Movement theater can be hard to pin down, because it blurs the distinctions between spoken theater and mime. And even though it often features familiar-looking clown figures, their silly business may pay off in existential musings that are anything but reassuring.
So there will be a lot of metaphors floating like invisible balloons when the fourth annual Mid-Atlantic Movement Theatre Festival comes to Towson State University this week. There are public performances tomorrow through Saturday nights, as well as daytime workshops for festival participants and students.
"Ten years ago this would have been a mime festival, and today they call it movement theater," says festival coordinator David Geyer. The evolving nature of this performance form makes it crucial for such theater artists "to come together for a renewal, so we don't feel alone."
"The intersection of theater and movement seems particularly important, because the body holds the truth," observes Lori Kranz, managing director of the Baltimore-based Splitting Image company, which will perform "Family Masks" tomorrow at 8 p.m. Previously staged at Loyola College, "Family Masks" integrates movement, music and masks to relate the harsh psychological truth about a dysfunctional family wracked by alcoholism.
Although it is non-linear in structure, Ms. Kranz notes that the piece has "a script with very direct language, movement so strong that it can be visually understood and music underscoring the emotion."
A change of pace will come Friday night at 8 with a double bill of Rajeckas & Intraub performing "Moon Over Altoona: Obsessions With Memory," and Mark Jaster doing "FoolSpells: A Short Spectacle for Audience and a Short Fool."
"We create worlds with our own bodies and words," Mr. Intraub, 35, says of the work he does with his 34-year-old partner, Paul Rajeckas. Collaborating on "Moon Over Altoona" with Jonathan Walken, a co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theatre, the New York-based duo sought to put together what Mr. Intraub describes as "something that is not narrative, but is constructed like beads on a string. There is a holistic sense of disjointed monologues and images of illness, sexual shame and breaking up being woven into a fabric. It has an internal logic, a cadence and pacing, as if moving to a little metronome."
Mr. Jaster, 36, who studied with mime masters Marcel Marceau and Etienne Decroux, brings that silent solo sensibility to his own style. The Rockville-based performer characterizes "FoolSpells" as "sort of a passage with the Fool as spiritual seeker. It's a continuous narrative unfolding in the present, but it's more a ceremony than a story."
He adds that his use of such props as a bamboo flute, lengths of rope and a mirror on wheels reflects the inspiration he found in the enigmatic boxes of artist Joseph Cornell.
Closing out the public performances Saturday at 8 p.m. is Ronlin Foreman's "Donkeys, Feathers, Donuts and Floats," which he calls "a compendium or retrospective collage of the work I've done over the past 10 years."
A red-nosed clown living in Clarksville, Tenn., the 39-year-old performer will also teach a workshop on European mime techniques during his TSU stay.
"Much of my work deals with props and objects," Mr. Foreman says. "My relationship to objects is almost always very specific, but what happens as a result of that relationship sometimes has an ambiguous edge to it. I've spent 15 years learning how to play the intuitive instrument, my imagination. As for my use of words, I look on them as verbal gestures for the clown. What I find most rewarding in theater is not being offered a menu that is entirely comprehensible, but one that has an ambiguous border allowing the imagination to float."
General admission tickets for individual evening performances are $12; call (410) 830-ARTS.