The Blue Bird
nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
January 7, 2009
Physical theatre troupe Witness Relocation brings The Blue Bird written by choreographer Mikuni Yanaihara and translated by Aya Ogawa and Kameron Steele to Clemente Soto Velez. It is a performance art piece based on a Japanese Anime series by Hiroshi Sasagawa called Maeterlinck's Blue Bird: Tyltyl and Mytyl's Adventurous Journey. This, in turn, was based on the Maurice Maeterlinck play The Blue Bird.
The ten-member ensemble mills about the playing area before the show begins, chatting and playing miniature golf. The show itself kicks off with a brief version of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." Performers are always just off the playing area ready to jump in with sketches, movement pieces, songs, interactions with video, impromptu contests, and unison dancing. Using some of Witness Relocation's signature techniques they pull apart, riff on, interrupt, deconstruct, thumb their nose at, and make alternate versions of alternate versions of their source materials. Sometimes they employ several of these techniques at once.
It is a confusing evening of theatre. There is a ton of potential on that stage and a visit to the company's website reveals that they have earned some serious stripes. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt but this performance was nearly incomprehensible. It was like watching an episode of Top Chef where a really strong contestant takes a bunch of good individual ingredients and puts them together to make a dish that is just off.
The work of this company combines physical theatre with dance, video, and other disparate elements. They work in a non-linear style with scenes being interrupted with improvisation and overlapping dialogue. At times it felt like several YouTube clips being cut together into a live show—fun in flashes but tiresome after too long. The cast moves into interesting configurations but the dancing is usually sloppy. I gave up early trying to follow what they were saying because it was really difficult to make out.
Visually, The Blue Bird is well-designed. The blue wigs gave the sense of Anime. Astroturf on the main playing area makes the fake nature come alive. The sound choices lean on bombastic-for-bombastic's sake more than necessary. Neal Medlyn made a guest appearance on the night I attended. His brief bit screaming over a song and pulling back to a simple hip bob to the music was a highlight of the evening.
I could not tell if this ensemble had worked together a lot or not. It seemed like some of them had worked with each other before but not all ten of them. To pull this piece off, it needs a strong ensemble that has put in many years with each other. This is not to put any blame on the performers. They are enthusiastic and give it their all through most of this.
At one point a character says sharply, "wild animals are pure." This might be the point of this piece and its execution. While that might be true, if you put a wild animal in front of a live audience without a good tamer, something bad may happen.
I look forward to the work Witness Relocation develops in the future. I expect they will be making good and interesting stuff. This is undercooked.