Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Worlds of Wunderbaum

April 30, 2012

Members of Wunderbaum in Songs at the End of the World. Photo by Fred Debrock
While I'm in New York this week, a number of OWA's team of roving eyes were out and about. Among them pianist Richard Valitutto who stopped by REDCAT to see what some of the Dutch have been up to and filed this report.

This past weekend, the Dutch theater ensemble Wunderbaum returned to REDCAT following 2010's spectacular Looking for Paul which took on the L.A art scene from the group's own unique perspective. This time around they appeared alongside the Dutch multifarious music trio Touki Delphine in a theater/concert called Songs at the End of the World, inspired by the quasi-eponymous Werner Herzog documentary. The advertisement showed the performers at the top of the show, standing in front of a bright white scrim in full-body parka suits. Knowing very little about the ensembles or the documentary, and my interest piqued by this strange mash-up, I was ready for anything.

And on Sunday night, I was unexpectedly seduced. True to the nature of seduction, I initially resisted a little [shyly looks away], but a beautiful wonder-tree had ensnared my heart for the night. It all started with the LED display that effectively and immediately obliterated the fourth wall, silently informing the audience at the top of the show that the ensemble members were (mostly) 32 years old, the Antarctic wind soundscape would be made with their mouths, and the full-body parka suits were, indeed, quite hot. I was intrigued as we got to know each actor/musician and the pervasive adolescent character that belied their proclaimed ages. But personally, the infatuation was complete with the all-English text – well-spoken and well-sung – in that uniquely charming, aurally intoxicating, Dutch-inflected way (“you had me at ‘photo-sin-teases’”).

The performance was very, very good, magical even. Equal parts indie-rock/electro-pop show, boisterous monologues, intimate childhood memories, eccentric small-town legends, and – le coup de grâce – a visually stunning and unexpectedly emotional staging of an underwater scene that suddenly plunged the audience in Herzog’s film, complete with huge, glowing jellyfish and a singing diver. The show had beautiful transitions, and a virtuosically shaped emotional arc. The alternating musical numbers and spoken scenes were placed in such a way as to allow for a healthy balance of that inner-drama between personal need and fear of (desire for?) isolation. I could never quite tell which performer was a “musician” or an “actor”; they all transitioned freely between roles with scruffy, unashamed styles. Similarly, it was hard to predict that those flaccid, colorful garbage bags on poles could become beautiful wings which would carry the actress into flight, and the audience along with her, to the end of the world.


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