BWW Review: THE COLLECTIVE MEMORY PROJECT Reminds, Reflects and Rejuvenates at The Ford Theatre
Memory and Collective are the key words here. The performance is a collaboration, explored and presented from Memories of survival; old, new, brand new, collectively or individually. It is an evening of intertwining, sharing, searching, feeling, expressing and truth. It signifies also, to me, what is needed in our government structure today... a true conglomeration of all aspects to arrive at the best possible conclusion that will be of most benefit to ALL.
The World Premiere Project is the original idea of Arianne MacBean, the Artistic Director and Choreographer, who also operates her own dance company, The Big Show, Co. In addition, she is also Adjunct Faculty at Cal State ULB, Pasadena City College and Glendale Community College, besides running a Women's Empowerment Workshop in Pasadena and holds a BA in Dance from UCLA, and a double MFA in Dance and Critical Writing from Calif. Institute of the Arts. In association with The Ford Theatre, part of it's Ignite @ The Ford! series, and The Big Show, Co., this theatre piece was inspired by U. S. veterans and their memories, combined with each audiences' input, in an intimate setting where the audience is seated on stage and assists in helping shape and tell the stories.
The event is a culmination of a three-year community performance initiative and follows thirteen Memory Movement Workshops held all around Los Angeles by Ms. MacBean. Based on memory's effects through time, this gives a very improvisational feel, to incorporate each viewing's input with the raw emotions of recounting vivid flashbacks of combat, the effects it has on both those serving and their loved ones back home, as well as childhood circumstances and the fears and opinions one develops during a lifetime, that affect how we react to events. Forgetting also plays a hand in what materializes when the memory is examined. By using text, music, dance and visual imagery in a theatrical setting, it affords veterans an exploration of their experiences and makes way for healing and reflection.
Local artists and veterans have joined forces to make this a reality, enhanced by Arianne MacBean and Dramaturg Nathan Clum's fastidious leadership and care. There was also generous funding from the City of Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as additional support from the Los Angeles Public Library.
There are various stories woven together with the use of the combined arts, preceded by each audience member contributing their own stories of survival that are melded together with authentic accounts of war, beginning with The Signal Soldier, who ran radio signals during Operation Iraq Freedom.
As this first story is told, (Heraclio Kiki Aguilar's) he is projected on a pull-down screen upstage that is further pulled out by the performers onto the stage and sealed down, where the cast proceeds to take out colored marking pens and begin scribbling all over the white surface, some just scribbling and making wild arced shapes, some drawing in fine detail, a thought or memory. During this, in each section, upstage, someone is drawing a picture of what is happening on stage that is projected on the upstage elevated part of the screen.
On stage it progresses to someone posing a question, which is tossed around rapidly with stream of consciousness answers as they are physically laying on the screen, rolling around while still drawing intensely.
Music begins, and different formations begin to emerge, both with the physical movements of the performers and what they are drawing underneath them. One by one, each performer speaks a phrase, as the others are drawing underneath them, focusing at that moment on each speaker, and letting their bodies improvise movement they feel through the words. They break into groups, mimicking each other, gyrating with sometimes awkward movements, sometimes graceful. The drawing continues, sometimes outlining another body, sometimes following a single person, moving with them, in very improvisational patterns. As they clump together in the middle of the screen on the floor, one girl sits atop the marked-up screen, as the others first crawl underneath the sheet, then gather up the screen around her and wrap her up in it in a big, tight, crinkly, crayoned ball.
There is dead silence for about 20 seconds. The ball starts wiggling, then rolling as she tries to break out, and as she does, the others start ripping off fragments of the screen, passing the pieces around in a frenzy, reciting words which they all echo, faster and faster, until all the pieces are discarded on the floor.
Blending into the end of this, another performer starts reading sections of the audiences' pre-written tales of survival. The phrases and words from before are then repeated, quicker now, as the others start smothering him with the fragments of paper, rapidly turning into a group mumble, shushing him until he breaks away from them, feeling defeated and alone until one person comes to him and puts his arms around him to comfort him.
Each section transitions into the next, seamlessly and effortlessly as the stories being told and their movements and dancing appear driven by the words. Each individual story is vividly and painstakingly expressed as they all react in a variety of emotions and physicalized expression. Sometimes they are agreeing with each other, sometimes things become argumentative. Near the end of each section there seems to be a coming together, where the storyteller is comforted, uplifted (sometimes physically) and supported.
There are more questions posed, more accounts of survival, more memories revived or altered and more sharing of thoughts and movements, all very visually stimulating and riveting. Their random stories begin to blend together, with one person initiating, another continuing, again, seamlessly woven together.
It is an intense and captivating evening leaving you with contemplative thoughts and a feeling of heightened empathy for others and an enrichment of one's spirit.
The artists participating are: Heraclio Kiki Aguilar, who served as a radio and Satellite Communications Operator from 2000-2004, ending his career as E-5 sergeant. Hi is also a creative writer, who attended every single workshop from beginning to end, and draws, from upstage and projected on a screen, his interpretation of what is transpiring on stage alongside the performance, intermittently joining in with the movement and who, at the very end, sums up the significance of the evening.
Edam Atsu-Swanzy.: Currently serving in the U. S. Navy Reserves, having just completed active duty as a Surface Warfare Officer last year, gives a beautiful performance filled with passion for the work. He also runs Global Caring Souls, providing books for at-risk children in Ghana, and is developing a feature film about his experience in the military.
Angelina Atwell handles much of the dialogue and initiating ideas to begin each exploration, and is a dancer, educator and freelance photographer, with a BA in Dance from CSU Long Beach, founding Mighty Me Arts Education Co., bringing arts instruction to children in foster care and orphanages all over the world.
Armen Babasoloukian is a classically trained actor, model and comedian. He is also a combat veteran of three deployments, serving as a Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. His participation is fiercely fueled by his experiences, and adds much to the performance.
Genevieve Carson is the Artistic Director of LA Contemporary Dance Company and has taught and choreographed with LACDC, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, among others, as well as in countries around the world. She was particularly moving when interpreting the spoken words, sometimes by the performers, sometimes as a voice over, and has a beautiful command of mind, body and spirit, with lovely technique.
Brad Culver, who received his BFA from CalArts, and has performed in many productions all over Los Angeles, as well as being a founding member of the LA-based Poor Dog Group, is one of the driving forces during the performance.
Max Eugene, a Haitian-American, raised partially in Brooklyn (!) was also a joy to observe, holding an MFA in Performance at CalArts and a student of philosophy, theatre arts and dance at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, while currently teaching filmmaking at ELC Film Explorer at UCLA and has produced upcoming music videos and films set to premiere in 2019.
And Dr. Priscilla Songsanand, an opthalmologist by day, whose emotional expression during performance was especially touching, has cared for active duty military personnel, families and veterans stationed at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, eventually departing as a Major. She now lends her expertise to veterans in the Veterans Administrations Greater Los Angeles healthcare system.
Outstanding Lighting Design by Pablo Santiago, Musical Composition by Ryan Maker, and Video Design by Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh; all of whom have many credits to their name, as well as Nathan Clum's Dramaturgy and additional writing, Production Coordinator Daniel Crisp and Company Manager Dyanne Cano.
Thank you to the Ford Theatre and Arianne MacBean for mounting this special evening, as it will long be appreciated and remembered.
Photos courtesy of the Ford Theatre and Dyanne Cano.