A Moveable Beast, the work-in-progress showing at the Theatre Centre

Neema BThe second work-in-progress showing for A Moveable Beast took place this past weekend at the new digs of the Theatre Centre. I really like what they’re doing with this ‘history of feeling’ project retelling cultural history without a single word of written text. Neema Bickersteth is the sole on stage performer, taking on the role loosely inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Phillis Wheatley, the first Black women writer in North America, but in effect voicing / standing in for the whole of humanity.

The twentieth century is covered here, starting with the 1912 “Vocalise” by Rachmaninoff and ending with a marvellous contemporary piece by Reza Jacobs “Vocalise for Neema” (2014) that requires her to use all sorts of fun extended vocal techniques. In between, the “Vocalise étude” by Messaien (1935), “A Flower” by John Cage (1950), “Récitation pour voix seule” No. 10 by Georges Aperghis, none of which has any text in the traditional sense of the term, though each comes with scenic movement (Kate Alton is the choreographer/co-creator, Ross Manson is the director/co-creator). The vocal pieces alternate with the music-with-visuals segments that also progress chronologically, from 1920s avant-garde to 1940s Expressionism (lots of Käthe Kollwitz here), the Technicolor, televised 1950s-70s and the final part, the 1980s to naughts with its exciting simulated flight among the skyscrapers of NYC. The fantastic music of the interludes was a collaborative work by the composer Reza Jacobs, Debashis Sinha (at the percussion and computers) and Gregory Oh (at the piano. Sometimes a very prepared piano. So prepared for one song, the lid was closed down, in fact). The interlude music alongside the video projections gave the entire project solidity, consistency, circulation, made it more than a sum of its fragments.

Now I’m really eager to see what the final work will look like, whether it will go further back in time etc. The premiere and a Euro tour are planned for 2015.

A Moveable Beast is created by Vocano Theatre, Crooked Figure Dances, the National Arts Centre and the Moveable Beast Collective. Track the future performances via the Vocano Theatre Twitter account.

The photo of Neema Bickersteth is by Kerry Shaw

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