Eleven! B. Iden Payne Award NOMINATIONS for Tutto Theatre Company's joint production with The VORTEX of Murder Ballad, Murder Mystery by Elizabeth Doss directed by Dustin Wills last fall. Congratulations to everyone who collaborated with Tutto on this brilliant project, see you at the awards!
When one thinks of meditation, often the image that comes to mind is someone sitting in the lotus position with their eyes closed. However, meditation can take many forms. In some Eastern traditions movement can be a form of meditation. Tutto Theatre Company's new dance and spoken word show, I Witness is, in many ways, a meditation on the concepts of awareness, reality and dreams. However, it isn't simply to be watched. The show engages the audience directly, and brings them into a collective meditation on truly being awake and aware.
While many shows have a chatty atmosphere when the audience is being seated or waiting for the performance to begin, this show is different. Instead, there's a tone of reverence in the theater. The performers are on stage, sitting, lying, still. Then they move, seeming to improvise a brief glimpse of a dance, before again remaining still. They make eye contact with the audience, who is unusually quiet. There's a sense that although the performance has not begun, it is already starting.
This serious tone of reflection and ambivalence continues throughout the entire show. The show itself mimics a dream. One of the performers is lying on stage, as if sleeping, at the very top, and at the end we see him again in this position. Hazy images are projected onto the wall, which has a crumpled fabric spread across it. It is as if one could almost make out the images, but not quite, much like remembering a dream. I Witness is a mix of dance and spoken word. Some of the spoken word is original material while other parts you might recognize if you're familiar with Hindu texts or quantum physics. It's divided into 10 parts, 10 original dances choreographed by Amanda Oakley, Shawn Nasralla, and Jennifer Micallef.
The texts and the dances present a call to pause and be mindful of deeper currents, of the connection of all things, of the presence of a deeper reality. There are direct references to quantum theory, pointing out that the observer cannot be taken out of our understanding of the universe. In the beautiful movements there are at times a sense of struggle. A struggle to remain aware, to remain connected. A struggle against loneliness, against the biological and cultural imperatives that make us into walking automatons, robots or puppets. The show seems to be saying that though we are individuals, we are not individuals living in isolation. We are part of a greater system, and that system is part of us. There is a unity at work in the world. The audience is part of the experience. Without the audience, the show does not exist. Without a witness, an event does not take place. Thus the audience is called to reflect upon the meaning of the dances, called to be aware, throughout the show, but is also a part of this meaning and awareness. The show sets out on an ambitious journey by dealing with concepts such as the subconscious, the nature of reality and resistance to the machinations of modern life. While it doesn't give any sort of solid resolution to these questions, it instead asks one to struggle, to strive, to pay attention--to be aware. That is itself, in many ways, a comfort.
In a world where so many people seek quick and easy answers to complex questions, it is nice to see a performance directly access the mystery and paradox present in our lives and accept it on its own terms.
Postmodern is one of those lovely ambiguous labels that tends to get bandied about by critics and academics when we don’t exactly know what to say. It often seems to mean whatever it’s speaker wants it to mean. So in this instance, I’ll be sure to clarify.
“I Witness,” Tutto Theater Company’s current production, running now through Sept. 4 at the Blue Theater, is definitely postmodern. What makes it postmodern? The intentional juxtaposition of “high” and “low” culture, and a disorienting use of fragments, pastiche, montage — to me, these are fundamental aspects of postmodern art. While a collage sort of performance can make it difficult to focus on any given thing, it also allows you options about where to look or listen, which can be nice.
Billed as “an evening of dance (and spoken-word) with choreography by Amanda Oakley, Shawn Nasralla, and Jennifer Micallef,” the show is neither a play, nor a poetry reading, nor a dance recital… it’s all three — sort of.
It’s a play only in the sense that there does seem to be some sort of narrative through line that deals with love, identity and physics. There are performers who speak lines to an audience. And it happens in a theater.
The lines are a mish-mash of poetry, literary excerpts, quotations and explanations of physics by Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, verging dangerously on the edge of pretentious. These “spoken-words” can be difficult to follow despite the actors efforts. Lizzi Biggers infuses her lines with captivating ardor, but Alex Cogburn would have done well to find some emotions to put behind his.
The dancing is certainly not traditional though classical elements appear, and it occasionally reminded me more of pilates than of pirouettes — which actually made it much more enjoyable than that might sound. Seeing legs in the air and not on the ground was disorienting in a delightful way and at times produced a whimsical sort of beauty that can be lacking in more stoic forms of dancing.
