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At 12:30, the drumbeat began.
Answering the call were two dozen horses. Only these weren’t like horses you’ve seen before. Their mane contained every color in the rainbow. Their heads were jet black with bright markings on top. And they didn’t really seem up to anyone riding them.
That’s because inside these horse costumes were University of North Texas dance students. The dancers and accompanying musicians were a part of Heard, a performance art piece created by Nick Cave. He’s a Chicago dancer and visual artist famous for his colorful soundsuits, which he creates with a variety of everyday materials.
Cave is UNT’s artist in residence for this school year. He’s worked with the dancers and musicians – as well textile artists at the school – since the fall to create the costumes, music and choreography. The piece was performed on an open lawn on campus next to the Art building.
Several hundred viewers gathered to watch the performance, which lasted about 20 minutes. During the show, the drumline maintained the beat as the horses galloped, grazed and, ultimately, danced.
“My favorite part was whenever the horse’s butts came off and started dancing,” said Jacob, a 9-year-old from Newton Rayzor Elementary in Denton, whose class was on a field trip. He’s referring to the highlight of the day, when the horses’ back halves detached, doubling the number of dancers. With the head dancers free from their hind counterparts, the field erupted into a full-on dance party.
Montoya Livingston is a sophomore in the school’s dance program who wore one of the horse costumes, which weighed about 50 pounds.
“I actually walked past the kids, and they were like, ‘OOOOOH! Are they real horsies? Wait, no, their feet are moving. Oh well,’” she said. “I didn’t want to speak, but I wanted to be like, ‘Hey kids!’ Then I was like, ‘No. I’m a horse. Be a horse.’”
When it was over, Cave was emotional as he spoke to the crowd about working with the students and seeing his creation come together.
“You know, I came in last night, and I was talking to a friend on the phone and I said, ‘I feel like I’m being sort of separated from the world, because I’m getting ready to meet somebody today,’” he told the crowd. “And that’s what it was like for me today. It’s like I met this idea.”
So what was the idea? It depends on who you ask. For the participants, the idea was collaboration.
“I think the point to me was to really gain ideas from anyone and to get people to think outside the box,” Livingston says. “The art department and the music department and the dance department all came together and made a very great piece.”
For the viewers, it was an opportunity to stop for a few minutes and witness something unique.
“It was stunning and beautiful,” said Tara Carlisle, a librarian at UNT who took in the performance.
Immediately after the performance, it looked as if confetti had rained down on the field. But the kids were thrilled to snatch up the colored streams of synthetic raffia that had fallen off the costumes. Ten minutes later, the ground was picked clean, and their little pockets were full.
Cave never planned for the pint-sized clean-up crew. But the idea for the show actually extends back to when he was the same age as his little helpers.
“I remember coloring a horse. And my mother was like, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s pink. If he wants it to be pink, it can be pink,’” he said. “And it’s about that. It’s about us being able to identify with any one of these horses, no matter if it’s red, white or black. It still doesn’t change what it is.”