In a program featuring their world renown 13 Dirt Floor Cathedral Dances three full-time members of the Lubberland National Dance Company molded APSU students into Bread and Puppet performers for one day. Starting at around noon a group of 16 Students gathered on the Trahern lawn to learn how to be a Bread and Puppet performer.
The Cathedral Dances originated in the paper mache cathedral located at the Bread and Puppet theatre’s home in Glover, VT, but can be performed anywhere, provided a sprinkle of dirt from the floor of their home Cathedral blesses the venue.
The 13 dances include: a forest admiration dance, danced by a NYC rush-hour crowd; a deforestation dance, danced by the deforestors to make a place to park their cars; the dance of the foolish woman, who tries to bring back to life the victims of the bombardments on Gaza; a sermon dance danced by the deeply superstitious practitioners of the paper mache religion; and seven 7-second dances, danced to the sounds of the We-Do-As-Good-As-We-Can Orchestra.
As I arrived, Nick Vandenberg and Geoff (pronounced Jeff) Goodhue started playing music to entertain the gathering crowd. They were joined impromptu by an audience member who accompanied them on the Harmonica. As the music played softly in the background, members of the crowd quietly conversed, art students were busily sketching the Trahern building from the lawn.
The dancer started out by circling the crowd, then starting slowly but picking up speed until at last they are running. They join in a mass of huddling bodies before the crowd and then as one mass rush the crowd. Stopping just short they arise with hands reaching out almost entreatingly towards the sky.
This is repeated twice more and then the performers gather near the stage. They point to a gong laying on the grass. Maura Gahan, the who is serving as the announcer for the evening slowly approaches it and sounds it three times. As the sun slowly set behind her, she introduces the evenings performance. “The Lubberland National Dance Company presents ‘13 Dirt Floor Cathedral Dances. The first dance is the ‘New York City Rush Hour Crowd Forest Admiration Dance.”
The performers move in and surround a forest of trees, each of them reaching with a deep yearning towards the forest canopy. Suddenly they rise and silently snake through the trees until they disappear behind the curtains. They emerge each one carrying a bottle which they blow softly over the top of the bottle. There’s a whole science out there to explain how the is sound is produced when you do this, but nothing can explain how mournful it is. The performers meander through the trees their freehand rising and falling with a measured grace, they take a position up at the side of the stage area.
Maura comes out holding a folded banner as she introduces the next number. “The second Dirt Floor Cathedral Dance is Sleep.” She says. Three masked and robed performers walk onto the stage. Maura introduces the one that stands beside her saying, “And this is the sleeper.” together the four of them spread out the banner. “And these are the names of the children who were killed in Gaza during the air strikes,” and they raise it above their heads. After a moment or two of silent reflection they fold the banner. Placing the folded banner upon the ground Maura announces, “And here is a pillow for the sleeper,” she departs as the sleeper takes his position laying upon it. The other two figures mourn the sleeper, as two horse headed figures stride onto the stage and flanking the sleeper, they bow.
A solider wearing a bandoleer, carrying a horn and a bucket enters from the side marking slowly past the chorus who clink their bottles together, then the soldier raises his horn and as one he and the chorus blow a mighty blast. The Chorus again begins to maneuver through the trees.
The announcer returns to the stage and intones “The third Dirt Floor Cathedral Dance is the Dance of the Foolish Woman Who Tries to Bring Back the Victims of Drone Bombardments on Pakistani Villages,”
A masked specter enters the stage carrying a lantern. She moves slowly through the trees lighting her path along the way. A man pushing a wheelbarrow enters the stage followed by a crowd blowing on recorders. They move through the trees until they find the specter and her lantern. The man with the wheelbarrow begins to dig making a gravelly noise as he plunges his shovel into the wheelbarrow.
The specter moves away as the masked butcher enters the stage behind a drone. The butcher is a faceless figure behind the drones who sends it off on it’s dreadful mission. Small bodies rain down onto the ground. The foolish woman enters and is devastated by the carnage she finds. She raises the bodies to heaven one by one, before giving up, and moving on to see if she can save the next.
Sadly this ends my recital of the performance this evening, as I had to move on to the next event of the evening. Jessica Lee the Austin Peay Student who made the evenings performance possible hopes to make this a yearly event, I for one would welcome that. This is a unique experience, designed to make you think, I think we can all use more of that!
Maura Gahan told me “That she likes the feeling she gets from Clarksville and APSU.” It seemed as if she would really enjoy having more time to experience the South, “This is a part of the country that the Bread and Puppet theatre doesn’t get to very often.” Well, hopefully we can change that!