Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Boundary Issues

September 17, 2009

Much Ado About Nohting at REDCAT
Photo: REDCAT 2009

REDCAT opened its doors this week for a performance from a collective of young musicians and artists from around the world working together with Martine Bellen and David Rosenboom on a project under the moniker “A Counterpoint of Tolerance: Ah! Opera No-Opera. What exactly is meant by this is still unclear to me, but I can tell you the title perfectly describes it – 90 minutes that test the limits of virtually any audiences’ tolerance. According to the program notes, “[t]he intention was to create a genre-blind, culturally inclusive experience blurring boundaries that often separate media specializations and people.” To accomplish this, Rosenboom and Bellen developed an “interactive opera generator in the shape of a Mandala with 13 interlinking, hyperlinking stories and their movable pathways.” These text bits, which were mostly spoken in overly serious and unvarying tones, were accompanied by music. And if you’re wondering what the music sounds like when composers from all over the world work together as one, the answer is pretty much what you’d here on an FM smooth jazz station.

Ironically, while the description of the performance would seem to imply some level of variability and interactivity, the performance was about as predictable as one could imagine. If there was anything out of the ordinary, it was the amount of pointless discomforts the audience was asked to tolerate. Everyone was asked to remove their shoes (or put on surgical covers) before entering the space which had been covered in a canvas surface for projection and told that we could move around the performance area. Everyone was brought down and seated on amazingly uncomfortable high stools around the space where they were left perching and battling numb feet until 90 minutes in, when they were invited to actually sit on the floor closer to the performers for about the last 4 minutes or so of the evening. If the show was meant to be interactive, it apparently didn’t occur to anyone that observers do not automatically jettison years of audience behavior context without some prompting.

Instead everyone sat with their legs going numb while we observed 12 or so musicians stationed in a circle around the floor where a single female dancer shuffled around as three vocalists occasionally sang but mostly recited their texts. Video was projected on the floor from above, which was mostly generated live by a cameraman who caught both the performers and the dazed, blank looks of the audience. And while I’m sure there were many talented people in the room, Ah! suggests that the very divisions that we use to define ourselves and culture may in fact be central to the creation of art in the first place. There are two more performances this week on the 17th and 18th which I believe can be viewed on the web if you’d like to sit in the most uncomfortable chair you’ve got at home to emulate the live experience.


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