Thursday, September 17, 2009

Divine Providence

Ah! Opera No-Opera at REDCAT

by Joseph Mailander

"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe," says a singer/chanter/character--not important which one--halfway through the unusual linked fragments that together form Ah! Opera No-Opera at REDCAT tonight and tomorrow, "is that it is comprehensible." There are a deluge of such looking-glass observations flooding into the audience-in-the-rectangle space through the production, which draws from post-structuralist theory as well as the gamut of countercultural idioms from the seventies, idioms such as spoken word poetry, performance art, Deleuzean creativity, progressive chord loft jazz, Woody Allen's belle epoch movies, hyperkinetic New York dance, all of that wonderful incomprehensible time. Also subtitled A Counterpoint of Tolerance, the work--which is no opera, nor theater--is certainly multipronged and certainly tightly executed for such an apparently loose amble through thirteen stories, arranged like a clock in a likely deliberately helpful-unhelpful program diagram.

The audience is invited to take off their shoes and stay, the usual REDCAT seating stripped away as in a high school gym, and a cushy mat covering the entire area. Sitting along the perimeter, the audience files past the interior perimeter of musicians, most equipped with iMacs in the middle of their saxophones, percussion, etc., and initially focuses on scatting/recitativo singers and a slow moving woman in white. Emily Dickinson and tending foxgloves (cf. especially I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed, 214) are cited in the first segment; the audience wonders about the inclusion of the word "chiliocosm"--twice--and indeed we are heading straight for them...

The woman in white proceeds as though walking a labyrinth, following her own path with the emotions of Carol Lay's Story Minute heroine, now cartoonish glum, now cartoonish in consternation, now hopeful, now pathetic, now determined, quite slowly. She suddenly pops to life as out of a cake in one of the segments, losing her modest Wilma Flinstone bun in the back and now gyrating, even vibrating madly, for an exhausting strip of time: as with so many REDCAT dance performances, you are not only in awe but hopeful that paramedics are waiting in the wings as she takes her martyr's cooldown in the middle of the floor, breathing almost too heavily for comfort.

Notable along the way are the segments' flirtations with the word "providence"--one segment even unfolds at the University of Rhode Island to accommodate the word as place-name--this kind of Stoppard verbal tennis runs through the libretto no-libretto with surprising gracefulness.

This work would have been possible in the seventies, when so many of its elements were part of the loft scene, except for one element: those iMacs, which relay sound, noise, music, the kaleidescope of lighting, red lasers dancing in the figure in white's hair, and other information to the performers, especially the musicians, as the work progresses. The music itself is friendly and almost all in minors with occasionally jarring major sevenths (I believe) when it bothers with a tone; mysterious seventies jazz-soundtrack chord progressions such as thirds are also especially favored. The dancer gets taped by a cameraman, who becomes part of her choreography; there are hundreds of such nuanced delights as these. It is a brilliant piece, highly entertaining, with booming firings from all quarter: Director Travis Preston, writers David Rosenboom and Martine Bellen, and choreographer Mira Kingsley, and also Laura Mroczkowski's lighting design and Ajay Kapurs synching of interactive media.

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