Friday, June 11, 2010

Not Your Usual Night of Oprah, Daaling.

Leaving Grand Central Station on the Metro North Line and traveling for an hour and a half to the wealthy and manicured Greenwich, Connecticut felt a little bit like leaving the country. Is that the sign that I've finally become a true New Yorker? (Granted, if I got on the right train to start with, the trip would have been much more relaxing). Anyway, my evening ended up being quite the pleasant getaway capped with a surprisingly unique artistic performance.
It's amazing what working at a wine store can get you. A register transaction introduced me to Ted Huffman, the Artistic Director of the Greenwich Music Festival. (My naive self thought he meant Greenwich Village, ha!) Up for an adventure, I accepted an invitation to attend the opening night of their season. For the occasion they were producing The Runaway Slave, by the German avant-garde composer Hans Werner Henze. At once modern and worldly in sound, this hour and 30 minute work chronicles the life story of the Cuban slave, Esteban Montejo, who lived to be 113. Requiring a percussionist, classical guitarist, and flautist, the score is largely atonal and incredibly detailed. The guitar serves mostly to interlace the score with bits of Latin song, amalgamating to perhaps a perfect representation of modern Cuba.
The production proved to be artistically daring and subliminally sexy. It all took place on a raised marley floor stage, with a compactly seated audience eagerly awaiting. The upstage was occupied with more percussion instruments than the average educated individual can name- western, eastern, African, Caribbean, etc. The downstage was where the protagonist and his four dancers depicted the story. Intensely narrating was the actor/singer Eugene Perry, who mixed speaking with baritone and falsetto singing, even adding the middle ground of Sprechstimme. This cast of five opened themselves up to the point of vulnerability.
Zack Winokur's choreography was at once intelligently precise and primitively wild. The four dancers were of completely different body types, yet communicated and moved together beautifully. To me, this was the most captivating aspect of the production. The dancers were unyielding in their somewhat bipolar combination of preciseness, tension, and unrestrained wildness. At times using a detailed and well-executed movement vocabulary, they did not hesitate to change moods with little anticipation. A tense and intricate walk suddenly and spastically transitioned into an airborne leap plummeting the dancer to the floor. At other times, Capoeira-like fights combined violence with sensuality. Far from random, every moment was directly linked with Esteban Montejo's story and/or the music, never leaving a dull moment. Sitting in the audience, I never quite felt relaxed. If this were Wagner, that would be a problem. But for Henze, it was somehow fitting. Bravo to Artistic Director Ted Huffman and his team for bringing craziness to Greenwich.