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Shelley Hirsch’s Sonic Explorations

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker intern Chris Mode shares his perspective on Shelley Hirsch’s Sound Horizon performance. Agree or […]

Shelley Hirsch in Jim Hodges' the dark gate (2008). Photo: Chris Mode.

Shelley Hirsch in Jim Hodges’ the dark gate (2008). Photo: Chris Mode.

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Walker intern Chris Mode shares his perspective on Shelley Hirsch’s Sound Horizon performance. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

As curator of this season’s Sound Horizon, artist Jim Hodges hand selected musicians to perform in Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of his work over the last 25 years. This Thursday saw the second installment, and vocalist Shelley Hirsch filled the galleries with her eclectic sounds.

Known for her experimental, improvisatory storytelling through song and text, Hirsch has been an active performer and composer for over three decades. Her biography boasts a presence on over 70 CDs, and she has worked with composers such as John Zorn, Christian Marclay, and Alvin Curran (who was at the Walker last month as a part of the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance). Hirsch frequently works with visual artists as well, and she and Hodges have a long history of friendship and collaboration.

When she entered the gallery for her 7 pm performance, Hirsch’s dress of blue velvet and floral lace was at home with Hodges’ soft textures and colors. Microphone in hand, she began with an attempt at call and response, the greetings of “How are you?” and “ I’m saying hello to you” careening through her range before breaking into gibberish. Hirsch’s first task was to engage the dozens of students that surrounded her, arms crossed and unenthused. After some forced participation (“you’ve got to get up and be proud!”), they warmed up to her as she began her musical tour of the galleries.

Like Hodges, Hirsch creates through subtle transformations of the everyday; her improvisations relied on in-the-moment reactions to the art and bodies around her. She built a chant out of a simple observation: “I see you looking at me looking at you.” She invited us to “try try try” to draw on napkins, as Hodges did, the next time we got coffee. Classic songs are a large part of Hirsch’s performance vocabulary, and this invitation moved quickly into the first phrase of “Try to Remember.” Her powers of contorting text and sound were quite impressive. After asking for the time, “7:27” slowly morphed into “transcendence,” “transfigure,” and “triangles of light,” moving through the intermediate nonsense words in a free association description of Hodges’ work and her reaction to it.

Hirsch’s appreciation of Hodges’ art was evident throughout her tour. At times she would explicitly acknowledge her fondness for a piece. Elsewhere, his work provided inspiration for her sonic explorations. Near the start, she stood quasi-yodeling into the hanging flower curtain of You. Later, she sang from the sheet music of Picturing That Day, singing the names of colors that Hodges had placed where the note heads had been.

In a participatory performance such as this, the words Hirsch elicited from her audience were often as entertaining as her own. By now totally won over, the students offered comments like “This is my dream job” and “I seriously want whatever she’s on.” At one point, a mother explained to her young, wide-eyed son, “it’s called performance art.” But, smiling, he didn’t need an explanation of the fun that Hirsch was creating.

Early on, I spotted Jim Hodges sitting on a stool in the corner. He watched with a smirk, knowing exactly what we were getting into. By the end of Hirsch’s performance, that smirk became a smile, and I saw it repeated on the faces around me.

 

Brad Mehldau’s Inside-Out Intuition

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, music writer Nate Patrin shares his perspective on the the second night of Intuitive Expression: […]

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Photo: Michael Wilson

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, music writer Nate Patrin shares his perspective on the the second night of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Describing Brad Mehldau‘s rapport with his instrument is a slippery proposition. You could start with his chops (which are subtle when they need to be and flashy when the moment is right), or how he’s able to dart from elegant simplicity to careening runs of dizzying, joyous intensity like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But it’s his stance that gives him away – hunched over, head cocked, eyes perpetually shut, and an oddly beatific rictus of deep-focus purpose on his face. With every nimble transition or coaxed out counterpoint to one of the trio’s other soloists, he had the appearance of someone who knew exactly where everything came from and was supposed to go, as though every note was simultaneously dedicated to typing out the transcript of an unlikely but true slapstick story.

