TO CARE FOR AND BE CARED FOR

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From the beginning, it is clear that we will be taken care of. Upon entering the box office, each audience member is handed a blue artificial rose and welcomed by a volunteer, who then explains that this show is meant to be accessible for everyone. The performance includes a fragrance-free section of the theater, as well as an ASL interpreter. After explaining all of the accessibility considerations, the volunteer then asks each audience member if they have any other accessibility needs for the performance. This subject is returned to again in the introduction of the show, where the audience is pointed to two people in the front row that we may go to for any accessibility needs during the performance.

A large, frog-shaped shadow is centered behind a scrim depicting tree trunks. Neve Mazique-Bianco is visible just behind the scrim, wearing a white slip.
Photo by Ron Rogers.

Neve Mazique-Bianco is the creator and lead performer of Lover of Low Creatures. Mazique-Bianco is an internationally performing and presenting artist of Black/African American identity, and Sudanese/Nubian, Arabic, Spanish, Scottish and English ascent. They are known for disability justice arts and activism in the community, and they themselves use a wheelchair, which is incorporated into the performance. Lover of Low Creatures tells a semi-autobiographical story through a large cast of characters, all played by Mazique-Bianco, who switches fluidly between characters, expertly embodying a distinct voice and personality for each.

The world of Lover of Low Creatures is brought to life by a range of different artists. Mazique-Bianco, JOY MA, Jasper Fox, and Saira Barbaric (collectively known as Playthey), and Evan Flory-Barnes further immerse us into the space with a cohesive mix of original music compositions. Puppets carry the story along from behind a forest-themed scrim, controlled by Barbaric, Fox, and Kate Silvette. Sara Porkalob ties this world together with direction, and together, these artists craft a highly developed performance that we are drawn into from start to finish.

We are welcomed into the life of Snow, a curious, Black, Bi-Racial 11 year-old, who lives with their mother, Ann. Ann shares with Snow practices of caring for many plants and animals, always acknowledging the individual needs of each entity. Snow narrates their determination “to be a part of the earth, not in opposition to it. My mother would show me how.” We are cued into Snow’s parental admiration and desire to be in partnership to the environment.

Neve Mazique-Bianco lies on their left side on a wood floor. Their arms reaching away from them. Their mouth is open like they are talking loudly.
Photo by Ron Rogers.

Snow’s voice rings with infectious enthusiasm when they are introduced to toads for the first time, declaring, “I love this toad. She is so cute! Can I keep her?” Ann responds, “You can be with her for awhile, but she needs to be where you found her. She needs the garden and the garden needs her.” Snow learns that the temptation to remove a living creature from its land is an unethical desire. In this simple way, Mazique-Bianco addresses colonization, suggesting that our treatment of animals and other living things can mirror our treatment of other people.

Reoccuring dance movements bring us closer to Snow’s experience as Snow develops their relationship to this world. Mazique-Bianco transitions in an out of the floor with what appears to be deep respect for the stage as an extension of the earth below it, visually displaying Snow’s growing appreciation for the natural environment. Rocking is frequently incorporated, through use of the shoulders as the back-and-forth impetitus for movement. We are engrossed in Snow’s story during these repetitive patterns, reveling in the clear auditory narrative paired with choreographic consistency in this grounded duet with the floor.

A series of shadow puppets on a scrim with tree trunks. A large dog, a snake, a toad, spiders, and a beetle.
Photo by Ron Rogers.

In the last moments of the performance, Mazique-Bianco empties a vase of blue roses onto the stage. They invite us to impart thought onto our individual roses and then throw them onto the stage to join the other flowers in building a river. Mazique-Bianco explains that this river will carry out rape culture. It will carry out racism, sexism, ableism, and all the other dark elements of our world that make it more difficult for us to connect with one another.

At this point in the performance, Mazique-Bianco returns to an important earlier lesson, and the audience is now involved in the implementation of it. While we were taken care of from the beginning, we were also asked care for a symbolic object. We were responsible for our roses for a little over an hour and a half. Many of us admired their vibrancy and beauty, but they were never our roses to keep. They belong to the river. We did not attend a performance that offers mementos for individual ownership. Instead, we are invited into a place where we are both nurtured and responsible for the nurturing of this place. Lover of Low Creatures creates a sense of belonging and obligation to take care of each other and our larger world.

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