Soundstream is celebrating its 40th Anniversary season this year, and as part of their New Voices program they presented Percussion Theatre on June 25th at the Guloien Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest. Curated by Noam Bierstone, Percussion Theatre presented four unique pieces of Instrumental Theatre, each one more fascinating and complex than the next. Percussion Theatre was ingenious, captivating, and intriguing.

            I hadn’t heard of Instrumental Theatre before seeing Percussion Theatre, but I certainly cannot wait to see more! Instrumental Theatre puts the music and musicians at the forefront of the theatrical experience rather than being an accompaniment to the dialogue or choreography. Percussion instruments are perfect for this type of theatre, they allow the musician to be emotive and move along with the music, as well as being dynamic in and of itself.

            The first piece was ?Corporel which was performed by Beirstone himself and composed by Vinko Globokar. He used his entire body to create rhythm and sound. Without his shirt, you could see his impressive breath control as he accompanied the physical rhythms with vocal ones as well. The movement and flow of his body as he explored new places and ways to make sounds was mesmerizing. I also loved the difference in sound between him using just his fingertips versus his palms or whether he was hitting the flat of his cheek or the jaw bone. It was amazing to see just how versatile the human body truly is.

            The second and third pieces both used paper as the primary source of sound: In Praise of Shadows and Orison. Performed by Louis Pino, Joyce To, and Jasmine Tsui, and composed by Kotoka Suzuki, both pieces were thought-provoking and enthralling. Both pieces had a focus on negative space; meant to draw our attention not just to what sounds the musicians made but what waited for us in between. In Praise of Shadows used paper in such inventive manners it made me want to go home and start making things! There were paper slide whistles, wind chimes, little boxes and tubes all made of different types of paper. I also was amazed by the difference in sound of a pre-crinkled sheet of paper versus a freshly crinkled one. There was so much to watch and absorb throughout the piece, it was just spectacular! Orison used paper sheets fed into music boxes to produce sound. In this case, it’s the negative spaces in the paper itself, the little holes, which create music. It was amazing watching them all turn their little cranks for their music boxes along to their own sheet music, sometimes allowing one to be heard over the others or otherwise creating beautiful chords. At one point, all three music boxes were connected by one single piece of paper. However, what was fascinating was that before the paper got to the final musician it was flipped over, using the negative of the negative spaces in the paper to create the melody. It was nostalgic and beautiful and the musicians truly got to show their expertise.

            The final piece of the night was Dressur composed by Mauricio Kagel and performed by Noam Bierstone, Randall Chavez Camacho, and Ben Duinker. Dressur used exclusively wooden objects for the performance and had a dressage/horse riding motif. I really enjoyed the nods to the motifs throughout, from the mallets being put in Duinker’s mouth like a bit, to the feed bag, and the delightful nod to “Monty Python” with the coconuts, it was clear to see that the composer truly factored in very theatrical elements into the piece. I also really enjoyed that there were hidden elements like the clogs in the piano bench which made for an enchanting surprise! I also enjoyed the idea of the musicians being pushed and trained like the horses can be with dressage; you could see the tension building throughout the piece between them. Sometimes when things were really heated there was such a cacophony it was hard to tell who would win the argument. Honestly, this one had the audience in stitches; not only were the surprise elements so much fun, but the expressions and antics of the musicians while they were playing was pure entertainment.

            Overall, this was a wonderfully curated program; with lots to think about and lots of laughs, it was enthralling from start to finish. The musicians were phenomenal and I do hope that I get to see more of their work in the future. It’s always so fun to discover new and exciting things, and Instrumental Theatre is definitely one I’m going to be keeping my eye out for!

Pictured (l-r): Noam Bierstone, Ben Duinker, Randall Chaves Camacho

Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann for Soundstreams

Percussion Theatre (2022)


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