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Arnott’s Arts & Ideas Diary: Installment Eight

by Chris Arnott | Jun 26, 2014 6:00 pm

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Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dance, Music, Theater

The Events—one of the key, ahem, events of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas 2014—might strike you, if you just read a description of it—as horrifically despressing. It’s not, even though it is indeed about the psychological motives of mass murderers.
Since it involves two actors, a pianist and a choir, you might peg The Events, sight unseen, as abstract. It’s not. It has characters, dialogue that goes somewhere, and a neat ending.

It’s not, even though it is indeed about the psychological motives of mass murderers.

Since it involves two actors, a pianist and a choir, you might peg The Events, sight unseen, as abstract. It’s not. It has characters, dialogue that goes somewhere, and a neat ending.

Since that choir is there, you might suspect The Events of being a musical. It’s not. It’s a play with music. The choir plays a choir. The British actor Derbhle Crotty plays Claire the choirmistress. The original British production won awards and spurred public debate, and arrives in America with confidence and conviction. The choir is played by a different local ensemble each night of the Arts & Ideas run; I saw the New Haven Chorale on Tuesday. The choirs are cajoled by Claire (and by playwright David Greig and director Ramin Gray) into doing an awful lot of things, given the drama’s brief rehearsal period.

The choir is not some background sound. They are not a dramatic device, as with Donald Margulies’ post-9/11 one-act Last Tuesday, in which the voice of a chorister implies that something heavenly is going on. No, the choir is very much a group of real people singing an array of songs. They wear street clothes. They pepper the show’s murder-minded character (credited as “The Boy,” and played by Clifford Samuel) with questions about his actions. They ask to leave, but they don’t.

There are an awful lot of things that The Events is not. I was thankful it was not too pat, too wise, too overbearing. Others will be happy it’s not graphic or gratuitously violent. Playwright Greig, a Scottish writer who spend part of his youth in Nigeria, knows from multiculturalism. He doesn’t make The Events just about individuals or just about countries and races. He explores gender, age and the modern sense of celebrity. “If I am to make my mark,” The Boy announces, “the only means I have are art or violence. And I’ve never been good at drawing.”

Greig gets wordy. He builds up big back stories for his characters. But he doesn’t go overboard. He knows just when to insert music when words no longer suffice. That music spans genres from hymns to folk songs to original works by the show’s composer John Brown.The Events ends with story and song combining masterfully, inspirationally, you could nearly say happily. Hope and beauty is a nice thing when you’ve dreaded a show of depression, despair, torpor and grief. The show is about death, but teeming with life.

The Events surprises you and counters your every preconception. Hence its simple, direct title. Why say more?

(The Events continues through June 28 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, corner of Chapel and York streets. Thursday’s choir is the Greater New Haven Community Chorus. Friday is once again the New Haven Chorale. The Saturday 3 p.m. matinee is The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit Mass Choir, and Saturday evening you get the West Hartford Women’s Chorale. A post-show discussion with a local religious leader follows each performance. Composer John Brown will speak on the theme “Can Art Mediate Conflict?” June 27 at 5:30 p.m. in the Yale Center for British Art.)


***


Adele Myers & Dancers’ new performance piece Einstein’s Happiest Thought, running—and slowly walking—at the Iseman Theater on Chapel Street through June 27, balances physical freneticism with cerebral serenity. It eschews melody and scores its thoughtful movements with intoxicating percussive noise-rock, electronics and silence.

I responded to Einstein’s Happiest Thought (inspired, according to the program notes, by the famed thinker’s contentment-inducing concept of “the different ways we experience the same amount of time and space in relation to gravity”) as if it were an art installation as much as a dance piece. Four dancers twirl on stepladders and flutter like moths and respond to the gradual steps taken by a designate “Walker” character who hauls a thin yellow rope.

Dancers (Tara Burns, Raphaelle Kessedjian, Kellie Lynch, Amber Morgan) and Walker (Morgan Griffin) find spatial patterns and motion patterns that subtly connect with and deflect from each other.

The score is abrasive in its industrial density, but I like that stuff, and I found Einstein’s Happiest Thought as a whole to be calming and contemplative. There’s certainly lots to look at. That yellow rope starts to impose itself on the whole stage area. It’s a very bare, dark stage as it is, with the dancers at floor level when not ascending ladders. My 12-year-old daughter Mabel, who very much enjoyed this imaginative workout, sensed night and day in how the ropes and lights sectioned off the scenes. I certainly saw rays of light in that yellow rope. Yet another Arts & Idea 2014 performance that threatens to turn downbeat, but thrills you when truth, light and hopefulness beam through.

***

After a week of Noon to Night concerts, some families are started to make the Green a daily destination.

Kids are coming out in something approaching droves, especially now that we’re in the end-of-school-year half-day week. The concerts are also a major boon to the mentally disabled community and their caregivers. And members of the Green’s regular brown-bag-lunch brigade have migrated from the benches around the flagpole to the picnic tables and bleachers that Arts & Ideas that face the Elm Street stage.


The Val Ramos flamenco ensemble played two consecutive stages on New Haven Green Tuesday afternoon. At noon, they were the featured act on the big Elm Street stage. An hour later, the ensemble sauntered over to the Family Stage on the Church Street side of the Green, across the street from City Hall.

On the Green, they played familiar melodies such as “Wild World,” and some rhythm dance tunes percussified by hand drums and castanets.

Then they whisked over to the Family Stage, where the instrumental virtuosity was no longer center stage, and became the accompaniment for some lively flamenco dancing. The ensemble didn’t otherwise change what they do to suit little kids. They just added the lively visuals of an accomplished dancers clopping about in her heels and gorgeous red dress. The crowd was rapt.

Wednesday’s Noon to Night show had no dancing but a measure of hootin’ and hollerin’, and was no less rhythmic. Ces Bons Ami did some bearded French fiddling for an hour on the Elm Street Stage. The stage dwarfed this small band, but they played back mightily, and you could hear their hearty sounds all the way on the other end of the Green, where the Wednesday CitySeed farmer’s market was in full swing.

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