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Slide: What Is Out of Focus

What does it mean if the Dresser engaged more with the question and answer period than the performance of a new creative work by an artist of interest? What does it mean if the Dresser even raises such a question? Has she gone soft as a critic? Has she become more conservative in her view of experimental theater? Has her world narrowed down to only certain kinds of exotica?


On April 9, 2010, the Dresser took in Slide, a experimental theater piece co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center as well as Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University, Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program, and six other commissioning groups. (The Dresser assures you, Dear Reader, that she was not intimidated by the large community that gathered around this work seven years in the making, but rather wants to account for how large the audience is for this work.) The creators of the work--Rinde Eckert, Steven Mackey, and eighth blackbird (a sextet of musicians who break convention by not staying in place and do more than play musical instruments)--also convey the action of the work. This means the writer/librettist Eckert, the composer Mackey, and eighth blackbird players perform. Not a problem for the Dresser. She has seen this happen on stage and in film to good effect. Examples that come to mind start with Rinde Eckert's And God Created Great Whales, Horizon, and An Idiot Divine but also include but are not limited to Spaulding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia and any number of Woody Allen's films such as Annie Hall.

These insertions of creators as actors in their performing arts work to create alternate realities. Thus the creators can stare back at the audience (if they are live on stage) or attempt to influence the exactness of meaning in an attempt to understand or control what effect the work has on those who came to watch. By the way, Q & A sessions also work like this, even for creating artists who do not step out on the stage until after the curtain closes on their piece.

The Dresser will not neglect to say there is a musical number called "Stare," which Mackey calls the centerpiece of Slide. He describes this composition as containing "persistent juxtapositions of clarity and blurriness."


REckertbw.jpgWhat's Slide about? If the audience puts their attention on Rinde Eckert, who plays the role of Renard, they will see a psychologist who runs an experiment where he shows participants out-of-focus slides to gauge how much time it takes them to identify the object once it is shown in focus. Next Renard adds a shill who disagrees with the unsuspecting participant to further confound the participant's need to defend his original guess on the unfocused object. One of the things Renard talks about is the "ritual humiliation" of not guessing correctly. Eventually Renard comes to the conclusion, "Some things are better left unsaid. No sense in clearing up the past. Leave questions unasked."

Besides the experiment, the audience sees that Renard has a musical hobby for which he plays the tuba. After he becomes disenchanted with his slide experiment, he fixes on eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan (she is the only woman on stage) as an object of his unrequited love to stave off his loneliness. By the close of Slide, Renard wants to retreat to the windowless room that he describes as a cheap hotel but nonetheless a comforting place of retreat. (The program notes say this is where he lives.) The Dresser isn't sure, and didn't bother to ask, if Renard wanted the pianist to join the disillusioned psychologist in this room. The Dresser had already retreated into her own head thinking about a scene in Jim Jarmusch's film Mystery Train where a Japanese man shoots photos of an unremarkable cheap hotel room in the United States and when his girlfriend asks why he is doing this, he says, everything else he will remember but this he will forget.

If the audience puts its attention on Steven Mackey, who is listed in the program as "Electric Guitar," the audience might notice that he makes commentary on what Renard does. What he plays on his electric guitar is unremarkable and does not particularly add to the fine musical performances of eighth blackbird. steve_guitar.jpgWhere Mackey becomes interesting is in the Q & A. From Mackey's performance in answering questions, the Dresser begins to realize, though it has been stated in the program notes that not even the composer knows what Slide is suppose to be, much less achieve. The big question Mackey articulates concerns form--is Slide song cycle? "Slide of a Dog" is a particularly memorable art song. Play? Yes, there is a fair amount of spoken voice. Opera? Eckert does his part to add the operatic tenor voice. Mackey also hints that this inability of the artists to decide what form the work takes relates to the overriding theme of Slide--it's just one more thing out of focus.


To the Dresser's way of thinking, Mackey and Eckert have spent 90 minutes of performance time foraging for a Muse. Eckert looks for it in the unfocused slides and in what reactions he can elicit from the people who participate in his project but sort of resigns himself to the pianist as a love object and inspiration to live. Eckert helps the process with his able tenor and falsetto singing and his whacky movements in the couple of dance numbers he effects. Mackey looks for his muse in his selection of eighth blackbird that plays his strange mix of musical compositions with energetic aplomb. While the Dresser loved watching the sextet move around the stage and morph from musicians to actors, the Dresser believes unfair weight was put on eighth blackbird. Unlike John Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd, the eighth blackbird performers were just placeholders and the audience was always aware that they were musicians who were called upon to take a character part.Funky-blackbird.jpg

In the Q & A, Eckert said Slide goes in two directions at the same time--in and out of focus. What the Dresser takes from this thought is that Eckert and Mackey play with the forces of yin and yang but not in a balanced way. So here she leaves it to language poet Buck Downs to make the final commentary in his poem "Ladies Love Outlaws."

.................................. LADIES
............................................. LOVE
.................................. OUTLAWS.

give a facial,
take a facial
you might say I couldn't
................................ stand the pressure
............ de thralled
...................... as I got
...................... roved over.
thankless thoughtless
............ stumbling around
...................... for a real good time
....................................................... habit
...................... sight revises belief
............ and there is no hope
............ where fruition comes,
................................... just right
figured it out
from under me

by Buck Downs
from Ladies Love Outlaws

Copyright © 2006 Buck Downs


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 10, 2010 4:43 PM.

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