Amidst is the second of three works written for Pavel Zuštiak’s modern dance trilogy The Painted Bird, which is itself based on the surrealistic novel of the same name written (or patched together) in 1965 by Jerzy Kosinski. Amidst recently enjoyed a re-launch in NYC, and the message continues to be timely. One might even argue that it has come into its own.
The novel concerns a boy, separated from his parents, wandering around a Holocaust-era Poland and viewing and enduring all manner of atrocity. The central image is that of a bird, painted by a man, rejoining his flock only to be pecked from the sky. In an era of exposed prejudice, continued inhumanity and post-truth, one need not stretch to find the metaphor.
We loved the first part of the trilogy, Bastard, which we reviewed way back in 2010 when most of us wrote for another website. In similar fashion, two of the participants were once part of the influential chamber ensemble Rachel’s; as Jason Noble sadly passed in 2012, this album comes as a transmission from the past and a fine addition to his legacy. One hears his guitar and feels a sense of sadness that is separate from the subject matter; yet one also feels a bit proud to see his name again in lights.
The album begins with fragmented radio dialogue and a sense of growing unease. Something is not quite right in the world, although what it is has not yet been exposed. “Corridor” is the first track to jump from the chamber world to that of rock: the pulse quickened, the senses heightened, the flow accelerated. There is danger, excitement, confusion. A metaphor lies within the metaphor, as this piece acts as the painted bird: I am different, I am altered, will you take me in? As it does throughout the album, the worlds collide without an explosion, melding together with ease. The transitions aid the primary dancer, who is given a great variety of tempo and timbre to work with. In “Mirage”, it’s easy to interpret the background coo as that of a lonely bird, uncertain of his home but lacking an alternative destination. “To Be One of Them” contrasts two types of percussion: that of the drums, and that of an unnamed, solitary scratching/folding, like a waved paper or a bird’s feet. A single dark note stretches across the center of the album, connecting this track to the next, indication that even the smallest thread of hope has dissipated; now only the chase remains, followed by the long, slow carrying on. When the coo and scratch return on “Maps”, they sound like the trudge of defeat. Frederickson’s viola attempts to console, but manages only to underline the sadness.
Kosinski’s novel ends on a slightly up note, a note many may continue to distrust given the work’s surrealistic nature. One finds something similar in the closing tracks of Amidst; after all, one does not wish to leave a dance performance with a heart so broken that one cannot walk. But it’s only a minor cheer, enough to get by, to bridge the gap to the next performance, the final part of the story, Strange Cargo, designed to leave audiences with as many questions as answers. We eagerly await the sonic portion of the performance, and hope that it will arrive before decade’s end. (Richard Allen)