An East-West meeting of the minds
Thaddeus Squire, former artistic director of Relâche Orchestra, wears many musical hats and is currently launching an ambitious contemporary music collective called Peregrine Arts with two musical works. The first, Locus Solus (Place of Solitude), by New York tech-composer Phil Kline, played to a full house at Ryerss Museum & Library in Northeast Philadelphia. Kline has collaborated with Squire before and enjoys a solid following in Philly.
Then Squire staged an ambitious dance-theater work called Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, an involving morality tale of an Emperor’s betrayal, murder, vengeance, honor and Western Imperialism that’s as much fun to watch as its title is to say. She-Wolf is the work of composer-musician Fred Ho and his Big Red Media, an East-West artistic meeting of the minds.
The six-piece band and troupe of performers tap into the phenomenon of martial arts films and ancient theater. Ho’s musical architecture fuses the pristine tonal landscape of Japanese classical music with ‘70s era progressive jazz. Most impressive was Ho’s delicately austere use of the 20-string koto (played by Yumi Kurasawa), which paints rich cultural vistas, punctuated by pugilistic jazz riffs.
The work was a contrast in cultural past and present: It contaained elements of Japanese No theater and Kung Fu fighting, classical Japanese music and chamber progressive jazz, ritualized storytelling and simple cultural fable, geisha fan dances and feminist warriors.
The score involves on every level. During a climactic swordfight, for instance, Ho swings his band out into full staccato structures as potent as cinematic scoring. The aerial layouts, punch-front/back flips, samurai swashbuckling and martial arts exhibitions were equally thrilling. To be sure, the plot convolutions need streamlining, and the narration needs to be better paced with the action sequences, but the convictions of the musicians and dancers were evident throughout.
With Peregrine Arts, Squire is working with contemporary composer-musicians to develop high-concept yet active theater that involves the community and, in this case, a flying cutting edge.