No one quite knows how the rise of technology and the digital realm is affecting humanity, but that hasn’t stopped artists from trying to figure it out. One foray into the subject matter comes from Cooperative Performance Milwaukee, who’ll stage Don Russell’s devised work iTopia in October. The one-act follows four characters as they attempt to navigate through a world of increasingly virtual communication, adding dance and poetry to traditional dramatic scenes.
At Theatre Gigante Studio, 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee.Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at cooperformke.com.
Oct. 16 to 31
Theatre Gigante kicks off its 2015–16 season with this unique show at its Walker’s Point studio. Former Gigante performer Frank Pahl will lead his band Little Bang Theory in performance of a live soundtrack to surreal, stop-motion animated films from the ’20s and ‘30s, including the acclaimed short The Mascot, an influence on filmmakers all the way up to the present day. Little Bang Theory performs entirely on children’s instruments and toys, making the act the perfect accompaniment.
At 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee. Seats are extremely limited and can be reserved at 414-961-6119. Suggested donation is $15.
8 p.m. July 10 and 11
Taking Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream and turning it upside-down to make it a contemporary midwinter farce? That’s just the sort of thing you’d expect from Theatre Gigante, which has spent more than 25 years developing its own distinct style of theater and movement. The troupe’s season concludes with this adaptation, which takes the basic idea of Shakespeare’s original play — confused lovers lost in the woods — and applies it to a new crop of characters, young and old alike, with farcical results.
At Kenilworth Studio 508, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors, $15 for students. Ring 800-838-3006 or visit theatregigante.org.
7:30 p.m. on Thurs., Fri., and Sat., May 9 to 17
Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson, of Theatre Gigante, have taken the Shakespearean classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream and turned it completely upside down to see what shakes out of it. Milwaukee audiences can see too, when the artistic duo’s new adaptation opens May 9.
Kralj and Anderson admit they came up with the clever name Midsummer in Midwinter before anything else. But they’d planned from the beginning to diverge from Shakespeare’s text in more than name.
“We knew we weren’t going to do Midsummer,” says Kralj. “We were going to do our own thing.”
The core of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is its examination of love and how making the right or wrong choice in it can change your life, according to Kralj. So they decided their adaptation had to deal with that issue, which led them to their main characters: Two pairs of middle-aged couples and two young lovers, who all converge on a North Woods cabin on a midsummer evening.
Kralj is hesitant to unveil too many details of their storyline, saying their divergence from the source material will work better as a surprise to the audience. But she acknowledges the age differences in the play are more purposeful than incidental.
Unlike Shakespeare’s original, where the mature couples are pushed to the periphery, Midsummer in Midwinter puts them in the middle of the action. Kralj says focusing on them allows her and Anderson to show that there are more similarities than you might anticipate between their love affairs and those of their younger counterparts.
“Love when you’re 20 is looked on as different than love in your 40s, but it really isn’t,” she says.
Her production’s six lovers are joined by a group of woodland wanderers much smaller than the group who peopled Shakespeare’s comedy. Replacing the original “mechanicals” is the lone character Nick, who’s lost in the woods on his way to a poetry slam. The tribe of fairies is represented by Puck (perhaps a character’s imaginary friend), and two assistants are played by dancers Edwin Olvera and Jessie Mae Scibek.
Many of the show’s cast members are Theatre Gigante regulars, which made the rehearsal process much easier. Kralj and Anderson were able to put together a first draft with the actors already in mind, leading to minimal rewrites. Kralj says it’s easier to work with artists who understand the manner of direction she and Anderson have cultivated in their careers, which focuses on specific movements and little subtle moments.
“(For the regulars) there’s no struggle in adapting to our style of creating and working,” she says.
But even as this production retains the stylistic cohesion common to Theatre Gigante, it breaks new ground. Anderson says they’re drifting farther into the realm of farce than before, playing their characters with cartoon-like brushstrokes.
“We had fun making these choices,” he says, “feeling liberated and at ease. Why not?”
The Theatre Gigante production is also breaking new ground by blending both live and pre-recorded music to accompany the acting and dancing onstage. The latter half consists of compositions by experimental toy band artist Frank Pahl. It will be complemented by singers Amanda Huff and Daniel Mitchell, who’ll perform original works live during Midsummer in Midwinter.
Love is a lot of things, and Theatre Gigante is ready and willing to talk about all of them — the sweet, gooey, quirky, zany and ridiculous. Leslie Fitzwater and a group of friends that includes Bo Johnson, Isabelle Kralj, Mark Anderson, Alissa Rhode, Tim Karth and Rip Tenor host this unusual yet delightful evening of love at Kenilworth Studio 508, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place, Milwaukee. Tickets are $25, $20 for seniors and $15 for students. To order, visit theatregigante.org or call 800-838-3006.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 to 15
Vaslav Nijinsky came from the classical world of ballet. Isadora Duncan emerged from the outer galaxy of what is now known as modern dance. Together, they revolutionized the dance world and at times scandalized the world around them by promoting ideas and lifestyles far ahead of their time.
