Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Burning Libraries: Stories from the New Ellis Island" ☼ ☼ ☼

Part theater piece, part dance and part aerialist performance, "Burning Libraries: Stories from the New Ellis Island" is a delightful antidote to the waves of hysteria battering the media over the issue of immigration.

Walking into the theater you are asked to take tiny stars and stick them to a large world map on the wall, signifying where your grandparents came from. And then you sit down in your theater seat and watch an intriguing production cobbled together from interviews made by grade school children with their own grandparents. These families have arrived in America from around the world. The tales have been edited but remain in the kids' (and grandparents') own words.

There is no dialogue from the stage -- only the recorded stories, none more than a few minutes long. Dancers Danny Nguyen and Jesus Cortéz, and aerialists Azana and Susan M. Voyticky illustrate these tiny stories with carefully choreographed movements. The combination is touching, sometimes funny and always involving. High points are Voyticky's aerial illustration of a story about racism in the Jim Crow South (seen on top); the beautiful aerial sail high above the stage, to signify the sail on the tiny boat in which a child's grandfather was escaping from Vietnam; the African tale of two birds falling from the tree; and of course "My Grandma Vicky invented the burrito."

Here we see Voyticky and Jesus Cortéz in a piece entitled "Arriving" -- with suitcases and looks of wonder upon their faces.

The stories come from all over -- Russia, Yemen, Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico. Many recall jail sentences, bribery to border officials and other hardships, but in the end all are success stories: the grandparents got here and the kids are already writing about it.

Helen Stolzfus, who is author and director, put the show together with help from co-author and composer Albert Greenberg. It is short -- only one hour running time -- and very, very sweet.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Burning Libraries: Stories from the New Ellis Island" Three Stars, and they are solid ones. It's a story everyone will love, children to grandparents and all in between. Sadly, it's a short run in San Francisco but there is an early December weekend at Laney College in Oakland.

Thank you to Taija Lynn for the photos of the aerialists.
"Burning Libraries: Stories from the New Ellis Island"
Z Space at Theater Artaud
450 Florida Street
Wed.-Sun. Through November 14; also Dec 3-5 at Laney College, Oakland
$20-$30 ($5 for students and seniors!

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