Murmurs is a showcase of visual one-liners and sleights-of-hand, sewn together in a loose
narrative that follows a melancholy woman's reluctant move from her home to, seemingly, an institution. Aurélia Thierrée, the star, is from a supremely talented family that includes her mother, Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, who conceived and directed this show. (Aurélia's brother is James Thierrée who has created numerous highly popular nouveau cirque productions, seen in NYC at BAM, that have included marvelous designs by Victoria. And they are descendants of both Charlie Chaplin and Eugene O'Neill.)
|Aurélia Thierrée... Just hangin' around. Photo: Stephanie Berger|
Of the burgeoning nouveau cirque genre, Murmurs sits on the quieter, more intimate end of the scale. Several of the skits involve Thierrée manipulating puppets with strings looped through her fingers; my close proximity demanded that I consciously suspend disbelief, which worked about half the time, but it's not as if she's trying for complete illusion. Such scenes included an encounter with a giant bubble wrap monster who nuzzled her nose, and a tipsy drowsy, then frisky, "man" at a table. In a later more successful example, Thierrée sported a zebra-striped feather headdress and tail that evoked a gazelle with delicate flickering ears.
Chaplin's numerous sets features several photographic murals of townhouses reminiscent of Venice. Strategic slits in the vinyl provided slippery exits and entrances. The most intriguing and original set was an ancient wall whose layers peeled off to reveal first a tropical locale complete with little waving palm trees and a removable boat, and then a Roman mosaic that sprouted an arm and hugged Thierrée. Murmurs can refer to this "wall" (mur, in French), or to the whispers that are pretty much the only verbal communication. Sentimental music, such as distant opera, mixes with ambient sound so that despite the dearth of dialogue, the quiet is never overt.
|Aurélia Thierrée and Jaime Martinez. Photo: Stephanie Berger|
Supporting cast members include the razor-sharp dancer Jaime Martinez, familiar from Parsons Dance Company, who slices through a couple of tango-esque duets with Thierrée, and the lanky Magnus Jakobsson, a rubber-limbed clown whose regard of the main character evolves from peeved mover to enchanted servant. During set changes, the men wear ghostly grey suits and masks which add to the chilling idea that Thierrée was in the process of being committed against her will, culminating in a scene with a bare hospital bed. In a couple of more daring bits that played with aerial suspension, she dangled from a laundry line, and appeared to dance on air. The genuinely surprising ending involved a cat who seemed to be the last inhabitant of a collapsing building. Ushers chased the cat through the aisles; he finally dashed backstage as the rest of the cast took bows. Murmurs was the closest thing to dance at this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
Before Murmurs, I caught Mark Dendy's Ritual Cyclical, part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and performed all over Lincoln Center's north plaza. It's difficult to separate the experience of viewing the show from the actual performative elements of the work. That said, some impressions:
|Dendy's Ritual Cyclical. Yep, I had just been shooed from where they dance. Photo: Susan Yung |
- Arrived a few minutes late; wedged myself into the crowds in the tree grove, facing the reflecting pool, where I saw... crowds of people facing the pool. A small percentage seemed to be performers, who eventually raised their hands (that's all I could see them do), waving them gently. Apparently performers had done stuff in the pool.
- Three dancers gamboled on the canted lawn above Lincoln (the restaurant), where, incongruously, al fresco diners ate.
- I was shooed off of the concrete bench lining the grove, so I could see even less. Went to the Met Opera house side of the park, and was promptly shooed off of that, too. Some of the dancers wore military fatigues, so their bossiness was in character. They assembled to raise a flag, Iwo Jima style.
- Others, in evening garb, arranged their hair and clothing just so, then langourously swept their arms and stretched into elegant poses.
- In the Met's window bays, another group, in office wear, leaned and posed in tandem; one slowly tore strips of newspaper and let them flutter in the wind, which, combined with the vertical piers, recalled 9/11.
- On a temp stage in front of the library, three of the soldiers changed into Elvises, though by now most of my view was of the head of the person in front of me. I saw a lot of viewers plugging their ears during Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner.
- The production by nature was meant to move the audience around, and presumably it was not really possible to see every piece of the action. But Dendy activated the whole sprawling north end of the plaza, luring a big crowd. And hey, it was dance.