The imagistic world of René Magritte
was inspiration for "Sea Change" and "Arctic Circle,"
the two newest works by Thunder Bay Ensemble of East Otis, MA.
Thunder Bay Ensemble is known for its innovative use of masks, puppetry,
dance and music, offering a unique combination of comic and subtle, transcendent
elements, evoking the world of nature as an active force in the unfolding
of human events. Its live music, based primarily on the unusual vocals
of Edward Herbst, uses overtone harmonics and other multiphonics, microtonal
slides, yodels and calls. La Swisse, Geneva, described Edward Herbst's
voice as "a pristine instrument, casting a magic spell while evoking
a song of the Earth." The troupe creates its own distinctive brand
of image-based theater which displays Balinese and Eastern European influences
plus the spare and elegant aesthetic of its long-time scenic collaborator,
Jun Maeda, an Obie-winner and noted resident artist of La MaMa.
Herbst and Skinner have collaborated extensively with contemporary Indonesian
artists such as Sardono Kusumo and their company is currently engaged
in a three-way performance project with Artus Company/Gabor Goda from
Budapest, Hungary and Nona Ciobanu's Toaca from Bucharest, Romania.
The upcoming works feature the distinctive multiphonic vocals of Edward
Herbst, as well as music for toy piano, an array of percussion instruments,
Discussing the two works on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, critic Seth
Rogovoy suggested, "Imagine the Marx Brothers performing a play written
by Samuel Becket, directed by David Lynch, and accompanied by the Throat
Singers of Tuva."
"Sea Change" is a surrealist painting come to life, inhabited
by bizarre characters brought together on an ocean cruise, alternately
humorous and nightmarish, as they journey toward personal transformation
and letting go of worldly attachments. There is a strong feeling of the
conflict between the indoor human psyche and the expansiveness of nature
and the ocean. This is a recurring theme in Magritte's work, which frequently
depicts people looking out into the vastness of nature.
"Arctic Circle" places an explorer akin to Magritte's "Threatened
Assassin" in the Arctic, shaking up the lives of individuals caught
in a crisis of fast-disappearing cultures and languages. The characters
were inspired by Peter Hoeg's book, "Smilla's Sense of Snow."
"Arctic Circle" explores power in what is at once an expanding
and shrinking world as both an environmental and inner spiritual struggle.
There is a mother and child modeled on Inuit imagery in this piece. The
father is thoroughly Magritte, down to the father's stylized choreography.
The play has been described by Jeffrey Borak in the Berkshire Eagle, "In
its setting, its use of masks and puppetry, its visual textures and palate,
the ritual nature of its storytelling, 'Arctic Circle' resonates with
the voice of an ancient culture reaching across a vast expanse of time
to touch this culture and society in ways that are as new as they are
Director's notes from the company explain how the plays were derived
from Magritte's images:
"René Magritte's portrait, "The Threatened Assassin"
shows one of his bowler-hatted dapper gentlemen, but in this painting
he is holding a crude wooden club (while his very likeness is holding
a fishing net), juxtaposing propriety and danger, possibly the ever-present
threat of the ordinary, the danger lurking behind all the facade of civility.
Another close likeness of him is listening to an old phonograph player,
a world of disembodied sounds. A deathly pale woman lies lifeless, her
mouth covered. The window looking out beyond the confines of his orderly
room reveal the splendor and severe contours of reality, of cold mountains
(and other lurking threats, of which he is unaware). In "Arctic Circle,"
we worked with these images to develop a character we imagine as the father
of Smilla in Peter Hoeg's novel, "Smilla's Sense of Snow." The
tragic amorous relationship between this Norwegian doctor and an Inuit
woman, Smilla's mother, triggered the dynamic between our two characters
in the play. Another thread running through the piece is the world of
silkies, part seal, part woman, found in so many coastal fishing cultures.
The doctor/arctic explorer, brings with him the cacophony of languages
which speak without invoking the true meaning of things, washing over
the airwaves across continents. How does the explorer take leave of the
explored? What is the legacy of this interaction?
"The images, sounds, and events of "Sea Change" are all
in our lady's head and body, though they also make up the environment
we experience as her ocean cruise. The house musician arrives out of Magritte's
"Voice of the Winds," and as far as the lady is concerned, he's
not there. The audience may experience him as a man creating a soundscape
of her ocean voyage, but all she seems to be aware of is her immediate
sensations, and he is just a mirage on the crests of the waves. Is he
making the sounds or just her imagined personification of the ocean's
atmospheric effects? The numbing tasties of the dining room are more than
she was expecting, and the visceral presence of her dining room companions,
the likes of Magritte's bodily fragments in "Intermission,"
stimulate a different reaction than she was looking for. As in dreams
and nightmares, disparate elements conjoin, matching up in odd ways, creating
vehicles to transport us where we need to go. A boat fashioned of everyday
materials could not take her there, but one might have a chance to see
through a spirit boat into some other world. Magritte also has winged
gentlemen inhabiting this world but contemplating ways to take flight
to some kind of freedom from human logic, language, and limitations."
The plays are conceived and directed by Beth Skinner. Music is composed
and performed live by Edward Herbst. The performers are Mari Andrejco
and Sara Bragdon. Design is by Jun Maeda and WindRose Morris. Lighting
design is by Paul Clay. Costume design is by Heidi Henderson.
The company's six previous La MaMa productions, presented between 1985
and 1995, were characterized by ecological themes, delicately lit woven
wood settings by Jun Maeda, and miniature-to-immense shadow worlds.
Coinciding with this production at La MaMa is another one built in Massachusetts:
Double Edge Theatre's "The UnPOSSESSED" (October 28 to November
4, Annex Theater). That company hails from Ashfield, MA, in the Berkshire
Foothills, and specializes in imagistic theater in the Grotowsky tradition.
"The UnPOSSESSED," directed by Stacy Klein, is a visual theater
work that dramatizes Cervantes' "Don Quixote" with outdoor-like
spectacle, trapeze tricks, actors rotating in huge gyroscopic cow troughs,
songs and very little text. It is the troupe's New York debut.
"Arctic Circle" and "Sea Change" were developed with
partial funding by New York State Council on the Arts Theater Program,
Massachusetts Cultural Council, and National Endowment for the Arts. Thunder
Bay has also received support from NEA Opera- Musical Theater "New
American Works" Program and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.
"Thunder Bay fashions a nonverbal ecological opera
of sound, shadow and spirit that ranges from the chilling to the cartoonish
to the quietly transcendent." --Mark Gevisser, Village Voice
"Theater handcrafted from pure timeless raw material...leaves
me floating, rested, purged, and high." --Allen Kennedy, Village
For more information about Thunder Bay Ensemble visit: http://www.thunderbayus.org/