Coprse to find life in Warner
The much talked-about Meredith Monk collaboration course culminates this weekend with The Esquixite Coprse, a performance that showcases the talent of students from the TIMARA, dance, theater and visual arts departments.
Deliberately misspelled, the show gets its name from a parlor game developed by writer Andre Breton in 1924: One person would begin a story, fold the paper and pass it on to another who would continue the story and so on. Surrealist painters took this writing technique and applied it to painting: One person painted a head, another painted a body and another painted a set of legs, all without seeing the other pieces of the painting. According to art historian William S. Ruben, this exercise is meant to “exploit the mystique of accident.” The collaboration show develops in this same manner.
The collection of disciplines begins with a full cast tableau. Everyone is onstage, a few reclined in chairs. Details pop out of the scene: a yellow dress, a balloon, an umbrella. The lights fade, and five of the 16 performers remain center stage, dressed in black, in a landscape of folding chairs. The performers stay in distinct spaces, switching places after slow group turns. Eventually it is revealed that the turns allow performers to change characters: from mother to child, grandmother to teenager, teenager to mother. Each performer takes on all the characters, ending in his or her original role, giving the section wonderful clarity.
All the while a single individual dressed in overalls paints words on a white drape attached to a screen hanging over the back curtain. These words are purposely scrambled like the show’s title.
As the scenes change, original sound scores composed by the participants and saturated lighting take over the senses. The white screen allows for the use of vivid colors; coral sunsets and sea green oceans wash over the audience. The painter takes about 30 minutes to finish the seven large words that span the stage, providing consistent background to the many disparate scenes of the show. Certain details from the beginning tableau make their way into the body of the performance and become familiar. The yellow dress, worn by senior Jessie Male, serves as one such centerpiece. Male wears the dress throughout most of the show, maintaining a character who seems to be a little lost in the strange world she encounters. Colored balloons are yet another cornerstone, carried by large groups of the cast and passed between dancers to facilitate duets and trios forming and disintegrating.
The multimedia abilities of the group come out through various video segments. One of the most impressive segments begins with seniors Andrew Callaway and Russ Karre playing a hanging percussion set in time to a pre-recorded sound score in front of two small video screens. Images of the boys flash onto the screens in squares and then whole pieces. It becomes clear that a scaffold, hung with colored balloons, is behind their projected selves. Other members of the class appear like ghosts through the images. Everything happens in time with the music, creating a breathtakingly rhythmic composition.
The hour-long piece culminates as senior Dan Borden comes onstage in a janitor’s jumpsuit and begins to cover the blue words with white paint, whistling. The rest of the cast, already present onstage, faces him and joins in on the vocals, creating a unique song. Slowly, with their backs to the audience, 15 cast members make their way into a straight line at the front edge of the stage. The lights fade on Borden still painting. His cheerful whistling stops only after the last of the silhouettes have disappeared.
Collaboration, especially among 16 brilliant Oberlin students, is incredibly challenging. The Esquixite Coprse is a masterful example of an experimental venture gone right. While the show does not run as smoothly as a professional multimedia company’s might, that is to be expected. Any time spent waiting for technical changes and scene shifts merely allows the audience to finish taking in details from previous parts of the show. This performance must be seen live in its entirety; this review does not begin to touch upon the show’s scope. The piece demonstrates again and again how unique Oberlin students are and how in demand such talents will be outside of this safe haven.
The Meredith Monk Collaborations Class Performance runs Friday and
Saturday at 8pm in Warner Main Space. Tickets cost $2 at CTS and $3 at the