The first thing you gather when entering choreographer-dancer Tania Isaac’s ethereal but pointed (and poignant) crazy beautiful at FringeArts is that she has a lot to say. This happens long before the show’s emotive, illustrated motion-reverie is presented in muscularly elevated, flowing-but-fragmented dance steps and carefully spoken text.
Isaac's an open notebook
Before you hit the performance area – itself clouded with designer Sebastienne Mundheim’s crumpled paper skies, illustrated with birds, a brown-green patch of grass, and a sturdy wood-framed bed – you’re welcomed by Isaac. She’s dressed in white, ushering her guests ("audience" seems too cold for this) through an installation, an “open notebook” where white walls are filled with her writing, illustrations, and “gesture” photographs (yours too, if you choose that interactive option). Every inch of space is so crammed with stuff -- prison photos, Basquiat-like sketches, epigrams, and epithets -- that if I had a weekend to read her walls I would.
Without giving away the game, much of that wallpaper gets enacted onstage through cupping, falling, stalling, halting, spidering, and hiding. The cupping part is the most remarkable. Watching her agile body tell a story of fear, loss, and love, the “cupping” motion of her hands and arms seemingly represents a gesture of care and consideration for the more helpless members of society as well as a visceral symbol of water/tributary as a cyclical life force with a beginning and end.
Isaac’s aesthetic portrays life without boundaries. The (literally) paper-thin walled walkway, filled with penned ephemera, stretches from installation to stage, continuous and open. But the greatest “wall” she erects floats through the piece as a mix of music that shifts from atonal chamber classical (live cellos from Chrysyn Harp) and Issac’s own rhythmic “sound collage” blend of jungle, trap, Burundian, and dancehall reggae beats. This stops the ever-flowing work, but not in a disturbing fashion. Rather it serves as a rest or punctuation, a place, or groove, for Isaac to park, though she never stays still: even when she hides under a bed, she reveals herself through a shaking, frightened foot or an unblinking gaze.
A family affair
The oddest part of crazy beautiful is that her words, mostly biographical, are laced with elements, real or allegorical, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Certainly some of this comes through as strict reading, but often everything blends into one.
When she sing-speaks a story about an unstable woman lost and wandering on Broad Street, her monologue starts as a personal observation but soon its poetry, merged with flailing arms and legs, fuses seamlessly with her inspired inspirational texts. That inspiration and familial warmth comes through when she and Mundheim sit on the bed at show’s end, welcoming comments (including, the evening I attended, from Isaac’s mother, who had never seen her daughter’s work quite so stirringly in the past). Isaac also sang “Happy Birthday” to her youngest daughter, who watched the proceedings sleepily.
Crazy beautiful is worth repeated viewings.
What, When, Where
crazy beautiful. By Tania Isaac. Through April 29, 2017, at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.