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Review 3, 12-19: The Bone Orchard
Evans's "When Day Became Night" Can Still Grow
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A nude
torso and legs rise up from an oversized worn leather doctor's bag.
The photo is so striking that I decide to see the performance "When
Day Became Night" on December 12 at Noh Space. This dance-theater
piece, created and performed by Leigh Evans, is both multi-disciplinary,
incorporating dance, gesture, spoken and sung text, and masks, and
multi-cultural, influenced by Indian Odissi dance, Japanese Butoh
and Balinese mask theater.
Evans is a brilliant
performer, a master of all she does on stage. Alternating between
two characters, a journalist in Germany during World War II and
the Bone Girl, she delivers some emotionally gripping vignettes.
She also plays two other roles with great skill, but those are a
bit off on a tangent.
In one scene, the Bone
Girl begins spitting up something into her hands. It turns out to
be teeth, and as she attempts to cram them into a change purse,
she spills them. After they clatter and scatter onto the stage she
gathers them while groping nervously in a circle of orange light.
Much later as the journalist becomes mentally unhinged, she tells
a story of being in a cafe, opening her purse to pay and finding
it full of teeth.
In another scene, Evans
appears as a young bride in white, wearing a mask, with a lace veil
over her head. She sinks to the floor and bends over, facing upstage.
She takes off the veil and suddenly a man sits up. Evans has another
mask on the back of her head and, using her naked back as his bare
chest, she performs an amazing sequence that totally creates the
illusion of a man strutting and showing off as he dances. He falls
to his knees and bends over backwards. A moment later the young
woman stands up and leaves.
The old doctor's bag
swings out of the wing and disappears. It appears again and quickly
vanishes several more times until it comes flying across the stage
dragging the Bone Girl with it. She is holding the bag in her hand,
but the theatrical illusion is that it appears to be pulling her
rather than she carrying it. The bag rockets from side to side and
front to back with her mercilessly in tow. Finally she comes to
rest, hugging the bag to her chest as she lies on the floor. After
a brief blackout, the lights come up on the image depicted in the
poster picture described above. With Evans in a headstand, her head
inside the bag, only her body from breasts to toes is visible. The
legs perform a Butoh adagio, twisting around each other, then splitting
open and rotating around the torso and coming together again. I
have never seen anything like it. It is absolutely mesmerizing.
Evans is indeed very
gifted both as a dancer/actress and as a choreographer on a small
scale. "When Day Became Night" has a lot of unrealized potential
as a theater piece. In its present state it lacks cohesion and dramatic
development. Some small changes here and there could bring major
improvement. For instance, the pauses between scenes are too long
for the current blackouts. Either showing the actual costume changes,
or introducing video or still photo projection, perhaps with voiceover,
or even imaginative lighting changes with music could bridge the
gaps more effectively. The accordion player, Eric Klein, and the
singer, Jesy Goldhammer, could be more consistently woven into the
piece from beginning to end, whether onstage or only heard from
But the major problems
will require more radical overhauling. Even after reading a description
of the story in the press kit, I am unable to make all the pieces
fit together. Both the characters of the journalist and the Bone
Girl need to be developed more, showing more of their backgrounds
and then more of their motivations as the story progresses. The
lighting by Allen Willner is first-rate and judging by the work
(conception, direction and lighting design) Willner did on Inkboat's
production of "Heaven's Radio, an Absurdist Butoh Beckett Play"
he might be a good resource in helping to pull this piece together.
I certainly hope that Evans continues to work on the piece and that
it can grow into an evening that unfolds seamlessly and lives up
to the promise that is so clearly already starting to show.
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