Theatre Gigante has created an original performance piece based on the works and ideas of the two iconoclastic dancers in “Isadora and Nijinsky,” which combines dialogue, visual art, music and movement. TG co-founders Mark Anderson and Isabelle Kralj, a couple for 13 years (married for 10), created the 80-minute piece in collaboration with Ed Burgess, professor of dance at UW-Milwaukee, who has performed in a number of the troupe’s works over the years.
In developing the work, Kralj researched Nijinsky while Burgess researched Duncan. Then each took on the role created by the other. Originally, the presentation was to be two separate pieces, but Burgess had the idea of combining them into a single piece. Anderson acts as an onstage narrator of sorts, guiding the audience through the multi-media spectacle.
Duncan and Nijinsky shocked the dance world with their radical ideas about dance and movement. Duncan rejected traditional ballet moves as too rigid and structured. Instead, she emphasized improvisation and emotion in dance, focusing on the human form through the use of free-flowing costumes, bare feet and loose hair.
Nijinsky was renowned for his technical skills and prowess as a dancer. In fact, he was one of the few males who could dance en pointe. Like Duncan, he pushed the boundaries of classical dance as a choreographer, moving toward modern dance and using what was then considered radically modern music, such as compositions by Stravinsky. He designed movement that focused on the angularity of the body.
As innovators and creators, both dancers are perfect material for a theater that’s aptly named for its “big ideas.”
Theatre Gigante (the name comes from the Grotta Gigante, the world’s largest tourist cavern in Trieste, Italy, where Kralj’s parents live) started out as Milwaukee Dance Theatre when Kralj formed it in 1987. Anderson joined in 1999, and the duo has been creating original pieces ever since.
“The dialogue comes from dialogue they actually said, which was the easy part because the two were very opinionated and in many instances had similar outlooks,” Kralj said.
For Burgess, who is an out gay man, working with TG provides fresh inspiration for his own work. “It’s always a surprise and always an adventure,” he said.
Part of the adventure in this case is visual art that’s literally projected onto the performers. The visual artworks were created by the late Schomer Lichtner, an artist and friend of the performers who created three sets for TG. He was in the process of creating a fourth when he died at the age of 101.
Videographer Iain Court has compiled visual artist Lichtner’s images, which will be projected virtually everywhere: on scenic designer Rick Graham’s backgrounds, hanging materials, the floor, even the performers themselves.
“We want to conjure up a time and conjure up fuller personalities (of Duncan and Nijinsky) than we could just in the language,” said Burgess, adding that the goal is to show that “art is an important aspect and element in our lives.”
For Kralj and Anderson, the chance to work together as a couple and with their good friend continues their own journey as artists who are pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas, just as Isadora and Nijinsky did.
“It’s a journey of our imagination to go back and honor these radical innovators who are our predecessors and changed art in the world, particularly dance,” Kralj said. “It’s a fabulous, playful journey for the three of us.”
“Isadora and Nijinsky” is staged May 5-8 at UWM Kenilworth, Studio 508, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. For more information, call 414-229-4308 or visit www.theatregigante.org.
What’s in a name? Well, apparently quite a bit, literally and figuratively, especially a name that translates to mean “the theater of big ideas.”
Theatre Gigante started out as a joke, according to founder and artistic director Isabelle Kralj. “We were sitting with some friends and one jokingly said, ‘You should have the biggest theatre company.’”
Kralj’s associate director and husband, Mark Anderson, immediately thought of the Grotta Gigante, the world’s largest tourist cavern in Trieste, Italy, where Kralj’s parents live.
“Mark said, ‘That’s it. Theatre Gigante’ and the morning after, it still sounded good.”
Kralj and Anderson are sitting in a coffeehouse on Milwaukee’s East side, looking very relaxed considering they just finished a rehearsal for their newest show “Three Other Sisters,” which runs March 11-13.
While the name Theatre Gigante is two years old, the company has been around much longer than that under its former name – Milwaukee Dance Theatre. Kralj has focused on dance since she first founded MDT in 1987, with Anderson joining officially in 1999, two years into their marriage. Both husband and wife are veteran performers in Milwaukee, with Anderson best known for his work as a writer and performance artist.
With “Three Other Sisters,” the duo have once again taken a story and created their own version, incorporating dance movement, theater and music. “We’re taking a story with no action and doing it where one scene might be stylized and the next scene is naturalistic,” Anderson says.
“Three Other Sisters” is based on a centuries-old legend from Montenegro near the Adriatic Sea. Three sisters all fall in love with the same man, a sailor who promises to return to each of them. As each sister dies, the remaining ones brick in her window in the house they share. Even after the third sister has died, the sailor never returned, according to legend.
As with such previous productions as “Antigone” and “The Beggar’s Opera,” TOS has an “organic evolution” in its creation, Anderson says.
“Part of the collaboration is to try and focus on exploration.” In this case, the collaboration involves Slovenian singer-songwriter Vlado Kreslin, who is travelling from his native country to appear in the show while touring the United States.
In addition to Kreslin’s live accompaniment, TG also secured permission to use Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” as well as The Pogues’ “Lorelei.”
But TG is all about creating ideas for the audience to explore along with the performers.
“In most of our work, we like to put the skeletal structure out there and let the audience paint in the rest,” says Kralj.
“This is the kind of work we really love doing,” Anderson says.