By 6:30 PM last Friday night, the four performers of Cacophony for 8 Players had been rehearsing for nine and a half hours and were preparing to run the entire show one more time. Even after the long day, director Torben Ulrich, choreographer and dancer Beth Graczyk, dancer Allie Hankins, and composer Angelina Baldoz, all seemed filled with a calm energy. The group is in the final days of rehearsal before the completed project opens at Washington Hall this Thursday, January 23, 2014.
Since the members of the cast are scattered across the West coast, their rehearsal process has been undertaken in infrequent, intensive chunks over the last two years. Because of the nature of this process, the rehearsal on Friday was still bare-boned; the effect is expected to grow significantly by opening night. They performed with folded chairs and boom boxes scattered across the back of the space. By Thursday, however, Washington Hall’s well-worn and graceful interior will be decked out with large fabric hangings to soften the edges of the performance space and create a projection screen for video elements created by Clyde Pedersen. Lighting by Amiya Brown and costumes by Mark Ferrin will enhance the movement, and, most notably, four large, porous, gut-skin sculptures created by Steven Berardelli and Micki Skudlarczyk will add a prominent, visceral element.
True to its name, the show is cacophonous. One can expect to embrace both harmony and dissonance, to be captivated by clarity and chaos, and to witness something both intellectual and animalistic. The project, a collaboration between Ulrich, Graczyk, and Baldoz, layers and weaves eight sets of elements together to explore an infinite number of concepts. One such set, the title and root of the piece, is composed of the voices and texts of eight influential figures in the performing arts from Merce Cunningham to August Bournonville to ancient Indian artist Bharatamuni. Another circles around the eight artistic elements used in setting the scene, including space, time, color, and sound. A third set encompasses the eight “rasas”, or moods, used in traditional Indian dance: sadness, love, valor, laughter, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. Each of these twenty four voices and influences is layered and melded with the voices and experiences of the artists.
With his measured step, black robes, and long grey beard, Ulrich is reminiscent of a mystical wizard. His presence is enthralling on and off stage, and it is easy to feel that one absorbs wisdom simply by watching him walk. His presence on the stage is refined and dominant, with the clear intention of inviting an authentic and profound interplay between the audience and the performers. Baldoz proves to be a bold force, using vocalizations, trumpet, guitar and a loop pedal to create a rich soundscape that expresses the full range of human experience, and establishes the realm in which the piece exists. The score for the piece is improvised, and nothing is written down to structure or organize it. She works intuitively, often identifying the reasons behind her choices only after they are made, and returning to those patterns and themes each time.
Graczyk’s movement weaves tight choreography with elements of spontaneity. Through a process that requires the performers to constantly calibrate to their environment, she creates moments that live and breathe. She described the evolution of one of Hankins’ solos that was originally “rigidly choreographed,” but had lost its spark over time. When loosened up to create space for more improvisational play within the set movement, it allowed Hankins to surprise herself and engage more authentically with the intention of the movement. Hankins described the experience of developing the solo as a process of finding the delicate balance between freedom and structure. A joy to watch, Hankins is simultaneously and interchangeably powerful, molten, and vulnerable. Graczyk brings an earnest spunk to the stage, with smooth control and agile strength.
Cacophony is not intended to be straightforward and easily understood. To explain its intention, Ulrich referenced Roland Barthes concept of “readerly” and “writerly” works. If a work is “readerly,” it is forthright in its message and easily consumed by the audience. “Writerly” work, on the other hand, requests that the audience become an active part of the experience, co-writing their take-away. Ulrich stated that as artists, we often “feel obligated to come to the audience,” but when the audience must engage, the piece creates a deeper and more lasting impact. So be ready to plunge in, participate, speak up, and explore a world of primal and timeless questions.
Cacophony for 8 Players runs approximately one hour with no intermission and will be performed at 8:00 PM January 23-26, 2014 at the Central District’s historic Washington Hall. Vast troves of information about the show and its development process can be found at http://www.cacophonyfor8players.com. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets.