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Born from Bureaus -- "Aurelia's Oratorio"


Published July 15, 2009 at 10:29 a.m.

You would think that by the end of a 12-day festival of music, dance, theater and culture celebrating Sam D. Champ's little canoe trip 400 years ago that this kid wouldn't have anything left in the tank. Oh, how wrong you would be. While some people might have felt they have been entertained to within an inch of their lives over these last two weeks (my editrix, for one), I feel like I could go on for weeks, months even.

Truthfully, I couldn't really go on much longer, which is good, since I have run out of underwear and there are fruit flies hovering over my dirty dishes. I blame Jay Craven, the impresario behind the festivities, for my slovenliness of the past two weeks. Of course, all good things must come to an end, including the waterfront festival, which rolled to a stop last night with the final presentation of "Aurelia's Oratorio," a dreamlike opus of whimsy and elan that felt like being stuck headfirst in a champagne flute full of effervescence. Or so said the event guidebook. Or so I paraphrased it.

This is what having no bones looks like.

If this performance was meant to be the piece de resistance of the festival, I'm quite sure it succeeded. The show was performed by Aurelia Thierree and written by her mother, Victoria Thierree Chaplin, daughter of the late Charlie Chaplin, le Petit Charlot. Clearly, Thierree comes from fine theatrical stock. Her grandfather is renowned for elevating physical comedy and hobo-dom to an art form and her parents, no slouches themselves, perfected the circus/performance art combo platter that served as the forerunner to the cirque style of theatrics.

I've seen a great deal of theater in my life and I can honestly say I can't remember a time when I've been so rapt by a performance. I'm not sure I closed my mouth the entire time. If the show had been outside, I'm sure I my gaping gob would have caught its fair share of flies. Not only was I completely awestruck by Thierree's contortions and acrobatics, but the whole package gave me goosebumps and not just because I was scared Thierree would fall from her ersatz hammock that was hung practically in the rafters.

If I was a more awesome writer, I could tell you just what I saw. You would be able to see it with your own eyeballs. But sadly, you're stuck with this. For 70 minutes, the audience watched Thierree slowly emerge from a bureau, swing on curtains suspended high above the stage, become trapped in a lace cage, get molested by vintage puppets, sit upside down in a sedan chair and take quotidian actions like drying clothing, eating ice cream and arranging flowers and flip them on their ear. At one point in the show, Thierree turns to ashes. Then her male counterpart in the show alights the stage with a dustpan and brush, sweeps up her remains and reanimates her. For the finale, the audience watches as a toy train chugs around a track seemingly right through Thierree's belly. It's circus-inspired illusion at its best — textural and rich, set to mournful violin requiems and warbling accordion tunes. Oh, and there was tap-dancing.

Despite the fact that this type of French absurdism cum circus art is over most of our heads (and by "our" I mean "dumb Americans"), the audience dug it. Whether or not they got it is another thing. I know I sure didn't get it. But if there was a story, comprehension wasn't necessary in order to enjoy the performance. And thank goodness for that.

When I got home, I couldn't shake the images of Thierree and her partner flitting all over the stage, their sinewy frames practically weightless. For a good hour, I, too, thought I was weightless. All 150 graceless pounds of me. I pranced through my kitchen as I microwaved my dinner. I jumped into my tattered sweatpants, both feet at once. I twirled into the living room to watch "America's Got Talent." I was positively bubbling over. 

It was a fitting production on which to end the festival. As high-paid festival mastermind, Jay Craven, put it, Champlain was all about his dreams and "Aurelia's Oratorio" is sort of dreamy, and like, whatever, so it was a natural fit. I can't wait for the quincentenary.