New Walker season tests limits of performance

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Image from “Call Cutta in a Box: An Intercontinental Phone Play,” courtesy of Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center has released its 2009-2010 performing arts season (although as of this writing it’s not posted on the Walker website), and it’s as ambitious as ever. It highlights artists from around the world along with those here at home. In many cases the Walker has commissioned new works that involve collaboration across disciplines, and international borders. American guitarist Bill Frisell is paired with an Iraqi oud player, while a Brooklyn dance company is collaborating with another troupe from West Africa.

I spoke with curator Philip Bither about the season. He described many of the performances in detail. Among them, one really caught my attention. It’s a performance by a German group called Rimini Protokoll, which will run for a month during the Walker’s Out There Festival. It needs to run that long because each performance is limited to two people: you, and a call worker in India. I’ll let Bither explain the rest:

…you go into a room and you get a cell phone call from a call worker in Calcutta. You end up going through a series of structured conversations and you get to know this person very well. You end up drinking some tea that they’re able to turn on all the way from Calcutta. You taste some spices from India, and by the end of ‘the show’ you’re in front of a computer screen and moving a mouse that’s hidden under a planter, and you see each other. It’s a remarkably different kind of theater. You and what you bring with your life and stories is as much part of that theater experience as what’s happening ‘on the stage,’ which in this instance is in Calcutta, through the computer.

Part script, part improv, part cultural exchange, this one-on-one drama is an example of how artists are playing with our everyday experiences (such as the computer service call that ends up connecting us with someone on the other side of the planet) to tell stories of human connection and disconnection. It’s just that in an era of globalization, what constitutes an “everyday experience” is changing rapidly. In today’s world technology has the power to transform a desk with a computer and a cellphone into a theater. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

  • I’ve already had this experience when trying to set up Windows Vista a year ago. I got to know Abdul very well. I don’t think I’d pay money for this experience, and I would not consider it enlightening to have the experience again.