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A CurtainUp Review

By David Lipfert

This is part of our coverage of the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater. For more details and reports go here

In an array of strikingly different shows in the 2000 edition of Henson International's Festival of Puppet Theater, Hanne Tierney's Salomé stands out for its originality. Upon entering Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, the audience sees only some metal heaps and lumps of cloth spread across the polished wood floor. After a brief prelude by Sabir Mateen's breathy tenor sax and Jane Wang's bass, the objects begin to stir. First a metal coil rises cobra-like into the air followed by three smaller ones. These are Narraboth and the palace guards he commands, as the Oscar Wilde text makes clear. From the side Tierney is manipulating the objects from a control board and speaking their lines into a headset. Each form is linked with several black strings to a large, upright control board full of channels and knobs to guide the resulting movements. The whole operation is as ingenious as it is low-tech.

As the familiar biblical story unfolds, Salomé enters, or rather rises, from the floor. She is represented by a length of shimmering fabric, whose sinuous movements precisely suggest a sensual young woman. She wants the forbidden-to see the notorious prisoner John the Baptist. (Opera cognoscenti will get a jolt here because Tierney uses the same German name, Yokanaan, as in Richard Strauss's Salome.) Her charms prove irresistible to Narraboth, who has John brought out.

Tierney captures John's moral certainty in a sturdy metallic spiral that does not bend and sway like the others. Salomé's slinky cloth has no impact on John's metal, but she vows that she will kiss him. John denounces her and sinks back to his cell. (John's lines are voiced by Balero "Pope" Chambers, while all the others are by Tierney herself.) Salomé's mother, Herodias, represented by a silver and red iridescent width, and King Herod, a similar silver and blue affair, now enter. Tierney captures their worldly regality by making the material rise high into the air and expand to match their pompous statements. Each is suspended on five points, so there are suggestions of arm and shoulder movements in addition to nodding heads. Perhaps inadvertently Tierney engineers movements that also underline the characters' hollowness. In Trevor Brown's multi-colored lighting Salomé, Herodias and Herod continually change hues in Wild's nighttime setting.

The couple's arguing leads to Herod's fateful oath. Salome exchanges her "dress" for a quivering tent of glass beads for her requisite dance. Here Mateen and Wang expand their pithy musical comments on the action to a full-fledged accompaniment.

All is accomplished. A reclothed Salomé envelopes the dark halo braid that rises from John's pile of metal, but Herod quickly exterminates her. Mirroring the events, the moon (two flapping triangles) changes from white to splotchy red.

Even though Tierney's constructions use color, they nicely echo the linearity of Aubrey Beadsley's monochrome illustrations. The metal and cloth that she masterfully manipulates immediately communicate the characters' individuality. Perhaps it is too much to expect Wilde's subtextual critique of bourgeois society to come through as well. Tierney tries to add a psychological interpretation to each character's lines, but the effect is much like listening to a simultaneous translation read by a single person. This does not detract from her ingeniousness, which makes this show a standout.

Performed by Hanne Tierney with Sabir Mateen and Jane Wang
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, Second Avenue at 10th Street, East Village
Running Time: 60 minutes, without intermission
Performances: 9/7/2000 through 9/15/2000
Reviewed by David Lipfert based on 9/06 performance

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