Matthew Bourne is a risk-taker. Bourne’s Play Without Words at the Ahmanson Theater is most likely viewed from a better artistic vantage point from a box seat than from the traditionally coveted orchestra circle.
The semi-aerial view of Play Without Words is amazing. The diagonals that were employed by the triad of the dancers’ three-part selves read exceedingly well from above. What Bourne did by using three people to flesh out an entire person could not have been understood as well from a lower seat in the theater. This concept must have looked confusing and slightly muddled. From above, however, it was very evident that the various dancers that made up each character were just that and nothing less.
Watching this work makes one feel as though he/ she is in G-d’s head in Paradise Lost, for he can see the past, present, and future all at once. The ways in which the various personalities seduced, boogied, and postured themselves with one another allow the audience to feel as though they are seeing whole people and not just one side—these characters were complete. The most complete dancers and those who deserve a great deal of kudos on their performance were Maxine Fone and Valentina Formenti. These two women were spectacular. The way in which they went from a small-town, bright-eyed girl to a woman who was torn between lovers and her own shame was incredible. Not only did these two dancers show this change in their faces, but this transformation was also evident in their bodies to extreme detail.
In the beginning, Sheila’s character was open and ready to embrace adventure. Later, there were moments of seduction and displays of sexual abandon—her rendition of a 1960’s go-go dancer atop a table, but the most important transition was from the meekness of a housemaid to woman of the house, which Fone and Formenti showed in their shoulders—for they knew how to display that they carried knowledge and/or experience upon them. Sheila’s story was like that of Millie’s in Thoroughly Modern Millie—a small town girl goes to New York and the city puts a few hard edges on her.
Even though the dancing was modern in technique, it was apparent that these strong-legged women also had ballet training. Their bios in the program confirmed this. This training gave their quality of movement a sense of thoughtfulness and great fluidity, which was so entirely genuine that the character was that much more relatable and broke through the fourth wall in an almost defiant way.
It seems that Bourne was having a great deal of fun when he choreographed this work. There is a sense of recklessness, but it is a kind, artful recklessness. The storyline is simple, and yet, complex because of the emotion-infused choreography and what the audience ultimately brings with them and how it colors what they see. Additionally, because the subject matter is people and their relationships with one another, it hits close to home for anyone and everyone.
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While at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I had the privilege of seeing a small dance performance on the outskirts of town. It was quite a trek to get to the small theater, so I hoped that the performance would be worth the work it took to get there. I was instantly intrigued, even before the performance began, for the work being shown was entitled “This is Not a Dance about Love.”
A man and a woman walked out onto the stage and clutched each other. They looked like they were on a dance floor somewhere in the 1950’s as they swayed their bodies in time with the silence; using their breath as a metronome. I was drawn in immediately. Suddenly, the tone of the piece changed dramatically and they began voraciously throwing each other around the stage. It was intensely violent. It was intensely passionate. Almost as quickly as the throwing began, it ended. The woman started swearing at her partner in Spanish. He yelled back horrible things in English. Then they stood there—silent. They started parallel movement phrases, their bodies swiftly passing each other as they traversed the stage. They started slowly and softly repeating the spoken word phrases they had previously yelled at each other. The silence in the theater became a tapestry of terrible words woven together as the backdrop for this beautiful, intricate, incredibly loving movement. Once again the movement stopped. The female dancer began gliding through her phrase again. The male dancer systematically arranged six bottles of wine as he crouched on the ground. The woman grabbed a bottle and started to drink it and then spit wine at her partner as he finished arranging the other bottles. Then he retaliated. As the bottles became more and more empty, the stage became wetter and wetter. At one point, the man stood at the back of the stage and lifted his head and started to simply pour out one of the bottles over himself. The image evoked something rather Christ-like and then the movement phrases started again. During this repetition the dancers slipped and caught themselves as they ran from one side of the stage to the other, as the stage was mercilessly wet with wine. The piece was abrasive and lovely at the same time. I was horrified and entranced. I was emotionally exhausted after this piece, and yet, I still had to find my way back to the hostel in the middle of town.
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Last Night is a science fiction, psychological thriller version of modernized A Clockwork Orange. This film features a nightless night, which encompasses the last few hours of the world’s existence. The plot centers on Patrick Wheeler (Don McKellar), a man semi-committed to being alone in his last few hours, and Sandra (Sandra Oh), who is convinced that she has found true love with her now-second husband and seems to be also in love with the idea of human contact itself. This unlikely pair meets in the war zone that Canada has become just before the world ends.
This film struggles to answer the question “what would you do if you knew the world was going to end?” However, this question is asked of the whole of humanity. Writer, director, star Don McKellar constructs a chaotic environment where seemingly all morality is gone. Each character develops his/ her own way of coping with the world’s end and this is epitomized by the way in which each chooses to spend his/ her last hours—from prayer circles to destructive acts to faux Christmas celebrations and even a last minute piano recital, each person seeks to fulfill final desires. As far as Last Night’s main characters are concerned, nothing seems to go as planned.
