If four dancers strumming, three drummers bouncing, two ladies spinning, and a man swinging around on a swing sounds like a circus version of a certain Christmas carol, then you’re not far off visualizing what Vashon performance duo Lelavision is doing this weekend. Adding six other performers, Leah Mann and Ela Lamblin are bringing their unique musical metal sculptures to Seattle’s Moore Theater for a show that takes their creative, joyful, physical music to quite concrete new heights.
“This is our first (Seattle area) theater show in a long while,” says Mann, the choreographer in the duo. “We’re given lovely venues all over the world, but. ...”
But not around here, is what Mann is too polite to say. Taking a break from a rehearsal in their self-built circus studio on their Vashon property, neither Mann – a diminutive woman with dark hair and astonishing flexibility – nor her ponytailed husband, Lamblin, look like international circus stars. Yet they are. For 20 years, the duo has taken their astonishing large metal sculptures and the movement and music they play on them to festivals and theaters around the world, from Edinburgh to Melbourne to Cirque du Soleil shows. Tacomans may know them from the Thanksgiving weekend shows they used to put on at the Museum of Glass.
But a formal big-theater show in Seattle? Not lately. In March the duo had expanded their numbers and given a retrospective show on Vashon, “Heavy Metal DVices,” a play on the large steel musical sculptures Lamblin builds and the otherworldly sounds they make when plucked, hit or bowed. Moore Theater special events manager Debra Heesch saw it and was hooked.
Heesch vowed she’d bring the show to the Moore – and this weekend, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the curtain goes up on two performances, featuring an expanded cast that includes film composer Jason Staczek, director A.J. Epstein, dancers Abby Enson and Lynelle Sjoberg, and musicians Aimee Zoe Tubbs, Arlette Moody, and Christopher Overstreet.
As they rehearse in the barn, it’s clear that this is no ordinary combination of circus and music. As Leah and Sjoberg spin on a DNA-inspired double helix of steel pipe, Tubbs slaps neoprene paddles onto a “drum set” of blown-glass gourds. The act finishes, and an unusual discussion begins.
“We need the swing next.”
“Well, we’ll have to move the boat.”
“Where does the volcano go?”
Meanwhile, Lamblin has begun the next act – swiping gloved hands across 30-foot-long metal harp strings like a mime artist creating the soundtrack for a sci-fi movie.
“It’s a rare combination of talents,” says Mann of the cast for Heavy Metal DVices. “To have composers willing to roll around and do comedy, and dancers willing to play instruments they’ve never played before or spin for 10 minutes is really unusual.”
But then, the entire Lelavision concept is unusual. Some of the sculptures in the show have been seen (and heard) before: the big metal “Violcano” that fits Lamblin and Mann inside the hole in the top, either upside-down and banging on the inside or right-side up and bowing the strings that encircle the whole thing as it spins. There’s the double-helix, and the hoop skirt made of boingy metal tendrils with balls on the end that ding when they hit the floor. The glass gourds are a newer incarnation of the resonating percussion instrument Lelavision made a year ago at the Museum of Glass. And the giant rocking boat is back, this time with eight people monkeying around on it. And there are the spherical bronzed pods that can either hide a crouching acrobat or be hit with mallets for a steel-drum sound.
One of the older, non-musical pieces is also one of the most dramatic: a giant golden swing set, bolted to the floor, with unicycle wheels projecting past each of the swing’s solid “ropes.” While half of the team pounds a tribal rhythm on the pods, the other half swarms up the set like monkeys. Lamblin, standing, starts swinging like every school kid dreams of doing – higher and higher, and finally around in a 360-degree arc to whooping cries from the others.
“Ela’s grandpa had one, which broke when he was a kid,” explains Mann. “So he built his own.”
New to the show is a 30-foot-long harp, with a steel frame and dulcimer-strength strings, plucked or swiped with gloves by up to four performers at a time for an ethereal sound that’s also uniquely visual.
But the highlight of Heavy Metal DVices has got to be the grand finale: bungee drumming. Lamblin, Mann and Tubbs strap themselves into harnesses, attach a bongo between their legs, grab a mallet and start bouncing from bungee cords hanging from the rigging. As they leap and cavort, they pound a row of 11 drums and cymbals that’s also hanging from the ceiling on a horizontal pipe, turn backflips and grin from ear to ear. A percussionist on the ground keeps everyone in rhythm.
“It’s exciting,” Tubbs says. “Leah taught me a lot. I learned backflips the other day! This is cool, to integrate theater and acrobatics and music.”
As Tubbs leaps higher and higher, she starts swinging back and forward, narrowly missing a crash into a shelf of blown-glass drums, to gasps from the watching cast.
“The timing’s hard,” Tubbs admits. “It’s always a wild card, but that’s what’s exciting about it.”
As the three drummers disconnect themselves from the bungees, the entire cast moves into position to play the harp, the glass drums and a giant guitar strummed with a steel sphere for a tongue-in-cheek encore that screams heavy metal in a circus accent.
After the Moore, Lamblin and Mann hope to package the show and take it internationally. They’ve already had some interest from festivals in Australia and New Zealand.
“I’ve been appreciating the sense of community,” says Mann of her expanded cast. “It’s greater than the sum of its parts. Each member is so talented. It doesn’t just depend on what Ela and I can do – there’s so much more.”
Heavy Metal DVices
Who: Lelavision musical circus theater
Where: Moore Theater, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $20 general admission; $15 for those younger than 12thenewstribune.com