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Flash Review 2, 7-13:
Comfort & Co. Bring the Street into the Theater
By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2000 Peggy H. Cheng
"You're a New Yorker
now," a childhood friend from
out-of-town said to me a few days ago. I thought about the quiet,
peaceful, rural nature of Western Massachusetts where she and I
grew up, and then the yearning we experienced when her mother brought
us to "The City," where we walked up and down Broadway tirelessly,
drinking in the overwhelming sights, sound, and movement. Her comment
resurfaced in my mind last night as I sat down in the Ohio Theater,
a loft space in Soho, for a performance of Jane Comfort and Company's
dance/opera "Asphalt." The loading dock doors were open, letting
in the street and the remaining summer daylight. People mingled,
drinking beers and sodas, and Manchild, who plays the character
Racine, DJ'd while guests danced in the stage space. It felt like
one of the New Yorks that I know and love -- a summer evening spent
not too far from the sidewalk and its sights, and music and sounds
always with a beat, a beat that is entirely urban when it crosses
my mind and enters my body. This is the scene that ushers the audience
into the first act of "Asphalt," where we meet Racine (Manchild),
an aspiring DJ. A rousing club scene ensues (strobe lights and club
moves included), and then out of the crowd emerges Couchette (Aleta
Hayes), an aspiring dancer with whom Racine develops a relationship.
As the dance/opera continues
we begin to meet Racine's ancestors -- predecessors that we discover
through songs and text rich with many layers and information about
people and things of the past; book and lyrics are by Carl Hancock
Rux, vocal score by Toshi Reagon, instrumental score by DJ Spooky
with additional music by Foosh, and the dramaturg is Morgan Jenness.
These people from the past appear and speak to Racine in the dark
condemned tenement building where he has decided to squat along
with Couchette as she leads him through the building with a flashlight.
The ancestral "ghosts" are Emma (Irene Datcher), Eddie (Julius Hollingsworth),
Lilly (Elizabeth Haselwood), Frederick (Stephen Nunley), Geneva
(Nakia), and the Woman in the Flaming Dress (Cynthia Bueschel).
Along with Racine's ancestral stories, there are the memories of
Couchette and her jazz musician father who killed himself in the
apartment where she squats now. She tells us that she always goes
back to where she came from. Perhaps with this impetus, Racine's
memories begin to surface and we begin to understand that "Asphalt"
is about remembering, or "Remembrances of Things Past" - the music
which was playing when Couchette's father killed himself.
"Walking, dancing, remembering...
this is city living." That is the beat-induced mantra as we enter
Racine's world. We are invited into Racine's world and then brought
in deeper with each voice which sings us a story. But this world
has much to tell us about the here and now as it brings together
the stuff of the sidewalks, the movement which surrounds us in big
metropolises like New York, the artists and artmaking, and how one
can be moved forward by remembering memories both sorrowful and
joyful as well as by the movement around us in the present. The
imaginations of the members of Jane Comfort and Company, as directed
by Comfort, have served as the fertile ground for these "remembrances,"
and the big city serves as the asphalt canvas from which this dance/opera
has sprung. Costumes were designed by Liz Prince and original lighting
design by David Ferri with the Ohio Theatre's lighting designed
by Jennifer Mejo.
Please note: These performances
are billed as a work-in-progress; Act I is performed in its entirety,
the following act in excerpts, and a third act is yet to be developed.
Showings continue through Saturday, at 7 PM. For more info, call
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