Created by Ran Xia
Produced by The Arctic Group
Off Off Broadway, Experimental/Audio Theatre
Ran through 2.8.17
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue
by Sarah Weber on 2.10.17
Marissa Stewart, Rebecca Strimaitis, and Laura Kruegel in Harmony. Photo by Charlotte Arnoux.
BOTTOM LINE: An audio play and documentary featuring voices from around the world to address social issues, politics, and collective consciousness.
Sound art or sculpture is as diverse as it is elusive—it comes in an infinite number of forms, defies definition, yet you know it when you hear it. Its unconventionality allows sound art to exist far outside the confines of a traditional museum. In the case of Harmony, Ran Xia invites audiences to hear her audio documentary about globalization, politics, and collective consciousness while sitting in a space that has unified communities for thousands of years—the theater.
After spending a year collecting audio from various individuals around the globe, Harmony first played early this year at Dixon Place. After some development the piece played again at the HERE Arts Center as part of their Sanctuary series—I saw the second installment at HERE, which included new dance choreography.
Upon entering the space it takes a moment to adjust. The theater has been turned around, with the seats in darkness while the stage is comfortably lit, decorated with chairs, tables, and lounge pillows. The walls are decorated with a collage of sketches on small square-shaped paper, and on both the tables and the floor are blank mini sketchpads and pens. Yes, the stage is where you sit for this piece, and the sketchpads are for us to write and doodle while we listen, adding to the collage around us.
The documentary itself is an artfully woven series of interviews. The cast answers questions ranging from their earliest memories to what advice they would give to their daughters. For the most part you can hear the answers one by one, just like traditional documentaries. But throughout the interview answers are either combined (especially if the answers are the same, allowing you to hear the resounding similarities) or they overlap each other, becoming less like a conversation and more like music. And, since you have a sketch pad, you can write or draw your own answers in quiet participation.
Occasionally the audio is enhanced with dance pieces that mirror the topic at hand. The dance also provides much needed relief when you’ve been sitting and listening for extended periods of time. Since the sound is the focal point of this piece, though, sometimes the dances feel they are tacked onto the show rather than a natural extension of the documentary.
As you listen, the conversations cover a breadth of topics from personal stories to feminism to gun safety to culture. Through these myriad of voices we are offered windows into both the joys and challenges we share at home and abroad. Though I appreciate how extensive Xia’s documentary is, eventually it begins to drag; ninety minutes is a long time to sit in one place and listen to the same audio, even with the dances and audience interaction. I was personally starting to struggle to maintain focus after an hour, making it difficult to appreciate not only the documentary’s content but also the beautiful ways Xia’s keen ear inspires the audience to interact with the space and each other.
But don’t let the length of the piece dissuade you from going. Harmony is a unique and inventive experience, one that is keenly relevant to today’s political climate. Xia’s creation cuts through the media overload and instills a sense of global comradery in an era that feels so divisive.
Harmony is created by Ran Xia, in collaboration with Charlotte Arnoux. Music is by Lulu Clohessy, Neil Erua, K. Sloan, Ran Xia, Charlotte Arnoux, etc.
The cast is Charlotte Arnoux, Ran Xia, Monica Trausch, Victoria Giambalvo, Emily Krause, Florence LeBas, Emily Cordes, Marissa Stewart, Laura Krugel, and Rebecca Strimaitis.