Baron Samedi May 21, 2014

by Eric Olson

Response by Tessa Hulls, Tia Kramer and Eric Olson.


For the final performance of the season, we were presented with the character rich and sonically lush work Baron Samedi.  Famous French composer, Alain Buffard, passed away last fall making this his final composition.  The complex performance was layered.  Each character simultaneously embodied play and suffering, humor and sadness, the weight of racial inequity and the enchanting magic of humanity.  Buffard revealed entrenched and surreal injustices of this world.  Yet somehow, he also managed to defy gravity, logic, and expectation. A decadent feast for the final meal of the season.

As always, the hardest part of responding to these performances is figuring out a context in which to respond. Tessa Hulls, my responder-in-crime this season is conveniently out of town for one of her best friend’s weddings, so I contacted a mutual friend and constant inspiration, Tia Kramer, to join me.  Since Tessa believes we share some similar approaches to creative works we decided to co-create a platform, a stage per se, upon which Tessa can build a response to a show she will never see.  For her we included: Lane Czaplinski’s curatorial note, our description of the set, and a list of the forces we found particularly compelling in the work.  

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Tia saw the minimalist set to resemble a vast white bed sheet magically frozen in mid-air moments before settling upon the floor. Eric interpreted a white surface anchored to the stage beginning to peel and ripple away into the surreal.  The upper layer of the undulating floor was created out of a shiny white vinyl. As the performers’ warm feet touched the vinyl they created audible noises similar to those of dancing on of foam gym mats.  Beneath the vinyl was a thick memory foam-like substance that left subtle trace indentations as the performers moved across its surface.  

Forces at play:

work/ play power/ subordination sexual exploitation/ sexual empowerment pain/ pleasure rhythm/ music/ noise male/ female racialized/ cultural identity documented/ undocumented workers refugees/ emigrant master/ subservient physical/ metaphysical

Tessa’s Response:

I should start by saying that I am writing this from Los Angeles, which is a place that always leaves me coated in a low-grade dusting of deeply misanthropic despair. Being in LA makes me feel like I have somehow stumbled into my favorite dive bar in the middle of the day with all the lights turned on, and that I will never be able to un-see its nakedness, will never be able shuffle it back into the comfort of its smoke and mirrors.

So take me with a grain of salt; I fucking hate this place.

I’m not sure what Eric and Tia want me to do as a response. Initially, when we did some calendar-looking and realized I would be in Southern California for a wedding during Baron Samedi, Eric and I tossed around the idea of me rounding up all the hungover wedding guests and all of us playing some sort of interactive charades with Eric over facetime. But that idea didn’t pan out.

So instead I’m just going to give some off-the-cuff responses to the material that Eric and Tia emailed over to me. Tia’s scrawls are difficult to decipher. The first word that jumps out is “botox,” which is fitting, giving my current surroundings. And Lane’s notes ties in with that same question of how we face our own mortality.  It seems like the death of Alain Buffard became so much a part of Baron Samedi that maybe his death actually changed the work? That makes me wonder about the malleability of performance and the importance of context.

Sorry, guys: I don’t think I can really write anything without the context of having seen the show. Tia and Eric sent over impulses and tensions, but without having a backdrop to place those against, I don’t have anything to say. The impression I get is that the performance created an austere space in which to contemplate death; but maybe I’m just saying that because I’m in LA.