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Flash Review, 11-18: Eyes Wide Open
Philip Hamilton's Moving Vocalscapes

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis

I don't know about you, but when I hear music that really does it for me, the eyes close. That would have been a big mistake last night during Philip Hamilton's Vocalscapes: Rituals, at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. Every sound had an image and on top of that Ron Brown, Katiti King, and Kevin Wynn contributed choreography that took those images and shaped them into some beautiful dancing. Mr. Hamilton's voice comes across as one fluid instrument that makes about as many sounds as you could dream up. Standing by himself on the balcony, he opens the show with the melodic wails of what seems like an Islamic prayer. After he makes his way downstairs to the stage, the lighting opens up to reveal the musicians and singers in his group. From there the work just gets bigger and bigger: the voice as machine, the voice as teacher, the voice as lover.... All of it. Maybe the best part of all is watching Mr. Hamilton get sucked up into this world where sound rules. Sweat pours down over his clean-shaven head, his hands conduct each little shift and he moves in and out of Kathy Kaufman's lighting while his sounds work their way up through his body and out into the space.

Some of the most ear-catching moments take place with Mr. Hamilton moving, one by one, down a row of microphones, giving us a taste of virtuosity. With the help of a special attachment used to delay an echo he is the soloist and the accompaniment. Another section has him spitting out unintelligible words like a machine gun and mixing them with high pitched short bursts of sound. Moving further down the row he becomes a rewinding tape, screeching and crackling with amazing speed and control. The last set of sounds form a crazy chorus that follows him around the room as he revisits each microphone and the lights slowly fade out on him. As the members of his chorus gather around a set of lighted candles, Katiti King slips apart from the group and moves into her solo "The Warrior." The languid movements that make up the piece are accented by sharp stops with hard stares, and at the end she joins the group and continues in their ritual. Telly Fowler practically prowls the outskirts of the space before starting Ronald K. Brown's "Hope Sister." Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Fowler slowly approach each other and seem to act like two side of the same coin. Mr. Fowler attacks the space without appearing angry or troubled; he just enjoys feeding off Mr. Hamilton's voice and uses it to move him.

"Baldwin's Blues" was one of the evening's most minimal pieces. Amidst a swirling light set dead center Mr. Hamilton's voice recalls an old man complaining, reminiscing, talking stuff. The piece does an incredible job of turning back time and creating an atmosphere of social instability. His voice becomes more deliberate, like he's reciting sounds from a book, but at the same time you get the weight of everything he's been through. The evening closes out with Kevin Wynn's assaultive "Forces of Nature." Nicole Fallon, Cria Merchant, Akari Sasaki, and Edisa Weeks provide non-stop action. These four extremely capable performers create a maelstrom of energy that tears the room up.

Philip Hamilton has created a landscape of sound that holds together as a complete evening. Each selection does not seem separate from the others but an extension of each other. They shape what could be called Mr. Hamilton's pysche; all of the sounds in the world coming together to create something simple and human.

Philip Hamilton continues at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church through Sunday, with tonight's curtain at 8:30 and tomorrow's at 7:30. For more info, call 212-674-8194.

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