Saturday, February 17, 2007
The Four Hoarse Men
THE FOUR HORSEMEN PROJECT
Conceived and Co-directed by Kate Alton and Ross Manson
Based on the poetry of The Four Horsemen: Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol
Animation by Bruce Alcock and Global Mechanic
Musical Direction by John Millard
Dramaturgy by Ross Manson
Lighting Design by Itai Erdal
Starring Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie, Naoko Murakoshi and Andrea Nann
I went to see this performance last night. Here's an excerpt.
I was amazed by the skill, energy, humour, and naturalness of the incorporation of multimedia. I truly enjoyed the first part. Particularly in the first two thirds, the performances and choreography were tremendous. I was also interested to see the Horsemen's work presented by one male and three females. Only one of them white. This changes one element of the culturally specific context in which it originally existed.
The opening played with notions of meaning, of the ability of language to convey sense denotatively or connotatively. They quote a Horsemen text to the effect that if a text has meaning then it should be treated until it has no signifying meaning; if a text has no signifying meaning, then it should be treated until it does. The projection began playing the rich possibilities of this statement. For example, it opened with on of the characters (a woman dressed in a 60s high school cheerleader-like outfit, replete with a large red H on her yellow sweater) introduced the show in Japanese. Non-Japanese speakers could only pick out the Japanese-inflected names mentioned but none of the meaning. We had to surrender to the music of the language, and understand the meaning based on formal structure.
So far so good.
The piece continued by creating an ironic parodistic hippyish sixties tone (costumes from Austin Powers and the Electric Company) which allowed the ernestness and seriousness of the Horsemen's intent to project without it seeming only 'of a time'. Their ironic foregrounding of the hippyish aspect was, I thought, a preemptive strike. For example, one video clip, from Ondaatje’s Sons of Captain Poetry, is an interview with a Scooby Doo-character bp replete with his LED lovebeads, lying back on his bed beside a Buddha talking about poetry in Sons of Captain Poetry. (Though, of course, I thought it was amazing.) The clip could seem very dated and irrelevant to the contemporary context because the viewer would be so preoccupied with the outward trappings of the time. Indeed they play a very funny, very earnest, wooden TV show featuring the host, Richard Kostelanetz, discussing of visual and sound poetry. However he seems ridiculous and dated, despite what he is saying. In terms of the presentation of the Horsemen’s work, The Laugh In hippy parody was funny and I went with it since I did read it as preemptive strike. I do think, though, I—and the rest of the audience—would have been able to take the work on its own terms without this ironic contextualization. Even if the Horsemen did seem like shaggy hippies.
There were some fantastic elements of the production. Naoko Murakoshi (the H girl) was particularly brilliant. The integration of the visual animations of visual poems and old live action were fantastic. It certainly did point to what is possible using a very large screen, modern computer graphics, and a live stage. The performances were altogether terrific. I was astounded to see all this on a stage, a completely integrated 65-minute performance, sung, chanted, danced, acted, spoken.
However, despite there being some lovely moments in the piece, in the last section, as soon as it became clear that the grunts and groans (the non-dictionarizable elements) were only supposed to refer to sex and orgasm, and that em ty and the love/evol poem were only about a kind of popsong love, I was completely turned off. I thought that the production gave only the simplest, most reductive meanings to the poems at this point, taking away their richness and depth. For example, I think it was the love/evol poem came after a set piece about a girl’s love/infatuation for a guy. She likes him/he jilts her/a little romantic sex comedy ensues. Right afterwards (I may have some of the order of the events confused, but the basic idea is there!), a video was shown, though very lovely in itself, of bp walking down the street with ellie which could have been out of a Monkees' video, (unless one had read and was thinking of bp's considerably more than popsong texts about love in all its aspects.) It became clear that the makers of this show –at least in the second part of the show—didn't get, or were unable to convey given the trope that they had set up— the larger possibilities and meaning of the Horsemen's work. The ostensible goal was to show, as the Horsemen did, "the idea that poetry is far more than words on a page; poetry encompasses sound, breath and the human body." But far more than Moon/spoon/June also.
But, at least by the end, I began to have uncharitable feelings that this was more The Four Little Ponies Project starring a few Fraggles, a Spice Girl or too, and bit characters from Austin Powers and the Byrds.
I really wanted to love this performance. Because I was deeply grateful that they created and staged this performance. Because of what the performers brought to their performances. Because of the ambition of the project. Because the project had me awash in Four Horsemen material. Because it took the Horsemen seriously. I did get the sense of everyone’s love of the Horsemen’s work. And it did remind me of how important the Horsemen’s material is, of how important it is to me.