Monday, May 23, 2011

A Divergence Soiree

Misha packs the house! Saturday night at Houston’s Divergence Arts Space was, once again, standing room only. Although April’s Klytemnestra officially premiered the new warehouse performance venue, Saturday’s event inaugurated an off-of-sorts destination for high caliber musical play. As a relative newbie to the Houston performing arts scene, I’m wondering what the H-town equivalent is to NY’s Off-Broadway? Or to the early days of Joe’s Pub? And where else do you find jam sessions for classical artists? Or such relevant mix-mastering of classical and contemporary genres of music, theatre, and dance?

I was in a bit of a quandary about costume choice for the line-up—I had offered to dance a Duncan solo and knew I’d join Misha for pieces from Selkie and Klytemnestra. I’d also signed on for some improvisation, and I’m still experimenting with creative ways to make the tunic viable for contemporary floorwork. When Misha said no costumes, I opted for a tunic-esque top and jeans. Interesting how freeing it is to dance Duncan’s work in street clothes. Duncan freed women from restrictive clothing at the turn-of-the twentieth century by dancing sans corset in her loose silks. I wonder what she would think of dancing in pants? They do add a layer of restriction to movement, but Duncan dance in jeans, a tunic-transgression, does feel kind of rebellious and fun—hmm.

The performances were fabulous. I finally got to experience the work of several artists whom I had not yet seen perform—including Shelley Auer, who had me in hysterics, Alison Greene, who gave me chills, and Lainie Diamond, who sang to my soul. Although Duncan took her corset off, I’m sure she would have loved to see it owned by Dennis Arrowsmith, who strutted the boards in his stilettos. It was such a joy to hear Natasha Manley, with whom I shared space in Selkie, and Jade Simmons was dynamite playing Liszt. Pianist Kyle Evans (who played Klytemnestra) brilliantly accompanied most of the performances, and actress Amy Guerin had us hanging on her every word. I danced with Michael Walsh for two of his three songs, improvising Eve to his “As Adam Early in the Morning” (Ned Rorem) and Galatea to “O Ruddier than the Cherry” (Handel) —so much fun to jump into a performance space and play with such a dynamic artist. Kudos to Misha Penton, for her captivating voice and presence, and for her curatorial intuition!

Speaking of intuition, the program ended with an improvisation for piano, computer, and movement—an opportunity to break out of the whole-body-harmony that characterizes Duncan technique and play with dissonance, disjunction, and that fine-tuned frequency of attention required to craft movement in the moment. Music maker Chris Becker sampled a wide range of sounds, including spoken text, while pianist Hsin-Jung Tsai played on piano—exploring more ways than the traditional striking of keys to generate sound from that instrument.  I love the pairing of classical arts with experimental modes of performance—and I’m reminded of iconic moments in my history of being an audience member, like seeing Sonic Youth strike nails into an old piano keyboard at the Holland Festival many years ago. Watch out Houston, an intimate and unpredictable new venue is on the scene.