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Performance Art Night X at Common Ground Theatre

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During 90 minutes of conversation on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Duke's Branson Hall, artist after artist in a group evinces a passion, a focus and an all-but-scientific curiosity about the questions he or she is grappling with.

So let us kindly dispense with the cheap shots and clichés the genre of performance art has accumulated since its salad days in the early 1980s. For local hybrid artists such as Russell Hames, Cami Brown, Dylan Grewen and Tony Hughes, the "borderless genre" actually gives them the chance to risk everything—in front of a live audience. Performance art permits them to finally find the limits of their craft and their field of inquiry. They negotiate, examine and dance along that edge. Then, if they're doing what they came to do, they jump. That makes performance art the place where serious artists seeking innovation come to try something different—and where audiences fed up with the cotton padding of safe theatrics go to experience the possibility of something very new.

This weekend at Common Ground Theatre, these and other artists celebrate a milestone with Performance Art Night X. It's the 10th public collection of the controversial art form that Hughes and his company, Very Normal Productions, have curated in the last three years. The program boasts two nights of performance, with visiting guests and all-stars, a weekend class in slapstick and clowning and a dance party after the close on Saturday night.

We'll be profiling these artists in more detail this week on Artery, the Indy's arts blog. But as I listen to artists describe projects—from an atheist's requiem for a Christian brother to a community's witness invoked in spoken word and song—Hughes interjects.

"One of the overriding ideas I've had for this is to create a space where the spiritual experience of presence can occur," he says, "the distance between self and other being bridged by this thing that we engage in. When you do that, you have engaged the idea of spirituality. You have become more than yourself and less than yourself at the same time."

Looking back on the broad spectrum of works over three years, Hughes smiles. "I have left Performance Art Night every time feeling much bigger than when I started. That's important. It's a beautiful thing."

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