Last Friday, REDCAT kicked off Program One of its New Original Works (NOW) Festival with three performances: Wilfried Souly’s Saana/The Foreigner, Rosanna Gamson/Worldwide’s Still and a preview of ICELAND from Overtone Industries.
The evening opened with Saana/The Foreigner, which was a dance performance that conjured the experience of an immigrant. Dancer Wilfried Souly and his accompanists, Julio Montero aka Cuñao and Tom Moose, are all immigrants to the US; Souly is from Burkina Faso, according to the program, and Cuñao and Moose sang in Spanish and German. A shirtless Souly began the performance in the lobby, first walking through the crowd with his arms out in a welcoming pose, and then slipping into shuddering, convulsing movements. It quickly became impossible to see him over everyone’s heads, so I missed most of this pre-show before we were led in to the actual theater.
Souly lay on his side on the stage as we took our seats, and then Cuñao and Moose plucked individual strings on acoustic guitar and mandolin, as he began to writhe and bend along his back like sea life pulsing with the waves. He gave the impression of being all muscle throughout the performance, with his rippling back. There were abrupt stops and starts, coordinated with the musical interludes, and also projections above the stage of typed-out questions that officials might ask an immigrant. Beyond things like “Who is your sponsor?” there were several personal questions about significant others, as if someone were suspected of a green card marriage.
Still was the second work, and it was the most dramatic performance of the evening. The choreography, which was inspired by oneirology or the study of dreams, featured six dancers, wearing tank tops and underwear (sleep clothes?), who opened the performance on a dark stage, taking turns swooning and wrestling over a circle of electric lanterns on the floor. The stage was set up beforehand with wires that ran across from end to end, and the dancers used these to slide sheer black curtains back and forth, playing with the shadows, the stage lights and glimpses of each other through the fabric.
The dancing, which was often gorgeous but also violent and strange, was accompanied by classical music (Marin Marais), instrumentals, the sounds of a train rushing by and snatches of recorded voices. One recorded section sounded like rescue workers attempting to save someone, and another seemed to be a politician speaking about America, but the dancing did not appear to act out any story connected to the words. Some of the best moments were: when the curtains were pulled slowly across the stage in darkness as the train engine rumbled, because it felt as if a train were actually moving across the stage, and when one dancer stood on a hidden raised platform above all the curtains, dancing alone while the others danced below. It was all visually striking and mysterious, but, probably because I’m not very familiar with modern dance, I felt like it needed more of a narrative. I wanted to know what each segment of the performance represented, in this general theme of dreams, but perhaps that’s not how it’s intended to work.
ICELAND, which I was looking forward to the most, was unfortunately shorter than expected, but it showed promise for the completed version, expected in 2016. The story began with Cesili Williams as Vaya, walking along ice-white cloth pathways that were placed here and there by chorus members dressed in a fanciful version of Scandinavian attire. In a rich voice, she sang a song about feeling lost and having a secret. There was a moment I liked where she stopped and looked both ways, and the path holders waited for her to decide which way to go before laying the next cloth.
The song ended suddenly as the chorus members scurried around Vaya with desks and monitors, and suitcase-shaped wooden boxes with handles, turning the stage into an airport gate. Then David O as Mundur appeared as a clerk in a somewhat goofy sweater, to speak with Vaya about her trip up north; the two then sang a song about feeling a sudden strong connection to each other, but it felt a little over the top after such a short meeting. The accompaniment was beautiful, however. The small chamber group on the right side of the stage featured harp, cello, percussion and more, and the songs were lovely.
Another nice feature was the use of wooden propellers, spun by chorus members, to represent the airplane; I’m hoping for similar creative effects to create the fantasy land in which Vaya will find herself in the completed play. The preview ended with her descent from the flies in a hidden harness, and the dramatic hint that Mundur will come after her.
Program Two runs this week, Thursday, July 31 through Saturday, August 2, with works by Carole Kim, Marsian De Lellis, and d. Sabela grimes.
Photos by Steven Gunther for REDCAT