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‘Nightingale’ blends movement, verse, shadows and sounds

Melanie Marshall, left, Cara Patton and Dana Vigran perform in "Nightingale," presented by the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble and the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum. Gabby Battista/Courtesy photo

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From page A8 | April 10, 2013 | Leave Comment

Check it out

What: “Nightingale”

Where: Pamela Trokanksi Dance Workshop, 2720 Del Rio Place

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $15 adults, $12 students/seniors

Info: www.shakespearedavis.com or 530-802-0998

The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s “Nightingale” — a new “movement piece” by writer/director/performer Gia Battista — draws on a wide variety of interesting material, ranging from an ancient poem by a female poet who lived in medieval France, to vocal collages of computer-looped sounds, shadow puppets and live action projected on a scrim, and more.

The piece was workshopped in a shorter, 20-minute form at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last month. Davis Shakespeare’s co-artistic director Rob Salas was in Ashland, Ore., as assistant director on a production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” and when Salas was asked if he wanted to recommend a work-in-progress to be workshopped as a late-night show, he suggested “Nightingale,” which Davis Shakespeare was already developing for April performances in Davis.

The version presented last Friday night — at the Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop, 2720 Del Rio Place — runs closer to an hour. And given the unusual nature of the piece, a bit of description is in order.

Writer/director Gia Battista draws on “Laüstic,” a text by medieval poet Marie de France, who came from France and lived in England for a time. It’s a sad tale, told from a female point of view, depicting love outside marriage, and involving a lady (living in chilly proximity to an uncaring husband), a more thoughtful single knight (living across the way), a balcony, and a nightingale that sings a lovely song in the dark, all of which works up to a bit of violent action … you can fill in the blanks.

Battista is also a performer, stationed at the side of the stage, with two laptop computers, narrating and occasionally singing (in a style hinting at the medieval mystic Hildegard) and beatboxing as she lays down musical phrases that are looped via computer to create music that accompanies the action.

Some of this is improvised, some draws on music and sound cues for previous Davis Shakespeare shows by composer Richard Chowenhill. Battista also speaks verse by Shakespeare, Ovid, Milton, Keats and Eliot (appropriately including Eliot’s famous poem beginning “April is the cruelest month …”)

Movement director Camille Beaumont works with three female performers — Cara Patton, Dana Vigran and Melanie Marshall. The last is fresh from the Sacramento Theatre Company’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which she played the largely physical role of Snug the Joiner.

Barefoot and dressed in what are more-or-less leotards, this trio moves all over a rectangle of rubbery matting … they tumble, they lift each other, they use a length of fabric in various ways. It’s something close to modern dance, though the playbill stops short of using that term.

Very much a partner in all of this is projection designer Adam Smith, who mixes shadow puppets and live action by the three performers — and sometimes one performer will be visible on stage, interacting with a projected shadow on the scrim. Colored lighting by Salas adds to the mood.

All in all, it’s a thought-provoking and imaginative piece, merging ancient and modern components in a singular way. There’s also a post-performance discussion with the artists, and on opening night, Battista made it clear that “Nightingale” is very much a piece in development, and she will be making tweaks and changes along the way, so don’t be surprised if you see a performance that varies from the above description in some ways.

There will be three more performances this coming weekend — 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday — at the Pamela Trokanksi Dance Workshop, 2720 Del Rio Place, Davis. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students/seniors, and available at www.shakespearedavis.com or by calling 530-802-0998.

“Nightingale” also will be featured — doubtless in a somewhat different form as the piece continues to evolve — at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in September.

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