Last Saturday, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (a Knight Arts grantee) hosted a performance by their first-ever Artist-in-Residence, The Hinterlands Ensemble. The performance (a brief excerpt is available for viewing here) was a culmination of the group’s six week summer residency at MOCAD, which involved a variety of workshops and training sessions that were not only open to the public, but became an integral part of the show’s development, as a handful of talented workshop and training participants actually performed in the show.
The show itself — despite the fact that it is still in an early developmental phase and won’t officially premier until September of next year — was electric, imaginative and so thoroughly fun I could hardly keep the grin off my face. From the moment I walked in the door and was ushered into a booth for a private “vodevil for 1” performance, I knew immediately that it was going to be a special night. The show itself was divided into nine parts, each one strikingly different but building on the themes and momentum from the one before it.
And through it all Richard Newman, the group’s founding co-artistic director, provided a running commentary on the history and impact of vaudeville, which translates to “voice of the city.” A very brief and woefully inadequate rundown of the acts: an introductory silent act, a tap dancing ukulele performance, a slapstick routine, a vogue battle from the “House of 007,” a scene inspired by the Youtube sensation “Whack-a-Kitty,” a talk show style interview with Cornelius Harris (director of the Detroit-based music label Underground Resistance), an Insane Clown Possy-inspired Faygo shower, a breakdancing janitor (CORRECTION: the dancer, who goes by Stringz, was dancing in a style known as Jit, and is a member of the Jit group, Hardcore Detroit) and a quiet and comical song by the talented Frank Pahl to close out the night. Jon Brumit, MOCAD’s Curator of Public Engagement, provided improvisational percussion throughout.
I’ve been to many performances in my life, and I am often left with the impression that the performers had something to prove, that the performance itself was merely a vehicle used to manipulate and impress the audience. The Hinterlands Ensemble is doing the exact opposite of that. It’s not nearly enough to say that their performances are sincere — though they’re most certainly that — but there’s more going on. I’m tempted to say there’s no ego in the performance — therefore the show’s energy and focus doesn’t get misdirected back upon the performers, but is instead channeled into a joyous, unbridled enthusiasm for performance itself. It is a rare thing indeed when a passion for performance and experimentation is coupled with a sincere desire to draw in and include the community, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling grateful that The Hinterlands have made Detroit their home.