Archive for the ‘Experimental’ Category

An Outdated Stitch in Time

May 28, 2010

On May 26, 2010, at the Theatre Centre in Toronto on lively Queen Street West there was a replay of last year’s successful première of the Stitch.

The Stitch is a singing performance of three seamstresses and the only sound support comes from the three sewing machines. The storytelling relies solely on a poetic associative arrangement of words revolving around stitching, sewing and clothing vocabulary in small, loosely connected monologues, dialogues or trios. It is supported by emotionally charged and expressive singing and acting invoking an array of collective memories of female hardship and suffering in a male-dominated world. The audience would have benefited had the programme provided the libretto, but that was not the case.

The entire performance probably does not include a single complete sentence that is intelligible. Yet,  the taste of collective memory of the social position of woman deprived of  equality, enslaved in her underappreciated labours and denied the status of a person in law and society comes across surprisingly clear and strong.

The programme and media release inform us that it is an operatic event of three good singers. Neema Bickersteth is evidently gifted with a voice of remarkable clarity, control and strength. The intimate space of this performance is also a great opportunity to enjoy the proximity of a singer but unfortunately only when Ms. Bickersteth released her voice in one or two short solos did it reach to my bones. (My personal message to Ms. Bickersteth: Keep auditioning for the big stages, you can do it!)

Patricia O’Callaghan, described in a profile available on the net in a provocative metaphor as a singer who sings with “a naked abandon”, did not take the opportunity to surrender to such an extent. In fairness to her this piece perhaps does not avail an opportunity for a “naked abandon”.

The third singer, Christine Duncan, had her effective stage moments too and contributed to some peaks of the dramatic friction in this performance.

The programme has it that the composer, Juliet Palmer, collaborated with Meredith Monk, and this piece shows that influence. Since Meredith Monk is not an artist of my personal preference I would raise the objection that there is not enough music in this piece. It is a performance but the music comes only in third place: after poetry and acting.

Anna Chatterton as a writer made a little poetic miracle with this text by managing to convey a firm statement with the associative power of words alone.

My friend who accompanied me to this performance made an excellent remark that this 45-minute performance did not reach a dramatic peak before its somewhat premature and abrupt end. Had it been more dramatically developed it would have qualified to be a solid piece. Concise as it is, it feels like a mid-term exercise in a performing arts course rather than a self-standing full-evening event.

Lighting, choreography and costume contribute to the impression that it is an experiment and not a fully elaborated performance. Each of these elements are somewhat neglected and the funding cannot be an excuse.

The world around us as it is today abounds with mind-provoking themes for a performance like this. Women’s issues as a theme today when even the mainstream universities have established entire departments devoted to this subject matter does not carry the provocative and daring energy we want to feel from the alternative off-mainstream podiums.