The play of shadows orchestrated by Natalie George’s breathtaking light design is worth the trip in itself, but the talented array of dancers really make the magic happen. Unlike a traditional chorus line, each woman stands out with her own shape, size, and costume.
You may have to pick a favorite to focus on with so much happening at once, but it’s not like that’s a new dilemma for anyone living in the age of the world wide web.
By Sarah Pressley, Daily Texan Staff Published: Friday, August 27, 2010
Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff
From left to right, dance choreographers Amanda Oakley, Shawn Nasralla and Jennifer Micallef perform as part of the Tutto Theatre Company production called “I Witness.”
Sometimes we take charge of our lives and sometimes we only watch them go by.
“I Witness,” a new dance production by Tutto Theatre Company, explores the contradictions between being a participant in your life and only being a witness to it.
“‘I Witness’ is about being and seeing and being seen and a person’s journey through the world and the perspective they choose to take at any moment in life,” said Jennifer Micallef, one of the show’s choreographers.
The three choreographers who worked on the contemporary dance production, which incorporates spoken word, received inspiration from different periods in their lives, when they felt themselves witnessing rather than living.
“I felt like at some points I was either witnessing myself and not actually taking action on [my life], or being witnessed by someone else,” said Amanda Oakley, one of the show’s choreographers and a UT graduate. “I felt that certain aspects of my life at that point [when the production was created], I wasn’t taking control or I was avoiding seeing what was going on and kind of witnessing myself, rather than being myself.”
Throughout their creative process, the dancers and actors involved were able to interpret the concepts and put their own personal meanings into the show as well.
“I was going through a grieving process, having just lost a family member that I was really close with,” said dancer Randi Turkin. “So for me, the concept of witnessing lied very close to my heart because I watched this person pass away.”
Actress Lizzie Biggers, who speaks throughout the show, also made a personal connection with the production. She said the creative process within the show helped her learn to stay present in her own reality.
“The last year of my life, I’ve been a very inactive participant,” Biggers said. “‘I Witness,’ to me is really about living in the moment and being yourself in that moment.”
The dancers and actors involved in the show said they didn’t find it hard to portray such emotional concepts on stage.
“You kind of have to wear your heart on your sleeve,” Oakley said. “For a lot of artists, it’s their release.”
For Biggers, it goes past a release and becomes something more that she can’t help but display.
“I think part of being an artist is being able to access that part of yourself at all times,” Biggers said. “It’s our responsibility.”
Micallef said many college students could benefit from the message of the show since they are already in a time of life exploration.
“It’s relatable particularly to college students because we deal with some pedestrian issues and some existential issues and some universal things,” Micallef said. “There is a world that leaves with you when you leave the show.”
Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale, 522-4045, www.tuttotheatre.org Through Sept. 4 Running time: 1 hr, 15 min.
I once had the distinct privilege (the distinct pleasure) of standing in front of a painting of some water lilies rendered by Vincent Van Gogh. I had seen many photographs of Van Gogh's paintings and had always loved them. I felt as though,
somehow, he captured the essence of experience and distilled it into an embodiment of that essence while keeping it entirely itself. However, I had never seen one of his actual paintings until I stood in front of those watery flowers. I looked for a long time, allowing the painting to absorb me. This painting that distilled not just the essence of the flowers and the essence of the artist but the essence of what it means to be artful, to be artist, to be art.
As an arts writer, I must be of two minds. I must subjectively experience what I see while allowing room to objectively evaluate it for the reading public. The public wants my opinion – that's why they read the review. What purpose does a review serve if it doesn't, on some level, express the writer's opinion? But occasionally I see something about which I do not wish to be objective. Rather, I wish to experience it entirely subjectively. I want to enter into the art, as I entered into Van Gogh's painting, because I am who I am, at that moment in time, and the art invites me – me, specifically, the essence of me – to become a part of it. Tutto Theatre Company'sI Witness is just such a piece. I Witness is a collaborative dance/spoken-word production that succeeds in embodying the truth of a dream state. In this dream, words from disparate sources – Fernando Pessoa, St. Augustine, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr – echo in and out of music from equally disparate sources, while seven dancers embody the words and the music and the feelings of the words and the music. The two actors that speak the words wisely understand that the words, in the context of the dream, carry tremendous weight and power, and they do not overembellish, as so many actors tend to do. They simply speak them clearly and directly and allow the words to work on us. The dances are choreographed by three different individuals, yet each dance takes elements from all the others, so all seem to come from one mind. The group mind. Rich and varied lights and distorted, projected images blend in and out, reflecting the moods of the words and movements as thoroughly as the performers reflect and echo one another. And when they are not dancing or speaking, the actors and dancers sit and witness the dream, always a part of it, though they sit apart and alone. This dream of love, of pain, of loneliness, of togetherness. This dream of life. Of what it means to be human.
