Sunday, September 14, 2003

Shelley Hirsch's Personal Reality 

Shelley Hirsch’s presence is immediate. It sneaks in with her when she appears, glittering jeweled and bedazzled. Then she hesitates. Her eyes move around the room. She is aware of her audience, and plays to them.
Lucky for us her audience includes more than just mere mortals. Sitting among us in the Weiden+Kennedy Atrium on wood benches are realms of other beings. Ghosts. Memories. Sometimes Shelley Hirsch talks to the spirits, sometimes she talks as them. Sings to all of us together. In short elusive moments Ms. Hirsch embodies an essence of something other, something so abstract we know we are all observers to a sensitive complex human in profoundly personal moments. She wants to tell us her story in a language she hasn’t invented yet.
She succeeds in taking us with her on this journey in varying degrees during her hour long performance on Friday the 12th.
Her opening, 20 minute long vocal underwater alien radio theatre, part chanteuse, part babushka, has all the intensity her New York accent can bring to bear. It was a difficult piece for me to enter at first, perhaps too abrupt a transition between worlds. It smoothed out, however, and in hindsight feels like the most fully realized of the night’s work. Perhaps starting the evening with one Ms. Hirsch’s more schticky pieces, like the drawing of song names out of a vase and riffing on the lyrics, would be better suited as warm up, giving us the chance to ease into her world with her and open up for deeper work.
The emotional highlight of the evening was the last piece, Black Magic. Her song was enchanting in a way the other pieces were not. She was there with us, singing right to the human in all of us, fuzzy coat and fly-away hair, that black magic look in her eye.
Less successful but still engaging was the second half of the piece Home. This was direct story telling of Ms. Hirsch’s history, an improv on a theme, riffing on the words street and home, free-associating stories. Old houses. Relatives. Thoughts and feelings about home. While brave and revealing, the stories felt told. I was not experiencing them, just digesting the experience through the artist. But still, elements of this work-in-progress got me there. The willingness to go to the heart, despite the danger of tipping over into sentimentality. Her autobiography itself is interesting, but the form does not yet feel fully realized.
Ms. Hirsch’s art is alive. Like good improv, her process of creating is part of the creation itself. She opens a doorway, however successfully, and lets us inside that place with all of who she is.
Painful. Confusing. Redemptive.
Ecstatic. Revealing. Flawed.
Sounds that go bump in the night.

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