Big Beat/Back Flow
nytheatre.com review by Kyle Ancowitz
August 15, 2008
Entering the theater, the Big Beat/Back Flow spectator sees a jagged, gleamingly white barrier made of PVC plastic—something like a long picket fence—stretching across the full width of the stage. Scattered around it are fragments of white plastic plumbing and, occasionally, a contorted, spandex-clad human figure, also in white. Watching with expectation from the front row is a klatch of musicians with a giant saxophone and an upright bass. As the house lights fade down and the audience vanishes, the white shapes onstage begin to glow and human shapes struggle to be born.
In a series of playful fits and leaps, the six-person troupe slowly, singly discovers its feet. Each stumbles after the lead of Heidi Turzyn, who judders and undulates alternately between graceful extensions and torturous inverted shoulder-stands. This widely various, multi-ethnic dance troupe mills around the stage in a whimsical frenzy. The fence is dismembered and converted into drums and rattles. A polyrhythmic beat begins to build.
As the chaos peaks, Evan Mazunik appears from the wings to draw order from the madness. Mazunik is fluent in the gestures of "Soundpainting", essentially a sign language for composing live music. According to Soundpainting creator Walter Thompson's website, it contains more than 800 signs, with gestures for different instruments, time signatures, musical feels, and most evident in this piece, a two-fingered "V" that rises and falls along an opposing forearm, which seems to stand for "volume." Mazunik uses his signing to corral the dancers and summon the waiting musicians to play. His fluid, authoritative gesturing at first appears to be a choreographed dance of its own.
Under Mazunik's guidance, a perceptible shape begins to emerge in the performance. Bass and percussion are layered into the soundscape. He draws the audience into the music, calling out for laughter with sweeping gestures, and the audience happily obliges. As the piece draws to a close, the dancers, seemingly having learned rudimentary Soundpainting from the master's example, trade their own delightfully individual and varied improvisations with the musicians. The most astonishing duet of all was saxophonist Josh Sinton's wheezing, chattering shuffle with his baritone, which was intimate in a way no two human bodies could be.
Co-creators Nichole Arvin and Asami Morita (who also appears on stage) have delivered a lively, engaging experiment in improvisation. There is generous artistry on display from dancers, musicians, and Soundpainters alike. This kinetic monument to spontaneity is necessarily unlike anything else in FringeNYC and well worth catching.