The 100-minute, two-encore set with his core trio (Larry Grenadier on bass; Jeff Ballard on drums) was deceptively brisk, even during the ballads – though it’s worth noting that songs that started as ballads on the surface frequently had the tendency to rear back and expand into something louder and more complex. Ballard’s drumming was at the center of some of the more aggressive moments: whether soloing or doubling up Grenadier’s zig-zag basslines, he manhandled the backbeat to the precipice of collapse and back again, daredevil rhythms that were free to wander when Mehldau’s piano carried enough steady momentum.

That left the pieces easy to follow yet hard to predict, grabbing attention with its tradition-acknowledging yet canon-expanding nods to bebop (Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah”), old pop standards (“These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)”), and the tangential outside improvisation of Sam Rivers (“Beatrice”), launching off the initial inspirations to find the notes between the chords and the beats beneath the rhythms. The pull between nuanced, subtle interplay and hard-charging, emotional catharsis used its three-man tug-of-war dynamics most engagingly on “Seymour Reads the Constitution,” a composition Mehldau stated was inspired by a melody he heard in a dream where Philip Seymour Hoffman read the United States Constitution to him – a week before he died. It was a fitting tribute, equal parts complexity and pathos. Which meant it fit in perfectly with the trio’s set, and the breath-snatching compositional vertigo Mehldau brought to it.

Reel Around the Genres: Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on the the first night of Intuitive Expression: A […]

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Photo: Courtesy the artists

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on the the first night of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau CelebrationAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Brad Mehldau opened his two-night set at the Walker with a wide-ranging, virtuosic duet with Chris Thile, best known for his work with Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers. Over the course of nearly two hours (including two encores), both musicians showcased not only their own genre-defying skills (while never quite leaving the hallmarks of jazz and bluegrass) but their incredible sensitivity and intimacy in performance. In addition to songs by Mehldau and Thile, they re-imagined songs by Fiona Apple, Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, Elliot Smith, and an incredible version of the Sinatra ballad “I Cover the Waterfront” that showcased Thile’s balladeer skills. (You can find earlier performances of most of these songs from the duo on YouTube.) They also did a melodic mash up of the folk standard “St. Anne’s Reel” with a  bebop hallmark, Charlie Parker, that featured a thrilling, high-speed unison line that ranged through the entirety of both men’s instruments.

Yet I left the concert feeling like Thile, a ‘the-word-incredible-doesn’t-do-it-justice performer’ who can do things with a mandolin I didn’t think the instrument was capable of, overshadowed his bandmate. Reflecting on this afterwards, I had a nagging feeling of safeness or comfort with this concert, despite the incredible technical and emotional depth displayed by both musicians. Despite it’s genre-hopping, it wasn’t all that adventurous, except in the realm of genre-hopping itself, a musical conceit that often sets up genres as straw figures only to knock them down. In the end, and at the risk of being reductive, it seemed that Mehldau was incorporating these other musicians into his own style, while Thile was able to adapt  an incredibly different variety of musical lineages and styles, without necessarily making them his own in the same way as Mehldau. I’m keen to see how Mehldau’s second performance, with his trio of 20 years, will differ, and what other dimensions of the pianist’s work it will show.

Brad Mehldau Trio performs tonight (April 9) at the Walker as part of Intuitive Expression: A Brad Mehldau Celebration

Urban Experiment in Concert Form

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia […]

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Tiago Sousa of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia Urbana de Dança. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

Seven faces greet us in the dark. Sitting upstage in a line spread across the space, light allows us to only see this. A dancer emerges, sinewy and dreadlocked. He begins to move in silence, undulating his tallness and extending his limbs. It is a personal exploration, spontaneous, except that when another dancer joins there is unison, and it feels like a miracle.

