Belt is proud to host the world premiere of the video for Chicago marching band/mobile orchestra Mucca Pazza’s “The Sit Down Waltz.” Composed by MP artistic director Ronnie Kuller, choreographed by Vanessa Valliere, and directed by Chris Hefner, the video was developed and shot during Ronnie’s residency at Ragdale, the Lake Forest, Illinois, artists’ retreat established in 1976 on the country estate of Arts & Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.
Shaw’s enduring work includes many homes in the Hyde Park and Gold Coast neighborhoods, as well as the Lakeside Press Building, the sanctuary of Chicago’s Second Presbyterian Church, and the Mentor Building. He also designed the planned workers’ community of Marktown, in East Chicago, Indiana. The Ragdale house and barn, constructed in 1897 as a summer retreat, sits on the edge of a 50-acre prairie. Shaw’s granddaughter, poet Alice Judson Hayes, established the Ragdale Foundation in 1976 as a nonprofit residency program for artists in all disciplines, including writing, visual arts, dance, and music.
Here’s what Ronnie has to say:
My 3Arts Residency Fellowship at Ragdale was magical. I was living in a storybook, surrounded by friendly deer, indignant chipmunks, and the liquid trills of tree sparrows, with a composer’s studio of my own, and a meadow to frolic in, and all the time in every day just to write music… with the exception of one day: the day of this film shoot. On this day, I was in a producer’s panic: running around, coordinating cheerleaders, making sandwiches, babysitting, and watching my friends make a gorgeous piece of art as a response to a tune I’d written.
We’d come up with the concept of filming in the Ragdale House almost as soon as we started talking about making this film, which was months before my residency, before I’d ever even seen the place. As soon as I arrived and saw how beautiful it was, I lost my mind a little bit. The wallpaper! That yellow and blue kitchen! And the sunroom, where I ended up doing much of my composing work.
The entire week of the shoot, the forecast predicted rain, rain, and rain. Miraculously though, the precipitation on this particular Sunday manifested instead as a glorious fog that settled softly onto the wetlands behind the house, transforming it into a blanketed dreamscape. Not the kind of thing we could have planned for; it was a lucky fog.
I wish I’d figured out how to write something appropriate about how to me Vanessa’s choreography mirrors the dance of self-recrimination and the myriad spirals of self-doubt that accompany the artistic process. It’s a waltz of self-censorship, of doing it wrong, but doing it anyway.(And, just to be clear: the cheerleaders are doing it wrong. It’s “The Sit Down Waltz,” and they blithely stand atop chairs, twirling around.)
That’s one of the things that work so well about Ragdale – you’re in the company of all of these brilliant creative people making things, and all of them are just making it up! And everybody questions whether they made it up correctly, and revises, and revises again, and twirls around with the question of whether they’re actually frauds, and find a way to keep going and make the thing that only they can make. And the beautiful surroundings of the house comfort you while you’re waltzing with the existential questions and finding your way through your circular decision-making process.
One last note: The Ragdale House is gorgeous and beautifully restored – but the walls are very thin. All of the artists in residence at the Ragdale House during the filming of this video were probably inconvenienced, and I’d like to thank each and every one of them for their understanding and forgiveness of all the commotion we caused.