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Review: Double Super-Sensory Overload at the DSSO

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's collaboration with Runway Manhattan at the DECC's Symphony Hall on Saturday night was a rather overwhelming sensory experience. Absorbing the spectrum of fashion represented by a single world-class designer would be a heady experience. Multiply that by two dozen and your head is about to explode.

The multimedia experience, put together by Tryon Media, consisted of photographs from Fashion Week events from around the world. Projected behind the orchestra were mostly street photographs while set after set of five runway models were shown on either side of the stage. Meanwhile the orchestra played medleys of classical and popular music.

Put all of this together and you get an evening of double super-sensory overload that was both dizzying and delightful.

There were a half-dozen tables set up in the orchestra pit providing a unique perspective on the proceedings. The runway was V-shaped, extending from the back of the wings on both sides of the stage and meeting behind Dirk Meyer's conducting stand in a display square. This divided the orchestra like Gaul, with the cellos back in their old stomping ground stage left.

The "La Cage Aux Folles" medley made for a nice opening, with a big start and a big finish, but I thought the "I Am What I Am" segment was too abbreviated (although my affection for the song's significance is grounded more in the lyrics than the music).

Serving as the MC for the Runway Duluth show was Bobbi Miller, noted Twin Cities jazz vocalist. Miller introduced the fashion segments for Milan, Paris, London and New York in a different wardrobe with complementary jewelry, even employing some appropriate language for the first two and forgoing appropriate accents on the other.

I was actually aware that Dolce & Gabbana were into words being written on dresses this season, having seen Keira Knightley wearing such a creation. Since everything I know about high fashion is pretty much limited to repeat viewings of "The Devil Wears Prada," I was grateful for beginning on a familiar note.

The Milan designers benefitted from a medley of music from Puccini operas. Emporio Armani's haute couture looks even more gorgeous with "O Mio Babbino Caro" as the musical background. But the one mismatch of music and fashion came at the end when Moschino's neon blue and green outfits clashed with the big "Nessun dorma!" finale. Vincero? No, grazie.

In the wake of that first intense exposure to dozens of gorgeous outfits the Intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana" was a nice little sonic sorbet, helping to restore the sensory equilibrium. The DSSO then jumped right back into the spirit of fun with Offenbach's "Can Can" from "Orpheus in the Underworld," which set the stage for the Paris fashions that were displayed against the luscious music of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera."

Chanel's designs emphasize the texture of the materials, with an apparent preference for wool and several designs suggesting an Iberian influence. Dior was all about long lines, from long coats worn open to accenting the length of the leg with colorful leggings. But the Givenchy models wearing clown white and having their faces decked out with shapes and faux studs was an unwelcome distraction from the fashion.

The first live runway show with the Ignite Models featured the designs of Joeleen Torvick, Tessa Louise and Kjurek (Kimberly Jurek and Jen Chilstrom). It must be somewhat daunting to have your creations take the stage for an audience that has been treated to the finest continental haute couture.

There was no way of knowing which outfits went with which designers, so while I have my suspicion to who designed the white silk silhouette with the gold necklace that seemed to be the most popular design judging by applause, I could not say for sure. But all of the designers — foreign, domestic and local — have websites and Facebook pages where you can enjoy the fashion at your leisure.

The "Detroit Soul" medley made for excellent background music, getting to double figures on the number of hits it covered. For a while at the start it seemed like every model was walking on to a different tune and I thought we had a Motown mash-up akin to those "Hooked on Classics" medleys from back in the day.

Musical selections reflected not only geographical locations but musical fashion icons as well. The second half of the concert began with a Michael Jackson "King of Pop" medley. There were several moments where the melody part disappeared ("ABC" and "Billie Jean"), but the opening two-chord fanfare for "Thriller" sounded awesome.

London designs played out to a "Best of Bond" medley. You could see where designers would have a signature element to define their collection: e.g., Burberry going for floral prints and fringe and David Kama being into shiny fabrics while Emilia Wikstead went with soft pastel colors. I really liked what Erdem did with floral designs, mostly in a palette of blue and green (I even liked the shoes for once), but the most striking designs were from Julien MacDonald, where super-long black gloves and collars popped up time and again.

It was certainly interesting to judge the designs as they flew by. There were some outfits for men, but they were obviously the exception. I never gave a thought as to what I would be interested in wearing, but saw lots of things that I thought would be nice for my wife or daughters (but never both, interestingly).

The biggest thing I took away from seeing all those sets of five runway shots was that I liked the idea of having three-to-five outfits incorporating the same colors or blends of colors in a variety of configurations. Why dream of buying one expensive dress when you can dream of a set of expensive dresses?.

For fashions from the Big Apple the Billy Joel medley based on Twila Tharp's Broadway show "Movin' Out" was the setup, with the background music for the likes of Carolina Herera, Christian Siriano, and Diane von Furstenberg being from "Saturday Night Fever." My immediate thought was that the Bee Gees were not more "New York" than the Piano Man, but Miller introduced the segment with Bill Cunningham's quote: "The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been, and always will be." From that quote it is but a short cognitive leap to Tony Manero trucking down the street with the can of paint to the beat of "Stayin' Alive."

The second live-fashion show showcased the designs of Danielle Everine. The season 9 of "Project Runway" veteran's goal is dress for "modern day heroines." This time around the models had their hair down, albeit under wool caps that was the signature element of Everine's spring collection (the designer was wearing one for the group curtain call).

Meanwhile, back at the orchestra, conductor Dirk Meyer had saved the best for last with "Viva el Mambo," complete with the musicians singing and shouting in Spanish. This mambo medley included the Gyspy King's "Bamboleo," Perez Prado's "Mambo #5," and climaxed with Leonard Bernstein's spirited "Mambo" from "West Side Story."

Parting Thoughts: More often than not my reaction to these concerts is that I am inspired to listen to other music by the same composers rather than listen again to what I have heard that night. I think part of the explanation has to be that once you have heard the DSSO play a particular piece of music live, listening to a mere recording is simply not as much fun.

The first music I started playing when I got home from this concert were some of the James Bond title songs by composer John Barry not included in the medley: Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" and "Diamonds are Forever," along with Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice." Then I went for the one from my favorite 007 movie, Adele singing "Skyfall."

The DSSO announced its 2015-2016 "Gods and Myths" schedule, the title of which immediately makes me think we will be hearing some Wagner next season. Only the ten titles were revealed, so it is fun to begin guessing what might be in store.

I have to assume singing will be involved for "The Wizard of Oz," and it is good to see the New Year's Eve "Evening with Sinatra" gets in as close as the wire as possible for Old Blue Eyes' centennial celebration. Other initial guesses? Beethoven's 3rd Symphony ("Erocia") for "Immortal Beethoven" and Gluck's "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" for "Eylsium Fields." Given what we have enjoyed in 2014-2015, it will be fun to see what Meyer and company come up with next season for collaborations.

The penultimate concert of the DSSO season comes on April 18 with Masterworks 6: Tributes. The lineup consists of Smetana's "The Moldau," Haydn's Symphony No. 102, and soloist Suren Bagratuni playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

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