Preview: Plasmic Patterns at Baltimore Theatre Project
By John Barry
Starting Thursday, Baltimore Theatre Project will be hosting Plasmic Patterns, a collaboration between choreographer/dancer Naoko Maeshiba and experimental musician/composer Andy Hayleck. Maeshiba’s pieces have always skirted the lines between theatre and dance and incorporate Noh Theatre elements from her native Japan. Hayleck is a Baltimore-based sound artist and composer, who is equally hard to pin down: Instruments he has played include blocks of ice, gongs, and other instruments.
Plasmic Patterns, like a lot of Maeshiba’s work, is intensely environmental, exploring the relationship between the human body and space. I remember watching a rehearsal of Paraffin – a theatre/dance piece – in 2008 in a nondescript rehearsal space at Towson University. I know there was a story to that enigmatic piece, which escaped me, but I still remember the room and the images that filled it. I saw it later at the Theatre Project in a radically different space; and I remember it there, also, as a separate play.
I talked a little with Maeshiba about her upcoming project. She describes the collaboration with Hayleck as “slow-cooking,” a project that has been in the works for about nine months. She notes that they are both interested in creating “physical environment” in the course of their performance.
“We started with sculpting environments,” she says. “We didn’t want to talk about performance. We read newspapers. We talked. Slowly, things came out of those talks. We wanted to explore this space; we arrived at a point where we wanted to play with vertical and horizontal dimensions of space.”
The Theatre Project, for any who have been behind the scenes, is a very vertical space. As their collaboration progressed, she and Hayleck wanted to use that sense of the vertical.
“I was really interested in how external elements – objects, and the space – affect the boundaries of my body,” she says. “So we were applying this idea to the performance. I explore the relationship of my body to objects, light, sound, music. That’s the approach. It’s really important to how the piece is born.”
Maeshiba says that she takes this “vertical” awareness in part from the Noh Theatre of her native Japan.
“The vertical connection is important to universal theatre. But in modern theatre, we started to create this horizontal connection – and the vertical connection diminished” As she notes, actors on the modern stage focus on relationships with other actors on the stage – “so that everything else is cut out of the process.”
“In Japanese Noh Theatre, there’s a clear pull that’s vertical, and we feel the tension all the time. Even when there’s a dialogue, it’s not the primary focus…But the vertical relationship is that the musician and I have a vertical relationship with the environment – we’re connecting, but we’re not closing in. There are two people, but there are all sorts of other elements.”
She emphasizes that audience members need to come with open minds, and a sense of their surroundings.
After three days at Theatre Project, Maeshiba says that Plasmic Patterns may eventually go on the road. Maeshiba emphasizes that her productions are not necessarily about the final product.
“I like to think of it as a beginning,” she says, “as a step to the next step.”
Through June 15 at Theatre Project.