Wednesday, November 6, 2013

REVIEW: This Clement World, 10/26


On October 26, I saw Cynthia Hopkins' This Clement World at REDCAT. Her 15-person band (including an 8-person choir) accompanied videos and songs inspired by her 2010 Cape Farwell trip to the arctic. These travelogues were couched between solo performances in which Hopkins shape-shifted into various characters that opined about the modern American's relationship to the natural world.

Hopkins changed into roles such as a disguised space alien, a native American princess, and a visitor from a post-ecological future. Though the topical nature of the piece was compelling, almost all of these adopted personae took an outside, sometimes accusatory stance. They were clearly not part of the problem; that would be the rest of us. One couldn't help but feel like Buber's It, rather than Thou. The alienation that this encouraged lent an air of condescension to the piece, coloring how one might react when the big Woodie Guthrie sing-along broke out. Whether you were willing to buy into that accusatory tone or not determined whether this musical moment was an ecstatic wave of energy or a painful flashback to sunday school. Earnestness is a risky card to play.

Regardless of any internal reactions, the musicians sounded great. Hopkins' arresting voice was bolstered by a mix of local professional musicians and Hopkins' New York musical collaborators. There is an aural richness that can only be produced by a quorum of sounding bodies in the room, and musical director William Daniel Smith effectively harnessed the scale of that ensemble.

These musical forces seemed to exist in support of a city-borne exotification of nature. While this naive perspective may at first be tiresome to those who grew up with trees or snow or ocean all around them, it shouldn't necessarily be invalidated or made suspect. It often takes the curiosity of out-of-town guests to inspire people to fully explore and experience the local beauty they've been gradually desensitized to. I assume that this romanticization of the wild is exactly what Cape Farwell is trying to harvest in the artists they invite on their trips around the world. Instead of directly hammering at public opinion, they opt to influence the work of artists whose creative output (hopefully) affects the collective unconscious. That sounds like a noble mission to me.

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