Tribal Baroque returns

The dynamic duo performs a custom-made show for Island audiences.

Photo by Wendy Taucher

Last year, audiences were wowed by the spectacle known as Tribal Baroque — the very colorful and multitalented duo from New York whose unique blend of dancing, virtuoso violin playing, singing, chanting, and other theatrics filled the Union Chapel with sights, sounds, and rousing applause. This weekend, Tribal Baroque will perform an all-new show of commissioned work by Vineyard producers titled “Esh & Ee-ay,” inspired by last year’s performance on the Island. Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater presents “Esh & Ee-ay,” which is produced by Sarah Kernochan.

The new show will take all of the elements that the two street performers are known for — imaginative storytelling and a blend of physicality, spirituality, and music, and have formed it into a cohesive opera with a fairytale/morality theme.

According to “prayforming artist” Lila’Angelique, who wrote the story shortly after she joined partner S.K. Thoth in 2009, the opera tells the tale of a dragon and a fairy who fall in love and have to overcome the limitations of both their physical forms and the perceptions and prejudices of others. It’s a story drawn from real life, but mythologized and enacted with lush costumes, music, dance, and other dramatic devices.

Though done in a very unique and contemporary style, “Esh & Ee-ay” follows the classic arc of an opera with themes of melodrama, crisis, triumph, tears, and laughter. Creators and performers S.K. Thoth and Lila’Angelique sing in a language of their own invention, the chanting/musical language of the mythical people that they chronicle in all of their work. For the opera performance, audiences will be provided with programs outlining the action so that they can follow the story.

Tribal Baroque’s music combines elements of gypsy, traditional classical, folk music, Gregorian chant, and, presumably, characteristics of the music, traditions, and people of the land that Thoth conjured up and has developed since childhood.

Thoth, whose mother played with the New York City Opera, started on the violin at age 8. He has studied under a number of acclaimed musicians, and his years of performing and study have helped him hone a huge natural talent for music.

Lila’Angelique is the daughter of a Broadway actress/singer. She also started playing violin as a child, and has studied voice intensively with a former Metropolitan Opera star. Lila has developed a distinctive high coloratura soprano that is the perfect complement to Thoth’s low-register, imposing countertenor. At times his vocalization sounds almost demonic, while hers provides the angelic yin to his yang.

The first thing you notice about Thoth and Lila is their unique appearance. Not just in costume for performing, the couple have a look that is theatrical whether they are on the stage or not. Their roles when they perform — or “prayform,” as they prefer to call it — are simply the personification of who they are in everyday life, writ large. But the musical myth that they enact is purely the output of their very active imaginations.

That being said, “Esh & Ee-ay” actually parallels the story of Thoth and Lila, their individual backgrounds as well as their remarkable love story.

Lila describes the basic plot: “It’s about a dragon that falls in love with a fairy. Both are outcasts. They experience the intolerance of others. Their relationship is not acceptable within society.”

According to Thoth, members of each of their respective families have had difficulties reconciling themselves to the couple’s relationship. They were married last year.

“We were very alone in the first years of our courtship,” says Lila. “Nobody believed in us. Meeting each other was like a miracle. There was suddenly someone there who was as weird as me. Someone who it was OK to be myself around. Thoth is the champion of black sheep. He’s not afraid to go out on the street and wear a dress and be himself.”

Thoth prayformed by himself on the streets of New York City and elsewhere for years before the two discovered their common bond and formed a partnership. Academy Awardwinning filmmaker Sarah Kernochan chronicled the solo street performer’s life and art in a short film called “Thoth,” which won her a second Oscar in 2002.

In the opera, Esh, the dragon, has to undergo a physical transformation in order to realize his love for the fairy Ee-ay. Lila believes that Thoth has similarly gone through some changes since the two united both romantically and artistically.

“When I first saw Thoth I thought, ‘Here’s this little wild creature,’” says Lila. “The way he performs is very aggressive. I kind of tame him in prayformance.”

The tension between the angelic Lila with her pale, translucent skin, big blue eyes, and pink and white hair, and the almost savage-looking Thoth, in primitive warrior-style regalia and makeup, provide the drama in all of their prayformance vignettes. With the opera, they have taken those personas and the dramatized interplay between their characters and developed a fully realized story.

Ms. Kernochan, who, along with producer Wendy Taucher, was responsible for bringing Tribal Baroque to the Vineyard last year, made some suggestions to the couple after their show at the Union Chapel in September. “Sarah came to us and said, The audience needs a story. More of a theatrical experience. More elaborate and more focused on character.”

The two Vineyard producers commissioned the opera for the 2015 return of Tribal Baroque, and Lila and Thoth have been working on it ever since. They have had the perfect forum for developing the hourlong piece. The dynamic duo — as they sometimes refer to themselves — travel throughout Europe, performing on the streets of Amsterdam, Lisbon, and elsewhere, and then spend the fall prayforming daily in New York City’s Angel Tunnel in Central Park in the fall. Although they did the actual writing and developed the choreography together in a fairly organized, formal manner, they have rehearsed the material and perfected it on the street over the past year.

“That’s the way we get our energy,” says Lila. “By having an audience, it forces you to make choices immediately. It’s allowed us to find the avenues, the melody, the choreography; if you do it in the studio it becomes very fake.”

The couple have released an album of the opera, but they will be performing “Esh and Ee-ay” for the first time in a traditional venue before a paying audience this weekend.

“We created it for the Vineyard,” says Thoth, who notes that he finds the Union Chapel’s acoustics and size perfect for Tribal Baroque’s style of performance.

“We’re ready to move toward more indoor performances,” adds Lila. “More legitimate venues. We love traveling, but it’s really hard. It’s just the two of us. Last year we were going by the seat of our pants. We’re really happy to have been given this commission. It’s been an immense challenge, but overall just amazing. It’s really nice that we have someone paying attention to us like this. This year has been really helpful for us. We feel taken care of.”

Tribal Baroque, “Esh and Ee-ay,” Saturday, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 6 at 7 pm, Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs. For information and tickets, call 646-872-7249 or visit Prices range from $25 to $100.