Saturday, May 23, 2010
Theresa Wong: composer, cello, voice
Michael Carter: electronics
Luciano Chessa: dan bau
Shayna Dunkelman: drumset, percussion
Ellen Fullman: long string instrument
Dohee Lee: Korean percussion, voice
Heike Liss: video
Alice Wu: costumes
O SLEEP is an improvised opera inspired by the drama, science and conundrum of sleep and dream life. This multi-dimensional piece focuses on the synthesis of improvised and composed music, text, movement, video and use of architectural and natural space in performance, challenging to throw the blueprints of a large scale piece to the blenders of improvisation and chance. - Theresa Wong
The tension between improvised music and a formally composed multi-media structure finds an ideal subject in the cyclical quality of sleep. The regular and necessary passage into an unconscious state between the hours of wakefulness finding a natural ally with the materials and process of improvisation. The stages of sleep providing a formal, non-narrative arc of its own that lends itself to multi-media adaptation and interpretation.
The use of a nearly transparent white veil between the performers and audience provided a soft haze as well as a surface area to gently capture video images and text as it projected through the gallery space at Southern Exposure. The creative, white costumes created by Alice Wu worn by the performers completed the sense of sleep space that would be punctured at key moments when performers would step between the two worlds separated by the membrane. The concrete support that neatly divided the stage - and obstructed the center - offering a sense of right brain/left brain sharing the same journey through sleep.
The performance space appeared deceptively sparse. With Ellen Fullman's 50-foot long string instrument necessarily filling the back and leaving room for drums, electronics and movement. The incorporation of instruments both familiar and wildly inventive only adding to the dream-like quality of the theatrics.
Sonically there were episodes of sublime beauty. Particularly when Theresa Wong and Dohee Lee sang a vocal duet behind a white curtain as images of an open window were projected onto them. The voices exploring the beating frequencies between sustained tones tuned very close together as an expression of brain waves slowing down toward sleep. This harmonic richness later returned and expanded with the sounds of the long string instrument as Ellen Fullman walked forward and backward using her hands to coax a sound world of incredible dimension.
O SLEEP deftly manages to avoid cliche and pretense with its subject material. It explores the quality of sleep without sounding sleepy. It incorporates dream state without becoming dreamy. This particular performance began with a startling loud burst of percussion as an introduction to the timbral variation of the experience in store.
If anything, the abundance of materials and ideas that swirl through O SLEEP left the feeling that 90-minutes wasn't nearly enough time to absorb the many qualities of this work. Compared to the longer performance at the Marin Headlands a year ago this felt abbreviated. So many of its strongest ideas presented and edited - and yet I missed the sense of development that more time would allow. An ambitious, fantastic work that invites the indulgence of "sleeping in." It should be interesting to see how O SLEEP continues to evolve in future incarnations.