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Flash Review 2, 1-2:
"A Mammal's Notebook"
The Eric Satie Cabaret, with Puppets
By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2002 Tom Patrick
NEW YORK -- Ah, Satie!
Most musical authorities agree: Erik Satie was unappreciated in
his lifetime, but with time's passing his music endures, no matter
what was thought of him when he strolled the streets of Montmartre,
humming a slow waltz he would bestow on a chanteuse at the cabaret
Chat Noir. While Satie was chronically misunderstood -- and like
anyone in the arts this criticism could provide grist for the mill
and therefore might seem a mixed blessing for him -- there he is
popping up in our music appreciation classes, film soundtracks,
and concert halls a century later.
Great Small Works, which
presented "A Mammal's Notebook: The Eric Satie Cabaret" at La MaMa
over the holidays, deserves my kudos for enlarging my musical education
a bit and doing it so painlessly, with such great aplomb.
What, it may be asked,
am I doing as a dance person (dare I say, 'Insider'?) covering this
evening? Well, I'm not a choreography critic specifically, nor just
an evaluator of the career dancer. Great Small Works uses puppetry
of several sorts, as well as live people and some inventive stage
technology, in conjunction [this time] with the prodigious talents
of keyboardist Margaret Leng Tan to give a multi-faceted glimpse
of the oft-neglected composer Erik Satie. Look, the man even changed
his 'Eric' to 'Erik,' a tip to me that life-as-it-was-served-to-him
was not in his view quite accurate or adequate. Toward these misunderstood
in their time -- witness Vincent Van Gogh -- I do have a particular
curiosity and admiration.
Through their use of
vignette personae (John Cage, Professor Skulsky and 'The Critic
Willy,') ingenious recreations of cabaret excerpts using a versatile
cast as singers and dancers, and a fluent arsenal of puppetry surrogates,
GSW gives tribute to Satie in a wry manner of which even he would
approve. His life plays out before us: the doubts of his teachers,
his making art within 'conventional' idioms like the music-hall
or cabaret settings (hey, remember how Martha Graham got her first
gigs? Burlesque and the popular follies-like venues of the day,
I believe?) and his fruitful exodus from Paris to the Arcueil suburbs
where Satie wrote as 'the only composer with eyes.' Satie's forays
into the mysticism of Rosacrucian rites and his collaboration with
Dadaist artists of the day such as Duchamp, Man Ray, Picasso and
Cocteau are covered in turn, and are accompanied by the impassioned
playing of Ms. Leng Tan and by some mesmerizing puppetry by the
Company. His role as a vanguard and servant to his art reminds me
in some respects of Dmitri Shostakovitch: enmeshed in the world
as it existed at the time, but unwilling or unable to simply 'color
within the lines.' Though this run has ended (on December 30,) I
urge you to seek out or watch out for any other offerings by this
fine company, Great Small Works. Its work on Satie has piqued my
interest higher still (I will be working on the Satie/Cocteau collaboration
"Parade" this Spring with the Met Opera Ballet -- no plug intended
there) as its multifaceted approach is a fine one. Erik Satie came
alive for me through their conduit, and the thanks here are multiplied:
everybody wins with vision like this, and with the interest in sharing
the out-of-synch genius of Erik Satie in "The Mammal's Notebook"
We can only look forward to the next object of GSW's attentions....
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