One compelling image is sometimes all you need to know you want to see more. Linger on the close-up photograph (above) of human faces, caked in gray-green mud-like makeup that cracks and splinters. In areas, the material no longer covers; glowing pink skin tones bring affirmations to mind of life or express the exhaustion of a person who has shed too many tears, endured too much loss or betrayal.
Or are these flakes and the riveting texture of crumbling surfaces meant to resemble the wrinkled, folded skin of aging elephants? Is this image of eyes closed and two heads touching a “cheek-to-cheek” portrait that connotes wisdom and intimacy, or does it draw us into thoughts of mammalian largeness, thundering footfalls, circus acts, and ivory tusks illegally obtained and sold on the black market? Or something else?
Presented by ODC Theater, These Are the Ones We Fell Among is a new work created by interdisciplinary artist Ann Carlson in collaboration with inkBoat, a physical theater and dance company founded 1998 by Shinichi Iova-Koga. The new work features Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga and comes with introductory descriptors such as “absurd, playful, cruel, and curious.” Carlson is recognized for concept-driven works that are often site specific and conducted in collaboration with animals or human communities,. According to information shared in advance of the world premiere, the new work involves “metaphors and mythologies surrounding earth’s largest land mammal: the elephant … the performers inhabit a circus world, a cave, an underworld, and multiple parallel universes. The absurd, cruel and curious settings they visit reflect captivity, domestic behavior, and loss.”
The dancers in the new work are accompanied by an original soundscape written and performed in person by Carla Kihlstedt and Shahzad Ismaily. (The Nov. 5–7 performances are live, and following a live broadcast of the opening night premiere that will stream Nov.12, access to the program for one week following is available to digital subscribers.)
In performance, inkBoat’s blend of Japanese performing and martial arts, improvisation, and Daoist principles establish drama with extreme juxtapositions of speed and velocity, but also, in a few simple gestures, can have a person laughing in pleasure or smiling at some unaffected wit. Carlson’s animal-human interactions expose our and animals’ similar vulnerabilities, strengths, sensory experiences, and ability — or not — to coexist peacefully.
After two years existing in the fraught climate of COVID-19, it’s a short hop to think about extinction. We, like elephants live at risk. We’re all mortal but, like the eyes shut on these faces, we resist rupture or endings. Instead, we look for comfort, for respite, for someone with whom we might wrinkle and fold, and do so with grace and dignity. Our hope for ourselves and earth’s largest land mammals is that the glow of things everlasting is not extinguished by our own blindness.