The joy of risk

Michael Moschen is alive!
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  March 10, 2010

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MORE PRECISE Moschen, taking the most difficult route.

The solo performances of Michael Moschen have many elements to them: dance movement, juggling, theater, pantomime, the balancing and acrobatic skills of a circus artist, the illusion-making craft of a magician. But what's really behind it all is an intense study of the principles of mathematics and physics — Moschen was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant in 1990 for his beyond-the-ordinary experiments with crystal balls, hoops, and other geometric forms. He will bring his special brand of visual enchantment to the VMA Arts & Cultural Center on March 13 at 7:30 pm (first-works.org).

For those who have seen Moschen perform before, there have been some subtle and some not-so-subtle changes to his act. The less-noticeable shifts are slight physical adjustments to being more than 20 years older than when he first began; more noticeable is that he now speaks during a performance and even invites a volunteer or two onto the stage.

"Before, I didn't speak because I wanted to compress everything into what I had to offer visually," Moschen explained in a recent phone conversation from his home/studio in Connecticut. "Now, I've found that I like to be more precise with audience members. Once or twice, I'll tell them how I make a piece and then perform it."

Moschen will do a couple of the pieces that have made him famous around the world: making a crystal ball float over and around his fingers and tossing balls into a giant wooden triangle in ever-changing ricochet patterns. And though that last routine can be viewed on YouTube, Moschen is quick to point out what makes live performance unique.

"What's missing when you're seeing anything in media is 'risk,' " he observed. "Since I'm a physical skill person, anything can and does happen. Things don't impress us anymore because we're so overwhelmed by technology. What's considered to be potent as an experience has changed greatly because people can carry the magic around with them — why do they have do go to see somebody else?

"Well, that's my job — to do it live and to not let that sense of risk disappear," Moschen continued. "I want to say, 'Look, you're flesh and blood and you're alive.' You can sit in a room and have technology feed you and that's not really life. My job is to take what I love and communicate that love, not missing the risk, using that sense of urgency and that sense of being alive."

Moschen actually finds it a bit strange to be doing his solo work right now, because for the past five years he has been devoted to a new project, inspired by the origins of mathematics, music, and physics. It's the first time he has created work that other people will be doing, in a completely revamped system of mathematics education that he hopes will help people actually like math.

"Part of my challenge is to shake people's imaginations so they can grow in a different direction," Moschen reflected. "So they feel comfortable saying, 'I never would have looked at it in that way' or 'I didn't realize that you could play on that simple a level.' "

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