By Brian Thomas
Around the holidays, everyone has their unique Christmas or holiday tradition. Whether it’s strolling through Temple Square to look at the lights, putting up an advent calendar, ice skating in Gallivan Plaza, attending a Messiah Sing-In, and so forth, these activities put people in the spirit of the holidays. An activity that families should add to their yearly holiday traditions should be attending The Sting & Honey Company’s This Bird of Dawning, created and directed by Javen Tanner in association with The Waterford School.
This is the ninth year for the production which is performed in the Regent Street Black Box Theatre, part of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, and has an extremely limited run. The entrance to this theatre is a little tricky to find, located on Regent Street, in the back of the theatre, in the alley through-way that has been renovated to suit the new performing arts center.
This Bird of Dawning is a triumph in minimalist aesthetic. The performance is executed with a blank and neutral mask technique, meaning all of the actors don expressionless masks throughout the duration of the performance, enacting the story of the nativity entirely through movement. The costumes also adhere to the minimalist aesthetic, being nothing more than long drapes of fabric rippling with the movements of the actor’s bodies creating an ethereal effect, reflecting the divine nature of the story. The actors do not speak throughout the performance, remaining silent and intentional with their movements. The words spoken are through a narrator over a loudspeaker reciting various poems by Li-Young Lee, Susan Howe, Mark Strand, Shakespeare, and more. The silence between these recitations is profound, broken only by a bronze singing bowl at certain pinnacle moments of the play.
The use of the masks, minimalist costumes, and sets creates a sense that the play is being performed by moving statues. The cautious and deliberate movements throughout the performance are very dance-like, though they refrain from being ostentatious. The silence summons the audience to contemplation, to understand the gravity of the story of the Nativity, the miracle the story portrays. While there are countless plays about the Nativity, the Christmas miracle, and so forth, This Bird of Dawning observes the story in a reverential manner, without the subjective emotions of writers, actors, or designers impressing upon the audience with florid details. This Bird of Dawning presents the story of the nativity in the most stripped down and purified version, allowing individual audience members to have their own space of meditation.
I’m not very religious, nor am I very spiritual. In all honesty, I’m typically skeptical of religion, particularly as a tattooed liberal living in a religious conservative state. Nevertheless, this did not prevent me from enjoying this production, and really valuing the artistic choices made by Javen Tanner. The choice to create a really minimalist show allowed me to appreciate the story of the Nativity and contemplate my own feelings about the story and the value of the holiday season. I am typically “bah humbug” about the holidays, skipping the festive rituals of decorating trees and hanging wreaths. After seeing This Bird of Dawning, though, I admit, I went out and picked up some Christmas lights to hang in my apartment.
The Sting & Honey Company presents This Bird of Dawning by Javen Tanner
Regent Street Black Box, George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, 131 Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
December 15-16, 7:30 PM. Dec 16 2:00 PM
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