On Stage: Attacking Questions

Merce Cunningham would have loved it.

Attack Theatre has always put the emphasis where it counts — on the artistic product, whatever  that might be. Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the company is Attack-ing Questions Night Club in the Strip District, with four bands to accompany it. Did Merce, with his equal emphasis on dance and music as independent art forms, ever envision that?

“Site/Re-site” was originally formulated to be a retrospective, a juicy idea in itself. But upon entering the club, dotted with large turquoise question marks, the company took a hard left. As artistic director Michele de la Reza, explains, “We really envisioned this show to be a kinetic playground, almost as artists [who show] different things from their lives. As for us, we imagined it as ramps, doors and spinning seesaws from our shows. We tried to go with that concept, but is wasn’t working. We were doing a site-specific piece and ignoring the site.”

They (and Attack always proceeds with “they” in mind) took a look around. It was almost as if the big question marks jumped out at them. So there are bits of the original idea in it, but gradually “Site/Re-site” began to take on its own form.

Now this company has performed everywhere from a lazy Susan on top of Mt. Washington to the Andy Warhol Museum, and everywhere in between. Last year they took on a Pittsburgh tour of no less than eight museums and art galleries in two weeks. (It tires me out just writing about it…)

Music director Dave Eggar and percussionist Chuck Palmer tagged along on the tour. But this time the music is coming to Attack — no less than four groups in the similar time frame of two weeks. They’re calling them “bands” and they include indie artist Daryl  Fleming (question: will he bring his electric fuel can?) & The Public Domain (Sept. 16), Deoro, Dave’s newly-titled trio with Chuck and bassist Tom Pirozzi (Sept. 17 and 18), Ben Hardt and his symphonic rock (Sept. 24 and 25) — hold on here — the ancient voices of Chatham Baroque (Sept. 22 and 23), maybe kicked up a notch.

Here’s the way it’s going to work out: there will be three sections. The first will have snatches of recorded musical questions, like “Why?” or “What mirror, where?” (“I Feel Pretty”). You get the idea — a zany intro to the environment, which might leave a few questions swirling in our own minds.

Now when you think of a bar, like Questions, there’s a certain grit to the surroundings. But Michele asserts that the second section will somehow take on “a much, much more abstract, almost elegant aesthetic,” with each band playing its own music.

Now here’s the switch. In the last part, each band selected a classic song — four in all. The songs will remain constant for each performance while the bands interpret each other’s musical scores. Essentially the groups will be “re-siting” the music.

But Attack Theatre isn’t quite like Merce’s relationship with John Cage, where the two art forms simply co-existed on the stage. both  running concurrently, say,  for 20 minutes. Besides, John Cage’s music was recorded. With slightly altering tempos and improvisations interfering with strict time constraints, the dancers had to take that into account. (Hint: they have a non-verbal version of the telephone game to provide transitions.)

There will be physical cues for the musicians and, if you look closely at the dancers, they will be listening ever so closely. After all, according to Michele, “they have to retain the choreographic integraty but allow the image behind the movement to morph.”

But it will still have the Attack Theatre flair, she concludes. And unlike Merce’s concerts, where people brought earphones to listen to Bach instead of John Cage, it’s almost guaranteed that audiences will come to see how both the dance and music twisted and untwisted in a hyper-linked connection.

For more info, click Attack.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: