The first thing that struck me about Room with Sticks was the space. The locale, Espace Libre, a former fire station and once home to famed Carbone 14, was transformed into an intimate, open and very white space. (The piece has also been presented in a curling arena.) The back wall was entirely covered over in white paper, while dried branches, sticks and blocks of wood were spread out over the floor. Neon lighting gave the space an artificial glow.
Room with Sticks is a collaborative movement and sound performance, performed and created by Tedd Robinson, Ame Henderson and the young composer Charles Quevillon. In addition to live and altered sound components, the sculptural elements figure prominently in the piece.
Robinson, first to arrive in the space, dressed in white with black shoes, covers his head with a white cloth. He sits on a bench in a corner of the stage. Also in white with black shoes, Henderson is curled up in the corner of the stage, near where Robinson is now sitting and she too wraps her head. The hall is absolutely quiet. Over the course of about fifteen minutes, the two lie down, sit up and seem to rest. The actions are minimalist and infrequent. It takes a bit to let go and get into the pacing. Then Quevillon enters, bare-chested, dressed in white trousers and thin black visor sunglasses. He’s got a big block of wood in his arms, which he proceeds to slam into the floor, the sound reverberating in the corner where Robinson and Henderson have cocooned. Quevillon leaves the stage.
Henderson goes out the stage door onto the street. She re-enters with a log cradled in her arms. More logs are brought in. Robinson, meanwhile, has wrapped his full body in white paper, almost like a mummy; it’s a striking image. Quevillon has also returned with a spruce branch in his hand, manipulating it as if holding an incense burner during a religious processional. Weak sounds of distant transmission emanate from the sound speakers.
Henderson occupies herself bringing in more logs. She begins to stack them vertically, three of four logs in height, almost like small totem poles. Quevillon is now circling the spruce branch, tied to a string, around his head, creating a whooshing sound. In a powerful, memorable moment, Robinson divests himself of his paper shroud, quite lifelike, and places it next to him on the bench where he’s sitting.
The series of tasks builds: Henderson methodically constructing the mini-forest of logs, Robinson merely sitting and Quevillon, the interloper, creating distractions with whipping tubes and tree branches making loud noises (the sounds picked up by suspended microphones) or hooting and whizzing by on a skateboard in an otherwise calm space.
Precarious balance and an overriding sense of creating order and controlling the environment are preoccupations. Robinson places various icons and a stuffed toy on top of some of the wooden blocks. He later balances larger, heavier branches on the small sculptures. It seems his efforts are much more easily achieved than Henderson’s. (In the program notes, Robinson reveals that’s he’s been balancing sticks on his head for 20 years.) It appears that what we’re watching is akin to a “what falls in the forest” cyclical series of moments. We’re witnessing construction and destruction in a finely tuned and fragile space. Interestingly, at the conclusion, two women at my side were weeping, feeling overwhelmed, or, as one put it, having “dark feelings.” Others in front of me were laughing, giving the performers a rousing round of applause. Clearly a case of how a performance can be shared and experienced differently.