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POETRY IN MOTION

"Poetry theater" as defined by the Denver troupe called the Open Rangers is part theater, part poetry, part dance, part music and part chutzpah. Sometimes exhilarating and sometimes embarrassing, the Open Rangers try for authentic and immediate artistic expression in their current production, The Reign of the Scar Clan, with...
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"Poetry theater" as defined by the Denver troupe called the Open Rangers is part theater, part poetry, part dance, part music and part chutzpah. Sometimes exhilarating and sometimes embarrassing, the Open Rangers try for authentic and immediate artistic expression in their current production, The Reign of the Scar Clan, with mixed results.

The piece, being performed within the post-Beat environs of the Mercury Cafe, begins with a beautiful song by a poet-musician known as Tingzen. "Alchemy" then moves smoothly into "Beach Walk," a dance on white silk by Ricki Harada that is stunningly evocative, graceful and original. But then, every single thing the magical Harada does through the evening is mysterious, inventive and exquisitely disciplined. He takes on an androgynous style reminiscent of Japanese Kabuki theater, in which men play all the roles. All movement in Kabuki is stylized, and the female roles are played with precise, formal movements associated with the feminine. At one point, Harada even dons a shell-pink kimono and fan in a luxurious contemporary dance. Later he puts on gossamer wings and, standing on a tiny stepladder, "flies" in slow motion.

Interspersed with such "movement pieces" is the poetry of the self-titled SETH and others, a stream of quasi-mystical musings that take us from creation through the embrace of tribalism and self-scarring, the estranged condition of modern humans, the horror of death by cancer, the rape of Mother Earth and the healing of psychic as well as physical wounds.

In an overt rejection of the theological systems of the West, we are told that in the beginning the earth was "wordless"--contrary to the New Testament's assertion that "in the Beginning was the Word and the Word was God." In poet SETH's tortuous cosmology, nature is all and nature is Goddess. He tells us man made up words so he could have dominion over nature. Later, when Harada lies dying of cancer, the kimono spread over him like a sheet, SETH asks what kind of a god would send cancer to a person or let it happen and do nothing to stop it. As the loosely related dances, poems and songs come together, however, the culprit appears to be Mother Nature herself and the cancer merely a chrysalis phase that releases the sufferer into the freedom of the butterfly (death). It's a peculiarly sentimental take on cancer and nature--as maudlin and ineffectual as the more orthodox belief that God kills innocent people to fill up the halls of heaven.

The three dancers (two women join Harada) leap over the "fire" pit on stage and receive wounds, then dance out the agony of healing. Their work together becomes more fervent, and therefore stronger, in the pieces "I Grow Wings" and "Washing Wounds." But the problem is that neither Roseanna Frechette nor Glenda Russell O'Rourke is as accomplished as Harada, nor are they as graceful or disciplined.

Scar Clan is all very new-age in outlook, so if that doesn't happen to be your bag, the holistic approach to the cosmos may sound like proselytizing. But there is more to it than the mere assertion of dogma. Tingzen's melodies are lovely, his one-man-band approach to the music sophisticated and his presence sure and strong. SETH has a leveling gaze when he speaks his poetry that harbors power and intelligence. And however simplistic the view of nature exhibited in this show, there is passion here and a desire to come to terms with the meaning of existence. The Open Rangers do prove that "poetry theater" has possibilities.

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