Friday, February 11, 2011

And They Lynched Him To A Tree

"It is night. In a clearing by the roadside among the turpentine pines, lit by the headlights from parked cars, a Negro has just been lynched."

A woman in a white Victorian wedding dress, pulling yards and yards of red satin ribbon from her breast, as if disemboweling herself. A butoh dancer in a cage, painted like a zebra, jumping rope. Two young children, listening to a story, uncomprehending. A black man in tattered clothes, trembling and afraid.

This is the world of And They Lynched Him To A Tree, a collaborative multi-media theater piece, between the University of Colorado's College of Music and Department of Theater and Dance. Based upon a piece by William Grant Still, written in 1939, who was the first African
American to conduct a major Symphony Orchestra, and had over 150 compositions to his name, and was masterminded by Fred Peterband (choir direction) and Onye Ozuzu (choreography). Four installations, spread about the ATLAS theater building, create an immersive experience, where observers may wander about, to lose themselves in this world, like Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit brought to life. The audience is shoulder to shoulder with the performers, breaking down the traditional spectator mentality of stage and seats. Standing next to a black man, huddled and shaking on a freight elevator, with the narration of his brutal beating and narrow escape with the lynching rope, the luxury of the stoic observer was abandoned. I wanted to put my arms around the man. The audience filed, silently, from the elevator, after the piece. This was beyond traditional White Guilt, the piece asks only that we look, that we bear witness, that these things HAPPENED.

A strong stylistic consistency in design (a preponderance of red and white), the slow, languid movements of the dancers, as if watching something underwater, and the hushed atmosphere of the Theater provoked a strong, dreamlike ambience. Like watching a bad dream, that is heartbreaking but beautiful. The ATLAS Theater transforms, this weekend, into something otherworldly. Utterly professional performances, from all involved, remind us how lucky we are to live in a cultural vortex, where interest art and dialogue can occur. That these wounds of the past can be pulled out of the heirloom drawer, and witness paid, that maybe these wounds may eventually salve.

This is going on tonight and tomorrow, (fri and sat, feb 11 and 12) and may be attended for free, although it is recommended that you rsvp for tickets to the big finale, a half-hour multimedia performance in the theater proper. I strongly advise checking this out. It is truly special, and i am very grateful that i got to attend.

ps... the rsvp for the main performance has ended, but the website claims that it is worth trying to see the show, if you are interested, as many ticket holders don't show up.


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