Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Divergence Vocal Theater

This past weekend was the second production from new indie performance company, Divergence Vocal Theater. The 10th Muse was a musical, theatrical, poetic meditation on love, heartbreak, and other such manipulations of Eros. Artistic director, Misha Penton, pulled from Berlioz, Gounod, and Boulanger (among others) for music. For text, she appropriated text from Sapho and also 4 poems from neoNuma poet, Jill Alexander Essbaum. Throw in some modern dance choreography by Toni Leago Valle, and you begin to get an idea of how fully packed a one-hour performance from DVT can be.

I should say up front---I've known Misha for 5 years now. I met her at Fieldwork and we became fast friends and fans of each other's work. We've worked together on a few things here and there and so I have some idea of how she works and her intentions behind the work she presents.

So I can't really do a review of what I saw this past Saturday night. What I want to do instead is talk a bit about one artist's evolution into force for re-imaging opera for the 21st Century.

First of all, Misha breaks a few rules just by forming this company. Opera companies are not formed by mezzo-sopranos. Mezzo-sopranos go and audition for opera companies, which are run by conductors or somesuch (I'm not entirely clear on all that, actually), and they wait for the permission of the conductor or director to be creative, i.e., to be cast in a production. Misha's background, however, is in dance and rock bands. Dancers form companies (Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, on and on) and dance in their productions because they have the need to be creative and can't wait to be invited to dance for someone. Rock bands pretty well do the same thing. Someone gets together a group of musicians and they meet for rehearsals in someone's garage and they start gigging. So it shouln't surprise anyone that Misha has taken her ideas for shows, gone out and assembled her "band" and called rehearsals.

On top of this, Misha has a history as a visual artist, a painter of abstract canvases that are all color and texture and mood and movement. This comes into play in her stage productions in that there is an arc to the evening, but not necessarily a story. She describes The Tenth Muse as a "watercolor collage" in her program notes and that's certainly one way to experience the evening. It's performance art as much as performing art. It's juxtaposition of ancient and modern art, it's a collection of thoughts on a theme, it is a collection of impressions intended to evoke feelings.

An evening with DVT, then, is a feast for the eyes and ears, with video projection, dancers, and highly trained voices and musicians. Mixing in spoken word fragments and poetry ups the intellectual involvement. It seems unlikely that someone would leave a performance without having seen or heard something that stimulated them on some level.

If this interdisciplinary approach to performance piques your interest in the least, I recommend you head over to DVT's website and subscribe to their email list. There are sure to be new and exciting things developing in the months to come and you won't want to miss out.

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