Check out what EMU student Casidhe McNulty had to say about the recent Elephant Engine High Dive Revival in Ann Arbor:
Elephant Engine High Dive Revival lived up to its billing as the “ultimate spoken-word uplift party experience” with its September 28th performance at Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone. Group members Buddy Wakefield, Anis Mojgani, Derrick Brown, & Shira Erlichman performed, along with Andrea Gibson on her first night with the tour. Elephant Engine’s performance was very improvisational, to the point that it could be described as silly and almost childlike. Instead of being a distraction, however, this silliness helped set the mood between the performers and audience in a nonverbal call and response for both the funny and somber pieces.
The first piece, Elephant Engine’s version of a new national anthem, was in fact a mournful rendition of the song “Up in Here” by DMX. Anis Mojgani led the performance, with the others as backup singers. Mojgani’s efforts to maintain the mournful tone of the song were offset by both the audience’s laughter as well as Derrick Brown’s overdone hand gestures, which resembled those of an orchestra conductor, and the apparently improvisational antics of Buddy Wakefield, Andrea Gibson and Shira E.
The silliness in the performance of Elephant Engine’s national anthem, as well as others such as Mojgani and Brown’s piece Bros vs. Dudes, could be compared to that of preteens who are performing a skit for their family or friends. In relation to the theme for Contemporary Forms this semester, which is the boundary between human and animal, this attitude would land just on the Human side of the Human/Animal spectrum, where the Human element is steadier, more polite and stereotypically “civilized”, and the Animal is more primal and unpredictable.
Other pieces delve into more serious matters, such as Wakefield’s Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars. Before beginning the poem, Wakefield is in awe of Gibson’s performance just before he took the stage, and he lets that shine through unabashedly, stumbling over words as he tries to find something to say and garnering laughter from the audience. The poem itself, however, is very somber, a mood set by the music in the background and lines such as “forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past”, and “this is an apology letter to the both of us / for how long it took me to let things go.” Wakefield’s physicality as he performs the piece adds to the somber tone, reinforcing the desperation behind the words as he uses his whole body in the reading.
Even with videos of the performers available online, seeing them interact on stage at Neutral Zone was another experience entirely because this was the first time Andrea Gibson performed with Elephant Engine, so there were no videos online of her performing with the group before this performance. The interactions between the five of them added to the performances because the time between each piece became performances in themselves, showcasing their familiarity with each other. The similarities and possible influences between these five performers were also emphasized by seeing them perform together, (both together multiple times in many combinations but also solo on their own pieces) in a way that would not have been shown by simply reading their work or watching videos of them online.
Hybridity was featured most strikingly in Shira E.’s poem Dadd’s Parking Lot Sermon, which tells the story of Tommy from the perspective of someone (possibly his parents, teachers or society in general) who is trying to turn him into the stereotypical boy. The voice urging Tommy to act like the stereotypical boy says things like “don’t cry”, and “don’t fun so much when you should be studying engine grease”. This authoritative voice wants Tommy to be the typical boy, while it is obvious that Tommy, who writes poems and says things like “stars are the pie crumbs of the pie moon”, wants nothing to do with many of the things he is told he should be interested in. This combination of languages and personalities, while it is contained within the same poem, push against each other in much the same way Tommy pushes against those trying to tell him who he should be.