This passing off of a solo happens several times, and thus we are introduced to the performers of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Seven of eight are in this first work, ID:ENTIDADES, one female and six male. Clad in black and sneakers, they blend hip-hop and contemporary dance. Conceived, directed and choreographed (with members of the Company) by Sonia Destri Lie, this layering of hip-hop, customarily a solo form, with contemporary concert dance sensibilities is visually arresting, surprising at every turn.

I am especially struck by the unison, moves identical save for some personal practicalities that take precedence like the need to sneaker-scootch another quarter turn or an arm response that differs according to a body’s momentum. These subtle differences combined with the dancers’ stunning individual appearances make for a marvelous statement about coexistence: many in body, one in mind.

Music by Rodrigo Marçal leads the dancers through a soundscape that influences but never dominates. Passages of silence elegantly transition dancers from episode to episode. Just when a visceral build occurs, visually and aurally, things break apart and a new scenario begins. It seems that movement is sourced from the dancers’ natural instincts then codified for group learning. Unison is urbanized, tolerant of dancers’ individualities.

Partnering comes into play but is less effective. Moments of contact feel superficial, and one can understand why given the solo nature of hip-hop. But here is where this hybrid experiment could really take flight. If the dancers could access one another’s bodies down to the level of bone, truly pouring their weight deeply into one another, the inherent visceral experience of this work would give birth to yet another new dimension.

Otherwise I am enchanted, inspired. It is structurally smart, lots of witnessing, watching, framing. Every body is loaded, cocked to explode at any moment. Countenances are at once soulful and suspicious. I fall in love with every one of them.

The second piece on the program is Na Pista. The program notes state that this work sources movement and personal experiences from the dancers. They enter wearing radically different attire, reflecting their personalities. They begin with a game of musical chairs, ending up in a line upstage. Water bottles add to the décor and choreography.

Ironically, while this second piece indicates more “personality”, I feel as if I learned more about the dancers in the first work. Fancy clothes and props are distracting more than anything. I prefer a barer context, allowing the dancers and the language singing out of their bodies to speak for themselves.

It is thrilling to see hip-hop dance merge with contemporary dance composition. Hip-hop electrifies the concert stage and tools like layering images, altering tempo, unison and stage picture show off hip-hop to extremely flattering effect.

Companhia Urbana de Dança performs ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista in the McGuire Theater March 27-29. 

Dismantling Dance: Penelope Freeh on Trisha Brown Dance Company

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown […]

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I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown Dance Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Trisha Brown Dance Company, after this 3-year tour of eight seminal proscenium works is complete, will redefine its mission, which includes dismantling these works. The company’s new direction includes installing interactive archives with as-yet-to-be-announced partner spaces (museums and the like) and will maintain a non-proscenium performing presence along with other modes of audience engagement.

It’s essential to see work live that will never be done again, most especially by longtime practitioners of said work. These dancers bring these works to life in such a special and specific way. There is no ornamentation, no put on style or aesthetic to detract from the ever-changing forms and fluid passages. The aesthetic is in fact bare and almost quotidian if it wasn’t so dancerly. There were four works on this particular program spanning 1983-2011. A fantastic overview though it made for a long evening.

First up was the rather glorious Set and Reset whose flow was only rarely interrupted by an arrested pose or lift, usually in a flex-footed open run position. Robert Rauschenberg created the visual presentation and costumes, which included see-through wings. These were used to great and subtle effect, adding another ephemeral element to an inherently ephemeral form. The flowing costumes were of the same fabric, with silk-screened images in black, white and grey. I assume these echoed the ever-present video installation that hovered above the dancing space, conjuring a sense of time passing, history and dream-like nostalgia. Individually and in groups forms melted away as soon as they were made manifest. The driving score by Laurie Anderson contributed to the sense of never-endingness. Just when a movement would register another would take its place, catapulting into a new flow and another seamless interruption.

