all shook up
by Douglas Messerli
The Wooster Group Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interetation / the performance I saw as at Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) at Disney Hall, Los Angeles, January 22, 2015
But here, in a new way that is not apparent in their other works, this important American institution seems to have moved further in a direction that questions and challenges the ironic sensibility that seems present in some of their previous productions. At moments, the narration almost plays with the potential of the ironic, beginning with the male introducer (Jamie Poskin) who contextualizes the performances we are about to encounter. Nothing that the group has already “recreated” extant records, including Hula and L.S.D, the current recreation of recordings made by the Shakers in 1965, 1970, and 1976, potentially might be another “jumping off spot” for a series of reevaluations of US culture. Yet, once the quaintly dressed women singers—Cynthia Hedstrom, Elizabeth LeCompte, Frances McDormand, Bebe Miller, and Suzzy Roche—begin their series of 20 early Shaker spirituals, we recognize that whatever humor exists in the work existed already in the minds of the original creators. For the most part, these are pure creations of love and commitment to God, based on a life of “bending, reeling, winding, linking, and intertwining their human ways” with those of the Holy Spirit.