By: Jan. 17, 2018

Review: BLACK INSCRIPTION  at HERE The basement walls of the Off-Off-Broadway theatre HERE are lined with inked artwork composed of frantic, tumultuous, and intricate shapes crowded onto paper like water filling a glass to its brim. The art by Lisa Carroll corresponds to each of the songs premiering at HERE during the Prototype Festival in a song cycle called BLACK INSCRIPTION.

The fifteen song cycle depicts the emotions and turmoil of free-diver Natalia Molchanova's preparation, descent into the darkness of the ocean--her lungs burning and her mind concentrating on moving deeper and deeper through the waves--and imagined odyssey into a world no one has lived to experience.

Natalia Molchanova was a real diver--who disappeared off the coast of Spain almost three years ago--but Matthias Bossi, Jeremy Flower, and Carla Kihlstedt, have used BLACK INSCRIPTION as a way to turn Molchanova into an immortal creature who is able to guide the audience through the depths, past the point of safety, and through a world that has never before been experienced. Real excerpts from Molchanova's poetry are used in the songs, and images (Mark DeChiazza, Environment & Video Designer) that flicker on a screen behind the musicians and singers serve as a visual element to pull the audience deeper into the assumed darkness that is at times surprisingly and painfully bright with the wondrous luminescence of the deep sea.

While BLACK INSCRIPTION does not tell a linear or clear-cut story, it does string together emotions in a way a traditional piece would have struggled to do. The songs are held together by the swaying of the artists and the call of the sea pouring from speakers ringing with instrument feedback. These songs are alive in a way similar to the ocean, undulating between terrifyingly loud and destructive and serenely quiet and beautiful. And the spoken text by Hannah Silva (originally a part of "Jump Blue" for BBC Radio 3) is a poetic, heartfelt, and solemn glimpse into Molchanova's life and thoughts, sending the audience down into the deep then pulling them back to shore as the cycle concludes.

BLACK INSCRIPTION is like being suspended in a cage in the ocean, the images crashing into you as you sink down into the abyss of ethereal noises, both human and machine; their siren calls echoing the cadence of the ocean. The voices of Carla Kihlstedt, Ariel Parkington, Jeremy Flower, and Matthais Bossi blend beautifully together, but the real stand out is Kristin Slipp who along with Kihlstedt and Parkington sings the majority of the show, but who bewitches the audience during her partially-acapella solo "Octopolis" (written by Slipp and Flower).

This is not a show so much as a concert set in motion by the mysteries of the sea and a hard look at the reality of human contact on the inhabitants and ecosystems of the deep. The songs are a cycle surrounding the life of a free-diver and the bliss of surrendering to such an entity--letting water rush over you and drag you down, your body fighting then to give into its primal need to be one with the waves.

BLACK INSCRIPTION continues at HERE January 17-20 at 9:30 pm and January 20 at 4:00. Run time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets can be purchased on HERE's website or at the box office. More information on the Prototype Festival (January 7-20) can be found here.

Photo credit: Valentina Suarez.

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