Last Thursday, the musical trio The Tiger Lillies performed “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in the MainStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. The performance was a combination of live music by The Tiger Lillies’ three members: Martyn Jacques, Mike Pickering and Adrian Stout, in addition to animated scenes which were directed and produced by photographer Mark Holthusem. The combination of the visual aspect of the animation and the auditory aspect of the music created an entirely new haunting and disturbing world, which pushed the boundaries of traditional performance pieces.
The performance was based upon the original poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. The poem follows the path of a sailor cursed to wear an albatross around his neck. The sailor needlessly killed the exotic bird and is forced to pay for his misdeed, a theme relevant today for the environmental concerns which presently cause the death of many endangered animals.
The Tiger Lillies took this base and created a musical and visual performance, that follows the cursed sailor. The entire performance was made up of 20 songs with little to no pause to transition between the songs. The band stood behind a screen, which at times shrouded the band in darkness and made them seem non-human. Upon the screen and behind the band, images telling the story of the cursed sailor were projected. The images did not follow an explicit story line, as many of the projections were symbolic. A few common images such as a flying albatross, a lost sailor, a ship and a mermaid were intertwined throughout the performance giving continuity to the story. These visual elements were helpful to the story, as it allowed the context of the original poem to remain a vital part of the performance. The images also proved to be thought-provoking and symbolic, as there were moments when they seemed to have little correlation with the overall story. At one point, a green large-toothed monster, which seemed to be out of a child’s fairytale, slowly moved its way across the screen and seemed to engulf the band within its mouth. While some of the images did not seem to make sense, I found they served as strong bridges between the songs. They were truly a guiding force, as it was at times difficult to understand the lyrics of the songs and follow the plot line.
Along with the images, there was a strong tone set by the varied lighting throughout the play. The stage was often bathed in one color, from red to green to blue among others. The lighting was not only a reflection of the song being played at any given time, but was often so distinctive that it stood out on its own.
The band members alternated between instruments, which generally signified the tone and energy of the songs. The sequence of the songs seemed to follow a relatively strict pattern of alternating slower and more melancholic songs, directly followed by faster, higher energy and often satirically funny melodies. It is hard to set a specific genre to the music, but the music was extremely distinctive, unlike anything I have ever heard. With the choice of instruments including an accordion, a musical saw, a theremin and percussion, the band edged on almost a dark folksy punk. Jacques’ high falsetto pierced through each song giving an overall feeling of eeriness and darkness. The songs were grating at times, but this felt extremely intentional, as there seemed to be a strong element of forcing the audience to confront being uncomfortable and asking the audience to embrace the unpleasant nature of the sounds throughout the performance.
One of the strongest aspects I found of The Tiger Lillies’ performance was their ability to transform into near inhuman figures. At many points, I had to remind myself that there were live performers behind the screen. This allowed a supernatural element to take residence within the piece, which brought it to another level of both disturbance and brilliance. The performance seemed to exist independently of The Tiger Lillies as they appeared to become mechanical elements of the animated images on the screens.
While I found this to be an oddly fantastical performance, it required a high level of concentration and expectance for the abnormal. It was challenging to follow and remain with the performance, as there were no breaks and little changes in the overall movement of the performers. Nonetheless, it was both a strong visual and auditory experience. The Tiger Lillies brought a unique performance to the College, which will be hard to easily replicate or repeat.