Inside the TEDxDirigo conference

By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 14, 2011

TEDxDirigo's curators packed a passel of thought-provoking speakers into the daylong event. They also made sure to fill it with some boundary-pushing performers. OLAS, the Andalusian-influenced octet founded by Cerberus Shoal's Chriss Sutherland and Tom Kovacevic, were a stark and arresting marriage of sound and vision: arid and dreamlike guitars, keening Spanish vocals, polyrhythmic clapping, and fluid dancing, all controlled flourishes and thundering footfalls. Singer-songwriter EMILIA DAHLIN sang a couple sweet acoustic folk songs, and recounted a year traveling the globe, from the favelas of São Paolo to the South China Sea, where she explored different cultures' approaches to ecology, technology, and society and learned how "art is a necessary and vital tool for change in the world." With their slow, spellbinding performance, JOHN AND CAROL FARRELL, founders of the long-running Figures of Speech Theatre, showed how puppets are "iconic . . . boiled-down essences of life." Their commitment to craft is Zen-like, their puppets akin to "vessels," meant to be animated by "spirits in the ether," said Carol: "The moment she comes to life, it's almost like I cease to exist." RYAN BAIRD, a Maine native now studying and teaching in Shanghai, crafted a multimedia "meditation on the fundaments of consciousness" that fused spoken word, visual art, music, and film, and drew from cosmology, psychology, mythology, sociology, biology, philosophy, quantum physics, and Eastern mysticism. As TEDxDirigo drew to a close, the PORTLAND PLAYBACK THEATRE improv troupe took the stage to playfully enact and embody some of the abstract notions explored at the conference. Asked to describe how they felt after this day of fast-fermenting ideas, one attendee said, "like a firecracker." "Powerful," said another. And a third: "Overwhelmed! Too many ideas!"


Pithy comments:Brief sayings condense meaning

For a small and rural state, Maine has its share of boldly-worded slogans. There's the old political chestnut, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation," of course. And our short, declarative, almost Hemingway-esque state motto: Dirigo: "I lead."

TED has its own motto: "ideas worth spreading." And at TEDxDirigo, there was plenty of sloganeering to spare. Some came from the speakers, and some came from the audience. At the day's midpoint, TEDxDirigo emcees Alex Petroff and Janice O'Rourke polled the crowd for some pithy ideas of their own. Hands were raised and apothegms were spouted. Some were funny and insightful. Some came straight from Prius bumper stickers.

"Maine isn't the oldest state in America . . . Maine is at the beginning of the Wisdom Economy." "Worry is imagination wasted." "Violence is a failure of imagination." "Just because something's different, doesn't mean it's wrong." "Everything you eat and put in your body affects the way you think." "I don't think you can solve the world's problems without understanding the math behind complex systems."

But the day's smartest take on the art of the tagline came courtesy of Portland poet Jodie Hittle, whose talk relayed his life story via a comically kaleidoscopic barrage of expertly strung-together corporate catch-phrases. You'll never quite realize how many taglines you've been bombarded with in one lifetime until you've heard them all at once. From "Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand" to "This Bud's for You," they were all there: candy and credit cards, cars and cola wars, Coors and Corona. "All those companies had something to tell me," said Hittle, "because they all had something to sell me."

Mike Miliard can be reached atmmiliard@yahoo.com.

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