McKellar throws in a few clever lines of note. The ransacked grocery store proclaims that “everything must go” and the radio station, playing the top 500 songs of all time, states that it will stay with its listeners “until the end.” Additionally, throughout the film the gas company morbidly calls each one of their customers and promises that they will keep the gas on for as long as they can. This almost seems like an invitation to utilize the gas as a way out before the world ends.
This film could be a cult-classic for a trend, such as “greening,” which could use snip-its of it to emphasize what could happen if more people don’t recycle or pay attention to how resources are used and abused. There is also a faint message of hope and love and a bit of Quentin Tarantino-inspired cinematography.
Last Night predates Donnie Darko by a few years and seems to pave the way for this cult-classic—complete with abandoned bunny rabbit costume head. Last Night makes its audience ponder deep, existential questions, but does not seem to have the umph necessary for mainstream staying power.
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I had the amazing opportunity to work with Anthony Baltierra on a piece for Neon Tommy about the Oscar nominations. It was definitely a labor of love! I feel like I learned so much about the journalistic process, especially with the race to get a story up online these days. I felt like our story was late when we finally got it up online, even though it was up by 1pm… which may seem early, but after the an hour and a half of sleep I got the night before in order to make it to the nominations announcement at 3:30 in the morning I felt like it was even later than it was. The actual announcement happened at approximately 5:30am, but I felt like I’d been living, breathing, and loving Oscar for weeks. As I sat in USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s lobby, I became anxious every time one of the giant, wall-mounted television sets broadcast the outcome of the nominations. It was fun working against such a crazy, albeit not totally defined, deadline and I would definitely do it again!
Thank you to Tony for being such a pleasure to work with–the vast majority of the write up is all him! I had a great time honing my filming and editing skills, as well. Because Neon Tommy is not yet a major media company, my vantage point is not wonderful, but my editing skills have come a looooooong way from my high school days.
PS if you don’t use it, you lose it! Basically, I hadn’t uploaded anything to YouTube in awhile, so when I was trying to upload my video and it looked weird/ different than when I had previously uploaded videos, I freaked out, but I was doing it correctly after all! Here it is:
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Today could be the last first day of a semester for me, if I decide not to get my PhD… It’s kind of weird. Even though I was working for the last two years, I guess I still considered myself a student. Going to school is such a huge part of life. Thinking about not being in school ever again after May is hard to wrap my mind around.
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I am sitting in a room and I think my ears might be bleeding. The “resonant frequencies of the room” have reinforced themselves into my eardrums and I am aching for release from this room. The mere sight of the walls evoke the feeling of repetition 10 of Alvin Lucier’s “I am Sitting in a Room” and the bile in my throat starts to rise up again. The smooth, even rhythm with which Lucier began is nowhere to be heard by the fifth or so repetition of his recording of a recording of a recording…
I think Lucier composed this piece of music as a mode of therapy. Maybe the teasing he endured as a child because of his stutter was just too much to bear. Now the composer has decided to take out his wrath on the unsuspecting listeners of his piece “I am Sitting In a Room,” which, however, would not work as well if he did not have a stutter. His stutter allows for the room to give Lucier’s voice an echo. The windows of the room amplify the “o” sounds in the words that Lucier strings together as his score into a kind of oceanic whale-like noise. The “s” sound carves out space along the walls as it lilts up slightly. The floor in the room has taken on Lucier’s stutter—it no longer belongs to him. The stutter in “rrrrrrhythm,” as well as the one in “sssssmooth” have been smoothed out by the flooring and now form the underlying tapestry for the rest of his score.
Lucier’s composition is comprised of alien metallics around repetition 7 and then shift towards footsteps on the moon in the following one. The air is the room begins to fill it in a visceral way and my chest hurts as I strain to breathe in the strains of music. Lucier’s larynx is his instrument and I am considering buying this recording and using it to scare away trick-or-treaters who will use their larynxes to express displeasure at hearing these noises emanating from my doorstep. I am distancing myself from the recording. I have begun to notice the sounds in this room: the click of a keyboard, flip of a notebook page, and the squeaky swivel of a chair. The music pulls me back into its cacophony of sounds. Each recording is no longer separate; it sounds like vocal taffy pulling. There is no air between each phrase. The room acts as an accordion—sounds vibrate between the parallel walls.
I hear a child playing an organ softly with some measure of skill. The sounds begin to move around corners and consider the glass in the windows. Demonic childhood toys come to life underwater. The sound of a tuning fork lingers and I have a headache that lives in my left estuation tube. I cannot remember Lucier’s original words. I begin to wonder if you can ring a bell underwater because this is what I am hearing and I do not think it is possible. Only the room can do it.
The deathly-still silence feels so good after the approximately 35 repetitions of Alvin Lucier’s hellish voice-as-music construction and I am relieved to leave this room.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Alvin Lucier, I am Sitting in a Room, stutter | 4 Comments »