Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dulce et Decorum; The Great War, Hotel Modern, Wexner Center, 01/21/10

“Someday they’ll probably
Make a movie out of all of this
There won’t even have to be a murder
Just a slow, dissolving kiss…”
-Elvis Costello, “Poor Napoleon”

No way I could literally describe this would make it sound as incredibly touching or awesome as it was, but I have to try or I’m going to hate myself. 

Dutch theater troupe Hotel Modern do a WWI movie in real time with scale sets and toy soldiers, including live music and classic Foley sound effects.  It opens with a map being unfolded and iconic steam engines and industrial buildings and ships and cigars and the Eiffel tower laid over it, with live narration that gives the impression of a winking parody of a BBC or Time Life movie about the beginnings of the war to end wars.

Then it zooms in and cuts to another “set” of miniature landscape, and the narration is the first of several letters from actual soldiers.  Black and white, what’s meant to be a trench, and you can see them manipulating the elements but in five minutes you don’t care more than you don’t notice.  And it goes from there in fragments, this transparency of process and storytelling and manipulation so you’re looking through what they’re doing but you’re emotionally engaged anyway.  You’re moved anyway.

Outing myself as even more of a geek – I know, I didn’t think that was possible either – a few years ago I helped playtest a White Wolf roleplaying game, Wraith: The Great War.  One of the most elegant mechanics I thought that had was “the fickle finger of fate” meant to model how much more likely you were to die from an errant shell or a landmine because of how closely packed together soldiers were.  The new mechanized nature of warfare made it feel more like fate, like some unseen force was plucking people out and killing/maiming them.  While I know the members of this troupe never played that game, they just as directly show this effect with, well, hands, as in one of the most searing images of the production,  in color, with clattering percussion conjuring (because nothing in this show just mimics) gunfire, toy soldiers are set up and then knocked over with a finger, a sparkler and a blowtorch backlighting them in flame,  again and again and again.

The other image that stuck with me and seemed to sum up the overall aesthetic of this was a very deliberate dirt, then water turning the dirt to mud, then “corpses” of toy soldiers placed face down in it – breaking from earlier when we always saw them die – then more, then more mud, then white powder for snow, then the snow washed off but no sign of the bodies, too many and too deep underground, then cutting away to another grey figure in a trench singing a folksong, slurring and through static.

Runs through tomorrow, you won’t regret going, I promise.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

So much to see and think and feel; Pride and Prejudice, Available Light Theater, 01/14/10

Playwright Daniel Elihu Kramer and director Eleni Papaleonardos do the damn near impossible with Available Light’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, they take it apart, put the pieces back together leaving some gaps so you lose your familiar footing only to find it again, while referencing the acclaimed movie adaptations and pointing out their slightly different takes which also sheds light on the play’s different take.  And in doing all of this, they fit in everything the audience loves about the book and they do it in less than two hours.
The performances are terrific, especially Michelle Schroeder [ed., incorrectly said Joanna at first, mea culpa] (so heartbreaking in God’s Ear and so hilarious here) as Jane, Lydia, Jane Austen and Darcy’s aunt, Acacia Duncan as Elizabeth, and Wolf Sherrill as Darcy and Mr. Collins and the entire cast as modern bloggers and students hashing out the questions behind the story. 
One of the feats of structure this pulls off effortlessly is shifting from the action (including actors speaking description such as “Darcy did not speak”) to modern  book club/blog/study group questions to Jane Austen’s own letters all through a trick of lighting – naturalistic (at least for whatever that means for the stage) in the narrative sections, harsh talk-show light for the modern and a soft spotlight on Schroder for the Austen letters. 
A had a concern that the second half dragged a little bit but honestly I felt that way about the book too, and once all the tools are set up in the first, the second flows naturally and doesn’t need to keep shocking you with another reference or another crack in the fourth wall.  The kind of play that’s wholly satisfying on every single level.
Playing in the Riffe Center until January 24.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Truth behind authenticity, heat behind metaphor, love behind motion; H3 by Grupo de Rua, Drake Union, 01/10/10


“You’ve faked so many feelings
in your time you wonder
if it could have been
the ghost of faked feelings
offering you an authentic sadness,
a gift.”
-Stephen Dunn, “The Song”

Before seeing this – and all thanks go to a friend for passing off the tickets she was too busy to use – I was only vaguely aware of choreographer Bruno Beltran and his Brazilian group Grupo de Rua.  And this show, on a miserable, bitterly cold Sunday affirmed so much of what I love about dance while still ducking the grasp of my conceptions, pre- and otherwise.

Beltran’s eight dancers came out to no backing track in a well-lit section of the stage, a rectangle in front of the unfinished backstage you can see in the dark.  They break off into duets with no music at all, two move together,then one or both leave and others rotate in but it feels conversational, almost colloquial, it doesn’t feel staged, it’s so well-choreographed it doesn’t seem choreographed.  And this section – which continues with no music at all, already taking the audience out of their “hip-hop dance” comfort zone – starts out structured like a break dancing battle but the moves you’d expect breakers to come out of their two-step into are abbreviated, chopped up, the hit doesn’t come where you expect it to. 

As music starts to show up, it’s solo distorted drums, and they’re not directly following the beat.  Nothing new, but done as well as I’ve seen it done.  Through the sections the music turns to techno then back to silence then back to the solo drums until all the musical elements come together in the frenetic finale, the musical bed of hip-hop dance deconstructed and put back together with just enough pieces perfectly out of place to be interesting.

There’s also a sensuality that starts to creep in, an eroticism.  as the all-male dance troupe touch and immediately bounce off each other and their moves echo – but don’t directly mirror – each other.  Bodies in motion in a celestial sense – orbits, flares, the explosion of a supernova turning into a black hole – and in motion in the sense of just people relating to each other on a physical level and how that conceals or brings out the emotion maybe you don’t even have words to describe, or you’d be too embarrassed to say.

Part of what makes this so interesting is that the hour-long piece broken up into sections, is so cohesive that doesn’t come from  a narrative or recurring themes except in the broadest sense: space that hems us in and gets broken by sheer force of will, how we go past physicality and how it restricts us.  Basically, what all dance is about.   And if you try to read a story, read the dancers as characters, it’s going to shirk from that scrutiny, and if you’re looking for metaphor I won’t say you can’t find it because I don’t have a vocabulary in dance but it’s certainly not the more obvious metaphor of Twyla Tharp or William Forsythe . 

There’s a great joy to the dancing here and when they all move in concert, in looping, swinging motions or drifting offstage there’s some Jerome Robbins amongst the Jerome Bel, it’s theatrical and beautiful and hit every button I have.  Thanks to Emily for hooking A and I up with tickets, and to the Wexner Center for continuing to bring this kind of thing to town.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Inbetweens – Quantum Cowboy; Scrambler Seequil – Secret Passageways

Going to try doing a couple of CD reviews at least once a month, and as Scott Miller sang, "We'll see how long I last."  Starting with a couple of CDs that showed up in my mailbox from Mike Gamble, who's been getting a lot of love lately and from the evidence of these it's easy to see why.