While Set and Reset encapsulated many of the company’s overarching qualities and capabilities, Astral Convertible got more specific. With more visual elements from Rauschenberg including towers of light decorating and defining the space, this work was very formed and architectural. Dancers too were used as decorative and space-defining elements as others moved through and over them. Floor-bound bodies folded and unfolded, quietly cueing with the word “go”, adding nicely to the minimalist score by John Cage. In this world there were more moments of isolation for individual or a few dancers. Contact and partnering felt more emotional as connections were attempted and sometimes made awkward with mechanical motions bumping against the organic.

If you couldn’t see me was solo for a female, accomplished entirely with her back to the audience. Performed by Cecily Campbell, the material had room for personal élan and choice-making. Interesting, since we never saw her face. The lighting and costume rendered her back as expressive as a face, her ribs and muscles hyper-articulate.

The last work on the program and in the proscenium repertoire in general was I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours. This was a poignant watch, knowing it’s Brown’s last work of its kind.

Burt Barr, longtime partner of Brown, designed the visual presentation, comprised here of many large industrial fans. The dancers, wearing baggy white tops and pants, begin among them, situated stage left. Clothing gets blown off some, pulled off by others, another nod at ephemera laced with a little bit of danger. With a score by Alvin Curran, it was a great treat to hear and see him live on piano.

In various states of undress for much of the work, the dancers settled into a comfort zone of close calls, forms competing to occupy the same space, gently making contact long enough to leverage a launch away.

For this as in all the works on view, the music served as a landscape and not a specific set of directions. This use of music perhaps defines the work as post modern more than any other element, many of which might be considered classical: the segregated costuming for the sexes; the highly structured nature of the dances; the awareness of front, the audience, indeed, the proscenium. But the use of music is what defamiliarises us with watching this work. Because the dance isn’t bonded, in a traditional sense, to the music, we end up viewing it differently. The steps call out to us of their own accord, asking to be viewed for their own sake. Steps lay atop the sound scores for all these works and we are asked to multitask. The watching and listening are on two tracks, each getting a democratic treatment.

I wish this great and historic company well, on the remainder of this tour and for their future endeavors. It’s a brave thing to dismantle, to leave behind, to let one’s personal ephemera fade away. But as any dancer can attest, it’s simply what we do.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs Proscenium Works: 1979-2011 in the McGuire Theater March 12-15. 

A King’s Horizon

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writerJustin Schell shares his perspective on Dave King’s Sound Horizon performance Thursday night. Agree or […]

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Dave King. Photo: Justin Schell

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writerJustin Schell shares his perspective on Dave King’s Sound Horizon performance Thursday night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Dave King opened this year’s installment of Sound Horizon, the Walker’s amalgamation of music, visual art, and space. This year’s series is curated by Jim Hodges, in conjunction with his Give More Than You Take exhibition. King, a Minneapolis native best known for his work with The Bad Plus and Happy Apple, played three sets in different parts of the gallery, first on drums, second on electronics, and third on a grand piano. (I was only able to stay for the first set.)

In a refreshing change, the first set was in the brightly lit, white-walled Perlman Gallery, as opposed to previous shows in the series, which were often dark and whose lighting went more for atmosphere than definition. The half-hour set was taken up mostly by a single piece, with a little coda at the end. The sounds of King’s drums ricocheted throughout the space, as he used nearly every inch of his Ellis set with his hands and a variety of sticks. As King bounced up and down on his stool,  melodies emerged in scattered time signatures through cymbals, bass, snare, and toms. Soon the toys came out (King mentioned one affinity between himself and Hodges is the creation of art from found objects), including the well-known apple as well as a toy megaphone dragged across the drum heads, all above a squeezing, creaking ostinato made by rubbing the floor tom with a stick. The set’s coda was a short piece that started around a more conventional brush pattern and ended with him pressing down (hard) against the floor tom head, again giving his drums that creaking sound that, this time, sounded like breathing, or perhaps moving joints, the energy and movement from King’s arms and legs transmuted into the drums themselves.

