An Underwater Exhibition

By Robert Lee Wolfe III

Basil Twist's "signature" piece Symphonie Fantastique is now over ten years old, a length of time that could date a show that relies heavily on what one might term "special effects" for its power. Certainly most films produced that long ago seem like they're from another era. It becomes apparent, though, that it's not just the human-manufactured beauty of these effects that makes them so impressive, but their ability to captivate for their strange and abstract artistic qualities. These qualities are the ones that preserve the sense of wonder elicited by this underwater exhibition.

In an age when some of the world's most talented artists employ their gifts to sell derivative stories to mass audiences at the cinema, one can forget the magic of the materials being used. This is a magic with which Basil Twist is familiar and with which the audience will become familiar, a magic divorced from a rehashed Hollywood romance or revenge narrative, a magic that finds its proper home in the realm of artistic expression. Pieces of cloth swirl underwater with the grace of a dancer (or perhaps more aptly a mermaid), bizarre tubes of light burst through the water in bubbly arrays, and noodle-shaped objects bounce to the pianist's percussions in a series of displays entirely alien yet simultaneously not altogether outside of the human experience.

Symphonie Fantastique is a show that begs to be seen live, and with a live pianist of the virtuosic talent of Christopher Riley. Just as it is impossible to feel the contours of an oil painting in an art history book, it seems impossible that any recording could match the power of a performance of this show that's close enough to touch. To see even the light playing with the haphazardly folded velvet curtain shading the performance tank before the show was an experience no camera could capture. The occasional dribble of water falling over the front of the tank confirmed the unmatchable immediacy of the live performance, and seeing Basil Twist and his entire crew dripping in their underwater suits after the performance felt like being present at the emergence of an astronaut team from a recently landed shuttle.

And to have the opportunity to step behind the set and see the array of metal pipes that form the skeleton of such a composed front is an unnerving experience that will certainly reinforce an audience member's appreciation for the ability of Basil Twist and his crew to transform the mundane into the extraordinary. Behind, a factory; before, a paradise. What is left to be said but that everyone should see Basil Twist while he's in the area?