Category: Walking next to our shoes... (2)
The opportunity to ask questions of an artist following a performance can be an illuminating experience, as it often narrows the gap between the artist’s vision, intention, and deliverance of message and an audience member’s reception and interpretation of those messages. For many, this may enhance what they have seen or are about to see—either because it clarifies or complicates the issues at hand or because it elongates the yardstick with which they will personally measure the success of a piece in delivering what its creator intended. How much richer are those post-show, over-dessert conversations when the show’s architect is ostensibly sharing your tiramisu?
Nearly a third of the audience (a large percentage, in my experience) remained in the theater after a Saturday night performance of Walking next to our shoes…intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking… for the opportunity to ask director/alchemist/creative “detonator” Robyn Orlin about her inspiration, process, and intention. (Perhaps notable is that many of the patrons who stayed were located in the center of the theater, where the “fourth wall,” in theater-speak, was especially nonexistent.) To egregiously oversimplify the various elements of Walking next to our shoes…, the piece asks you to consider notions of poverty, AIDS, and migration through an incendiary blend of isicathamiya concert, auction, stand-up comedy routine, swenka competition, operatic recital, and lap dance. All this, and Robyn Orlin’s program note about the work is barely longer than its title and offers little in the way of a lens with which to view her piece. Is it any wonder that so many stayed to ask the what, how, and why?
Questions posed were of the “What was meant by…,” “How did you get the idea for…,” “Where did you find…” variety. (And, charmingly, from a young audience member perhaps anxious about his own weekend chores, “Who’s going to clean that all up?”) To these questions, Ms. Orlin (as well as a couple of cast members) responded soft-spokenly and frankly but with a hint of reservation or maybe even mischief, staying just this side of offering any absolutes regarding meaning or intent. Ms. Orlin doesn’t have auditions; she merely finds people whose energy and talent she likes and invites them to be in a room together. She likes “something to be what it is not,” explained one singer. In development, she gravitates toward accidental moments over intentional ones. Beware any rehearsal pranks in her studio if you are not prepared to perform them nightly for an audience.
This indeed enhanced my personal response to her piece. Perhaps more so than any artist whose work I’ve witnessed and had the chance to hear speak about such work, I felt especially invited to let her piece resonate with me in whatever way it organically did.
Pamela Vachon has worked for Lincoln Center Festival and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and is an occasional dance critic and blogger.
I have never been to the streets of Johannesburg. The closest I’ve come was watching Paul Simon promote Graceland on Saturday Night Live reruns when I was a kid. And yet the streets of Johannesburg, in a sense, were brought to New Jersey. It was at the Alexander Kasser Theater that rabble-rousing choreographer Robyn Orlin had the American premiere of Walking next to our shoes… intoxicated by strawberries and cream, we enter continents without knocking….
Orlin tapped into Phuphuma Love Minus, an isicathamiya group (a Zulu form of all-male a cappella) for her latest piece, and it was an inspired choice. Upon entering the auditorium, there’s a man dressed as if for the Mummer’s Parade, dusting shoes; inside the theater, two performers videotape themselves selling the shoes of audience members.
This was simply fascinating to watch, for two reasons. First, the performers were committed to the parts, ready to haggle over shoes and seemingly having a blast doing so. The second reason was the audience. Watching New York metropolitan area theatergoers getting increasingly uncomfortable while trying to be polite as the performers attempt to sell them shoes? That’s endlessly entertaining. Read more »