Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Garden of Art: Crossing Boundaries in Somerville

            Phantom, Phantom on the wall. Who's the strangest of them all?
            We went to Somerville last weekend and found experimental art from a group offering a space and encouragement for art "that crosses boundaries and genres."They call their experimental performance series "phantom phantom." (
            The series organizers, they call themselves "curators," 
like the "experimental." On their website they say: "We prize unfamiliarity and would rather see an artist create something strange, absurd, confusing, or even repulsive." An experiment is “a test, trial, or tentative procedure; an act or operation for the purpose of discovering something unknown or of testing a principle, supposition, etc.” 
            They're looking for the "strange" and the "wondrous" -- two of the characteristics classically attributed to serious works of art.... but perhaps not so much found in commercial entertainment.
             We heard three examples of new works at The Green Room in Union Square (62 Bow St.), Somerville: a poet reading his work and two theater pieces.
            The reason we came was Natanya -- she has other names, but one has always been enough in our family to establish who we're talking about. When we were living in Plymouth, Mass., where our daughter Sonya grew up, Natanya Ruth Silverman was part of our lives. She blew in like the weather, a juvenile force of nature about a year younger than Sonya but with enough personality (and hair) for several considerably larger people.
            Her piece came last at phantom, phantom. Natanya is now a theater professional, artistic director, teacher and founder of The Clearing, which according to its website "is a burgeoning, NYC-based, physical theater ensemble with a holistic approach to collaborating. Through meditation, yoga, movement, dramaturgy and lots of talk and laughter, The Clearing devises original pieces that resonate with each member of the ensemble, with the aim of provoking, inspiring and connecting the audience...."
            Having seen the theater piece created by Natanya with two of her actors, Megan Caniglia and Caroline Lyons, I may not be to tell you what "physical theater" means, except to declare with greater confidence that words alone, at least those I've been trained to use, will never fully convey much of the appeal of this style of performance. I can report it was superbly entertaining to watch the two actors, dressed in black, moving and speaking in perfect time with one another, their movements and speech doubling or dialoguing.
            Titled "PEEL," the piece is described by The Clearing as "a short devised exploration of Transformation... compiling narratives of change, imagery, song and dance."
            In this work Transformation appears tricky, fraught, and productive of many warnings and advisories of a dark or negative weight. Regarded from the perspective of the audience's older members (Anne and me, that is) -- with many transformations behind us -- the "narrative" seemed to carry the weight of negative messages passed on, intentionally or not, to the young.
            A part of us wanted to say, "No, no, it's not like that. Transformation is growth, satisfaction, achievement. You'll like it, trust us." We're looking forward to a piece about the "the butterfly stage" that follows the transformation.           
            Of the three pieces we saw last Friday -- each of them enjoyable, quality art -- The Clearing's piece was the most clearly representative of the series's goal of "combining" arts. The stated goal is to promote movement-based collaborations; translation; hybrids in form, language, genre; in short, art that crosses boundaries."
            As the playwright whose highly entertaining piece "Creatures of the City" commented afterwards, "You sure got a lot of the arts in there."
            "Creatures of the City" was written by Walt McGough who credited the three actors who performed it in a staged reading with considerable share of the authoriship in shaping the piece. It was funny and on the mark, as the inhuman 'creatures' exhibit human needs and foibles in their hospital-based encounters.
            Included, also, were singing including a vocal exercise -- -- a memorable piece of targeted screaming -- that appeared to turn (or "transform") the linked voices of the two actresses into three or four.

          Poet Peter Covino led off the evening by reading some new works, still in progress, that were attractive for subject subject matter and dcition. Because I don't have the text, I can't offer any examples -- but precisely because, unlike collaborative theater, texts of Covino's published works, including the book "The Right Place to Jump," are available for me to get hold of. And I will.