= December 9, 1992 = PREVIEW


Swan Lake it's not. Set in the postapocalyptic present, Trigram is a multimedia "robotic opera" that weaves world music, dance, video, theater, and computer animation into a total "sensurround" experience. It's the fruition of a 10-year partnership between local cyber-sculptor Chico MacMurtrie (artistic director) and writer-composer Bruce Darby (musical director).

For their buoyant production, they've teamed up with Rick Sayre (technical director), computer wiz Philip Robertson (who programmed the "Software Score") and a cast of 15 Bay Area dancers, singers, musicians, and performance artists (including the butoh-like dance duo of Hannah Sim and Mark Steger).

A humorous yet haunting rumination on the human condition that ebbs and flows like the human body's own biorhythms, this slightly toxic opera swirls around you like some primitive yet postmodern cycle of creation and destruction. The performers (human and humanoid) prance around locked in a high-tech hoedown/primeval dance of death, as mechanical Dog Monkeys trail a fearsome Kali figure across an ashen wasteland called the "Charnel Ground."

Trigram's supporting cast includes a 20-foot Horn Body, three Horny Skeletons, a trio of Drip Fetuses, Liquid Inseminating Devices, Overconsumption Man (a bloated figure embalmed inside a giant plastic bag) and a Chime Body. Each night, eight to 10 audience members get to erect (and then play) a 12-by-12-foot Xylophone House.

But perhaps Trigram's most intriguing aspect is how flesh-and-blood performers interact with MacMurtrie's scrap-metal skeletons. Not only are his rust-eaten bodies musical instruments that play themselves (lungs wheeze like bagpipes), but at times their erotic and eroding shells move in concert with the live performers (whose radio-controlled body suits trigger the mechanical tribe to mirror their ritualistic motions).

If not exactly footloose and fancy-free, MacMurtie's computer-controlled cyborgs aren't herky-jerky hulks, either. These kinetic totems are strangely sentient beings that run on compressed air. A former artist in residence at the Exploratorium, MacMurtrie explains that his use of compressed air to breathe life into pneumatic sculptures "has to do with the ecological relationships that threaten our existence. The sound and motions echo the anguish we feel in a world where we are deprived of the pure by our dependence upon machines that we once controlled."

Just in time for the holidays, this darkly radiant Trigram promises to be unlike anything else you've ever experienced.

At Theater Artaud, 450 Florida, SF, Dec. 10-20, Thurs.-Sun. at 8:30 pm. (415) 621-7797. Harry Roche

Typed by Cheryl Vega 5-19-95