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“Eye-opening” performance group uses unconventional space for their art

(Photos by Bob Krasner)
Scenes from the performance at 172 E. 4 St. on Monday. (Photos by Bob Krasner)

BY BOB KRASNER | In a world of divisiveness, the Monday evening performance by the members of the ECHOensemble presented a world where contradictions not only existed peacefully side by side, they meshed in a way that presented unlimited possibilities.

Dressed completely in black, the seven performers dealt with their unusual stage with improvised creativity. The venue was anything but traditional, being an empty storefront on Avenue A and East 4th Street that was provided by the non-profit organization ChaShaMa. Founded in 1995, the group partners with property owners who are willing to provide unused real estate for various artistic ventures.

Jonah Udall, the director of the ECHOensemble, welcomed the challenge of working in the unconventional space. “It’s both difficult and inspiring,” he noted, before the performance. “The lighting, the columns – the work will be a product of the space and the moment.”

Although the group has only been performing in public since January, they put in a full year of weekly rehearsals prior to their debut at Dixon Place. Their improvised pieces are not the results of rules or pre-arranged cues, but come out of what Udall refers to as their “practice.” “It’s not about rules,” he explained. “Rules are from the outside in – we work from the inside out.”

This piece – titled “Echo/Chamber” – involved music and dance but contained very little conventional music and no choreography. Beginning in silence, the piece slowly gave way to trombone bleats, the sound of sneakers repeatedly rubbing the floor, a guitar gently hitting the wall and occasional wordless yelps. Random thoughts became repeated actions, providing a visual rhythm that blended with moments of stillness.

A musician might walk across the space, blow a note and return to where he started, over and over, while another would raise his guitar in the air and then lower it again. The guiding principle being that, “an echo is created, repeated and transformed in play with space and time.”

Spectators were encouraged to view the spectacle from anywhere they chose and to move from place to place whenever they felt the urge. In doing so the audience became part of the set and a part of the performance as well. One could choose to concentrate on a corner of the room, where a single performer created a silent tableau, or turn to see the quiet chaos that filled the former bank.

It was not a show for everyone, but they had an audience that appreciated their efforts. Robert Scripp commented that, “It was eye-opening, but not in a cliched sense. It was like looking at an abstract painting – it requires something of the viewer.”

Quinn Ford, “a fan of deconstructionism,” found that it brought to mind a number of philosophical influences, including John Cage and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” She also noticed that “it was nice to see the crowd grow,” as passersby came in out of the snow during the show.

ChaShaMa founder Anita Durst, who was on hand to introduce the event, also noted the effect of the group on the pedestrians. “ECHOensemble used every corner of the room, banging on the walls, crawling on the floors enticing the passersby,” she said, adding, “The unique performance by ECHOensemble was like no other performance that I had seen at 172 E. 4th St. It dared the audience to cross the boundaries of the 4th wall, urging one to become part of the performance.”

Further information can be found at www.echoensemble.com and www.chashama.org

The next performance at 172 East 4th St. will be Friday, Dec. 6, 4-9pm: The Greenhouse Ensemble (an independent theater collective) presents musical performances by Jalopy Records and artist pop-up shop and gallery (also open over the weekend): https://chashama.org/event/jalopy-records/

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