The extraordinarily warm weekend of October 9-11, 2015 was further heated up by the 2cd biennial WoW (Without Walls) festival of theatre by the always interesting La Jolla Playhouse. Offering dance pieces and plays in non-traditional venues, it took us from a box-filled garage in a suburban neighborhood to a tennis court to a basketball court and beyond. We had fully participated in the first Wow festival, in 2013, a 4-day extravaganza, so our expectations were high. We were not disappointed.
Friday, October 9, 2015
3 pm: Dances With Walls, a 3 dance presentation by the Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater company started us in the Wagner Dance Building with Obscura. We were aligned in a long hall, 2 rows deep, with dancers John Diaz and Desiree Cuizon-Fejeran just feet from us. He was a taut coil crouched on the floor as we entered, and she leaned against the wall, her back to him. They were a gorgeous pair, drawn together and almost literally climbing the walls opposite us.
From there, we were “marched” to a lawn near Galbraith Hall, where 3 comic soldiers entertained us (Blythe Barton, Zaquia Mahler Salinas, and Kyle Sorensen) to militaristic music by Hughes Le Bars.
The final piece, Stonehenge, took place on the namesake sculpture.
The actual name of this Richard Fleischner piece, part of the Stuart Collection, is rather prosaic: La Jolla Project, 1984, but everyone calls it “Stonehenge.”
Seeing parts of the campus and artworks in a new light is one of the reasons I so enjoy the WoW Festival. Just as rearranging your art collection or furniture causes you to see it with a new eye, I appreciate features of the campus anew and discover corners I never knew. During the 2013 festival, one of the plays was presented in Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star, the small clapboard house and garden set improbably askew atop the Jacobs School of Engineering building. We had never made it to see the work during the unveiling celebrations, so it was a great opportunity to see it in use.
At 4 pm, we had a “notice to appear” at The Car Plays for the series “Yield.” The car plays are theatre at its most intimate, just 2 spectators and 1-2 actors, all in the confines of a car. The Car Plays had been our favorite of the prior festival and this year was equal in intensity. New this year was that the five 10 minute long plays were thematically interlinked, with each vignette dealing with different aspects of a single car crash.
Dinner during the festival consisted of appetizers and snacks from the French Gourmet in the VIP Lounge and butternut squash, chicken and pork adobo street tacos from a Galaxy Taco stand brought in for the occasion. When evening came, Festival Village filled up for an overhead spectacle from Australia’s “Strange Fruit”: The Spheres. Their performances combine dance, theatre and circus moves, using a unique sway-pole apparatus that has the performers elevated on platforms which can ricochet wildly back and forth.
The four performers ascended flexible poles with platforms, and were enveloped in large globes, which were colorfully illuminated and from which they emerged in a sequence evoking birth. This quartet included characters I mentally dubbed the maiden, the baby, the cavalier and the wicked witch.
The performers were suspended atop their globes, and swayed back and forth, in increasingly close (to each other and to the audience below) and fast-paced interactions that were gasp-inducing.
A week later, I saw another version of this technology at work in another medium with Australian roots, in the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road,” with opponents swinging from one outlandish vehicle to another in high-speed pursuit.
After Spheres, we went on another type of journey, a sensory and interior one, through “OjO: The Next Generation of Travel.” Ojo is Spanish for eye and the journey was into a sightless world, a perspective-altering experience. After checking in at an alternative airline counter, we were given light and sight blocking masks. After warnings that our journey would end if we took them off, we were led into a series of environments, now experienced as a blind person. A fascinating vignette took us virtually to India, where we were enveloped in a crush of smells of curry, sounds of a crowd and a busy street, being brushed by passers-by, as well as a chicken, squawks, feathers and all. I was given a hard sell for the chicken, with a vendor insisting I had agreed to buy it. Protestations that I had no money, could not carry a chicken where I was going, and had no means to cook it were to no avail in discouraging this determined seller/tormentor.
We were led by hand to a party, where I could only stand around helplessly until a “friend” would come by periodically, engaging me in conversation about other people who were there, who shouldn’t have come, can you believe he said that… Other conversations swirled around me, a confusing and disorienting medley.
In another room, seated around a table, a blind woman served us punch, while in yet another space, a blind man typed one guest’s verbal description of another (Steve) into a braille typewriter.
The final segment of our journey was walking in a group, each holding on to a long pole, moving as a unit outside, from concrete to grass and back again. I found I couldn’t walk “normally,” having to lift my feet to “feel” the surfaces underfoot. Altogether, it was a fascinating experience of walking in the shoes of others. On the one hand was the heightening of other senses, using cues from sound to smell and feel to make sense of a situation, to feeling very dependent on others, being led around.
Enough for one, experience-packed post! Two more festival evenings will have to wait for a future piece. Suffice to say, we were again Wowed by the variety of pieces and venues that made up the second, biennial La Jolla Playhouse WoW festival. Mark your calendars for 2017!
To see a fun, REALLY alternative venue (the sea itself) that was the setting for a favorite show at the first Wow festival in 2013, check out this link:
Not only was it free, it took place at La Jolla Shores, with surfers and beachgoers passing by, but its creator, Basil Twist (yes, that is his real name!) just won a MacArthur “genius” grant for his incredible puppet-based wizardry!