The Decorative Raw

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? […]

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luciana achugar. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

An environment establishes itself, a humid one, where humans recline and shed their skins like reptiles.

For a long while there is a lone figure onstage, wearing a sparkling fabric overhead, draping to the knees. The figure circles and chants, and slowly we discern that some, from their seats among us, are joining this incantation. Sympathetic responses emit yawns and stretches, deliberately just louder than usual. There is a meditative quality as the tempo increases. The figure retreats upstage. Against the back wall a new texture takes hold, a rumbling that causes the feet to shimmer, ambulating the figure forward again, toward us.

This episode takes place three times, accumulatively lasting about a half an hour. With each repeat the passage imprints itself more deeply onto the world. It rocks it.

The figure reveals her red-streaked nakedness. This reads like war paint and ties together the notions of primal and ritualized, raw and decorative. She begins a reclining solo, sensuous and curvy. I don’t detect pleasure per se, but a kind of indulgence, a relishing.

Another figure has slowly made its way across the back, also shrouded. The two form a stacked image, a unison squatting with a side-to-side motion that brings them together. They draw upwards and sway in circles, connected and chanting anew.

A woman in street clothes gets drawn into the mix and it feels like an abduction, so incongruous is this new presence compared to the context we’ve come to know. She is manipulated into the space, performing a sleepy, dreamy standing tumble. Eventually she makes her way upstage and frames a corner where floor and wall meet, slowly extending her long legs and shape shifting as she reclines.

Over the course of the rest of this long work performers keep adding in. Bodies, in various states of undress, accumulate to respectively experience for themselves and elaborate upon movement motifs. There’s a walk on all fours: hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release, hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release…There’s “legs against the wall”: either slowly and experimentally extending/lifting/lengthening or releasing and flinging back hard, hips thrusting. There’s an extra-wide second position grande plie gyration. There’s hip thrusting relocation. There’s step leaping into a wall, run back, repeat.

At the height of this visual and aural cacophony a performer sets about unrolling tape onto the back wall. The design has straight and articulate lines traversing the wall’s entire length. As bodies conglomerate into a spread-out pile center stage, tape encroaches upon the floor. Shapes become 3D, portals are formed, entrances or exits.

The house lights come up, there is a brief smattering of applause, and slowly, the audience starts to leave. I stay awhile, watching as many performers add in to the taping of the space. Wall and floor meet, horizontal and vertical. Straight shapes and round bodies intersect, worlds collide. The ecosystem that was this piece bleeds into starts to feel like a post-show moment. Performers release their performativeness and relate in more quotidian ways.

There are all kinds of blurry in this work and the end is no exception. Eventually I make my way away, assured that I witnessed an endpoint of sorts and that the art still goes on, even as the theater clears.

OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar runs through March 1 in the McGuire Theater.

A Look Across the Sea: Olga Bell at the Walker

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Olga Bell: Origin/Outcome. Agree or […]

Olga Bell. Photo courtesy the artist.

Olga Bell. Photo courtesy the artist.

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,  filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Olga Bell: Origin/Outcome. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

So much media right now is about showing images of Russia, from the Sochi Olympic Opening Ceremonies to the ethnographic (and often condescending) puff pieces about “the Russian people” that form much of NBC’s Olympics coverage. Whether or not the timing of the Olympics factored into the decision to program the world premiere of Olga Bell’s Krai last night at the Walker, the ideas, sounds, words, and images of her work all seemed to deal with questions of mediated representations of faraway lands.

The first half of the performance started this theme, which comprised a set of music by Angel Deradoorian, a collaborator with Bell who was also in The Dirty Projectors. The highlight of the set came right off the bat, a premiere of Deradoorian’s Duduk for Two Voices, an unaccompanied vocal duet meant to evoke the Armenian duduk woodwind instrument. Bell and Deerodorian started in unison and drifted around various scales, filigreed melody lines that always seemed to find their way back home to unison. After this, a whole band came out and Bell took her place amongst a trio of backup singers. It was hard to understand most of Deradoorian’s lyrics, as they were delivered in a fairly low vocal range and blended perhaps too well with the other vocal and instrumental lines. However, these pieces also showed Deradoorian’s compositional skills in both her creative use of harmony (especially how she interacted with the other vocalists) and her creative use of scales in creating melody lines. As my friend put it, the music went from Armenia to the blues to the Beatles, sometimes in the span of a few phrases.

Olga Bell took center-stage for the second half of the performance, which was the world premiere of Krai. Each of the piece’s nine movements represents a specific geographic area, or krai, in Russia.

The music Bell created for Krai is fascinating. While the text is in Russian (and becomes inscrutable without the proper language knowledge), the music had wisps of melodic and other musical styles that place it within various Russian sonic traditions, including a particularly nice use of a digital octave displacer by Bell that gave her a characteristic “Russian bass” voice. Jumping between time signatures and interweaving melodic lines (sometimes a duet between Bell and guitarist Grey McMurray, others between Bell and the multiple backup vocalists), the music couldn’t be placed or pigeonholed as easily “Russian,” reflecting her own musical journey since she left Russia at an early age.

I can imagine, though, competing (and perhaps contradictory) interpretations of Krai. Sonically, the piece evokes much more complex musical histories of mixing, change, and an embrace and evocation of ideas of tradition. The poetry and visuals, however, seem pretty conventional, offering a relatively uncomplicated view of Russia. 

The visuals felt like they could’ve been part of the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony. (Music like this, however, would never be in an Olympic Ceremony, as it’s far too adventurous.) The visuals were mostly of the “God’s Eye View” variety of mountains, cities, and landscapes. Many were sweeping time lapses, be they Koyaanisqatsi sped-up traffic flows or hyperreal HDR timelapses through the night (where the stars and the land can be seen equally illuminated). Often times the direction changed (sometimes forward, sometimes reverse, making the landscape look like it was breathing), images were overlaid upon each other (as happened in the piece’s final movement, “Kamchatka Krai”), or artfully blurred and distorted.This last point makes me think of the haziness of memory and how images of a home (whether it be a house, a city, or a country) can become distorted and changed the longer you’re away from it. 

The lyrics of Krai seem straight out of 19th century folklore traditions, with idealized figures of Cossacks riding through the countryside, poetic descriptions of the taiga, and an overall feeling of “Mother Russia” that doesn’t match the complexity of vision that Bell’s music put forth. This isn’t exactly a criticism. Really, it’s fairly common in the artistic realm of diaspora to idealize the place you left that you also call home. Bell candidly wrote in her program note that she “traveled” to these krai only through the mediated sounds and images from things like Radio Moscow tapes and RuTube videos, as well as, perhaps crucially, her mother’s words. (She was in the audience last night and, at one point, boisterously approved of her daughter’s work, eliciting a big laugh from Bell.) Works like Krai that engage with ideas of homeland and heritage always have to strike a balance, part reality and part invention. Bell’s exploration of her own (mediated) homeland perhaps tried to evoke this balance in the work’s different aesthetic components, yet the overpowering nature of the poetry and the visuals tipped the scales more towards invention than reality.

The Craft of Recovery – Birth in Progress

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their […]

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Photo: Amy Fox

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

As we look back on our four weeks of intensive theater-going, we find appropriate the retrospective tone of the Out There Series’ concluding performance. El Año en que nací / The year I was born, a play directed by Argentine director Lola Arias, was created for and with Chilean performers who were born during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The piece starts with a birth-year roll-call, delivered with a virile, militant tone from a megaphone. The performers stay seated in school desks until their name is called. They then run in circles, as if on a track, with their birth-year patched on their back. They line up, one by one and deliver succinctly what was happening politically in Chile the year of their birth. Instantly we are hit with some themes of time-travel, order, information, keeping track, and contest.

