BIG DANCE THEATER
“Ich, Kürbisgeist” is set in a harsh, quasi-medieval landscape facing destruction, populated by a community speaking a rigorous and completely invented language. Every word is semi-recognizable: an amalgam of perhaps English, Swedish, German—and Sid Caesar. In grappling with an invented tongue the performers were forced out of the conventions of traditional psychologically based acting. Rather than producing an undercurrent of subtextual meaning beneath the lines, the actor’s concentration was on the tactile challenge of simply speaking the line correctly according to the linguistic rules invented by the author. The language is as tough and unforgiving as the windswept, uncultivated field in which they sit.
The set design by Joanne Howard placed the audience, limited to 30 seats, in the middle of the action on swivel chairs. They sit amidst dozens of pumpkins organically grown on Governor’s Island, which were harvested by company members just in time for opening night (and baked into pies for the closing night party, thus bringing the set full circle). The physical design, which crams the audience and performers into a low ceiling basement fraught with garbage, infused the piece with the roughness of the characters frustrated existence which is fueled by comic levels of resentful pride.
The five characters boast of surviving prior catastrophes as they bitterly recount lost times. They sing; they dance; they harvest pumpkin seeds. All the while, they feel threatened by vaguely understood, external forces from which there is no protection. They are grounded in fear and resentment: absurd and doomed. The sound score is rife with ground tremble blasts that shock the audience, giving a visceral sense of the kind of overwhelming, mysterious terror that nature can bestow upon an isolated population. Out of this terror emerges absurd kinds ritual attempts to ward off that which cannot be controlled. The costumes, designed by visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra, make the characters look as though they had crafted their rough natural surroundings and detritus into clothing. For example, a hat of bound twigs is strapped across the top of the head with a tag hanging from it.
First and foremost “Ich, Kürbisgeist” is it’s own world which is at once recognizable and utterly alien with its own ritualistic logic.