When it ended, I did not wish it to end, though I know all things end. Oh yes, all things, end they do. And then begin again, though we so often sleep through the beginnings – and the endings, too. We are asleep to ourselves, so we become most ourselves when we sleep. And when we wake, we wake to a dream. I Witnessembodies our waking, sleeping dream, and you should not miss the opportunity to live it.
Five weeks ago my close friend & dance partner of six years, Amanda Oakley invited me to perform in I Witness, Tutto Theatre Company’s latest show that includes contemporary dance intermixed with spoken word. Excited for a new opportunity, I agreed. She then told me that we had only five weeks to put together a full-length show with almost all brand new choreography. I laughed at the prospect, but was definitely game for the challenge.
It has been well over a year since I’ve been involved in a dance project so I’d been itching for a performance opportunity for months. Last May I injured my ankle during a rehearsal, and spent four months in physical therapy. A month later a mastiff decided to take a bite out of that same ankle, tearing my Achilles tendon & damaging an already tender ligament. Fourteen stitches, a gawky cast boot for 3 months, and 6 more months of physical therapy later, I was released from the doctor’s care. Frustration oozed from my soul at the thought that dance may no longer be the thing I had always turned to for release and that it was taken from me much sooner than I ever expected.
During the many months of recovery I felt my life fall away from me in other areas, too – I suffered through a break up with a partner of almost six years, lost my dog to a cancerous tumor, opened my home to strangers I found on craigslist in order to make the mortgage each month… I’ll stop here. It was by far the darkest time of my life, my own personal nightmare, and I was blanketed with despair without the first clue on how I was going to get back to a happy place.
Because of the serious nature of the ankle injuries and the amount of work it took just to be able to walk without pain, I witnessed myself lose hope that I could get back out there, that I’d be able to function as a dancer at the same level I had become accustomed to. So, to be offered the chance to perform again was more than I could hope for, and I immediately connected with the initial concept for this show – that at any given moment, we are witnessing, and often times, more than we realize, are being witnessed by others.
I walked into my first rehearsal nervous about the challenge that lied ahead and my own ability to dig deep into my soul for some other emotion other than that despair I’d felt for so long. I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the strength or stamina to push through; I lacked trust in myself that I had done enough work to strengthen that area of my body that had suffered for so long; I wondered how in the world we were going to learn almost an hour and half’s worth of choreography in such a short amount of time; and I was somewhat doubtful that I’d be able to rediscover and reconnect with my life passion. I felt like I had lost the level of confidence I’ve been known to have by those closest to me.
This past month has been a blur of whirlwind activity in the studio, by far the fastest moving project of this magnitude I’ve ever been involved in. The first two weeks of rehearsal were spent learning loads of choreography at a quick pace from the show’s co-directors. Amanda, Jennifer & Shawn are three wonderfully talented choreographers with distinctly different movement styles. We learned pieces with different concepts ranging from the land of dreams where anything is possible, to hiding versus seeing versus sharing what we’ve witnessed, to the never-ending magnetism of romantic love. At least that’s what the dances mean to me. The past two weeks have been focused on piecing the show together with the actors who beautifully deliver text chosen from poetry, scientific essays and other various sources. Their voices add such a delicate layer to the piece, texturing the story the way it was always meant to be.
To me I Witness is an enchanting world of hope where anything is possible. We speak of love, timelessness, struggle, desire, determination, and we bring it to the audience from a soulful place where wishes come true if you just let go and let them. It is a haven where fear is accepted as long as we don’t let it drown us in darkness… we must always keep going. Pain is undoubtedly part of our experience at times, but what comes after is enlightenment. Our scars are symbols of courage rather than ugly reminders of our past. This is a world where we are encouraged to believe in our dreams, both the waking and the subconscious, because they are all real, they come from the same place. Impossibilities don’t exist here.
I am lucky to be a witness of this process, to be part of this family so full of mutual understanding, respect for each other’s personal journeys and acceptance of the differences that unite us. In the last month I have seen one of us face a family tragedy with bravery and love, another exit a relationship with poise and strength. I have both witnessed and experienced the personal sacrifices as well as the triumphs. The level of commitment each of us has given to the project has inspires me. And more significant to my own personal story, I am surprised at the ease in which my body has accepted movement again. Sure, that ankle has demanded ice on several occasions, but really, the gift of dance never left me, and I’m so incredibly grateful to be reminded of its comfort in my life. My feelings of despair and self-doubt are just memories now because today is a new day, and I feel differently.
