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  • Recommendations: The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
    by Delia | March 4th, 2010 |
    The Flying Karamazov Brothers

    First of all, I have to say that I am not Theory Girl. I’m good at textual analysis, I’m good at spotting themes and verbal patterns, and I’m good at exploring how an artist raises and then fulfills, modifies, or subverts expectations. I can apply (insofar as I understand them) various critical theories to literary texts (preferably 19th Century or earlier), but I can’t formulate a coherent and rational literary theory of my own. My brain does not work that way. I am more interested in the trees than the forest.

    Which often makes being a spokesperson for the Interstitial Arts Foundation frustrating, not to say problematic – but that’s another post entirely.

    I do, however, have pretty strong instinctive responses to art. Some things feel like comedy or historical fiction or classical ballet or Baroque opera or Impressionism or Modernism. If I know something about the artform involved, and have seen enough examples of it, then I can tell you exactly what elements of the thing I’m looking at make me classify it as I have, and why. If it’s an art or an era or a genre that is unfamiliar to me, however, my response is more scattershot and less well informed. It took me a while to figure out the rhetoric of Hong Kong movies, for instance. And my response to circus or vaudeville-based shows is unsophisticated at best.

    Which brings me to The Flying Karamazov Brothers and their new show, 4Play. Which I felt was interstitial, and then thought maybe was not. Now, I’m going for undecided.

    They’re not brothers, in case you’re wondering. And they don’t fly. They juggle – mostly with plastic pins (sometimes with bells on), but also with eggs (raw), balls (ping-pong), bodhrans, and nine “items of terror” (a meat cleaver, a lighted torch, an egg, a wooden salt shaker, a bottle of champagne, a frying pan, a block of dry ice, a ukelele, and a plastic fish). Also a bag of Jell-O, a frozen cappuccino, and a bottle of vodka donated by the audience. They juggle very well, too, especially considering that they trade witty repartee, and sometimes play musical instruments and even dance while they’re doing it. But even I, whose circus experience is limited to buskers in Harvard Square and a handful of boutique circus shows, know that their juggling is not in and of itself unique or genre-breaking.

    Neither is their comedy. Clown acts frequently touch on gender roles, social behavior, class, and politics – also juggling. So does skit comedy, (without the juggling) as practiced by ensembles from the Marx Brothers to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Flying Karamazov Brothers’ Polish-Appalachian Clog Dancing and Mining skit isn’t really any different in its comic bolting together of unlikely art forms from Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song” or “Decomposing Composers.” Can anything be said to be outside the boundaries of a genre where anything goes and anarchy is the order of the day?

    I don’t know.

    What I do know is that there’s a sense of serious purpose in the Karamazovs’ shows that I never felt in Monty Python – a sense of purpose that finds its most concrete expression in their Program Note, written by Paul Magid (Dimitri Karamazov, professionally), who was one of the founding members:

    “From the beginning when I founded this band of bros. with Howard Patterson (Ivan) in 1973 I have felt that what we were doing was a theatrical experiment. I had started by acting in Shakespearean plays and it was through his example (theatre guy, funny, guy, serious guy, guy who does whatever it takes guy) that I formed the idea of the “Theatre of Everything,” (without prior knowledge of Wagner’s Gesamtkunswerk). It has often been said that theatre is the queen of all the arts as it encompasses architecture, music, dance, poetry, acting, fashion, painting, pandering. As a thespian… I felt we should embrace this totality fully.

    And then there was this juggling thing. At university we had become obsessed with le jeu de mains…. As musicians, with each beat beat beat of the club-club, we came to view this art differently than it had been previously. We heard it as music. As a form of expression it is by its very nature endless in variation and possibility. When we joined this visual music with theatre we suddenly discovered our voice.”

    That sense of blending what I was responding to, I guess. Not only the deliberate and structural joining of music and juggling and theatre, but the conscious cherry-picking from disparate genres and art forms to create a new one – in the tradition of artists who had done the same thing before them, from Shakespeare to the Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead. Because the point about Interstitial Art, for me, is not that it denies or destroys tradition, but that it repurposes it, appropriates it, explores it, is inspired by its forms and conventions, but is not constrained by them. And by that definition, The Flying Karamazov Brothers are absolutely interstitial. Not that they care. They define what they are by every movement they make on stage. “Remember,” Paul writes, “our PLAY is our play and everything you’re about to see is actually happening.”

    finish line

    One Response to “Recommendations: The Flying Karamazov Brothers.”

    1. Deborah Atherton Says:

      The idea that it’s the intent or purpose of the artist that creates or affects the interstitiality of the work is dead on, I think – although of course, as artists, we all fail to fulfill our purpose occasionally. But I think you’re right about the Karamazov brothers – the exuberance in the blending of genres, the delight they share with their audiences – makes them intersitital enough for me!

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