THEATER REVIEW: Anything but English

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It began with a Shhhhh, a call for the native English speakers in the audience to quiet down. This was not their night. Alejandra Tobar Atriz, performer and co-host of Anything But English performed her piece, opening the evening and deploying a modernist string of associations. The writing was beautiful. She described traveling from a “mountain’s cleavage to a U.S. classroom.” In its construction, the piece reflected the dislocating, dissociative experience of immigration and assimilation through body and voice.

Not since the turn of the millennium has Patrick’s Cabaret, off of Lake near Minnehaha, put on Anything But English, a night where, according to the press release, “multilingual artists present works about mother tongues, global tongues, and the ways we are lost and found in translation.”

Following Alejandra, whose mother tongue was Spanish, a Vietnamese storyteller named Phuoc (pronounced Fuh), told the story of her phoenix-colored dress of traditional lore. She asked the audience to interact with her, mimicking rain, wind, thunder and a lion’s roar. After Phuoc, the Armenian Dance Ensemble of Minnesota closed the first half of the show in full arkha-luks and led a brief dance lesson during intermission.

The second half of the night comprised two premier pieces and one other. The first premier was performed by Ifrah Mansour and integrated the movement of her colorfully draped body. A split image projected onto the wall behind her, which displayed her in a different set of colorful scarves, encased in what resembled a wooden pod.

The next act was a trio of performers relayed a fast-paced comedy primarily in Spanish about friendship and its loss, in a narrative manner that must have been aware of its closeness to the French film, Amélie. The last piece of the night was a solo dance performance by Alys Ayumi Ogura that somehow melded the precision of ballet with the joyful drunkenness of youth, and ultimately commented on the confusion of assimilation.

Speaking about the goal of the show, Scott Artley, the Cabaret’s performing arts curator, said, “What we value is not only the multilingual aspect, but … celebrating indigenous cultures … and those people in our community who have immigrated and are part of our community.”

Currently, Patrick’s Cabaret is undergoing a transition in funding. At intermission, a board member at the Cabaret asked for donations and explained the logistics of the transition–a long-time benefactor is stepping down and handing responsibility off to the Cabaret. This is an “exciting moment for us,” Scott said, “thinking about entering our third decade of activity.”