Director Rudy Ramirez blames romance for the spark of this fantastic idea: Turning Italo Calvino's classic collection of stories into an aerial performance.
"It started because I gave a copy of the book to a really good friend of mine," says Ramirez. "And she told me that she and her husband would read parts of the stories to each other every night before they went to bed – and they were loving that. And I thought, 'That's how you should read a book like COSMICOMICS, because the language is so beautiful: It should be heard.' And I started thinking, 'OK, how can we do a theatre piece based around those stories?'"
But, wait. Not everyone, not even in the university-fueled intellectual bastion of Austin, is familiar with Calvino's works. What, Mr. Ramirez, are these stories about?
"COSMICOMICS," he explains, "is a series of short stories, stories about people in the time before humans. They're set before the Big Bang; they're set as the Earth was coalescing in the Solar System; they're set during the time the fish were first crawling onto land. There's no humans on Earth yet, but the characters work and think and talk and act and fall in love and eat pasta like good Italian humans."
And so Ramirez thought instantly of an aerial performance? That's not … that can't be … the first thing that sprang to mind?
"Well, there's one whole story that's imagining three people falling through space," says the director, "and that got me to thinking, 'What about an aerial setting for this?' I mean, it has to be a story that's told three-dimensionally, so you can get the sense of space, of the solar system and the galaxy, in it."
But how does a person go about getting actual aerialists involved in such a concept?
"I'd worked with Sky Candy when I directed Midsummer in Motion for the Austin Bike Zoo," says Ramirez, "and I'd had a great relation with them, and with the people from the Vortex. So I pitched the idea to Sky Candy, and they were excited about doing it."
Of course, usually, with aerial performances – even with Sky Candy, who've presented some wild shows in the past – usually the performers aren't outfitted in quite the level of, ah, phantasmagoric costumery and make-up that the COSMICOMICS artists will be decked out in. We mean, some of this stuff is pretty far out, isn't it?
"There are lots of fantastical things happening," Ramirez agrees. "There's one story where the narrator has an uncle who is a fish; and the narrator is already a salamander or a lizard, himself, but his uncle stayed behind on the evolutionary ladder; so this character's wearing a costume that's like half-fish, half-rocker-guy-who-couldn't-let-go-of-the-Sixties. And it was fun figuring out ways to merge together the non-human with the human. We've been working with this really amazing costume designer, Midi Soliz, and Wendy Sanders of Blood & Glitter Makeup is doing wig design for us. And Meredith Johns of HawgFly collaborated with us on prosthetic designs to create creatures from the dawn of time."
And all of that in an Ia Ensterä set that's lit by Zac Crofford, right there at the Long Center for the Performing Arts this weekend. And the performers, in the air, spinning on hoops and hanging from silks while wearing these, these, ah, these get-ups? They're not hindered by any of the elaborate … ?
"It's amazing," says Ramirez, "how people can do aerial routines with these gigantic wigs on and nevertheless make it work."
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