Installation, Improvisation, Celebration!posted on September 15th, 2010 by Pamela Vachon
As the lights went down to begin the performance of Here There Be Dragons at the Alexander Kasser Theater on Saturday evening, the children in the row behind me were instructed to use their “theater voices.” Rather than just the parental catch-all “inside voices,” this “theater voice” concept caused me to reflect on what makes up “typical” theater behavior. These protocols are challenged in Christopher Janney’s ongoing installation Everywhere Is the Best Seat (the title an homage to composer John Cage). The amphitheater next to the Kasser has been transformed into a sound and light installation that invites the audience member not only to presume that hers is the best seat, but actually to abandon that seat and to ignore the stage altogether and—if she doesn’t mind—to please participate.
For Disembodied Instruments, a concert within the installation, Janney added another dimension to the experience by shifting the perspective back to the forefront stage. With an impressive lineup of guest musicians, he orchestrated and improvised the interplay of sound between a contemporary jazz ensemble, a doo-wop a cappella group, and the sentinel, motion-sensitive sound posts of his installation.
Further utilizing Cage’s concept of Chance Music, Janney all but rolled actual dice, pointing and gesturing on the fly to determine who or what should be sounding off, himself taking to the stage on occasion to beat-box with the members of the a cappella group The Persuasions (a favorite of mine since Spike Lee’s “Do It a Cappella” of the early 1990s). The installation itself took a back seat to the activity on the stage for most of the concert, only engaged for a brief, but thrilling, cacophonic interlude mid-concert but otherwise silent among the audience like a diligent corps of ushers, at the ready to remind us to use our theater voices.
At the conclusion of Janney’s mix-master concert, the stage was again erased, the animal noises of the installation an amusing soundtrack to the crowd filing out of the amphitheater, its flashbulbs against the night sky like paparazzi for a red-carpet parade. It was a fitting event to kick off and celebrate Peak Performances 2010-2011 season, reminding us that structure and the selective abandonment of structure are both needed for the vitality of art.
Pamela Vachon works for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in New York City and is an emerging freelance writer.