Clara Kent lights up her music with Aura: Reimagined at Kelly Strayhorn Theater | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Clara Kent lights up her music with Aura: Reimagined at Kelly Strayhorn Theater

click to enlarge Clara Kent lights up her music with Aura: Reimagined at Kelly Strayhorn Theater
Clara Kent and Ian Brill
Two prolific artists are working together for the first time to create an immersive audiovisual experience at Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

Musician Clara Kent and light sculptor Ian Brill have joined forces to create Aura: Reimagined. Set to stage this weekend at KST’s Alloy Studios, the work is described in a press release as a “personal testament” by Kent surrounding the experiences of Black artists in the city.

“My intention is to free the emotions that limit our minds using music and art,” says Kent, an Afro-Oglala Lakota singer-songwriter and emcee from Homewood who also runs her own company, Bounce House Productions. “I hope the audience walks away feeling inspired to be authentic within their lives and selves. To express the feelings we often tuck away out of instilled fears, self-limiting beliefs, or pure denial. With this performance, I genuinely wish for people to learn that Black women in this city have a lot going on and have even more to offer this world. That we are human, not a stigma or a stereotype.”

Aura: Reimagined will be presented as a work in progress as part of KST’s Freshworks residency. It will also serve as what Kent calls a “sneak peek" into the beginning stages of her upcoming album Aura's Imagination. She explains that the album will be a “renewed and fully established effort” born from Aura: The Mixtape, released in 2018.

“There have been many experiences, growth, and lessons learned between now and then, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to present my artistic journey from top to bottom,” says Kent.

Kent says she was able to get Aura: Reimagined off the ground thanks to an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant she recently received from the Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments. She then applied for Freshworks, a program that provides artists with funding, studio space, production staff, and other resources necessary for “creative risk-taking.”

The program also encourages collaboration between artists, which meant Kent needed someone with whom to work. She says the first thing that came to her mind was The Vault, a giant light installation Brill created for the upstairs Lodge space at Spirit in Lawrenceville. For years, the large work would return to the space to surround dancers and concert-goers in ever-shifting arrays of colorful light panels.

“I've always wanted to collaborate with Ian; I have seen Ian's work for years in the city and even performed under his pieces at festivals and the museum, but I didn't know the face or name,” says Kent, who adds that she was able to connect with Brill through her friend Justin Strong, who serves as a manager at Spirit.
click to enlarge Clara Kent lights up her music with Aura: Reimagined at Kelly Strayhorn Theater
CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Crowds dance under Ian Brill's The Vault at Spirit.
In a press release, Brill, who currently teaches at Penn State University, says that, with Aura: Reimagined, he and Kent are “exploring ways of adding another dimension to her compositions using the visual methodologies and language of expression that I have been exploring with the visual aspects of my art practice."

He says audiences will see "something powerful, unique, and unforgettable."

Kent says the project is her first attempt at building a live production from the ground up.

“I'm very used to collaborating as a musician, adjusting, and moving through shared spaces as a live performer,” says Kent. “With Aura: Reimagined, I am creating a space for my art to stand on its own within a collaborative environment. Working with KST Alloy and Ian Brill, I have learned so much about what it takes to be a solid production team and stand for your intentions while giving room for your peers to do the same. It's been a wonderful learning experience all around. Even with the challenges, I feel very inspired by this process and the people involved.”

Overall, Kent says the experience has been a “dream come true,” allowing her to experiment and share the early stages of a project with the community. It has also given her an opportunity to dedicate something to “Black and Indigenous Women & Children, Black & Indigenous People, and all looking for freedom within their lives.”

In terms of what audiences can expect, Kent is keeping the details to a minimum.

“Well, I like to keep a bit of mystery,” says Kent. “I will say the lights feel alive, the mood is dreamy yet impactful, and you will feel every bit of bass possible. We had a lot of fun creating the project in our respective fields, and if you grabbed a ticket, you will feel and see it firsthand this weekend.”

Aura: Reimagined. 8 p.m. Fri., Dec. 10 and Sat., Dec. 11. KST’s Alloy Studios. 5530 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Pay what makes you happy.

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