Theatre Review: Shadowbox Live’s Recent Collaboration Gallery of Echoes Paves an Exciting Path for Theaters in Columbus
Shadowbox Live’s newest original production Gallery of Echoes opened and closed in one weekend. In it’s brief run, it gave the city of Columbus something quite beautiful, a real feast for the senses.
A collaboration between Shadowbox Live and The Columbus Museum of Art, Gallery of Echoes examines art from CMA’s permanent collection with original Shadowbox music, video, and dance. The company took the artists’ intentions and reviews of the day to create twenty-one completely separate songs and visual interpretive explanations. Each piece offers a different feel—a varied slice in the artistic and cultural history pie.
Video proves integral in this show; Shadowbox filmed each of the works of art and played with the medium to extol the nuances of the individual pieces. To do this, they opened up the space quite a bit, moving their usual screens far to either side of the stage and installing an impressive 27 x 9 foot screen up center stage. They scattered the band around the stage as well, creating the invitation for an integrative experience.
Shadowbox’s band Light, composed of Stev Guyer, Gabriel Guyer, Jennifer Hahn, Matthew Hahn, and Brandon Smith (with contributions by Brent Lambert and Dante Wehe) wrote, produced, and performed all the music in this show. Each song tributes one of the works of art and each song sounds distinct, evoking the artist’s intentions. From the wild and joyous percussive beats for the unknown Nayarit Artist’s “Court Musician with Turtle Carapace and Deer Horn Rasp” to the sexy rock song for Pablo Picasso’s “I Love Eva” to the hip-hop infused music for Kehinde Wiley’s “Portrait of Andries Stilte II,” each song clutches the audience, sending them into the unique world of that artist’s image. Hearing this music, watching the musicians—in full sight rather than shrouded in the corner—I wonder why Shadowbox does not make more original music. They clearly maintain the talent to do so.
The over one hundred costumes designed by Linda Mullin, Lyn Helenberger, and Nick Wilson demonstrate a broad range of skill and creativity. Beautiful details and frills abound in the early twentieth century fashions for George Bellows’ “Summer Night, Riverside Drive” while Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s “The Swimmer” receives a Japanese and American touch. Most interesting are the distressed, sort of Gothic/steam punk black birds for Aldo Casanova’s “Bird.” A true tip of the hat to the costume designers for their extraordinary work.
As always, Katy Psenicka’s choreography impresses. Highlights include the war-inspired group number for Ahmed Alsoudani’s “Untitled 2009” and the somber duet (featuring Nikki Fagin and Andy Ankrom) for Edward Hopper’s “Morning Sun.” I find it impossible to comment on an individual performer because each person on that stage sends a strong signal of “vehicle” rather than performer. They all meld into each piece, serving the message of the artwork, and removing themselves as an individual—this is a really difficult yet wonderful thing to do, which ultimately makes the show.
As Stev Guyer introduces at the beginning of the performance, the video serves as a central performer. It proves as imperative as any other element in this production. I’ve commented on this in previous reviews. Apart from Shadowbox, very little video projection is used in this city’s theaters, but I encourage effective use or experimentation with it. David Whitehouse and the video editing team: Harold Chadwick, Rasean Davonte Johnson, and Zach Tarantelli completely transcend any previous notion of theatrical projection design in this city. Using a variety of angles and effects, each video highlights details or underscores the subtle emotions of each piece, providing a view one could not even attain in the museum. The audience delves into the lake and climbs the mountains for Albert Bierstadt’s “King Lake, California” and feels painter Emile Nolde’s Nazi fear and sense of urgency for his “Sunflowers in the Windstorm.”
Of course, the rides the audience experiences with each number could not occur without the impeccable collaboration between departments. The Shadowbox look at Arthur Dove’s “Thunderstorm, 1921” epitomizes good art. All elements—dance, lighting, music, video, costumes—come together to create a mesmerizing spectacle that leaves the audience silent in awe, akin to the quiet after an intense storm. This number serves as one of the best examples of integrative video I have ever seen in any city. Kudos to the entire collaborative ensemble for that.
Experiencing Gallery of Echoes conjures up much inspiration and many thoughts. I think about the legacy of art, how one soul inspires another, which in turn leads someone else to create something. The chain of artistic connectedness is a beautiful thing indeed. We need more of this—theater appreciating the other art forms and uniting them into an experience only a theater can do. Not just in Columbus, but in the rest of the world as well. Hopefully, Gallery of Echoes can find new life because, seriously, seven performances is nowhere near enough.
Gallery of Echoes ran until May 4, at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front Street. More information can be found online at ShadowboxLive.org.