United States Kate Soper, IPSA DIXIT: The Wet Ink Ensemble: (Ian Antonio (percussion), Erin Lesser (flute), Josh Modney (violin), Kate Soper (soprano) Dixon Place, New York City. 4.2.2017. (KG)
Composer/soprano Kate Soper’s first evening-length work – Here Be Sirens, which premiered at New York City’s Dixon Place in 2014 – was so completely stunning, so satisfying to the eyes, ears and mind, that the only thing harder to imagine than how she would follow it up was the idea of missing that follow-up.
The opportunity was at last afforded (if only for two evenings) on 3 and 4 of February, back at Dixon Place, and the result was a stunner of a very different sort.
Sirens was a wonderful mix of smarts and charm, with three almost cookie-cutter female characters (the smart one, the silly one, the sexy one) waiting to ensnare innocent sailors while questioning (at least on the part of the smart one, played by Soper) the nature of their existence. The costume and staging sold the story, while the music and philosophy sold the composer as a vital and vibrant artist.
In both Sirens and the new IPSA DIXIT, Soper addressed the audience directly, imploring them to consider with her the nature of existence in the former and expression in the latter. IPSA DIXIT (the title translates from the Latin as “she, herself, said it”) lacks the charm of the character drama from the previous work but benefits from more engaging, impassioned texts, derived from Aristotle, Freud, Plato, Wittgenstein, writer Lydia Davis, and visual artist Jenny Holzer.
But the texts were only a part of Soper’s testimonials. While she was the only voice through most of the 100 minutes, she used the musicians (percussionist Ian Antonio, flutist Erin Lesser and violinist Josh Modney, all of whom play with Soper in the remarkable Wet Ink Ensemble) and their instruments not just for accompaniment but as stage set. At the beginning of the piece, she asked repeatedly “what is art?” while the musicians pantomimed playing. On occasion, she would swing a small, clapper-less bell, at which point Antonio would supply the requisite ring with a small cymbal.
Later, while expounding about lovers saying things they don’t mean in anger, she rather brilliantly took over a sustained note from Lesser’s flute and Lesser took over the text, speaking through the flute as Soper lip-synced the text, still holding the note. In another piece, she and Antonio circled the marimba, playing a duet as carefully choreographed visually as it was composed, while reciting the two parts of a Socratic dialogue. The action was all set against a sparse stage set made up of three large screens, onto and through which were projected nature scenes, fragments of text, and a brief and quiet explosion. The images were sometimes pixelated, other times artificially colored, seeming to reinforce that all was artifice, or at least a reflection, making the black box theater into Plato’s Cave.
IPSA DIXIT (again, unlike Sirens) didn’t quite hold together as a single work, and in fact Soper has been performing some of the individual pieces for several years. But in it, she has written herself a tour de force, a 100-minute set of songs, dialogues and monologues with herself bearing most of the weight. It is, in some ways, a purer work than Sirens. It’s Soper’s own exposition, even if she’s using the words of others.
It’s a showcase Soper ably sustains. To bear witness to her remarkable talent – her voice, her acting, her wit and intelligence and, on top of all that, her physical beauty – is almost frightening. There is a particular sort of work that can’t be effectively described, about which one ends up saying, “I’m not making it sound good” or “but it wasn’t as pretentious as that.” Soper’s two long-form works are so singular, so perfectly crafted, that words very nearly fail. Fortunately, for Soper, they didn’t.