By Taylor Estape
For the 8th annual Embodied Poetics collaboration, subtitled The Musical!, the MFA Theater Contemporary Performance Program asked, what is the nature of music? Where do words meet composition? The ensuing performances covered a broad spectrum of interpretation and musicality, bringing the concept to the edge of legibility and then back again. While there was singing and even proper songs played throughout the night, the troupe did not limit themselves to word-as-lyric but challenged the role of inflection, tone, and rhythm in speech.
Without having access to the works being interpreted, it was still evident how the words were transformed. Sometimes there were refrains, harmonies, choruses; sometimes there were wails, whispers, whines. At times the entire night seemed driven by the careful consideration of how to pronounce every word, as the mood of the room became charged with every change in tone. The music itself ranged from ballads to Broadway-type musical, from dance-techno to harsh electronic. It was clear that the audience was in for a barrage – that the somatic experience of sound would waver somewhere between the beautiful and the abrasive very quickly.
Each performance was poetic, although not always lyrical – they were at times grotesque, at times uncomfortable, even comically tragic. The desire with the musical theme is to focus on the choices made with sound, but the images were equally as striking: a woman in a tattered white dress tied to a strip of train tracks, two bodies teetering and thrashing on top of a small white block, a crimson string dripping with raw egg. In “Barbara Allen,” Jamie McKittrick turned off all of the lights and opened the back door, leaving only the pale light of the dwindling day through the thin windows and doorway. We watched as she slowly got ready to leave, and heard her voice fade as she took measured steps out the door and toward 63rd St.
The night ended with the entire cast on stage performing a number worthy of your favorite childhood musical. Afterward, walking out the door to catch the bus, I could hear people singing the tune, “IIII was not allooowed…”
Taylor Estape is originally from Miami, FL and recently graduated from the Jack Kerouac School’s BA Writing and Literature program. She is currently preoccupied with a manuscript about floods, a general state of confusion and terror, and finding different ways to eat all forms of pork. She has no idea what will happen next.