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Review: ‘Cage’ at Soulpepper on 42nd Street

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The avant-garde work and Zen convictions of 20th-century American composer John Cage are the inspiration for Soulpepper Theatre Company’s ensemble-devised piece Cage, performed in this month’s Soulpepper on 42nd Street festival at Pershing Square Signature Center. It’s a brilliant homage to the artist, a discerning evocation of his experimental style, and another stellar production by this impressive Toronto-based group.

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Referencing Cage’s famous 1952 Minimalist composition 4’33” – in which musicians are present for that length of time without playing their instruments, allowing the audience to focus on the random ambient noise of the environment – the non-narrative Conceptual presentation, co-created and performed by Diego Matamoros (Writer and Lead Performer), Lorenzo Savoini (Production and Video Designer), and Richard Feren (Composer and Sound Designer), with choreography by Shannon Litzenbeger, consists of a series of consecutive multi-media segments, each signaled by the tinkling of a bell and lasting for Cage’s titular duration, clocked by digital stopwatches and video countdowns.

The immersive work defies easy categorization, evoking the Happenings and Performance Art of the mid-century, in its synthesis of theater, music, art, and philosophy. Utilizing movement, sound, light, video projections, painted imagery, text, quotations, spoken word, computers, traditional instruments, everyday objects, and audience interaction, Cage sees art in what is common and creates art from what is familiar, or allows art to create itself from what is aleatory. It explores the contrasts between the planned and the spontaneous, structure and indeterminacy, silence and cacophony, darkness and light, the mind and the body, inner and outer space, acceleration and rest, presence and absence – the polarity and balance of yin and yang.

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Barefoot and shirtless in a crisp white summer suit, Matamoras, supported by the more tech-based contributions of his colleagues, gives a performance that is at once primal and erudite, personal and universal, expressive and affecting. It inspires us to meditate on the essence of life, memory, time, and space, and to ponder the metaphorical cage that entraps, delimits, and confines him – us – like apes in a zoo, until we set ourselves free from expectations and explanations, to embrace, in the words of John Cage, “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

Cage is a provocative and heady work, by an extraordinary company, that bombards our senses and opens our minds – “an abstract collage” of artistic expression that should be experienced first-hand, and in which each attendee’s experience will be unique. Unfortunately for New York, Soulpepper heads back home to Canada at the end of the month; I don’t want them to go. I prefer their presence to their absence, though the memory of their superb work will remain with me through time.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Lorenzo Savoini

Diego Matamoros. Photo by Lorenzo Savoini

Cage played through Sunday, July 16, 2017, at Soulpepper on 42nd Street, performing at the Pershing Square Signature Center – 480 West 42nd Street, NYC.

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