A Picnic on My Dress: Gorgeous women in gorgeous gowns in a gorgeous setting making gorgeous art. Sounds like an easy win, huh? But the catch, here, was that each artist had to perform despite her garment, constrained by it, each gown (though created with both the artist’s body and the performance space in mind) crafted in such away that it limited the artists’ movements, and changed the relationship of artist to audience by acting simultaneously as conduit and barrier.
The final event for “No More Nomads,” a project conceived and produced by Mark Southerland, was a breathtaking and surprising performance installation, set in the [still being] reconstructed glory of one of the [formerly] most exquisite mansions in Kansas City (and home to the Kansas City Museum), Corinthian Hall.
Though the first performance had already begun in the East Room, my friend and I were welcomed, handed a glass of cava and invited to take a seat on the dancer’s elaborate train spread out over the floor.
We declined to disturb the in-progress performance, but, in turning around, I was delightfully startled by this sculptural image: how powerfully in silence and graceful in stance. Soprano Victoria Botero remained seated at the top of the stairs for over two hours, austere and statuesque as the mortals milled about the hall.
This was a site-specific extension of a previous project by the same name. In rotation, the performers gave stunning, intimate performances in each of the three spaces.
I appreciated the pared-down elements in the opulent setting, the separate-yet-coherent staging, the mix of glamor and artistry. But I was especially taken by these elaborate constraints of garments and space for each performer, the way each person took their repertoire and exceeded the expectations of merely fine performance.
In one space, violinist Coleen Dieker performed solo, the audience crammed into the “Tiny Stadium” built by Southerland, each audience member holding onto the rosette-covered skirt — connecting with the artist in a way that simply never happens, so typically separated by physical space, cultural norms, or inadvertent inattention.
During our foray, Dieker performed Massenet’s Méditation from Thaïs with a gracious manner and charity of spirit as those in and out of the performance space snapped digital images of her, eyes closed, somehow alone in her music despite the near and intrusive presence of the audience.
When finished, she exited the space with a twirl of her skirt that had a pleasant girlishness. (And instigated a touch of envy. Oh, to have hoop skirts be a fashion standard again!)
At the opposite end of the hall was flamenco dancer Zhanna Sarapova and guitarist Beau Bledsoe. Sarapova’s train covered the floor (the most “picniky” of the three) and she negotiated the heavy and hampering skirt well, very different from a typical flamenco ruffle, with an assertive entrée jump onto the stage to start and nicely incorporated kicks, stamps and step overs as she navigated the tiny stage, her expression focused and passionate.
Adding to the beauty and drama of the performance was the full sized shadow accompanying her movements, this evidence of gesture further decorating the gilt and ivory appliqued wall panels.
Bledsoe was perhaps the most active and least visible performer, accompanying both Sarapova and Botero and even Dieker a time or two and he played to each with an intrinsic ease.
Southerland, who also built the stages, emceed the evening, gracious despite the hustle, welcoming guests, corralling the crowd, announcing acts, inviting all to sample the bubbly and pairings, decadent snacks hosted by Ça Va.
He didn’t play that evening, though I enjoyed his nod to his instrument, his “ax,” with a three inch charm version hung on a lanyard.
As enjoyable as those performers were, it was Botero who captured the imagination from her perch at the top of the Grang Hall. Among others, her rendition of Bachianas brasileiras No. 5, something of a signature piece for her and Bledsoe, sounded incredible, especially the final hummed verse, perfectly resonant and ethereal in the space.
My friends and I took the opportunity to sit on the pillows at the base of the stairs for the last few numbers, to sit at the hem of her garment, as it were. The finale of the event was their Se dice de mi, a sensuous, defiant tango . [Here they are at Grünauer for an Ensemble Ibérica performance that gives you an idea.]
Botero gave the tune an emphatic theatricality, thumbing her nose at “what people say,” biting off the lyrics with a wink and raised eyebrow. In the course of her gesturing, the two panels of the train separated, creating a narrow path a few steps down the stairs. In a purely instinctual move, she descended with a confident stride, seating herself midpoint for her final self-assured phrase and then, amid applause, collapsing triumphantly back into the folds of the gown.
It was a stunning finale to a beautifully curated and carried out performance installation. Bravissimi, tutti.