There’s a famous quote about mallards that has been attributed both to actor Michael Caine and Canadian ice hockey player Fred Shero: “Be like a duck. Stay calm on the surface but paddle like hell underneath.” After a cursory google search, I learned that the whole metaphor is incorrect due to biological evidence.
But that’s another topic.
The point is that I was reminded of the initial comparison after watching Basil Twist’s magnificent revival of Symphonie Fantastique. The 55-minute show opened last night at HERE Arts Center as part of the Dream Music Puppetry Program. It’s neither theater nor a concert recital. The closest description might be “performance art”, but the best description could simply be “stunning.”
Although the finished product appears effortless to audiences, you can rest assured that the five performers (Kate Brehm, Ben Elling, Andy Gaukel, Jonothon Lyons, and Lake Simons) making magic behind the scenes are working feverishly hard for their paychecks.
Twist created, designed, and directed this visual eye candy after finding a broken aquarium on a West Village sidewalk. He repaired it and began to experiment by running various types of fabric through the water. His discovery on the small scale became a 1,000-gallon tank and a production that mere words cannot express.
With intense human labor and fascinating lighting design (by Andrew Hill), pieces of cloth, plastic, feathers, and wires are dragged through the water to create mesmerizing images. At the same time, pianist Christopher O’Riley, stationed in front of the tank, plays Franz Liszt’s arrangement of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. All of the images are choreographed in sync with the music.
Oh! What a glorious score it is! The Internationally acclaimed O’Riley is essentially running a non-stop marathon here. As he stood to take his final bow, he was drenched in sweat. Berlioz’s original score was written for 90 instruments. In O’Riley’s masterful hands, each of them sounds as though they are represented.
Of the 1830 score, Leonard Bernstein said that it was “the first musical exploration into psychedelia” Twist’s execution perfectly fits the description. It’s hard not to fall into a hypnotic trance while watching. Between the sight and sound, it’s an irresistible treat for the senses.