There are many technical elements used as vehicles of the stories, such as projectors, microphones, photos, lights, and sound-bites. The stage is hemmed in on each side with shelves stacked with props, yet the environment is most dictated by a line of lockers on the back wall–which appear to be holding cells for all of their stories–and a projector screen pulled down and set up center stage. The stage is backlit by neon tube lighting, so a lot of action/mobilizing of props is obscured. Sometimes implements and instruments in the environment are shifted to portray a scene more vividly; desks and guitars become doubly useful as gun imagery, or a ladder becomes a podium, yet the people always stay the same. Lola Arias employs a number of theatrical practices and techniques that help to reproduce, as an address to the audience, some aspects of the original dialogue, action and metaphor that developed during the creation process. Arias collaborates with both trained and untrained performers. The company holds the principle that anyone can act, a theory that is ostensibly in the vein of Theater of the Oppressed, a practice rooted in the belief that people have the capability to act in the “theater” of their own experience. The performers take turns leading us through their historiography, as they unabashedly locate themselves as carriers of their own stories.

Occasionally, however, performers are asked by the current main storyteller to act out a family scene, or that of a shooting. The other performers oblige by assuming choreography, a tableau vivante depiction of the scene that is simultaneously being described in great detail by the narrator. Strangely, the pairing of bodies and words has little effect on the experience for us as viewers, in terms of the potential for emotional impact, for it is done as clinically as any 2D visual aid, to the point that the use of their bodies (or is it the words?) feels completely perfunctory. Perhaps the dissonance lies in that even as the performers are playing out another role for a moment, they remain undeniably themselves, inescapably authentic.

For most of the play, the energy, synchronicities and confrontations of the performers are strictly on a frontal display, projected out towards the audience rather than between themselves. The work, which fixates on historical/personal narratives, articulates itself heavily through verbal delivery, often leaving the bodies of the performers behind. As dancers and choreographers, we (Hiponymous) ached with the desire to see the stories told through the body more. An all-out dance number is installed somewhere in the first third of the show and we are left dumbfounded as to why. It is worrisome to think that maybe the dance (and perhaps the few live songs strewn throughout) was only used for transitional texture, a wash of movement for the sake of a textual break. If there was another meaning, beyond the group replicating a somewhat self-aware, cheesy dance number from Chilean television past, it was lost on us. The performers danced with a variety of expressions on their faces, ranging from pure enjoyment to coyness to self-involved to deadpan. The lack of uniformity would not be so troublesome to us, if we felt those deliveries were intentional or directed that way. Instead, the dance seems inconsequential. Dance is a field dedicated to, and reliant on, metaphor. If we recognize our bodies as sites of history, identity and commentary, and ourselves as viable, poetic story-tellers, then we can sustain the integrity of our personal truths long after our voices give out. For such important subject matter as this piece, we wondered why not imbue the performers’ movement with more agency, whether they decide to use those gestures for satire or sincerity? Why not develop that power?

An interesting tension around authenticity comes to the foreground when the performers are asked to stand in a line that demonstrates a scale of their parents’ political ideologies from leftist to right. They are asked again to make this line from poor to rich, and again, light skin to dark. These moments are exciting as they display raw discussion and uncomfortable categorization. They make problematic conventional archetypes, smashing the binaries of bad guy/good guy, survivor/murderer, resistance/police, as often both extremes reside within one person’s family. Another line is formed in the dark. Each person lights a match and begins to tell where s/he was during the blackouts. One says she was in Mexico City and her match is instantly blown out by the person next to her. We begin to see how, in a quest for the more “authentic” story, those with exile histories are silenced more abruptly. Thus, the front-line survivor story receives platform priority. The sensationalism of the survivor story never fully takes over, however, and while their approach is never self-exploitative, the tailoring of drama reminds us of our particular cultural lens. How big does the story have to be to receive American viewership? Has our need for spectacle become our only entryway into compassion and action?….(“My god, that’s horrible….is anybody doing anything about this?!”)

