We went to LaMama late Saturday night to see North and lemme tell ya, that Heather Christian is something else. And I mean that in a good way. Every once in a while you see someone perform and you’re like, “Yep. This one’s gonna take off.” She’s one of them.
Her theatrical influences are obvious – she has performed with Big Dance Theater and her collaborators, The Arbornauts (Chris Giarmo, Hannah Heller, Mike Mikos and Raky Sastri), have worked with Big Dance Theater, Witness Relocation and Theater of the Two-Headed Calf. So there’s definitely the whole NYU ETW thing going on. North comes complete with art-y dance interludes, videos on old televisions, imaginative implementation of failed and archaic technology, post-apocalyptic yet whimsical costume design and a really cool shadow-puppet show – all of which is well-done and good fun. But what really sets North apart is the music and how it is integrated into the piece.
Basically, North is a loosely-themed avant-cabaret. Christian is an acrobatic singer – she generates profound sound, going from a whisper to a scream to a deep, bluesy warble in the space of a phrase. She is intense and emotional, sometimes she even seems a little crazy – but then she cracks a smile 0r nods a cue at one of the Arbornauts – and she looks like a kid who is surprised that people will actually let her get away with acting like this.
Christian’s original songs are strong. I’m not enough of a musicologist to really analyze them. They remind me of several powerful, piano-playing female singer/songwriters, all of whom I enjoy. She definitely has synthesized the artists who have come before her and incorporated them into her own sound. But what really seems to distinguish her work is the arrangements – particularly of other people’s songs. She manages to interpolate Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through The Night” with Bach’s “Preludium in C”, she has the Arbornauts perform the riff of The Beatles’ “Hide Your Love Away” by making horn noises (using their mouths as embouchers? basically making a “raspberry” noise) and she has written an off-kilter, layered vocal arrangement to “Reverie” by Debussy.
Part dance/theater, part cabaret/concert, the evening unfurls seamlessly. The songs segue deftly from one to another, occasionally narrated with airplane-style announcements made by the drummer via megaphone as the multi-instrumental Arbornauts switch instruments or move the set.
No matter what you call it, North is a very promising work from a young group of artists. North is alternately haunting and humorous. Christian’s music takes us on a surreal, soulful sleigh ride through a winter wonderland that is well-worth visiting again.