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A Moveable Feast

No reviewer wants to arrive at a performance, check in and wait to be seated, only to have the theater experience a power outage, in this case 2220 Arts + Archives, the site of the erstwhile Bootleg Theater. But if one is served oysters while waiting —for an hour, as it turned out, before a generator arrived—well, this writer is there! Seriously, Volta Collective, founded during the pandemic by Megan Paradowski and Mamie Green, fuses physicality, theatricality and multidisciplinary approaches to performance, with their recent “Salt” a testament not only to the group’s culinary prowess, but also to their musical, dance, thespian and literary chops.

Performance

Volta Collective: “Salt”

Place

2220 Arts + Archives, Los Angeles, CA, June 11, 2023

Words

Victoria Loosleaf

Volta Collective in “Salt.” Photograph by Anya GTA

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Directed and choreographed by Paradowski and Green—who also both danced—in collaboration with the performers, “Salt” is a reimagining of the iconic tale of Medea (Ellington Wells, who also co-wrote the script with Sammy Loren), the mythological figure famous for killing her own children as an act of revenge when her hubby, Jason (August Gray Gall), betrays her. In a millennial take, here the pair are volatile artists, with action also symbolized in the four dancers, including Marirosa Crawford and Ryley Polak.

Live music was composed and performed by harpist Melissa Achten and Eli Klausner, who rocked on bowed balalaika and Midi controller, while there was also an amplified table prepared with salt, silverware and other objects. And, on occasion, Achten also made ethereal sounds while bowing wine glasses.

So where do the oysters fit in (confession: this critic had four, and they were spectacular)? A novel concept, the performance also featured food installations that were served at stations during the 45-minute work, with the audience split into two groups and moving about the space, listening, watching and chowing down. 

Marirosa Crawford in “Salt.” Photograph by Anya GTA

Courtesy of conceptual chef Heidi Rushforth and sous chef Chantael Takeuchi (with assistance from Will Green and Ryan Ross), the finely sourced edibles, according to the program/come/menu, represented Medea, Young (foraged loquat), Jason (ah, the bi-valves!), Medea, Murderer (fire-roasted Smallhold mushrooms), and The Innocents (fresh fromage blanc on toasted Bub & Grandma’s sourdough), each bite as sumptuous as anything from Daniel Boulud’s kitchen.

But back to our little tale: Angst was already in the air as Medea and Jason bantered about how they met: at a gallery opening, or was it because she was, “dressed like a slut and was a little mean to him;” or, perhaps, both? Was Medea Jason’s biggest art project, as well as his biggest failure? Their bickering was counterpoint to the music, Achten’s harmonics and arpeggios an apt accompaniment, with Klausner creating otherworldly sounds on his triangular-bodied, three-stringed instrument.

Meanwhile, the dancers slunk stealthily across the cement floor (ouch!), moving facilely from fetal positions to pliant back bends, an occasional somersault punctuating the text, their configurations emblematic of the warring couple’s thoughts and declarations. Another cool aspect of the piece was that Medea and Jason each told their own side of the story (hello, Rashomon!), including in their individual monologues.

With the use of contemporary language—Jason saying, “I wasn’t going to be some boring white nepo baby anymore; and Medea’s use of, er, sobriquets, including, “attention whore” and “trust fund kids”—each element of “Salt” contributed to its overall Gesamtkunstwerk (art that makes use of numerous aesthetic forms), though it’s unknown whether or not Wagner’s music was made more appealing if heard while indulging in, say apricot mochi daifuku with the above-mentioned foraged loquats!

Mamie Green and Megan Paradowski in “Salt.” Photograph by Anya GTA

Still, this was immersive theater at its best: In between bites of Chef Heidi’s divine dishes, the choreography and its execution seemed a perfect fit for the bare-boned space, which did happen to house several book-laden shelves. Accompanying one of Gray Gall’s and Wells’ many spats, the quartet of movers, indifferent to the couple, crouched with bended knees, their splayed-fingered/backwards extended arm look recalling the wild avians of Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake.”

With the dancers continually mixing things up, Paradowski performed a solo replete with yoga poses and pliés, while Crawford’s arched feet and deep lunges were a sight to behold. The indefatigable Paradowski also partnered Green in one scenario, brandishing her like a hood ornament, their mesh costumes voyeuristically appealing. 

Indeed, the lacy see-through attire (“selected” by Lily Abbitt), could have been donned at a kind of They Shoot Horses type of cotillion, with Crawford and Polak holding on to each other for dear life, the latter’s spidery-black unitard a foray into Cruella de Vil territory. 

Medea’s soliloquy, including the line, “Is there anyone more gullible than a broken woman?” and her talk about grief being a “tricky emotion,” was accompanied by Achten’s noodling in the upper octaves on the tuning pegs of her harp, her glissandi a poignant, antithetical touch, bringing the unusual evening to a shimmery close. 

It’s more than satisfying, then, to see that theater, especially one that is dance-heavy, hasn’t lost its edge since Covid struck the arts community. And, happily, Volta is willing to go even further, so kudos to Paradowski, Green and collaborators. Oh: and please pass the Pacific Northwest oysters, the ones with urfa, a dried Turkish chili, and pomegranate molasses mignonette, that slid down this scribe’s throat, as the late Tina Turner once crooned, “nice and easy.” 

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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