Truly, this one-of-a-kind experience, engulfing as a natural force, innocent and strangely moving, directed perception into two worlds. Composer and sound designer Elisabet Curbelo, Urban Jazz Dance Company, poetry of Federico García Lorca, and American Sign Language (ASL) met at Mosesian Center for the Arts in “Ululations and Gurgles of the Invisible.” This one-time performance held true to nomadic Guerilla Opera’s self-described “work-in-progress,” opening its 17th-anniversary season Sunday afternoon in Watertown. Coincidentally founded at the about the same time, Guerilla Opera and Urban Jazz Dance Company (formed in 2007) have shared somewhat similar aims, many of them cultural.
Foremost at this “experimental” event might appear to be that seeing is hearing. Captions for the hearing impaired would also act as reminders of another world of perception.
Something like the feel of a paranormal classroom or even laboratory, Mosesian’s Main Stage Theater accommodated San Francisco Bay area’s Urban Jazz Dance Company featuring its founder Antoine Hunter, producer, choreographer, director, and deaf advocate. First performed in 2018 at UC Davis where Curbelo received her PhD and is now on the faculty, the interdisciplinary Ululations and Gurgles—her “dissertation”—reflects the composer’s research focused on the use of sensors to control electronics with movement and use of extended vocal techniques based on her study of Middle Eastern music and culture.
From Guerilla’s leaflet: “Today’s showing of “Ululations and Gurgles of the Invisible” is the result of a 5-day workshop with collaborators from the Urban Jazz Dance Company. We sketched out Chapters 1-3 of the 4 chapters in the full work.” The sight of five computer monitors lit up, a large sound board, percussion instruments, and a piano would prove deceptive the moment the 36-minute mixed media began.
We sat serenely gazing in awe before a starry-filled sky with an over-sized moon backdrop, as Lorca’s Silent Boy (from his poem of the same name), in the person of Mike Williams, percussion and ensemble director, silently signed, signaled in Morse code by striking and tapping his body. The poet’s “little boy was looking for his voice (The king of the crickets had it.)” Pure pulsations from a bowed vibraphone, two good-sized water bowls and two tympani mostly quiet and sparse in a kind of dance conveyed a mystery in “drops of water” and a boy’s making a ring of the cricket “so that he may wear my silence.”
Sitting back in the uppermost rows still gave the sense of being close up in the darkened Mosesian’s Main Stage Theater making it magical in ways reminiscent of being a child looking upon something wondrously inviting. Enter The Guiding Light or Zahna Simon, lead deaf dancer/actor, wearable motion sensors first appearing before a shifting backdrop of tempered terrestrial hues that would evolve into voluptuous oceanic waves rolling ultimately into seas of shimmering translucent bubbles. All this action was simulated by Simon’s sensors, such movements of dancing eloquent of Lorca’s character. Sound designer Elisabet Curbelo’s sensitive continuum of ululations in vibraphone-like timbre would again be a subtle reminder of different means of perception.
Chapter 3 turned outwardly to sound with Yoko Hagino, as pianist and The Shadow, and Angela Vam, as soprano and The Queen of Crickets. Ululations, now high-pitched, near screeching, from Vam’s voice, gurgles now fast trilling and rumbling in heavy chords from Hagino’s piano brought vivid sonic life to Lorca’s poem Betrothal, breaking with serenity and moving to a climactic celebration.
The fairytale music-making and dance along with artistic sign language, projections, motion sensor technology, and sound engineering made for a spellbinding short that went by timelessly.
How touching to meet Antoine Hunter afterwards, his certain kindness and serenity obviously pervaded the choreography, if not this multimedia production from Guerilla Opera.
When will Chapter 4 be ready?
David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net
(Timothy Gurczak photos) Top: Yoko Hagino (The Shadow) and Angela Yam (The Queen of Crickets)
Below left: Zahna Simon (dancer, Urban Jazz Dance Company) as The Guiding Light
Below right: Mike Williams (percussion, Ensemble Director, Co-Founding Artist) as The Silent Boy