Most dance focuses on the performers, but Jerome Bel’s
is just as much about atmosphere. Bel stops just short of choreographing the audience, but much of one’s experience depends on the mood in the theater.
"I hate it already," a man behind me murmured when the lights went down at the start of Thursday's opening-night performance. Others got restless when a third song started playing and not a soul had stepped on stage.
But once the piece got under way, the audience began to get it - and get into it. The music is everything from Edith Piaf to the Beatles to the Macarena. Bel, who is French, interprets the lyrics literally and often hilariously.
This run marks the first time Bel has set the piece on any but his own performers; the cast is a diverse group of Philadelphia dancers and actors, all dressed in street clothes. Even the tech guy gets into the act, briefly leaving the sound-and-lighting board to jump into a spotlight of his own creation.
There are several sections with no movement in the 90-minute piece, but Thursday’s audience spontaneously filled those gaps, singing along to "The Sound of Silence" and "Yellow Submarine," dancing at their seats, and waving lit-up cell phones like Bics at a rock concert.
is not for everyone. Audiences in France stormed the stage and screamed at the dancers. But the familiar soundtrack, broken-down fourth wall of theater and easily accessible dance make it one of the best picks in this year’s Live Arts/Philly Fringe.
Because it’s a sensory experience that’s essentially a concert in manipulated sound, you’re best off submitting yourself to
- to hearing and seeing it, and feeling its vibrations, more than thinking about it. It can be loud in spots - you have the option of wearing earplugs available at the ticket desk - and it can be haunting. It can be self-indulgent, too, in its repetition, as the hour comes to a close.
Members of the Norway-based Verdensteatret play instruments you’ve never seen before - or some, like a window fan, that you’ve never heard in the same way. They pull and slide their fingers on strings that run at eye level across the stage, and with each movement come distorted howls, bleeps, growls, plucks, grunts and groans - all electronic productions. Along with this, movie projections of a pagoda or a possible warship or - who knows? - beam from the rear wall. Art pieces - a skull, skeletal hands - move on strings into a light that throws them into silhouette. Megaphones twirl and boom on the stage floor. It’s all very pre-apocalyptic.
is theatrical performance, because the convincing cast manipulates simple fishing wire to look like they’re producing complex music that Verdensteatret has pre-recorded. In other cases, the players actually create sound when they’re rubbing against, moving bows across and fingering objects attached to contact microphones, which transform vibration into sound. Whatever it is, Louder ends up being oddly, and definitely, musical.
The Lost Book of Miriam. Aliza Bat Rochle's The Lost Book of Miriam wants to make Moses' sister - the one who placed him in the Nile to be discovered by Pharoah's daughter - relevant as a symbol of Mother Earth and the lack of clean drinking water. At Passover seders with a feminist bent, a "Miriam's cup" filled with water sits next to "Elijah's cup" of wine. It's a subtle gesture with great meaning.
In Rochle's less-subtle production, three women pour water from a bucket into a colander, which then drains into a bowl. They next pour the water into a pitcher and a tin tub, scooping some of the tub water into a pewter pitcher to pour into a ewer. The ewer empties into a glass pitcher, then to a decanter, then to two glass goblets, and back into the tub. It next goes into a shot glass, and from the shot glass, into a cocktail shaker, where it is mixed with ice and poured into a wine glass, whereupon one of the women spits into the water and another drinks it.
Sound exciting? Wait, I haven't even gotten to the part where they offer everyone in the audience a cup of water (uh, no thanks), or roll around on the floor in nightgowns, or break into a wymyn's drum circle, or ... - Wendy Rosenfield