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Flash Review 3, 12-19: The Bone Orchard
Evans's "When Day Became Night" Can Still Grow

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Ts’ao

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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 the wings.

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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