Surface Tension: A Salon


Thank you for attending Surface Tension: A Salon! As we planned Surface Tension, we did not have a message to deliver, but questions we wanted to ask: What does it mean to live in a desert? What do we think of when we hear the word “water?” How does water show up in our lives? Through their performances, each artist contributed to this conversation around the same simple theme: water in Las Vegas.

We named our gathering after the property that allows water to cohere into drops, as in snowmelt, but also as a way of pointing towards Lake Mead’s falling levels, and the possibility of water shortages in the valley, and in other cities, too.

Please read on to learn more about the artists and their contributions to the salon. You can learn more about them below. And, scroll down to tell us about your relationship with water, which we look forward to sharing!

Artist Bios & Statements:

Joshua Roman – Joshua Roman, an Arnhold Creative Associate at Juilliard, is a cello soloist and composer who has performed with leading orchestras and on revered stages around the world. He has collaborated with artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, DJ Spooky, Bill T. Jones, Somi, and Anna Deavere Smith. Recent highlights include his sold-out “Well-Being Concert” at Carnegie Hall in December 2023, and the launch of Immunity, a project that explores vulnerability and human connection through music and storytelling, inspired by his ongoing experience with long COVID. An accomplished interpreter, Roman has premiered works by other contemporary composers, including Mason Bates, Reena Esmail, and Timo Andres. Roman plays an 1830 Giovanni Francesco Pressenda on a generous loan through The Stradivari Society of Chicago.

“Water can be so many things that there are times when we may fail to appreciate the fragility of our relationship with it. In New York City, where I live on the island of Manhattan a short walk from the Hudson River and less than two miles from the East River, every building over six stories tall has a water tank on its roof, basements have marks from the latest hurricane floods, leaking fire hydrants are not unusual, and umbrellas are sold on the sidewalk. Water is everywhere, and it seems more than plentiful—sometimes, too plentiful. However, each time I land in Las Vegas, I am reminded that water is a necessity. The idea of bringing people together to pay homage to water feels as urgent as it is ancient. Channeling this contemplation through artistic visions is a way of honoring creativity, the birthright of every human and another of life’s necessities.”

Sin á Tes Souhaits – Black. Poet. Artist. East Las Vegas. 31 years. 5’11”, 165 lbs. 29 tattoos, distinctive markers on his face and hands. 37 recorded addresses within Clark County before age 19. 6 arrests by 23. Mom was a roulette dealer. Father a Panther. Sin is not special, he is a revolutionary.

“In the desert, you learn to treasure the things you need to survive. You learn that the light can trick you into thinking you are somewhere safe to rest. You learn that the thing you need most to survive the desert is other people.”

Cheryl Birch – Cheryl Birch has been a circus artist for over twenty years. Mastering various circus acts and performing across the globe, she now resides in Las Vegas, performing nightly at Lost Spirits Distillery and Circus.

“This performance piece is a story of scarcity, abundance, and the eternal cycle of water in its ever changing forms.”

Fred Bell – Fred Bell is a working stagehand in Las Vegas, where he has lived with his wife and daughter for the past 32 years. He is intrigued with the sounds of the natural world and has traveled throughout Nevada recording the soundscapes of deserts, mountains, and forest.

“The time that we spend in nature is largely a visual experience. We see. We hear, but do we listen?  ‘Cycle – Recycle: The Journey Of A Drop’ follows the sonic journey of water from melting snow in Utah, through Zion National Park, down the Virgin River, into Lake Mead and out of a residential kitchen tap in Southern Nevada, where 9 drops of every 10 drops of water that we use comes from some other place. This is an aural experience. Close your eyes. Listen.”

Angela M. Brommel – Angela M. Brommel is a Nevada writer with Iowa roots. She is the author of Mojave in July and Plutonium & Platinum Blonde, and the Clark County Poet Laureate. At Nevada State University, she serves as senior advisor & executive director for the Arts, and as affiliate faculty.

“For many years I thought that ‘the water beneath the surface’ was a metaphor for home. I have come to realize that this desert poem with only one reference to water is a personal prayer for hope. Learning how to find water when it seems impossible, this is how we live.”

Heather Lang-Cassera – Heather Lang-Cassera is an author and ceramist. She served as the 2019-2021 Clark County Nevada Poet Laureate and a 2022 Nevada Arts Council literary arts fellow. The narrative yet lyrical nature of her writing informs her sculptural work while the surrealist juxtapositions of her visual art influence her poems.

“Through poetry, Heather Lang-Cassera evokes the diminishing and intensifying seasons. We might look for comfort in the subtle rhymes, in the evocative syntax, in the breathtaking imagery that portrays the beauty of this world. Nonetheless, her work requires us to parse out seeming dualities: fire and flood, repetition and redundancy, vulnerable witness and autonomous self.”

Nuwu Wonameegah – Nuwu Wonumeegah is a collective of Southern Paiute dancers as well as other natives of the community that we invite to dance with us. We all dance differently and have our own styles. Featuring Gianna Yazzie (LV Paiute – Navajo), Isabella Hernandez (LV Paiute), Amaia Marcos (Lakota Sioux), Sol Martinez (LV Paiute – Muscogee Creek), Ava Ottaviano (LV Paiute), Vera Ottaviano (LV Paiute), Gary Falcon Begaye (LV Paiute – Navajo), Ayla Vasquez (Chemehuevi Paiute), and Mileyanna Pete (LV Paiute). 

“Jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people and is now one of the many dances performed in the powwow circle. The story of the dance comes in many forms. One being a prayer dance. The cones on the dress are usually rolled up tobacco can lids. When the dress moves it sounds as if water is hitting a tin roof. The sound is a reminder of rain, water, prayer.”

Vogue M. Robinson – Poet, author, mentor, painter, and teaching artist—appreciates human beings who put truth and heart into words. She served as Clark County Poet Laureate (2017-2019) and is the first Black woman to receive the Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.

“Vogue holds her water sign energy with reverence. She respects both its power and generosity. Water and poetry have taught her how to shapeshift for both comfort and survival.”

Tajja Isen (emcee) –Tajja Isen is a writer, voice actress, and a Spring 2024 Black Mountain Institute Shearing Fellow. She is the author of Some of My Best Friends: Essays on Lip Service. Her next book, Tough Love, is a memoir on mentorship and ambition.

Production Team:

Matthew William Shiner, Paige Borak, Cameron Cox, Luciana Hudson, Torin Pollum, and the West Las Vegas Library Theater staff.

Our Thanks:

The Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI) at UNLV would like to thank our partners, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (LVCCLD) and the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

BMI also thanks our supporters: Beverly Rogers, Miriam Shearing, The Rogers Foundation, the College of Liberal Arts at UNLV, and The Eleanor Kagi Foundation, a Lynn M. Bennett Legacy. Underwriting for The Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence, Joshua Roman, is generously provided by Gladys & Fred Katen.

This program is supported in part by a grant from Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Support for the BMI Salon Series is also made possible by the Nevada Arts Council. Lobby activations are provided by Meow Wolf.

Along with the West Las Vegas Library, BMI would also like to thank Kelvin Watson, executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (LVCCLD); the LVCCLD Board of Trustees; Matt McNally, LVCCLD community engagement director; Ryan Neely, LVCCLD programming & venues manager; and the LVCCLD technical staff.

Special thanks to Joshua Roman, Matthew William Shiner, Christy Sakamoto, Robert Chambers, China Hudson, and Fawn Douglas. Thank you also to BMI’s wonderful volunteers, graduate assistants, and interns who helped publicize this event!

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