El Año en que nací winds us through a tormented private and public history. Ultimately we are left in the present with an understanding of the current social climate of Chile and this generation’s hopes and ambitions for their country.

 El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias runs through February 1 in the McGuire Theater.

Cue: Human Life and Habitual Endings

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective […]

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Photo: Karen Linke

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege is a humorous, contemplative, and startlingly graceful solo that will leave art-makers excited to explore and reinvest in the mundane richness of everyday objects and surroundings. Completing tasks in unconventionally habitual ways, Layes slumps around the space with a small glass of water balanced on the nape of his neck. He reacts to this burden with a complacent air. His physicality is outlandish, a seemingly cobbled-together body of aesthetic, training, and function: his turned-out walk is clownlike, he stands with an armadillo hunch, and his arms continuously extend from his body like runway carpets gracefully unfurling. He has the dexterity of a primate, certain in his ungainly body. While his face is positioned uncompromisingly to the floor, his fingertips take on the function of expressive eyeballs, making contact with objects with a matter-of-fact touch. We witness his successes and quickly identify him as an expert. His lack of showmanship allows us to normalize the experience and we come to expect his proficiency.

From the very beginning, Layes plays with our expectations. The stage lights come up, we wait tensely for an electric tea kettle to boil. The unpredictable certainty of that moment is comical. Layes enters with a series of actions that evokes and reinforces our tendency to predict. He marks with thick electrical tape an “X” on the floor, which traditionally in performance marks the spot where an event will take place, be it human or prop. The marking of that spot is not only its own event, it signifies that Layes will fulfill a relationship to this place in the future. Thus, before action even begins, we are given markers of expectation. Layes directs starts and stops with the tech booth, cueing spotlights and music (always David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do”) to highlight how a spectrum of scenarios can be executed with the same elements, such as a table, a plant, water bottles, and several low ball glasses.

Layes performs nuanced feats adeptly, sometimes with an earnest, willful physicality, yet mostly with attractively perfunctory efficiency, and upon completion he discards his props with ambivalence. Layes’ sense of detachment in performance mirrors Byrne’s omnipresent lyricism that reminds us that the many anxieties of life can be small when approached with a bird’s eye view. Similarly, it seems Layes’ corporeal successes depend on a calm, objective approach. That physicalization of objectivity reads as a kind of sparse, circus performativity, but that simplicity soon sheds away as he uses gestures that are imaginative and symbolic in nature, albeit born from the logistics of juggling water on his head. While Layes’ elongated use of temporal space is often out of necessity (unruly props!), there are moments in which his environment is more controlled and thus his play with props and time are trivial choices made intentionally to toy with our desires as viewers.

The performance, though delivered by a Frenchman, has the English title of Allege. Though we expect to read the word with an accent and imagine a piece full of light, cheerful themes, the English, especially American, implications of the word “allege” bring us to courtroom lingo, priming us with a lens of incredulity. This is all designed for many great reveals. Especially later in the piece, once he begins to claim and attest to the nature of the things in his environment, we are reminded of the title and its connotation, and yet we are charmed by his language, captivated by his revelatory assertions of what “that” is, as he points to yet another object we have been obsessively watching him move with. We imbibe his labels more than passively–passionately, willingly. His success in stimulating and imprinting lasting meaning in our perceptions is proven when an hour after the show, as we discuss the piece, we still refer to the towel as the “dream,” the bucket as “limitation” and so on. Go see this show if you are in the mood for an intelligent yet humble lecture demonstration on ways to jump-start the performing artist’s sense of wonder while having no illusions about our collective ending: that X, that promised culmination that nobody knows but everybody anticipates. As David Byrne says, “I WORK, I SLEEP, I DANCE, I’M DEAD.”

Clément Layes performs Allege  January 23-25 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater.

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