Performance artist brings multimedia 'extinction cabaret' to Silvermine
Published 4:30 pm, Wednesday, January 4, 2012
On a visit to an antique store in Troy, N.Y., a few years back, C. Ryder Cooley gazed with fascination at a mounted deer head hanging on the wall.
Then she tried it on.
For Cooley, wearing the deer was -- and still is -- a way to give the animal, once displayed as a hunter's trophy, "a second life."
"We can't bring (animals) back to life" in a literal sense, she said. "The way I'm bringing them back to life is philosophical, metaphorical and spiritual. I want to see if I can channel the spirit of the animals."
The idea is the foundation of "Xmalia," Cooley's haunting, surrealist, multi-media performance piece spotlighting the extinction of animals.
Equal parts concert, theater and film, the production features black-and-white videos, trapeze and taxidermy, along with dreamy folk ballads about creatures -- from the Tasmanian tiger to the Xerces butterfly -- that have vanished over the last three centuries.
"Ecological concerns have always been important to me," said Cooley, who will perform "Xmalia" at the Silvermine Arts Center on Sunday, Jan. 8. "I was raised by environmentalists, nature lovers and hippies. It's part of my chemical makeup."
More InformationThe performance of "Xmalia" coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Silvermine Arts Center, which will open new exhibitions, including works by sculptor and SGAC founder Solon Borglum, on Sunday, Jan. 8. An opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m.
Directed by Paula Josa-Jones, the show centers on a lonely musician (Cooley) who finds herself in a ghost town -- a resting place for deceased animals. She sings and strums a six-string ukulele in hopes of bringing the animals -- represented by a collection of mounted animal heads -- back to life.
Cooley calls it her "graveyard cabaret."
"It's like a seance," said Cooley, who performs, at times, with a deer head strapped to her back. "Is the spirit of the animal going to join us tonight during the show?"
Performed numerous times throughout New York's Capitol Region, "Xmalia" is a continuation of "Animalia," a multi-disciplinary stage show Cooley developed for her master of fine arts thesis at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In that piece, a human and a deer die before being resurrected as a hybrid entity -- a comment on the connection between humans and animals.
Like "Animalia," "Xmalia" nurtures an awareness of humanity's impact on the natural world. However, Cooley insists, "it's more than just an activist piece.
"It's not going to hit you over the head with message," she said. "It's a fairy tale, it's mythological. There's lots of different ways of interpreting this show."
Audiences might simply be entertained by the songs, taxidermy and trapeze, or they could be "impacted on a deeper level," Cooley said.
Regardless of individual interpretation, there is a spiritual energy that permeates "Xmalia" -- an energy that Cooley hopes to direct through music and movement.
"I feel like their spirits are still out there," Cooley said of the dead and extinct animals. "As an artist, it's something I can explore."
The performance of "Xmalia" coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, which will open new exhibitions, including works by sculptor and SGAC founder Solo Borglum, on Sunday, Jan. 8. An opening reception is from 2 to 4 p.m.
"Xmalia" will take place at the Silvermine Guild Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, New Canaan. Sunday, Jan 8, at 5 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 members. For information, call 203-966-9700, or visit http://www.silvermineart.org.