The artist biography, whether on stage, film, or the written page, is a precarious and dangerous form. It can lead even the best storytellers into a plodding parade of "this happened, and then that happened, and, oh, this happened again." Every sliver of experience is precious; every confrontation momentous; every mundane fact a revelation, as if to leave anything out would be to miss some crucial aspect of genius.
Sometimes it helps when the subject isn’t famous, or at least not dazzlingly so. Remy Charlip (1929-2012) -- dancer, choreographer, children’s book illustrator, and a key player in New York’s post war avant-garde -- is promising in that way. Charlip was well known, but not quite a major player, and certainly not on the level of the many 20th century titans he worked with, such as choreographer Merce Cunningham, composers John Cage and Lou Harrison, and visual artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Charlip's interests were as varied as his style was distinct. Yet there was something light about his touch, not just in his work, but also in his presence, which was precise and ethereal. If there’s an artist temperamentally unsuited to the numbing literalism of biography, it’s Charlip. And one can imagine him twisting the genre to his own liking and executing it with a disarming élan.
In that spirit, San Francisco theater artist Seth Eisen’s Rainbow Logic, a performance piece currently playing at CounterPulse, begins in promising and stunning fashion. In the front corner of the stage, just out of reach from the first row, is a small puppet theater. The toy box proscenium is as plain as could be, though a tiny swatch of red curtain suggests a dash of magic. A giant illuminated book -- propped open -- looms over the whole scene, dwarfing both the puppet theater and the larger set.
As the play begins, the three-person cast converges behind the toy theater like Greek Gods surveying the world. The curtain opens and there before us is a charming and delicate Charlip puppet, which is then projected through a live feed onto the oversized book. The effect is beautiful, reversing the normal logic and orientation of how we see the stage. Charlip’s body might be as small as a doll’s, but his spirit is vast and burns with the clarity of light.