Sarah Jaffe and Jen Ray at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.
Eyes As Bright As Diamonds is free to the public on April 11.
Jen Ray and Sarah Jaffe at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.
While collaborating on Eyes As Bright As Diamonds — a wildly vibrant pageantry piece debuting this Wednesday as part of the fourth annual Soluna International Music & Arts Festival — Texan singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe and New York artist Jen Ray became fast friends.
“We went on a YouTube rampage last night,” says Ray, who stayed at Jaffe’s Dallas home several weeks ago while in town for rehearsals. “We were watching 9 to 5 and geeking out over Dolly Parton: The hair! The makeup! The pink! Kenny Rogers!”
Last year, Jaffe released her fourth album, Bad Baby, and has performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Galleries across the globe have displayed Ray’s work, including Berlin’s KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Kunsthal KAdE in the Netherlands and New York’s Albertz Benda Gallery. Together, they are a formidable force.
Inspired by a lyric from the patriotic ballad “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” Ray conceptualized Eyes as a site-specific project for Soluna that reimagines the idea of classic American folk songs.
It requires a strong lead vocalist who’s dabbled in many genres. Enter Jaffe, who will sing for a portion of the 25-minute performance. Rather than a stage, Eyes will take over the Meyerson Symphony Center foyer staircase as the audience watches from the rafters above. Ray describes the Meyerson as “gorgeous, very temple-like, with such a beautiful weight about it. It almost looks archaic, as though it could be from any time period.”
Joining Jaffe and a Dallas Symphony Orchestra string quartet for Eyes are diverse creative squads from the Dallas community, who will perform choreography by Sherri Segovia: tap dancers from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Haltom High School’s color guard and drummers, and SMU ballroom dancers. The collision of artistic worlds is what rouses Ray’s imagination.
“I’m always looking for different types of people,” she says. “I want all sizes, all ages. It’s more interesting.”
Feminism is a prevalent theme in Ray’s art, and similar motifs weave throughout Eyes, which has a predominantly female ensemble.
“You can’t be an artist and not reflect the times,” Jaffe says, referencing the topical global conversation on women’s empowerment. Ray is partial to working with women, all of whom she calls heroic.
“I love their stories, their history, their enthusiasm. And right now, so many artists are asking themselves what it means to be an American, what their place is. We’re all in this together, really.”
Most of the costuming remains to be seen, but Dallas stylist Carlos Alonso-Parada is styling the show, with some groups sporting twists on their standard uniforms. Perhaps the coolest pieces are five custom bomber jackets Ray produced for the color guard: black with a rainbow bull’s eye and Eyes As Bright As Diamonds sewn on the back.
Immediately after the performance, one jacket will be rushed over to the Dallas Art Fair, where Ray is showing some of her artwork.
Eyes packs a powerful message — one of inclusivity, but also one of a mysterious hope.
“There’s an exciting crescendo within the performance, but then it has to come down,” Ray says. “We look back on our history, and it’s exciting and frightening, sad and triumphant, and then…
“Now what? I want people to feel something, to walk away and be more thoughtful.”
Eyes As Bright As Diamonds is free to the public, this Wednesday, April 11, 5:45 pm, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.