Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Kindness of Ravens

There was a mad rush to get things finished opening night of Macabre Vignettes #3 Snow. There was the enraged search for an electrical chord which involved throwing things out of the way and then a mad flash of black Duck taping the wiring down. Audio equipment was being moved from downstairs to the balcony in the final moments. Seth Kubersky announced, "5 minutes to open house!" A few dancers who were still dressing and applying make up said, "Thank you 5." That didn't leave me with much time to finish my sketch. Below they were working on a dance routine that involved interacting with a large raven. The dancer held two lines that manipulated the birds sharp talons. As they rehearsed, Genevieve Bernard walked quickly by getting ensnared in the near invisible lines. "My bad." she said. There was no harm done. It seemed like there were too many loose ends for the show to open on time. Leah called for a 5 minute extension. The pulse in the room quickened. Finally Seth shouted out, "House 0pen!" People started to drift in. I had a few more watercolor washes to add and I slapped them down. Showtime!

I walked down the web encrusted staircase and ordered a Blue Moon at the bar. Then I put the sketchpad away and relaxed on a green couch . The show had already started with dancers wandering among the audience marveling at the environment. Bloggers Jana Waring and Mark Baratelli wandered in. The dancers were in their own world never interacting with audience members. Once a dancer held a hand out towards a man walking by. He hadn't noticed her and her longing gesture lingered. When the dancers moved among the ravens, one of the control wires got all tangled in a knot among the talons. The bird hung limply just a few feet in front of me. Finally I couldn't resist, I stepped forward and untangled the poor bird and then held the control line. A dancer leaped toward me and took the line smiling. However the bird had spun so many times that he couldn't be raised any higher. The dancer valiantly held the line but the bird would only loose altitude never going back up. It finally fell to the floor and was brushed aside by Leah. I admired the dancers for adjusting to such technical problems without missing a beat.

Over time the dancing was no longer enough to hold me. I needed some thread of story to keep me engaged. I never became involved enough to suspend my disbelief. Staging the large puppets was a problem since they were best viewed from the front. They would spend agonizing moments with their backs to the audience. I walked around the room incessantly, changing my point of view. Most of the audience however remained stationary unable to see the action or gesture of the puppets. Tamara Marke-Lars stated that the large creations were sculpture first and puppets second. She pushed the boundary between puppetry and art. Sometimes for me, art isn't enough if it doesn't support a solid story.

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PerfectHannah said...

It's interesting that you say you weren't engaged by the show. I was completely lost in the environment. It was more like experiencing a nature show, where you're given the hows and whys of an animal world with rules that don't conform to human ones than a beginning-middle-end story. I loved the choreography, which kept the dancers close to the ground yet always reaching for the sky... the dancers being, it seemed, grounded pixies, their wings lost, but remembered still.

The story of the Glixies (? I think that's what the dancers were called) came clear to me quite easily; in the environment there were dead/dying pixies hanging everywhere. When Grin, the winter forest giant, came out, he was plucking them from the sky and eating them. The Glixies were the few pixies strong enough to resist him-hence the dance where they cornered him in the room with the silks and tied him up.

The Glixies also made a petition to the Crow Wife of Gris-Gris, the great crow creature, to release one of their own who was held in servitude/for sacrifice. That was Leah's arresting solo dance.

Wikkity Witch (the Baba Yaga) couldn't have been clearer as the comic relief, with her scary/cute/scary routine of giving out sweets we later find are made from murdered audience members.

The "snow celebration" dance at the end was stunning. When it ended, with all the Glixies serenely walking away as the prisoner-no-more Leah bathed in the free-falling flakes, I realized I'd been holding my breath.

I agree that some of the puppetry seemed aimless. When I spoke to Tamara recently about the show, she owned to it fully and said she is attempting to overcome the idea that her pieces are sculptural only. This year we saw a new integration of dance and puppetry with the Leah/Gris-Gris solo piece, I'd love to see that technique explored further.

This year Tamara's giants were made of lighter materials and simpler controls. I expect that next year we'll see even greater improvements on that front. I also hope we'll see more attention to the giants' choreography, I'd like to "read" their characters and story as easily as I feel I read the humans, or if they are to remain mysterious, elder gods, then I'd like to buy that they're at least as alive as the humans.

Thor said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to offer so many insights. I'll be the first to say the dancing and entire environment were stunning. Artistically on all counts the show was stellar.

I could have used your insights and commentary before or during the show. Most of the points you mention were entirely lost to me. How did you know the raven was to be sacrificed or that audience members had been murdered or that pixies had lost their wings?

"I do not have much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood. If it does need additional interpretation by someone other than the creator, then I question whether it has fulfilled its purpose."
-Charlie Chaplin

PerfectHannah said...


Firstly, thanks to Tisse, whose stunning photos I am linking to without so much as a "do-you-mind" for illustrative purposes.

I knew the Glixies had lost their wings because of the way they seemed to worship the still-flying crows in the first portion of the show; pulling them down, then marveling as they flew back upward. Also, virtually every dance shows the Glixies reaching upward longingly while prostrating their bodies to the ground, much like this:

The contrast in bodily position (married to the ground) and gestural intent (desiring the sky) spoke volumes to me.

The further connection of origin for the Glixies in reference to the dying pixies was made very obvious to me by the first dance performed with the hanging silks. Consider, in contrast, the following two pictures.

Dying pixies inside the guts of Grin:

and Glixies, serenely swinging while suspended in silk:

The visual analogue is undeniable.

As for the sacrifice/servitude thing... it was Leah, one of the Glixies, who was in servitude to the great raven Gris-Gris. This was clear because Gris-Gris' first movement, the opening of his wings, revealed Leah crouched below, in a position of despair, her arms wound about with wires (or leashes) that were held by Gris-Gris' hands:

This, of course, served the dual purpose of allowing Leah to control some of Gris-Gris' movements as she danced-perhaps making a statement about how any god's power is only as great as the power a worshipper grants it.

As for Wikkity Witch, well, she comes out the first time with what appears to be a terrifying cooking ritual, but the dance quickly becomes comical as she reveals how her age makes her lose her breath. Later she brings out sweet cupcakes; all of that "scary" cooking was just plain old baking after all. The final twist is revealed when she picked a member of the audience out and encouraged them to help her with her knitting... soon tying him up in the scarf she'd been working on so he couldn't escape and leading him back out of sight into her lair, where the sounds of a beating and torture ensue. Afterwards, a terrified Glixie made the rounds of the audience, offering newly-made cupcakes (presumably from the parts of the "murdered" audience member).

All of this is only my personal interpretation of the event. I haven't actually talked to Tamara, Leah, or anyone else involved regarding their intentions. I wish you could've experienced it and enjoyed it the way I did!

Thor said...

Even with the photos the visual analogy between Pixies and Glixies is lost on me. Perhaps the dance with the Ravens was a possible clue that the dancers envied winged creatures but I didn't take the leap and assume they once had wings.

I never picked up that Leah was in servitude. Granted she was crouched below the giant raven but her movements didn't seem restricted when she danced. The filaments connecting her to the Ravens clans seemed to me to be for control as a puppeteer rather than shackles. She did appear in agony or despair.

The show obviously worked as art offering free interpretation but I was lost without a central narrative or a single character to care about. I appreciate the dialogue and you have opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn't considered.