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Combining artists of different mediums is a tricky business, as evidenced in the first group of mash-ups at the Source Festival this week.
The point of the mash-ups is to set local artists up on “creative blind dates” for nine months, during which they create a performance, utilizing their preferred mediums, that is presented during the festival.Dancers, playwrights, visual artists, and musicians are among the seven creators performing in Group D and their mashing techniques vary, whether all mediums are involved at once or each element is presented separately.
“Scent of Sky,” the first piece, combines the talents of dancer/choreographer Naoko Maeshiba and multimedia artist Alberto Gaitán.Ping pong balls are strung from the ceiling and the room is completely dark with the exception of two pulsing orange orbs that illuminate Maeshiba’s hand.The only sound is that of dulled wind that gets progressively louder as more light comes onto the stage.With the addition of light and sound, Maeshiba becomes more active, first forming abstract poses with her hands and feet while shrouded in a large raincoat and hat, then moving more quickly as the wind sound is replaced by skipping excerpts of music.She pulls open the curtains to reveal a projection of television static on the back wall, and as she walks toward the wall, she blends in with the image.Her movements become more abrupt until the sound changes again, this time to a repetition of human voices.With this, Maeshiba first takes off one shoe, then the other, and appears to shed her large coat as if it were a skin.
At this point, the first of the ping pong balls hanging from the ceiling drops and the dancer responds as if the sky is falling, covering her face with her coat so that the audience cannot see it.When the last ball falls, Maeshiba drops the coat and falls to the ground, pulling the curtains around her but leaving a gap of bright light visible.She rolls into this beam, rises and begins to dance to the classical music that plays.This seems to bring her back to life, and as she moves in the bright light, she faces the audience for the first time.The final result is interesting because of the way Maeshiba and Gaitán are able to tell a story using only her body and a few sounds but as a mash-up, the result is not all that innovative.It looks like a modern dance piece, in the style of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, but the mediums of the two artists complement each other well.
The next piece, “Token” by Enoch Chan and Kimmie Dobbs Chan also incorporates dance, but in a way that is reminiscent of high school musical theater.It opens with two people waiting for a bus, one pacing while eating a bag of chips and one sitting on a bench.The man sitting on the bench is silent and doesn’t move until he falls over, presumably dead, and a bus token drops from his hand to the floor, which is promptly picked up by the chip-eating girl.When the scene opens again, the chip girl sits silently on the bench while eight other people dance around the bus stop: two fighting teenage girls, a homeless woman, a girl dancing to her iPod, a woman serving coffee, a blind man, a woman on her way to work, and a woman carrying shopping bags.They all interact with each other, chatting and buying coffee while they wait for the bus.However, they fixate on the woman going to work, jumping out and pointing at her as she runs around the stage.At this point, the chip girl falls over on the bench and drops her token, which the chased woman quickly grabs.The same premise repeats six more times, with the person who picks up the token falling over on the bench and the person who has been confronted by the rest of the group grabbing the dropped token. What changes is the emotion that each person is attacked with.For the coffee woman, it was being laughed at, for the woman with shopping bags, it was gift-giving and praise, and for the blind man, it was ignorance.These different interactions are thought-provoking and using dance and words is effective in communicating the ideas but the performances often did not complement each other.Some hit the mark every time, while others looked aimless, giving the more crowded scenes an unbalanced effect.The dancing while talking aspect, characteristic of the Chan’s work, gave the performance a feeling of musical theater and while this is all well and good, it again did not seem like a mash-up.
The clearest mash-up of the evening is the final piece, “Combustion” by playwright Allyson Currin, visual artist Kate McGraw and musician Scott Burgess.During intermission, the floor is covered with a drop cloth and white paper, while a large canvas leans against the back wall.An electric guitar, music stand and amp are set up on the left side of the stage and another music stand and arm chair are on the right.When the performers arrive on stage, Burgess picks up the guitar, McGraw grabs a black marker and walks toward the canvas, and Currin sits in the chair and removes her shoes and socks before lining them up evenly on the side of the chair.She launches into a monologue about a day in her life and her clipped delivery is matched by McGraw tracing a large rectangle on the canvas and Burgess strumming chords to reflect the changes in her day.When Currin describes her inability to fall asleep and her frustration with sheep-counting, McGraw strikes the canvas and Burgess plays a distorted note that brings the focus back to Currin.This repeats until the boxes drawn on the canvas get so small that they must be, in some way, “broken.”McGraw does this by pouring red paint across the floor and paints the paper using her entire body, then grabbing Currin and encouraging her to do the same thing.In doing this, she breaks out of her shell and is finally able to sleep after expending creative energy.Each performer has a very specific action in this performance but the interaction between them is what makes the mash-up work well.Combining concepts that don’t appear to complement each other is what makes this production more captivating than the others that precede it.
Source’s mash-ups are entertaining because they bring together artists who would normally never interact.But as these performances unfold, it becomes apparent just how present mash-ups are in art.Music, painting, dance, and words function together regularly and it’s more noticeable than ever in this festival.
GROUP D OF THE SOURCE FESTIVAL MASH-UPS PERFORM JULY 2ND AT 8 P.M. AND JULY 5TH AT 2 P.M. AT THE SOURCE, 1835 14TH STREET NW. (866) 811-4111.