Graduate Students Bring to Life 400-year-old Pageant Artwork
By Lauren Brown
Photo by Jonathan Hsu
A little-known fact: The 17th-century Dutch could throw street parties of historic proportions.
Their annual ommegang, or walking festival, mashed up elements of a parade, carnival, civil rally, religious procession and social event; the one honoring the Archduchess Isabella in 1615 in Brussels was a spectacle of colorful costumes and banners, musicians, marching craft guilds, live horses and camels, and lavish giant puppets and floats—1,400 processioners in all.
The artist Denys Van Alsloot captured this scene in his six large panoramic, extraordinarily detailed oil paintings called “The Triumph of Isabella,” the subject of a unique yearlong exploration of art through performance and performance through art at UMD and the focus of performances on Thursday and Sunday.
They will combine live performances of theatre, dance, music and acrobatics; examples of contemporary street theatre presented by an expert from Warwick University in England; augmented reality demonstrations; an exhibition on the art in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library; and an immersive experience that brings the art to life through animation and soundscape.
“The whole idea is to showcase the unbelievable work our students are doing, give them the training to be leaders in this field of immersive experiences and open up new approaches and new ways of thinking about art from a performance perspective,” said Franklin Hildy, theater history professor and director of the new International Program for Creative Collaboration and Research (IPCCR), the producer of this yearlong event.
The program is the 10-year global outreach component of “Defining the Future of the Performing Arts in the 21st Century,” an investigation of best practices in performing arts education at UMD funded by the Robert H. Smith Family Foundation. The IPCCR also awards grants to faculty and graduate students, develops grant proposals and manages its World Outreach classrooms and studios.
For “The Triumph of Isabella,” the first in a series of collaborations, the IPCCR partnered with the Victoria & Albert Museum, which provided the high-resolution scans that made the UMD research possible, and the museum’s director of the Theatre and Performance Division, Geoffrey Marsh, who met with students on campus last semester.
Students in TDPS and the School of Music and beyond have been studying the artwork in order to recreate the sounds, sights and sense of the pageant 400 years later through live performance, digital animation, costumes and 3D modeling. Students in English are organizing a seminar, “Pageant Temporality and Immersive Experience.”
“Our students are really getting to understand historical performance techniques from the design perspective, and that’s really exciting,” says Heather Jackson M.F.A. ’17, a UMD costume designer and adviser in the design program.
M.F.A. students in scenic design recreated a float from the artworks, while M.F.A. student Paul Deziel, who specializes in theater projection and multimedia design, reimagined the different marching groups for a 360-degree immersive space.
Doctoral student Christen Mandracchia created the multilayered soundscape for those animations and the augmented reality scenes produced by doctoral student Kioumars Haeri.
Doctoral student Allison Hedges, who assisted Performing Arts Librarian Andrew Barker in curating the exhibit, said that since little iconography exists on medieval performances, the paintings have been a bonanza of information.
“This painting gives so many research opportunities to so many students in different aspects of theater and performance studies.”
“The Triumph of Isabella” Experience: An Exploration of Art Through Performance will begin at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 and at 1:30 Sept. 23 in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall, Grand Pavilion and Dance Theatre Stage at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Tickets are free. For more information, visit The Clarice’s website.
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