Not With a Whimper, But a Bang

The Yale Cabaret’s 2010-11 Season ended this weekend with the bang of drums and other percussion. Michael McQuilken’s The Perks gave a new meaning to the term “musical theater.”  Usually that means characters in a play bursting into song-and-dance in an abundance of feeling.  At the Cab show, we were treated to musical pieces given a variety of theatrical treatments: as accompaniment to dramatic action, such as the death and burial of winter (Lupita Nyong’o) to Adrian Knight’s lyrical Mary’s Waltz; or as performance pieces, such as percussionists in rabbit masks playing Thierry de Mey’s Table Music on a table; or as theatrical musical pieces, as in the delightfully inventive Dressur by Mauricio Kagel, which calls for interaction amongst the musicians.  Then there was the big finale: a maelstrom of activity from choreographer Jennifer Harrison Newman and the cast to a storm of percussion from McQuilken and his cohorts (percussionists Yun-Chu Chiu, John Corkill, Ian Rosenbaum, Adam Rosenblatt).

Conceived to celebrate the return of spring, The Perks included video footage of the great outdoors: McQuilken climbing a tree to enhance a rhapsodic piece played by Chiu, and of Nyong’o rushing, like a crazed fan, across streets and across various locations on Yale’s campus, toward her object of adoration (the camera).

Each separate musical number was a mini-drama in its own right if only because playing percussion seems so performative to begin with—add an array of odd noisemakers constructed for the occasion, and you’ve got props as well as instruments.  This was nowhere more evident than in Dressur, which was scripted by its composer to be enacted, and which turns upon the successive failure of the percussionists to communicate the musical idea until finally the last one—Chiu—threw away her sticks and ran off.

Whether or not all the music expressed the theme of spring, the high spirits of the performers and the energetic nature of the pieces combined as a jolt to the system, just in time for the Passover / Easter season.

The Perks, A Rite of Spring; directed by Michael McQuilken

Created by Artists from the Yale Schools of Music, Art, and Drama

The Yale Cabaret, April 14-16