Fade in. A stage, barren yet tempting, expands before you. The floor meets a screen, floating up towards a dark, forgotten ceiling. The large screen suddenly sparks to life, boasting blurred images reminiscent of some distant, delusional fever dream; or perhaps an obscure experimental film harboring a deeper meaning. Out of the corner of each eye, human forms appear out of the shadows of the small theater. The golden shimmer of a bass clarinet, the tuning of a jet black guitar, the hum of a synthesizer coming to life. The smooth, eerie plane before you has become the starting point for a unique, and spiritual, transformation.
The word “mantra” never truly held much meaning in my often-overcrowded brain. One meaning of the word sparked thoughts of classic archetypes in film and television, a reluctant hero endlessly spewing a catchphrase, or the slogan of a fast-food chain. It was another definition, however, bookmarked in ancient Hindu and Buddhist tradition, that stood at the center of the interdisciplinary performance of “With Signs Following.” Blurring the line between performance and ritual, meditation and movement, and the hallmarks of spiritual change, the performance culminated in an intriguing display of improvisational dance, music and visuals.
Like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” some otherworldly creation from the mind of Stanley Kubrick or another artist of similar caliber, “With Signs Following” was initially hard to approach for the common viewer. With its massive screen cascading interwoven images onto the audience, floating through expressive displays of transformation, the dark room was laden in a corruptible sense of mystery. It perhaps wasn’t until Assistant Professor of Music Jessica Lindsey broke the silence with her bass clarinet that some strange stream of consciousness came to light. Intermingled with the radiating strum of Assistant Professor of Art Erik Waterkotte’s guitar, as well as the multifaceted vocals and percussion of Music Director of Dance, Shamou, the dimly-lit room was suddenly full of sound.
The stream of music and video paused only slightly to give the audience’s attention to dancer E.E. Balcos. A performer known by many as the Associate Professor of Dance, quickly masked himself in dark clothing, becoming an improvisational shaman to the unsuspecting gleam of eyes sitting around me. I too became an unsuspecting viewer, consumed and ultimately fascinated by the amalgamation of performance unfolding before me.
As the bass clarinet blared in and out of my left ear, and the hum and hurrying of Shamou lent to a performance all its own on my right, the melting and meshing of color on the screen bled ceaselessly into the ritualistic movements of E.E. Balcos. As the dancer slid from one area of the stage to the next, my thoughts sprung to ancient history, to sporadic yet calculated performances of meditation birthed from the traditional and spiritual. An elegant mimicry of ancient ritual, the performance cycled through themes of existentialism and transformation, moving towards a titular idea that begged for interrogation, even after the lights dimmed.
Even while I might not completely understand what went into the design and ultimate execution of the improvisational performance that was “With Signs Following,” the brief yet captivating visual and auditory display presented a fascinating vignette of meditative and spiritual becoming. Exploring unique realms of existence, all while encouraging the audience to both listen and contribute to its design, “With Signs Following” lent its viewers the opportunity to craft their own understanding of mantra.
“With Signs Following” was given in fulfillment of a Collaborative Works grant from the Digital Arts Center at UNC Charlotte. The performance, organized by Jessica Lindley, Erik Waterkotte and Shamou, was held at Robinson Hall, Room 118.