Claudia Rankine: Bronx Bus Poet Theatre

In Rankine's Bus: The Provenance of Beauty

In Rankine's Bus: The Provenance of Beauty

I am developing a new course to be taught next semester that examines the oppositions and intersections of poetry in modern, and espeically 20th century drama– and as I have already explained several times, no, we are definitively not reading a survey of tedious closet dramas.

For some time now, I have also been working on particular, peculiar female artists. One of them, poet Claudia Rankine, has developed a new theatre piece in collaboration with the New York-based company Foundry Theatre. Taking its author’s childhood in the South Bronx as a point of departure, it assumes an unusual form: a bus tour with a prerecorded voice and one live actor. This form, the precorded tour, seems to be in vogue. I last experienced something similar in sound/performance artist duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Ghost Machine , which I suspect is more technically sophisticated, but aesthetically less innovative than the possibilities offered by Rankine’s poetic idiom.


An image from Ghost Machine, in which spectators toured Berlin's Hebbel am Ufer Theater in pursuit of a recorded narrative. Technically extremely accomplished.

I was particularly interested by a comment that she made in a recent interview regarding the challenges of making her poetic approach meet the demands of a director, whose language is founded in dramatic action:

“I think that the form came to meet me. Initially the expectation from Melanie was a very performative text and I have always lived in a very contemplative text. And so the idea of going from a field of contemplation into an active space was frightening to me. And not something that I naturally know how to do. So, what had to happen was we had to both kind of move towards each other. My notion of character became the character of the play but I don’t think it would have ever initially been Melanie’s idea of character. But I think in the end it is the right choice. I think that the reason she asked me to do this is because there was, I have to believe, I guess, that this is the way that perhaps she actually wanted to go. I think that we both initially were working from where we knew. And so a lot of the process has been coming closer to each other. She has to stand in the meditative moment and I had to move forward in the performative moment.”

This might be one for which to break quarantine in Ithaca…

A video trailer of the tour is available here:

THE PROVENANCE OF BEAUTY. from Sunder Ganglani on Vimeo.

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