Each week in this column I try to ladle out something from our cultural crockpot. That may include bits of visual or performing arts; perhaps a fillet from a family-friendly attraction; maybe even an appetizer of the avant-garde. But blending the multitude of ingredients into a balanced meal borders on impossible, so I'm giving this week's space over to the Orlando Science Center in gratitude for doing the prep for me: They have cooked up a bouillabaisse of art, music, dance, film and booze, but it's only on the menu for one night.
The Loch Haven—area attraction normally operates during the day, but about once a quarter they keep the doors open late for Cocktails & Cosmos, billed as "Downtown Orlando's most scientifically unique and socially inclined experience." That translates into a combination of happy hour (drinks and food available for purchase), live performances, an art exhibition and a giant-screen movie premiere. It's also your best opportunity for after-dark astronomical explorations in the center's Crosby Observatory, home to "Florida's largest publicly accessible refracting telescope."
Past Cocktails & Cosmos evenings have been themed around lions, prehistoric creatures and the Grand Canyon; this time the event will be all wet, in honor of Wild Ocean, the latest epic debuting on OSC's supersized spherical CineDome screen. I caught a preview and found it to be (like most of the dome's other films) an educational and entertaining way to have my senses overwhelmed. Once upon a time, massive shoals containing billions of sardines swarmed below the surface of the world's oceans. Their annual migrations were a key component in the circle of life supporting many predator species, from marine mammals to man. In the last hundred years, industrial fishing decimated populations that had been considered inexhaustible for millennia, irreversibly collapsing stocks across the Atlantic and Pacific.
Today, there's only one place on earth where the ancient food chain still holds: the "Wild Coast" along the KwaZulu-Natal shoreline in South Africa. There, the coast is still seasonally transformed into a battleground where locals with fishing poles and small boats pursue shimmering schools so large they look like mile-long oil slicks from the air. Beset by sharks and bottlenose dolphins, the fish swirl in synchronized, swirling "bait balls" that imply a Borg-like group intelligence. The highlight of the film is an extended underwater sequence in which the viewer feels suspended inside the sardine swarm, with Cape gannet birds dive-bombing down from above and seals striking from below. Sadly, even this last refuge is threatened; the African-accented narrator repeatedly intones that "global warming" is reducing the ranks of sardines reaching shore each year. Protected ocean reserves hold a glimmer of hope, but I doubt things will be better by the time the kid kicking the back of my chair is grown.
As good as the film is, the biggest reason to attend is the resurrection of Doug Rhodehamel's Night of a Thousand Jellyfish. Rhodehamel is the imaginative artist responsible for the fields of paper-bag mushrooms and migrating matchbooks that appear around town, dazzle briefly and disappear. Part of the joy of Doug's work is its transient nature — you just had to be there, man — but his latest work is well-deserving of an encore. As first presented at CityArts Factory on Feb. 27, Jellyfish was a black-lighted underwater fantasia of glowing semi-transparent sea creatures, suspended in schools inside a large open room. Enhanced by DJ Nigel John's soundtrack of trance-dance beats and ambient aquatic effects, the installation seemed designed to encourage lying on the floor and zoning out. It wasn't until you got close that you realized that the creatures are painstakingly handcrafted from consumer detritus — including scavenged water bottles, fast-food containers and plastic string.
Luckily the jellyfish weren't sold immediately after the exhibit (as Doug sometimes does) so that they could be reassembled throughout the science center, stretching from the glass-enclosed entrance bridge to the rooftop terrace. While the installation won't have the focused intensity it had at CityArts, the increased space will give room to experiment with grouping and lighting. It also gives Voci Dance space to perform some playful modern dance improvisations wearing costume pieces designed by Consuelo Bellini (of Valencia Community College's "fashion show" commercial), with whom they recently collaborated on last month's iMove//dance/blog/art_ event at Julio Lima's Big Orange studio. Music will be provided by Antiguan soul singer Nova Lewis, along with DJ Nigel, who will be accompanied by an original multimedia installation from "motion artist" Bluecrash.
The event opens 6 p.m. Saturday, March 21, with Wild Ocean screenings at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Admission is $12 (free for OSC members), and child care is available for $25 (including dinner), so if you need a night out there's no reason not to take the plunge. I promise these jellyfish won't firstname.lastname@example.org