Forms of improvisation live and evolve in many fields of the performing arts and music. Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre has taken the best of improv in dance, music, and theatre and thrown them all together in The Bowie Project: A Rock & Roll Soundpainting. And while improvisation in all those forms is not universally admired by people who enjoy the performing arts, this show will make believers, if not lovers, of almost everyone who gets a chance to see it.
This production was almost impeccable in every way one could imagine. Producer Andrea Ariel took full advantage of rock’s vibrancy and power. The excitement level was sustained throughout the show’s 70 minutes, with very brief pauses for the audience to catch its breath. The performers didn’t seem to need to catch their breath. The entire ensemble exuded talent and All-America training.
This particular incarnation of improvisation combined the art forms all at once. In rehearsal, every performer developed and learned a palette of music, acting, or movement in their talent field. Then in the performance, each of the “conductors” would choose elements from the palettes of the performers; with gestures, the conductors would assign the palette materials to performers chosen in the moment. Publicity declared that no two performances would be alike, and this had to be true, given these premises.
There are some who find that improvisation grows long, random, and tedious; but even this charge was defeated by The Bowie Project. The improvisational sections were broken with live performances of David Bowie’s songs in full, led by Adam Sultan as the stage “Bowie” with his Bowie cover band, the Super Creeps. Sultan, a truly brilliant musician and performer, also composed an overture for the start of the show. Rolf Sturm, guitarist and experienced soundpainter from New York City, played and also served as one of the conductors.
A dazzling text-based performance section was conducted by Leese Walker and Nolan Kennedy, members of NYC’s Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble. Seemingly clipped from the pages of Peter Doggett’s biography of Bowie, The Man Who Sold the World, the actors offered text and movement that clearly reflected Bowie’s explorations of self and character. The enactment was most effective when the acting Bowie, Kennedy, tried to take the microphone from the singing Bowie, Sultan. Here was a schizoid internal debate lacking in agreement and harmony. Nothing could have illustrated better the youthful questioning and uncertainty underlying Bowie’s appeal to adolescents from the 1970s until now (the writer can attest).
The Bowie Project suffered only from a disappointingly short run at Stateside at the Paramount. At $12 per ticket it was clearly the best performance value in town. Avid fans may insist on a revival of the show soon, although reassembling such a talented ensemble may prove difficult. Bowie fans everywhere can watch and advocate for its return and wide touring.