Swooping Between Heaven and Hell

November 30, 2008

House of Flying Daggers,
before Forbidden Kingdom, there was Martha Clarke’s awe-inspiring Garden of Earthly Delights. Sending fighters flying into the air is just part of the mastery of her imagistic theater piece of 1984. I just saw it at Minetta Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, where it will be till January, hopefully longer.  This was a total experience for eye, ear, body, and the dreaming mind. Based on the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch from 1503 of the same name, it gives images of paradise and hell that are disturbingly close to each other.

From the very beginning when hooded figures crept onto the stage and a drum roll started imperceptibly (music by Richard Peaslee); you knew that you were entering a special world. The 11 dancers wore translucent body suits so they actually looked like the strange naked people in Bosch’s painting. The attraction between bodies was sensual and inevitable. These delights were as unearthly as they were earthly, with figures soaring upside down, whipping long hair to and fro, spinning, cackeling en l’air
 (flying by Foy). 
The unexpected bits of humor were part of that delightful (and sometimes gross, especially involving potatoes) garden.

In the second section, the dancers don white medieval outfits and also don individual characters. One man is the village idiot buts turns saintly. A kind woman turns vicious. It was wonderful to be up close and see the mysterious play of feelings on the faces. During the last section, “hell,” one woman desperately clings to the cellist, then lies down on her back, opening herself totally to him—a purely honest and vulnerable moment. He takes the spindle of his cello and jabs it into her belly. Moments of inexplicable cruelty reminded me of the terrorist siege just ended in Mumbai. These moments pass…only to come again. And the pleasure too, comes and goes.