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Melting Perceptions About Poetry

Weekend of adventurous shows tackle environmental issues.

During artistic director Jamie Jewett’s "Melt: an evening of multimedia performance," images of the Alaskan wilderness flash across screens, visually capturing the effects of global warming on the thawing landscape.

But Jewett’s production isn’t merely meant for the eyes, but also the ears: "Melt" invites its audience to literally hear the ice receding. Pebbles are frozen in blocks of ice on stage, slowly melting so that the tiny rocks drop and the water drips in sync with the images on screen in the multimedia presentation.

If this seems like an ambitious staging for a poetry reading, then Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project is doing its job. The Alexandria-based organization is building a reputation for weaving together performance texts and poetry with striking visual and multimedia presentations; on Friday, Sept. 21 and Saturday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m., Yockadot presents "Melt" at The Durant Center, 1605 Cameron St. in Alexandria.

Jewett is married to poet Thalia Field, whose work is featured in "Melt" along with everything from living hieroglyphics to Buddhist iconography. The poetry and other sacred texts will be read and projected at the same time in Jewett’s innovative brand of "technochoreography," according to Yockadot director M. Magnus.

"This is a choreographer who incorporates technology into dance," said Magnus. For example, cameras will be directly embedded into the hands of dancers. "We’ll see what the dancers’ hands see as they move, and it will be projected on screens around the venue."

That venue, The Durant Center, was mutually agreed upon by Jewett and Magnus as being one of the few in Alexandria that fit their cost and size profile. "There just aren’t too many venues in town. The Durant Center, from what I understand, kind of shifts between being a performing arts place and being a rec center," said Magnus.

"The people in the Alexandria Arts Forum have been advocates to have the Durant Center be more of a center for the performing arts, and a little of this task for me has been to go ahead and try it."

Jewett’s "Melt" was nearly staged during Yockadot’s successful spring poetry festival back in April and May, but wasn’t ready in time. Pieces of the show have been featured at Brown University, and it will be taken to New York and Boston after its stint at The Durant Center. Magnus said it fits well with Yockadot’s mission, as did the spring festival.

"Our main goal was to define and to showcase poetics theater. We were able to bring people who were interested in theater to things that were poetry-based, and people who were interested in poetry to this performance-oriented form of poetry. We were bringing different communities together in that way."

THAT MISSION CONTINUES at The Lyceum on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m., when Yockadot and the Alexandria Performing Arts Association join Eco Voce for a free concert called "The Singing Word: Poetry and Music Create Songs of the Earth."

Eco Voce is an Alexandria-based organization combining themes of nature in music. Denise Freeland, Eco Voce’s founder, will be a featured soprano along with flutist Susan Hayes, pianist Narciso Solero, and guest violist Jennifer Ries in "The Singing Word."

Freeland said that the focus for the show was always on the written word first; in this case, it's nature poets and poets who have commented about nature. "For good music, you need good poetry," she said.

"The Singing Word," which like "Melt" has strong environmental themes, will continue the Yockadot tradition of combining poetry with performance art and music.

Magnus said the free show offers Yockadot the chance to reach a broader audience. "We are interested in broad perspectives and not restricting ourselves. We are concentrating on the cutting edge, but we also want to bring in people who are interested in mainstream poetry to explore."

More information about Yockadot can be found at www.yptfest.org.