Is This A World to Hide Virtues In? Phil. Live Arts & Philly Fringe

Live Arts Festival.  Live. In a world of the virtual – walk down a city street like Philadelphia these days and you will not see the whites of people’s eyes, but the tops of their heads, a world of television and film and staring at computer screens for hours– the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival is balm.   The Live Arts Festival is taking place right now, through September 17th at various venues throughout the city.   I attended Canyon, Twelfth Night, and Namasya, an Indian dance performance this weekend and urge you to run, don’t walk to at least one show this coming week.  You will be infused with live art, in real time – raw, alive, unexpected, and vibrant.

More after the jump.

I had the opportunity to interview John Jasperse, an abstract choreographer from NYC, whose new work, Canyon, was performed at the Wilma Theatre September 9 -11th.   From the program: “Six dancers, including Jasperse, create a space where the supremacy of the intellect is humbled into a state of awe, where you lose yourself in the transformative power of pure visceral experience. Integrating an evocative musical score and striking stage design, Canyon plays with engineered disorientation, sensory overload, spaciousness, fractured connectivity, and rapture.”  

A mysterious white box moves on the stage (and veers off the stage as well) throughout the performance.  An attentive spectator figures out that the box moves because there is a person underneath it.   But what purpose does the box serve?   What does the box symbolize?   After the 70 minute show, I asked audience members what the box meant to them:  Here are some of the responses:  A void,  space, a trace, life, funny.  And. . . . a box.   I was drawn to a little girl and asked her what the box meant: ” it’s a magic box.”   As it turned out she was the seven year old daughter of one of the dancers – James McGinn.   She spelled out her name: Madeline Lemi    McGinn explained that through their long rehearsal process, dancers engaged in an investigation of kinesthetic space.   He said the show was “very enjoyable to perform but exhausting.”  

Responding to what is the box question, choreographer Jasperse notes, “I’m interested  in leaving that space open.  I don’t want to impose a verbal language.  Things start to get juicy where language fails.”  

I asked him if any poets, whose very material are words, have inspired his work.  He said he loved John Ashbury’s use of language.  “It’s a refractory usage of language and images.”   “The box marks the passage of time.  It’s constant but doesn’t recognize the delineation of time and space.  It doesn’t register boundaries such as fence, lawn, lobby, room.”    In this way, the box disorients and destabilizes the space around us.  

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

In the Pig Iron’s dazzlingly innovative production of Shakespeare’s the Twelfth Night, or What You Will (playing through September 17th – tickets still available!) the Fool says “Nothing that is so is so.”   Directed by Dan Rothenberg with music by Rosie Langabeer and whimsical costumes by Olivera Gajic, the production is one of the most innovative renditions of Shakespeare I have ever seen.   The show begins with music – a live band enters with funky hats, bottles of booze and begin to play Balkan-gypsy-klezmer music whtat never stops.   The musicians will follow the actors around the amazing set, designed by Maiko Matsuhsima, complete with a roller-blade type curved space upon which the actors silde up to a balcony and down again.  The Philadelphia based Pig Iron, which began in 1995, is known for their experimental, physical theatre.   Twelfth Night marks the Pig Iron’s first full-on engagement with a “classic” script.    

A story about mistaken identity, doubles, that features dueling musicians, jesters, religious zealouts and much erotic misunderstanding this production is a flawlessly paced, superbly acted production.   Sarah Sanford, who plays Viola and James Sugg who plays Sit Toby gave mesmerizing performances.  The costumes become part of the fun, from the Duke’s seersucker suit and purple socks, to Sir Toby’s fuschia suit and gold chains.   The Duke is played by Pig Iron theatre’s co-founder and co-artistic director Digo van Reigersberg who performs as his alter ego, Martha Graham-Cracker, the tallest drag queen in the world, at L’Etage in Philadelphia.  

Where:  Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street (at Lombard).  Wheelchair accessible.   Student discounts available for all shows!    (215) 413-1318