by carl wilson

Kagel Exercises

What was Under the Volcano's version of Mauricio Kagel's Variete, tonight at The Gladstone Hotel? To start, a variety show. With a beautiful performance by the Art of Time Ensemble, including accordionist extraordinaire Joe Macerollo and other outstanding local players. So: Variety = avant-garde? It seems everything becomes avant-garde again, if you wait 70 years and add extra sex.

This isn't entirely a complaint, but it was, frankly, harder to take in Kagel's music due to the visual intensity of the show: ie., naked ladies, naked ladies, naked ladies. Or, if not naked, at least underwear-clad and hanging from trapezes.

In fact part of me wants to go on full feminist attack: Are the men ever near-naked? Do the women ever get speaking parts? I am restrained by the poignant presence of the Eggshell Woman (Rebecca Hope Terry), who speaks only one phrase but the best-measured one in the performance. And then there's the wonderful dance (notably by Kate Alton and Stephanie Thompson), aerial work (Stacy Clark Baisley and Heather Hammond - despite the prior crack, I would be a gargantuan hypocrite to complain about how sexy it was), fire dancing, clowning, contortionism, magic and, of course, the mysterious semi-animate pig.

In that list lie all the levels of "how can they do that?" that are, for me, essential to the live theatre and too often ignored (look up Grotowski on actors' "extra-daily" powers and social role). Yes, I think some of the manipulative feints were nearby to accidental. No matter, they worked. Nigel Shawn Williams was an extraordinary MC. And I don't want to blow any secrets - there are shows left this weekend; information here but ... well, there should be more audience plants in every kind of show everywhere.

I had a nice conversation afterwards with John Millard, of Happy Day and other noteworthy musical projects, talking about the ways in which Kagel's score is able to reference vaudeville and cabaret without falling prey to the banal nostalgia-of-cool that so often evokes little more than, as John said, "Oh here's some more Kurt Weill in a language I don't speak." Kagel's music has a depth and dimension of field that never reduces itself to transcription of received ideas, but very much carries a current of live electricity. And the arrangements make the orchestra seem several stadiums times its own size.

John was right to say the fact that it was difficult to pay the music the attention it is due there was so much visual stimulation is "a pretty good dilemma to have." Who cares that you had to mentally slap yourself in mid-movement to hear the marimba doubling the bass clarinet, the sudden entrance of organ, the cello moaning in time? But does it seem quite right that what lingers most are memories of skin on skin and certain bodily countours - and not very many traces of the text (a delectable if not all that substantial effort from US poet Heather McHugh) or emotional content? No. There could have been a more subtle approach to the substrata of the physical score. And more fealty to the composer's blend of South American wry vigour and European dark sophistication: We North Americans pay enthusiastic tribute to that legacy much more than we honour or fulfill it, and that syndrome was present and accounted for tonight.

Instead, at-ready eroticism dominated, so I was left more hot and bothered than thoughtful, and that's not all there is. (Kagel leaves the actual action of his "instrumental theatre" up to the selection of the company, stipulating only that there be some; all reports are, in fairness, that he was delighted when he saw the 8 o'clock show tonight. [I saw the 11 p.m.])

Cavils aside, director Ross Manson deserves a bucketful of credit for bringing this work to North America with all these creative lights and bells - a production that may show up some of the weaknesses of this city's performance culture, but also displays many of its neglected wonders.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, January 31 at 2:42 AM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson