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Daniel J. Kushner, traipsing through sounds

Wearing Intercourse: Sarah Small’s “Tableau Vivant” (NSFW Video) [Part 1 of 2]

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Mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright, a professional opera singer more than accustomed to being on stage, recalls a humorous yet deceptively prickly exchange with her mother regarding a recent career choice, which found her singing nude in front of hundreds of people: “You know, my mother is having a lovely time with the nudity. I love my mother’s first response: Well just be careful. ‘Be careful of what?’ It’s a slippery slope. ‘What?’ Well I don’t wanna hear about you doing porn! You know, as if the two were related.”

The gig, indeed far removed from the infamous skin trade, is Brooklyn-based photographer and musician Sarah Small’s Tableaux Vivants (living picture), a series of performance art pieces featuring live models — both clothed and unclothed — music and dramatic movements. Having successfully presented seven small-scale tableaux featuring anywhere from five to 36 models at various venues throughout New York City, Small will stage her largest performance to date — Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions, with a cast of 120 under the direction of Adam J. Thompson, an expanded musical score featuring Brooklyn Rider, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and Rima Fand, choreography by Vanessa Walters, and two authentic wedding ceremonies officiated by the artist–at Brooklyn’s breathtaking Skylight One Hanson on May 23 and 24.

Tableau Vivant – Dumbo Arts Festival – powerHouse Arena from Sarah Small's Tableau Vivant on Vimeo.

Perhaps the most immediate question bracing the uninitiated is Why? And why are the participants so heartily invested in the endeavor — so much so that many of the intrepid would shed their clothes to realize Small’s vision?

For Mary Tierney, a 64-year-old actor and experienced clothed Tableau performer, it was not just Sarah Small the artist, but Sarah Small the person, who proved so compelling. “I liked her very much, her youthful energy and this creative idea, and that reminded me of when I would have an idea when I was about her age, and take it to the limits,” says Tierney of their meeting. “And I always wanna respond to that, and I believe in her — and the force, just the sheer force of this idea and her energy and her belief in it.”

Abigail Wright’s experience with Small began with a conspicuous 5-hour tension headache following her Tableau debut. Since then her role has undergone a remarkable progression, culminating in the singer’s emergence as composer, having set to music a set of gibberish text by Small, which Wright then translated into a distinct language. The resulting aria, “Aula jezpol,” depicts a story of creation in which divine love (ifeliof) and its polar opposite, hatred, are united to form a new earth:

Aula Jezpol, om ponquey don mailya
Let’s go to Eternity, all things (molecules, energy) join together (literally “wear intercourse”)

Though this original aria will not yet be sung at the May performances, its message seems implicitly communicated through the collaboration between artist and performers. Wright’s artistic partnership with Small has been characterized by an increasingly frequent, almost systematic encounter with the unfamiliar:

[Sarah] accidentally or intentionally — I’m not really sure yet — likes to throw things in my direction to make me even more uncomfortable. It’s like the first time, so now I’m singing. And now I’m singing nude. And now I’m singing nude a cappella. And now I’m the model that signals all the other models to leave the stage, and I have to walk off, back to the audience, by myself. And you know, I’ve finally gotten comfortable with that, to the point where it’s fun. Like it’s a fun, scary challenge that I really enjoy. And now she’s like, “Hey, how ’bout you write your own aria? How ’bout you write a celebratory aria in minor?” You know, she doesn’t ever really stop challenging me, and I kind of adore that about her… She fosters growth in me from things that I never would have expected, like writing this aria.

For ticket information on the May 23 and 24 performances of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant of the Delirium Constructions at Skylight One Hanson in Brooklyn, N.Y. visit http://www.livingpictureprojects.com/.

3 Responses

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  1. Would I be wrong in inferring that the cougarish Mary Tierney at least took a swipe at you? Great article. Looking forward to part two!

    Tony Phillips

    May 21, 2011 at 12:27 am

  2. [...] decided to let go of how others perceive the articles by Huffington Post writer Daniel J. Kushner, part one and part two, from which I have discovered my tendency to say “like” far too much. I do [...]

  3. I love reading what you have to write, Dan. You give me a glimpse into an art world of which I would have otherwise been ignorant.

    Mairé

    May 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm


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