As a rule, I always enjoy performances at downtown's REDCAT.La Mélancolie des Dragonscertainly marks no change in that pattern. Describing the performance however will prove a little tricky. Again, no change in the pattern. Shows in this venue rarely turn out safe or predictable. Mostly they come across as a ritual, with as much power and beauty as a high mass if you don't understand Latin--provided you prove willing to allow the experience itself to do what it will rather than trying to re-shape the event into a form more comfortable. Less eccentric. More linear.
Vivarium Studios, which created La Mélancolie des Dragons (The Melancholy of Dragons--a title somehow absolutely perfect, although I cannot tell you why) emerged in 2003 Paris, aiming to create theatrical innovation. It became known for subtly, relatively simple sets, and exploration of ideas that critique modern society. The set up certainly seems simple enough. We see on stage a snow-covered landscape, trees taking up the edge of the space. A car, pulling a kind of van in back, seems stuck in the snow until a woman in a bicycle arrives. Her name is Isobel, and she soon figures out what is wrong with the car. It needs a part. Sadly, the local garage (she knows the guy who runs it) cannot get that part for seven days.
So they are stuck. It seems. They don't seem heartbroken that their "tour" is to be interrupted. All six long-haired guys have a distinct 'heavy metal' air to them. They offer to show Isobel their show and she agrees.
I can safely say what happened surprised me. But not with any kind of real shock. For a time I wondered if this nice and patient lady (she seemed middle aged) was about to become a victim of some horrific crime. After all the six "bandmembers" did feel...odd. Equally odd proved the 'attractions' they offered.
But no crime proceeded to occur. And by the time anyone said anything even vaguely ominous we had come to know these men, to realize what kind of camp or event they were offering. A mini-oddyssey as it were, an exploration of the epic in the simple, the small. A series of wonders to behold in what some might call the most childish of pleasures. Well, why not? The grin awoken by a bubble machine. The fun of walking amid man-made smoke. A joke everyone 'gets' and can therefore enjoy, even if silly. Instead of the biggest, fastest, loudest, most dangerous roller coaster of all time (until the next multi-million dollar one gets made) we share (with Isobel, our surrogate for the evening) ordinary wonders, seemingly forgotten or just ignored.
Even something as simple as a plastic bag can be as frightening as the most expensive CGI orc army. Just a wig hanging on a string near a fan while music plays can create an invisible rock star--to someone with a willingness to imagine, to dream.
Shouldn't that be all of us?
La Mélancolie des Dragonsas of this writing has completed its short run at the REDCAT, appropriate in some way because--like all things--each experience by definition remains ephemeral. On the other hand, its company has performed the show before, presumably will do so again. I for one hope you get a chance to see it or some other piece by Vivarium Studios. For the record, I hope the same for myself. My applause was long the night I saw it. Nor was I alone. Nor was I the last to stop clapping.