2007 Alice in Space: Alienating improvisation (eng)

Marjolein Marchal, 10-12-2007

What on Earth is an improvised space opera? Except for the obvious improvising musicians and maybe some vocals, it’s impossible to even guess what we could expect. Those who visited the Utrecht SJU Jazz Podium Thursday evening on the 6th of December were left completely in the dark as they entered the auditorium not knowing what great surprise poet Ingmar Heytze, singer Ineke van Doorn and musician Marc van Vugt had in store for them with Alice in Space. The audience attention is drawn straight to a podium filled to the brim with musicians. One piano, seven musicians with all sorts of instruments, and very little space left for singer Van Doorn and narrator Heytze. Van Doorn and Heytze developed the idea to produce the show based on Robert Sheckley’s science fiction novel and cult classic of 1966, Dimension of Miracles. “It’s not an interpretation of Sheckley’s story”, announces the host at the beginning of the night, “we prefer to think of it as an individual piece that has drawn some inspiration from the novel.” The makers have taken free rein and the result is this space opera. During the twelve chapters of the story of Alice, who works at the Department of Useless Affairs, the show is illustrated and intensified by floating images of Buddha sculptures, classical pieces from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, exotic plants, Indian gods and algebraic calculations, screened behind the podium. Alice’s (played by Van Doorn) existence changes completely on her way to work, when she discovers that she has won a prize in an “inter-galactic sweepstake”. Alice is not the kind of person who gets excited about anything adventurous, but ends up traveling to different dimensions and beyond despite her lack of enthusiasm. For a great part of the show Alice is moody and sullen; she “just wants to go home!” but the all-knowing narrator (Heytze) uses philosophical, formal and poetic, words to convince her of the importance of accepting this journey. “She begins to realize that she hasn’t lost everything. She’s alive, isn’t she? She realizes she has always lived in the present moment and believes she didnt’ have the right to have bigger expectations … She doesn’t want to achieve anything with her ‘moment’. All she has ever wanted is to keep breathing. “That’s what moments are for”, says Alice. She therefore lets go of her dreams and desires and gives up on the idea of growing old.) In other words: “Alice has changed.” (Words from voice-over Heytze) Heytze’s lyrical recital is alternated with speech and singing from Van Doorn, a singer with a convincing vocal sound and clear performance. Most surprising however, are the musical moments that ensure the individual elements on stage become alive, as a whole. The producers have, somewhat unjustly, defined the piece as a ‘play for voice’ however, not the vocals, but the sounds of the musicians form its heart. As well as composer and guitarist Marc van Vugt, the ensemble consists of Angelo Verploegen on trumpet, Mete Erker on saxophone, Jeffrey Bruinsma on violin, Paul Stouthamer on cello, Paul Berner on double-bass and Joost Lijbaart on percussion, all from Van Vugt’s Big Bizar Habit The highlight of the night is the improvised piece on violin, a solo violin performance that brings forth an interestingly distorted sound. These strange musical sounds, complemented by Van Doorn's rapped monologue, suit the piece perfectly. The result is extremely strong. Heytze's attempt to do a similar thing wasn’t as great a success. In spite of the fact that he puts his heart and soul into the performance he is difficult to hear and his excessive effort is likely leaving the audience with a feeling of awkwardness. High praise goes out to the lyrics and the absurdity of its impact. It is at times philosophical and unintelligible, yet catching enough to keep the audience curious about the continuation of the story. And just a little more praise for the music, partially written and partially improvised. Harmony and unity are brought out by proficient musicians.

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