How many times have you seen something onstage and said, "Wow, this is garbage" - and meant it as praise? An opportunity arrives next week, when "The Aluminum Show" becomes the first theatrical enterprise to settle into Knight Theater.
Refuse that didn't work has been incorporated into a work people can't seem to refuse.
Ilan Azriel, a 41-year-old dancer-director from Israel, premiered his metal piece in Jerusalem in 2003. It toured around Europe in 2007-08, then got red-hot when the BBC broadcast brief portions from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer in Scotland. The show played Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., in August but didn't embark on a U.S. tour until this month. (Charlotte is the first extended stop; "Aluminum" spent a day last week in Schenectady, N.Y.)
Azriel established Dollbeat Productions, his theater-dance company, 13 years ago to give free rein to his love of puppetry, masks and found objects. But the iron-y of his most famous work is that he has made something precious from trash, with help from Israeli special-effects artist Yuval Kedem.
"When I started out, I primarily used materials thrown away by factories," said Azriel. (He answered e-mail questions through a translator in Israel.) "As the show grew, I had some factories develop specific materials ... for performer and audience safety, and to provide us with more creative options. Today we use both refuse and specifically manufactured materials.
"I work with air-conditioning duct manufacturers, aluminum manufacturers, and chemical and drink-packaging companies. Since refuse materials from the factories are rather standard, we can consistently incorporate them into the show without major adjustments."
Critics have compared segments of this show to the mime of "Mummenschanz," the high-energy musical force of "Stomp," the zaniness of Blue Man Group and the oversized puppetry of Tony-winning director Julie Taymor. (Visit www.aluminum-show.com to see what they mean and prepare for the craziness.)
Azriel incorporates bits of dance - all the current performers have dance backgrounds, though that's not a prerequisite - and says auditions are open to anyone with flexibility, a sense of rhythm, acrobatic daring and a healthy work ethic.
Spare parts to fine art
"Performers are required to learn a whole new visual language," he said. "Even the most professional and experienced dancers are challenged. (They) must also have excellent orientation, since in many cases they have limited vision during the performance - for example, when they are inside the aluminum tubes."
"Inside them" is a mild term. The artists walk around in these contraptions, wriggle along the stage, stack them into formations, strut in them like models in a heavy-metal fashion show. Sometimes you can see the performers' bodies; sometimes the "creatures" seem shimmeringly inhuman. Audience members come onstage, and the show comes out into the audience.
The unspoken theme of reusing waste material might inspire us all to do the same: We'd save a few coppers and help the planet. But beyond that recycling motif, says Azriel, the show holds no sociopolitical commentary. It's simply a creative transformation of spare parts into fine art.
"The challenge is to see how far we can push the boundaries when taking a material from one context - everyday industrial materials - and give it a whole new meaning in the context of entertainment," he says. "The Aluminum Show' is meant to dazzle the senses."
'Possibilities are endless'
At one point, Azriel referred to this glitzy, glimmering wonder as "The Aluminum Show 1." Does that imply sequels with metallic themes? Can we expect a show about bells titled "Tin-tinabulation," or one with incessant movement called "Quick Silver?"
"We are still finding new ways to use industrial materials in (the current show)," he said. "It is always being updated as we experiment. The possibilities are endless, and creating similar shows based on this concept is definitely a direction we are exploring."