Sunday, May 10, 2009

Theatre Gigante's Man In A Magic Square

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Theatre Gigante’s  Man In A Magic Square only had a few performances. I had the pleasure of seeing the final one. A reasonably small crowd packed the Off Broadway Theatre on a brisk Saturday night. The stage was set with a few lamps of a number of different  styles and a few chairs. Theatre Gigante founder Isabelle Kralj addressed the audience from a darkened stage—just enough light to see people in the chairs. The opening bit of poetry established a vague sort of existential mood to the evening, which served the performance well: This one was going to be a bit abstract.

The performance was a mixture of dance, poetry and music that felt strikingly novel at times. The music had  world music feel to it—Peter Roller played slide guitar flat—strings facing the ceiling—made it kind of look like he was operating on it like a musical surgeon—some really intricate stuff there . . . a sound that mixed well with some  remarkably textured percussion by Seth Warren-Crow. The centerpiece for the music had to be the accordion of Guy Klucevesek. The dramatic black and red bellows sang with a brilliantly sparkling personality. Klucevesek’s sense of humor flashes out of the music with striking clarity.

At one point, Klucevesek was performing music accompanied by dance from lithe Slovenian dancer Ursa Vidmar. A 14 year veteran of the Slovenian Opera Ballet, Vidmar moves with dazzling grace and precision. Vidmar’s serious precision was an interesting contrast to the performance of Joe Fransee. Fransee’s sense of humor added immeasurably to the show. Fransee—who did some of the choreography for the show (presumably his own) had a frenetic sense of narration—at one point going through a number of very mundane and universally recognizable actions in dance with the music cascading behind him. I don’t think that I’d ever seen writing and/or surfing the internet ever done in interpretive dance before—it was deeply, deeply funny stuff. At one point, Fransee and Vidmar were dancing around during what seemed like something of a freestyle dance segment. It was a great deal of fun to watch the contrast between a guy who got his BFA in Dance at UWM and a woman presumably trained in more classical ballet movements whose experience has had more epxerience with more classical ballet. It's like seeing a jazz musician jam with a classial violinist.

Whether or not it was intended, I found myself trying to use the poetry being performed to tie everything together in my mind. For the most part, the poetry in question was formless and nebulous, dealing with first existential principles. Having personally performed this sort of thing on poetry open mics for a number of years, this didn't seem particularly novel for me. Nebulous existential poetry is only really entertaining to listen to in the mix with everything else . . . and here there's plenty of other stuff for it to interact with. Malcolm Tulip does a particularly good job of delivering the more nebulous end of the poetry. He starts off in the audience and works his way to the stage . . . there’s a gentle sense of humor about his demeanor that delivers a nice spin on the words. Like Fransee, Tulip’s artistic interests mix drama and dance. The delivery of nebulous poetry mixes well with the elegant precision of some of Tulip’s subtler movements. His British accent helps quite a bit as well . . . somehow, anything existential  sounds that much more profound with a British accent.

The weird, existential poetry being presented is only really interesting in and of itself when it’s compellingly idiosyncratic. Theatre Gigante  Associate Director Mark Anderson’s work is particularly memorable—including a dreamlike bit about discovering that he was a superhero, a piece written on random scraps of paper pulled out of a breast pocket that had a remarkably clever punch line  and a contemplation on the life of a human body accompanied by a wittily choreographed dance by Joe Fransee. Anderson's delivery is very minimlaist and thoughtfull. He does a brilliant job of being in the intellectual moment with the poetry as it leavs his lips.

As a whole, Man In A Magic Square was far from flawless, but it had a wonderful dreamlike quality that was irresistibly enjoyable. Once again, Theatre Gigante has launched a breathtakingly ephemeral bit of fun with a dazzling kind of depth to it . . . this one lacking in any cohesive impression, but still managing a reasonably overpowering overall impact. The mixture of everything presented here was extremely entertaining. Once again, Theatre Gigante pops onstage for a quick, entertaining weekend before vanishing again for a little while. It’s that stunningly weird family member of the Milwaukee Theatre community that shows up on short notice, makes a huge impression on a relatively small number of people and vanishes again . . .

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