JUST TRY AND describe the performance-art group Lambs Eat Ivy. The best Nancy Andrews, violinist and straight man for the avant-garde quartet, can come up with is, "Sometimes I feel as if I'm in a high school Christmas pageant."
A Christmas pageant, perhaps, by way of Appalachian folk music mixed with Eastern religious symbols, dreamlike images, outrageous costumes, comedy and musicians as likely to perform lying on the floor as they are standing up.
But even that characterization does not come close to a complete description of these Lambs. Nothing does.
"We try to avoid explaining ourselves," says Jonathan Gorrie, backup guitarist for the group. "It's too difficult." He may be on to something.
Michael Willis, a vocalist (among other things) for Lambs, says, "Well, it's a good chance to show off."
"Either that, or be embarrassed," adds singer and washboard player Emma Elizabeth Downing, laughing.
Whatever it is they do will be displayed Sunday when the nationally acclaimed Lambs headlines Towson State's Brave New Works Festival. The hour-long show, staged with costumes and sets, includes songs such as "Shiva" and "Serpentine" as well as selections from their work-in-progress "Ghost Girl."
One surprising thing, among many, about Lambs is their sense of humor. Most performance artists take themselves and their work very seriously. Those pretensions aren't for Lambs.
Sitting on the floor in their cramped rehearsal space, the foursome banters with an ease bordering on the familial. Relaxed in their flannel shirts and jeans and sneakers, they seem to have their feet firmly planted on the ground. "On our last tour," admits the bespectacled Andrews, "we had quite a few giggle fits."
Despite the jokes, however, there is a point to their work -- even if they aren't too sure what it is. Andrews adds, "We wouldn't have devoted the past five years of our lives to a one-time joke."
Downing, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, as is Andrews, says, "Each of us has our separate interest which we bring to the group. It's all collaborative. The work comes out as hybrid that no one has seen before."
"I feel that we are trying to create as rich an image as possible," Downing says. "We use the elements of sound, rhythm, costumes, visual images and the spoken word. We are not out to make a statement. We only want to create an experience."
Andrews adds, "It's not obscure, or difficult, or intellectual, or offensive. It's just different."
"We're a toe-tappin' good time," Willis says.
Lambs Eat Ivy performs at the TSU Fine Arts Center's Concert Hall, Osler and Cross Campus drives, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8; $5 for students, seniors and alumni. For more information, call 830-2787.