When you walk into artist Pablo Cano’s Red Velvet Theater in Little Havana, you are greeted by the most elegant of ladies — Marie Antoinette herself. The larger-than-life marionette welcomes you with her tightly corseted waist, lifted bosom and fine European lips.
Next to her, an antique desk with a cinched red curtain entices you to join a mailing list of an elite, underground audience whose senses are teased and whose inner children have found the ultimate playground. A quick scan around the foyer reveals sumptuous Cuban tile framing antique wooden furniture intertwined with marionettes.
They’re sizing you up, playful, mischievous, musical.
French doors lead you into the white box space peppered by red velvet furniture, rumored to be found and reupholstered neighborhood finds. In fact, Havana-born Cano seeks materials for his world famous marionettes from local thrift stores and the streets of Little Havana. The Red Velvet Theater is a model for environmental and creative sustainability, a platform for collaboration and improvisation.
The 1903 house begins to dance. Footsteps above pounce on the wooden floors and stairwell. Palms hit walls. Doors open and shut. Things are happening. I imagine the marionette room upstairs coming to life. The house breathes life into the puppets. They stir, they laugh, they sing.
Composer Matthew Taylor enters and exits through the French doors three times. Collaborator and dancer Priscilla Marrero seduces gravity and enters through sinuous floor work opposite Taylor. Taylor poses the question: “How was your day today?” There is no response as dancer Jocelyn Perez enters the frame. The performance space is everywhere, everything is performance.
Taylor welcomes the audience to Etudes, “a sound and space study of this house for the benefit of our performance and your enjoyment.” He picks up a flute and begins an improvisation that blend scat singing and airy flute. With the other arm, he picks up a saxophone and -- going back and forth between instruments, his voice and body — he moves through the room.
Perez picks up a gold marionette in the shape of a bull. She is focused on her interaction with the bull and her body as a mirror and extension of the puppet. There are moments that work and moments that don’t; moments of animation between sound and puppet and mover, and pauses of awkward experimentation. But it is this very tension that Etudes strives to articulate. It is about process. And as Marrero describes, it’s about choice.
Etudes is a prelude to Taylor’s ballet, Elvrutu’s Fall, which will be premiered during Miami Light Project’s Here and Now: 2013 program. The event will take place at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, Feb. 7-9 and 14-16.
“Etudes was conceived to be both a fundraiser and a workshop," Taylor says. "When we were casting Elvrutu’s Fall, Priscilla and I were impressed by the dynamic performances of the other dancers. Later, we decided it would be a cool way to work out material while raising money for the project.”
Etudes has given us the opportunity to intimately experiment with ideas and concepts in the presence of an audience," Marrero says. "Everyone was actively involved in choice-making from the moment they entered the house. It gave us a chance for the performers to release nervous energy and begin to trust themselves, their practice and each other. At moments, perhaps a bit risky, but, hey, isn’t that why we do it?”
Etudes had four installments, each one different, created in situ, as a conversation with whomever was present in the room.
It was improvisation “with an exit strategy,” according to Taylor. “For me, improvisation has two main functions: there’s the solo process, and then there is the social/public improvisation. Improvisation is art-making with all of your senses. I hear what my fellow musicians play; I smell and taste food, sweat, perfume; I see what the dancers, audience, and other musicians are doing; and I feel the vibrations of my instrument and the venue and the touch of my fellow performers. All of this information affects what I play and do in my improvisation.”
One of my favorite moments in Etudes occurred when Pablo Cano joined the stage performers with one of his marionettes. He had a harlequin-like puppet greet each audience member and then brought out a lady to dance. It was as heart opening and beautiful as Taylor’s music.
Cano describes what drew him to collaborate with Taylor as “Matthew’s genius for musical improvisation and imagination for story telling.” Cano adds, “I collaborate best with artists that understand how to evolve and feel when ideas grow. The foundation of my creative philosophy is to hope and never to expect that the artist I’m working with has this ability. Most have it and it’s fun to find out how much.”