Despite its age, the term performance art remains a useful one, if only because no other phrase encompasses so many types of alternative theatrical expression in which you hear so much about “environments.”
Whatever you choose to call it, a double bill ranging from the unfocused to the movingly lucid continues through Saturday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as part of the RADAR L.A. festival. The opening piece, Christine Marie’s Ground to Cloud, is lit by halogen lamps — the artist calls her approach “lo-fi” — to create a multiplicity of shadows as her four-person ensemble performs various random scenes against a large white backdrop.
We get kite-flying. (Was that a Ben Franklin reference, or does Ms. Marie just like kites?) We get panes of plexiglass that create spookily distorted flashpoints when subjected to the light source. Halfway through, we’re instructed to don our 3-D glasses to amplify a shadow-puppet pas de deux. And who doesn’t like puppets? (Julie Taymor’s in town, right?)
All this earnest scene-making thrives well enough atop William Mark’s moody electronica, rhythmic beats and occasionally screeching sound effects. The darting images on the backdrop often compete with the real live bodies grabbing our focus downstage. The effect only serves to distract. The creator has experience with Shadow Light Theater in San Francisco and she also cops to having worked with children for the past decade-plus. This makes sense: Ground to Cloud works its playfulness with a childlike sensibility, and Marie certainly has fun with her halogen lamps.
Still, I was left with a feeling of randomness at the conclusion, and those of us who still expect some structure in our art (“performance” or otherwise) were left halfway entertained at best.
It rains apples in the second half of the double bill, Myth and Infrastructure.
Creator/solo performer Miwa Matreyek describes her art as “puzzle-solving in cinematic language.” Super-colorful animation is her medium, but the real trick happens when Miwa steps behind a smallish movie screen as a silhouetted figure cavorting in this playful animated world graced by water and fish, hot-air balloons and birds, skylines and Thumbelina-size characters. Several airplanes also carry a (presumably) beached whale across the sky.
It’s almost a relief to learn that it took her six months to create the video component, because it’s nice to know that all that work — cinema DIYers take note — really pays off.
Matreyek cuts a pleasingly ample figure and her shape fills the screen, evoking a female version of The Amazing Colossal Man. She steps through various landscapes and cityscapes, deftly interacting with the animated environment. This is smartly crafted, wryly entertaining stuff, and it holds together because the artist is in control of her medium.
This program’s opening day lineup offered a third piece, an unannounced short film by Lars Jan & Early Morning Opera called Abacus. This starkly atmospheric angry-young-man rant premiered at EMPAC’s Filament Festival in October 2010. Jan has also had some exposure as the director of a dance piece at New York’s Whitney Museum, and, as opposed to the more detached but sensually aware pieces of the ladies who preceded him on this bill, the texture of his work evokes something more robust, even hostile. Like Marie and Matreyek, Jan’s a product of CalArts. Consider them very different peas in the performance art pod.
Ground to Cloud and Myth and Infrastructure , Los Angeles Theatre Center. 6/15-6/18, RADAR. L.A.