Those arriving for Inflorescence at The Street Theatre were greeted with a dimmed room full of delicate, hand-crafted paper flowers. Butterflies on the walls formed the words “breathe” and “care”. The attention to detail – each crinkled petal, the lace-like perforations on draped paper – was exquisite. The audience settled in as the room plunged into darkness.
Improvisation musician Reuben Lewis on trumpet, accompanied by double bass, drums and electronic percussion, set the mood but never took over the show. The music smoothly transitioned between warm, playful jazz and a foreboding emptiness, punctuated with Morse-like beeps, insect chirps and the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through a desolate forest. Changes in tempo marked the passage of time, shifting from 1920s-esque jazz to sparse electronic beats (and back again).
Meanwhile, visual artist Dianne Fogwell moved carefully through the “garden”, gently placing small beads of light in the heart of flowers and making shadows of butterflies dance across the floor. A long strip of perforated paper ran through the room while other pieces draped, rockily. On taking a closer look, the pinpricks of light were laid out in patterns representing pollen forms, language (Braille), insects and a musical score. This suggested a concern not just with the literal pollination of flowers but with inspiration as a result of the creative cross-pollination between music, language, art and nature itself.
At the end of the performance, there was a long, expectant silence. Fogwell explained that Inflorescence was a brief sketch designed to make us think about pollination. This was a wise decision and a necessary prompt and reminder. Inflorescence claimed to draw inspiration from “the triangle of pollination: the flower, the pollinator and the pollen” (YAH program) but it was not immediately clear that pollination was the focal point. The dreamy performance washed over the audience and could be enjoyed with minimal effort. It did not necessarily compel one to ponder the significance of pollination. The fact that the flowers and butterflies were but beautiful facsimiles seemed, instead, to question how far we’ve come from nature.
Lewis and Fogwell, equal partners in the development and execution of Inflorescence, drew on one another for inspiration. This speaks to the “pollination of new ideas with old”, mentioned in the program. Fogwell mingled with the audience afterwards and was happy to answer questions. This helped to clarify and strengthen her message.
It is difficult to fault a performance as thoughtfully put together as this one. A joyous yet meditative celebration of life, Inflorescence was both visually and aurally beautiful. Without Fogwell’s closing comments and willingness to engage with the audience however, its messages about pollination risked being lost. It was the type of performance that will go on to inspire others and this, perhaps, was its true aim.
by Shu-Ling Chua