A genuine Bali high

Rick Sacks

Playwright, puppeteer & percussionist Rick Sacks, showing us the magic behind his Smoid. David Powell, the puppet master, is immediately beside him.

There are nine musicians in Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan(aka “ECCG”), and judging by the works presented tonight, this is an ambitious group eagerly embracing new disciplines & styles, while welcoming a diverse assortment of collaborators.

I was drawn to this week’s program by the concluding item on the bill, namely The Adventures of the Smoid, a new dramatic work by Rick Sacks. I’d heard that David Powell of Puppetmongers had assisted Sacks, not only in designing shadow puppets to tell his story, but in training some of the ECCG musicians in shadow puppetry.

It reminded me of what I’d seen from the Canadian Opera Company in 2009. Just as Robert Lepage’s production of Stravinsky works had led the COC to employ opera singers as puppet manipulators, so too with Sacks’ work for ECCG.

Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan

A glimpse of some of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan instruments.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that The Adventures of the Smoidis an unpretentious tale suitable for children but sophisticated enough for adults. This shadow puppetry will wow any audience, particularly with the gamelan accompaniment. While it’s a simple story, there are picturesque moments throughout that keep you riveted. I was as excited as a small child.

After the performance Sacks and company invited us behind the projection screen for a question –answer session whereby we could see how it was all done. In some respects the illusions seemed more rather than less impressive when we saw the simplicity of the design & execution.

The remainder of the evening was completely different. Titled “Tribute to Nano S.” the first half of the programme consisted of a series of songs honouring the master Nano Suratno. The five songs married the acoustic subtleties of ECCG, including some microphones, with the electronic wizardry of turntable duo INSiDEaMiND.

INSiDEaMiND aT WoRK

Four of the five songs began with something electronic –a drone, or an ostinato—supplying a rhythmic hook for the song that followed. The nine members of ECCG joined in with the electronic rhythms of INSiDEaMiND, a pulsing hybrid that wouldn’t be out of place in a dance-club yet one still sufficiently artsy for a Music Gallery crowd. After having experienced La Bohemelast week in the Tranzac Club, I couldn’t help but wonder how a site-specific performance might galvanize ECCG with INSiDEaMiND. The last item in the first half—a traditional Palestinian song with an infectious rhythmic hook—had me wondering how people could keep their seats, given my own impulse to get up and dance.

The vocals by Jennifer Moore and Maryem Tollar were almost subliminal. When I consciously attempted to decipher the lyrics I was somewhat frustrated, but when I relaxed and surrendered to the dense texture I found myself presented with gifts of a clear phrase here and there, in several languages. As with so much on this occasion, I let it all wash over me, not too worried about making sense out of the proceedings, so much as to revel in the sensations. Our ears were in safe hands, as there wasn’t a moment that wasn’t beautiful.

The ECCG program –the five song Tribute to Nano S, and The Adventures of the Smoid—is to be repeated 8:00 pm Tuesday June 14th at the Music Gallery.

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