Sunday, February 12, 2012

Verdensteatret—Theater Inside-Out, Plus Zorn, 3/3/11

Verdensteatret's And All the Question Marks Started to Sing at DTW, plus Donald Byrd and Pam Tanowitz choreography to John Zorn at Guggenheim Works & Process

Verdensteatret's "And All the Question Marks Started to Sing," at DTW. Photo by by Yi Chun Wu.
Imagine a traditional theater—an empty stage surrounded by curtain legs which hide surrounding sound and lighting equipment. Then imagine all the people who operate this equipment—the sound engineers, musicians, lighting people, stage manager, moving silently but with purpose. Now imagine turning the whole shebang inside out so that all these normally invisible people and pieces of equipment were dumped and artfully arranged center stage, and the walls were pushed out to the edges to catch whatever sound and imagery were produced from within. And the audience watches the mechanics of the production as a choreographed ritual, a means to produce an often dream-like, sometimes nightmarish, soundscape and visual environment. The Norwegian collectiveVerdensteatret’s And All the Question Marks Started to Sing, last week at DTW (which co-presented it with FuturePerfect and PS 122), felt like this inside-out theater.
Like Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the choreography is an result of creating the music. The patterns made by the performers are designed by function, with the addition of a little bit of dramatic flair. The sound takes on endless manifestation, from murmuring shushes to thunderous peals. The visuals range from the Monty Python-esque—a variety of tiny light bulbs that when magnified resemble quirky antennaed characters, to videos of blimps and birds. The main visual attraction are the mechanics of the set itself; several stands of wires, lenses, small iron “steering” wheels, floral-rimmed bicycle wheels, and mics comprise the bulk of it, plus some gramophone-style rotating speakers. It may rely on technology for its full spectrum of effects and mighty sounds, but it seems to share a heart with simple carnival handshadow puppetry.
Speaking of technology, the perpetually sold-out Guggenheim Works & Process series is now livestreaming events (and archiving the video), so no more excuses for missing some of the most interesting dance (and other cultural) programming around. Last weekend’s John Zorn Interpreted—New Choreography by Donald Byrd and Pam Tanowitz is a perfect example. Two accomplished choreographers of separate visions and generations, united by an unconventional music choice, commissioned to create brand new, 20+ minute ballets with full costumes and top dancers (including the outstanding Kylie Lewallen and Ashley Tuttle).
The format is essentially a lecture/demo, but they have become more polished in recent years (rehearsal clothes used to be the norm), featuring more commissions by accomplished artists. The limits are really the house—a tiny stage with limited lighting options and a small audience capacity. At least the second problem is addressed with the addition of livestreaming. Upcoming dance events include a program curated by Robert Wilson, the Royal Danish Ballet, and a new work by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.

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