Rules of the Game was created by the trio above. Pharrell Williams (left) wrote the score, Daniel Arsham (center) did scenography, and Jonah Bokaer (right) choreographed.

Rules of the Game was created by the trio above. Pharrell Williams (left) wrote the score, Daniel Arsham (center) did scenography, and Jonah Bokaer (right) choreographed.

James Law

Music will roar and a storm of 5,000 pingpong balls will descend upon the Dallas Arts District when it serves as the artistic epicenter for Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, which takes over the city May 16 to June 5. Now in its second year, the three-week exhibition celebrates multidisciplinary art forms, from film and sculpture to music and theater.

Perhaps the highlight of this year's festival will be an event entitled Rules of the Game, a Soluna-curated production that combines contemporary dance and film to the tune of an original score penned by Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams and performed by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

The piece, which marks Williams' first composition for live dance and theater, makes its world debut at the Winspear Opera House on May 17.

How did an R&B superstar come to collaborate with our local symphony? By standing one degree of separation away from visual artist Daniel Arsham.

Soluna Festival: Rules of the Game

Anna-Sophia van Zweden, director of festival advancement for Soluna, tapped Arsham and choreographer Jonah Bokaer for Soluna's sophomore installment, and when the duo began developing a piece, Arsham thought Williams would be a natural fit. The two previously worked together -- Arsham cast molds of the singer's Casio MT500 keyboard as well as his whole body for separate installations -- but Williams had never been commissioned to make music for one of his projects.

Williams "always struck me as someone who was willing to go outside of the things he knew how to do," says Arsham. "It wasn’t even a question of him being able."

Rules of the Game is the trio's first collective collaboration, and the result is multifaceted experience Williams himself calls "supernatural."

To write the score, Williams recorded a set of demo tracks that, to Arsham, felt like an album. (And it very well may be in the future, they say.) It wasn't a far cry from his previous work -- "Music is music, and it's made to project this idea of rhythmic concept," Williams says. But this time he joined forces with prolific composer David Campbell (Michael Jackson, Adele, Elton John) to notate the demos for symphony's 26 instrumentalists and bring it to life.

"If you heard a couple bars of this, it's immediately recognizable as the type of ethos of what Pharrell makes," Arsham says.

A basketball smashes a terra-cotta sculpture in this still photo from artist Daniel Arsham's video for Rules of the Game.

A basketball smashes a terra-cotta sculpture in this still photo from artist Daniel Arsham's video for Rules of the Game.

Daniel Arsham Studio/Galerie Perrotin

For Rules of the Game's scenography, Arsham used a Phantom camera, which shoots at incredibly high speeds to produce slow motion video. His intention? To play with time and challenge the audience's expectations of the typical contemporary dance performance, he says.

Arsham and Bokaer are frequenter collaborators, and while their work is characteristically abstract, the visual elements and choreography depend on each other. Attendees will see how design elements influence movement not only in Rules of the Game, but also the opening numbers, Recess and Why Patterns, which the Arsham and Bokaer created in 2010 and 2011, respectively. (The latter features the cascading 5,000 pingpong balls onstage.)

Ask Williams what the production is about, though, and he's decidedly open-ended.

"From my perspective, it’s about your experience -- what you’re feeling at that particular moment, how you're experiencing that play, how the music is talking to you, the choreography is talking to you, the design and the why of the entire show," Williams says. 

"Everyone is going to describe it differently, and what it means to me is derived from that experience."

After Soluna, Rules of the Game is going on a world tour, including stops in New York, Europe, and Australia.

But since you're in Dallas, here's what else you should check out at the festival:

  • Music and the Brain: The Healing Power of Music: Four doctors host a lecture on creativity and how music heals the soul at Dallas City Performance Hall. May 21 at 9 a.m., $29.
  • Paola Pivi: Ma’am: Enjoy live music amid an installation of colorful feathered bears and an inverted fighter jet at Dallas Contemporary. May 24 at 7:30 p.m., free.
  • Cervantes and Shakespeare: The Break from Myth and Legend: Dallas’ Orchestra of New Spain celebrates two of the world’s most influential writers through music, dance and theater at Dallas City Performance Hall. May 26 at 7:30 p.m., $10-$25.
  • Our Heroes: An outdoor concert and salute to Dallas veterans and first responders, hosted in partnership with the Carry the Load foundation at Klyde Warren Park. May 29 at 8:30 p.m., free.
  • Mai-Thu Perret: Figures: Explore the evolution of women’s role in society with an interactive performance features a life-size marionette at the Nasher Sculpture Center. June 2 at 8:30 p.m., $5-$10.

Tickets to Soluna events are sold separately; however, several are free and open to the public.

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