compelling kaleidoscopic montage of thousands of images and historic footage that went beyond merely serving as the production’s scenic surroundings and became a dynamic theatrical narrative in its own right that wove the story together,” said Jeanne Claire Van Ryzdin, a critic who covers the arts for the Austin American-Statesman.

“The Color of Dissonance” was an original opera based on the correspondence between Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, German artist Gabriele Münter and Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg in the period just before World War I. Their artistic collaboration played an important role in the development of modernism in Western music and art from 1911 to 1914.

Alexander said he signed up to work on the performance after hearing Jeff Burke, the executive director of the Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance at UCLA, give a talk at Southwestern in January about emerging technologies and the fine arts.

“Jeff gave a fascinating presentation about what they have done with multimedia,” Alexander said. “I thought it would be fun to do something like that.”

Burke was one of several outside artists hired to help with “The Color of Dissonance,” which was created to commemorate the renovation and addition to Southwestern’s Fine Arts Center. The non-traditional opera featured a set that was continuously recreated by projected images, video and text, as well as by objects moved by dancers.

Alexander compiled the 90 minutes of continuous video projection that accompanied the opera. This video incorporated some 4,000 images.

“Duncan helped organize the images in a way that was critical to telling the story,” said Jason Hoogerhyde, an assistant professor of music at Southwestern who composed the music for the opera and was one of three co-authors of the libretto. “His video was as much a part of telling the story as anything else in the show.

In order to do the video production for the opera, Alexander had to learn a new software program that is used specifically for these type of theatrical performances.

“Duncan really stepped up to the plate and learned this software,” Hoogerhyde said. “He took the ideas we had for the projection to a much higher level.”

Alexander was the only amateur among six finalists named for the Austin Critics’ Table Award this year in the category of video design. Although he did lighting and sound work for some plays in high school, this was the first time he had worked on video design for a performance.

Alexander originally attended Carnegie Mellon University to study physics, but transferred to Southwestern his sophomore year after reading about it in Colleges That Change Lives. In addition to majoring in studio art, he is working on a minor in art history. He hopes to become an artist and do his own exhibits that have a multimedia component.

“Duncan is off to a very distinguished beginning,” Hoogerhyde said. “He has the skills and vision to do remarkable things.”