Randi Leigh Turkin
an evening of dance (and spoken-word)
with choreography by Amanda Oakley,
Shawn Nasralla, and Jennifer Micallef
20 August – 4 September 2010
Thursdays – Saturdays, 8:00 p.m.
The BLUE Theatre [916 Springdale Road]
For more information about I Witness visit TUTTO Theatre Company online
You witness a crime. You witness a wedding. You witness a miracle. It's more than seeing – the witness participates. Without a witness, the wedding cannot take place. The miracle cannot be believed. The crime cannot be exposed. "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee."
Now think about live performance. Why is a play not a movie? How is a concert different from a recording? You might say, "Because the performers are right there," but that can't be right, because the performers were right there when they shot the movie, too. What's different about live performance is you.
And when you come to live performance as a witness (rather than as a crossed pair of arms, or a texter, or a slumper), you can transform a performance. Choreographer Shawn Nasralla says that when an audience brings "presence and willingness to open to the performance and let it in," that creates "the possibility of a deeper experience" on both sides of the stage.
Tutto Theatre Company's I Witness, opening Friday, Aug. 20, at the Blue Theatre, uses dance, music, spoken word, and the audience's own lovely presence to explore witness. The evening springs from a short piece of the same name that Nasralla, who studied in Montana and taught at the Dance Theater of Iowa before landing in Austin, created for the recent Big Range Austin Dance Festival. With the help of musical genie Adam Sultan and videographer Eliot Haynes, she explored the concept of witness, including the Vedic philosophical idea that self-witness can lead to awakening. She was "thrilled when Amanda Oakley and Tutto Theater Company gave us the opportunity to expand on the theme."
For this longer evening, Nasralla, Oakley, and Jennifer Micallef have choreographed a total of 10 short pieces, including Nasralla's original, which approach witness from different perspectives. Nasralla's "Polarity" is "a playful duet about physicists and electrons" (Heisenberg's uncertainty principle may – or may not – come into play). Micallef describes her pieces as about "being witnessed in vulnerable and surprising moments, as well as what we witness in our dreams." In "We Collide," she and Oakley "perform a duet about surprise – being together and fully responsive to every moment of touch and separation." Oakley's pieces deal with witness in the context of intimate relationships.
Most of the pieces include texts (performed by actors Lizzi Biggers and Alex Cogburn) from writers like modern-day mystic Eckhart Tolle, old-school mystic St. Augustine, and the multiple literary personalities of Portuguese modernist Fernando Pessoa.
In the past year, Tutto Theatre has won several B. Iden Payne and Austin Critics Table awards for its theatre work. Does the recent departure of Artistic Director Dustin Wills and the production of a dance piece mark a company in transition? Interim Artistic Director Matthew Ervin reminds us that Tutto was "founded to create multidisciplinary works," so the dance/spoken word I Witness is "an opportunity to embrace other aspects of our mission."
Given Tutto's history, it's an opportunity worth checking out. Bring your whole self and see what you can help create. I Witness runs Aug. 20-Sept. 4, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, at the Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale. For more information, call 522-4045 or visit www.tuttotheatre.org.
The event will help in raising funds to repair damage to The BLUE Theatre caused by the FIRE that took place this week. The BLUE Theatre also needs new lighting equipment and for those of you who know..that costs $$$. Please, please come out to show your support to the theatre and join in on the fun.
Help Support the Arts in East Austin!!! The BLUE Theatre's SUPER-RAD band friends HOME BY HOVERCRAFT (http://www.myspace.com/homebyhovercraft) & ABANDONED WAREHOUSE (http://www.myspace.com/aarondembe) agreed to play what we are calling the BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL - All-Day Music Event Designed To Raise Money For Fire Repairs and Lights! TITO'S HANDMADE VODKA has generously donated their delicious Texas Tea Cocktails, OLD SCHOOL BBQ & GRILL rolls in at 2pm to fire up the grill and the bands take the stage at 3pm.
Oh..AND did we mention the raffle!! We got some great prizes from local businesses eager to help out the BLUE. AND YOU CAN HELP OUT TO..
By coming out for a FREE Event at the BLUE and enjoying a tasty beverage, having some old school BBQ or by taking a gamble at the raffle. All proceeds go to the BLUE.
The BLUE Theatre will gladly accept lighting equipment donations as well. If you are looking to give or to sell, swing by and introduce yourself to us. The BLUE Theatre love to meet you!!