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Theatre Tue Feb 28 2012

Review: FJORDS @ The Poetry Foundation

FJORDS- boy.JPG

What's the best way to tell a story? Performing a set of carefully-selected words and painting a picture with your poetry? Or conveying that imagery with light, shadows, translucent photographs, music, movement and written text? I may never know the answer, but The Poetry Foundation's hosting of FJORDS deftly explores that question from both sides of the coin.

FJORDS is an interpretative collaboration between shadow puppet performance group Manual Cinema and string quartet Chicago Q Ensemble, based on the poems of Portland, OR-based author Zachary Schomburg.

When I caught the performance on Thursday, Schomburg opened the show by reading a selection of 15 poems, ranging in length and tone, but often capping off with an twist ending or metaphor (I particularly enjoyed one poem about "falling from the sky"). He was charming, often introducing his poems with an amusing anecdote, an off-the-cuff one-liner, or a dance move or two. Even when an audience member fainted in the front row during one of his poems, he was able to keep the show moving and the audience enthralled.

Many of Schomburg's poems relate to the line between dreams and reality, and the effect of Manual Cinema's audiovisual spectacle was to create a surreal, flowing journey, occasionally punctured by titles or lines from the poems to let the viewer know what poem was being interpreted. I enjoyed seeing how the imagery compared and contrasted to my own imaginings of Schoenburg's poems, and often times, the visuals were more striking than anything I pictured in my mind.

Even without any sort of background information, the rich collage of plastic shadow puppets on overhead projectors, live movement, sound effects, and beautiful backgrounds both handmade and photographed almost reminded me of contemporary design of console role-playing games, like Final Fantasy 7 (with subtle jokes and twists in place of random battles with monsters). I consider the group's ability to match the visual splendor of a game studio's multi-million dollar CGI experience with cheap materials drawn from an elementary school's art and music departments a testament to their raw talent.

What I enjoyed the most was the performance's ability to breathe new life in Schomburg's works, especially several of the poems I didn't like as much as the others. A moving score by Manual Cinema member Kyle Vegter and Q Ensemble kept the mood and pace, as the animation of one poem bled into the next, creating a colorful, constantly-shifting dreamlike atmosphere.

My only complaint was the venue itself. The Poetry Foundation is beautiful and on paper sounds like the appropriate venue for this sort of work. Unfortunately, because the seating rows weren't raised, seeing the screen was a matter of adjusting myself to see around the heads in front of me. I was able to make out most of the show, but many people got up to stand by the sides or sit on the floor in front of the stage.

All in all, Schomburg and the FJORDS crew gave a dazzling performance. I just wish I could have experienced the full effect.

FJORDS will tour across the east coast in March 2012 with Zachary Schomburg.

 
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