Downtown Art

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January 10, 2005 // UPDATED 1:47 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

Speech Patterns

"Out There" is an avant-garde subset of theatrical performances that are so edgy they defy labels.

This 17th annual festival of creativity is a partnership between the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater.

One of the performances is Universes' "Slanguage." The South Bronx group's piece is all about talk (crossing slang with language) and its ensuing politics.

"Slanguage" might be slam poetry or theater - there's no right answer, which is something Universes pride themselves in.

Seeking to reach out to a broad audience, the five well-versed orators present the poetic voices of New York City's ethnic groups' with both visuals and audio effects. These are moments of quietude seasoned with the energetic, urban pounding of locomotion on the street.

"Slanguage" is the lyrics of people the members of Universes passed or stopped to talk to. They take an emphatic approach to the souls and honesty of their subjects.

Gamal A. Chasten, Lemon, Flaco Navaja, Mildred Ruiz and Steven Sapp integrate their respective heritages, finding that there's plenty of musicality to be discovered in the rhythm of speech.

You'll hear remnants of jazz, blues, gospel and salsa in the 30 vignettes they've sewn together seemingly effortlessly. The results are fast-paced anecdotes infused with an Afro-Latin hip-hop flavor that informally illuminates miniature epiphanies.

If you enjoy stitching together the fine details of life and language that speak to you, Universes will conduct a workshop to help get you started on your own oral "found art" stories. The workshop is the equivalent of a cab ride through poetry; guiding you through the writing process. You'll learn about working as a dramatic ensemble, and you'll be readied to stand up and speak. Sounds intense, huh?

Other performances include "Nita and Zita," by playwright Lisa D'Amour (formerly a local).

It's filled with all kinds of eccentricities as these sort of freakish sisters probe the boundaries of art and their bodies. These 1920s vaudevillian characters became illusive stars and oddities, but the real question is, What compelled them to paint every surface of their home with polka dots?

Later on, look for Cynthia Hopkins' "Accidental Nostalgia." Driven by an underlying sense of discomfort, this beautifully constructed story combines live music, athletics and video in a powerful portrayal of a woman whose amnesia and loss of mental presence actually turn out to be inspiring as memory comes into place serendipitously, like thrift store finds.

"Slanguage," Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 13-15, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 16, 2 p.m., Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. $20. 375-7622.

"Slanguage" workshop: Saturday, Jan. 15, 2 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. Free. 375-7622.

"Nita and Zita," Thursday, Jan. 20-Saturday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 23, 2 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. $20. 375-7622.

"Nita and Zita" workshop: Jan. 22, 2 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. Free. 375-7622.

"Accidental Nostalgia," Thursday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. $20. 375-7622.

"Accidental Nostalgia" workshop, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S. Free. 375-7622.

Anna Pratt can be reached at