Stone Face/Steel Efface
by Stella Maria Perry
At 1301 Texas Avenue, also known as the Kids-N-Co Education & Performance Center, I watched a toddler gently climb up the steps to the stage. She stood up there while the rest of us worked on the set around her and she danced. It came quite naturally.
Her mother, Mindy Chanson, founder of Pasithea Dance Company, stood nearby and smiled. The apple never falls too far from the tree. And this Mindy-Tree is extending her branches to a cast of fifteen eager children in a full length co-production with Kids-N-Co called "Stone Face/Steel Efface."
"[This production] is an endearing tale of a lonely antique shopkeeper who is fascinated by the Roaring 20's. Meticulous and knowledgeable, this guy knows where every little thing is in his shop, and he can tell you a thing or two about each item, as well. On this particular day, he is baffled when he finds a mysterious trunk of treasures. Buster Keaton is the first character we meet, followed by a slew of interesting people [from that era]. What follows is up to the audience. Was it all a figment of the shopkeeper's imagination, or is this magical trunk indeed a portal to the past?" explains Mindy as she balances on a chair to put the finishing touches on her Buster Keaton painting. Keaton plays a center role in not only the story on stage but as the inspiration for the entire concept.
"I admire his genius so much that any tribute I can do for him never seems like it is enough, but I will keep trying. I just honestly have an undying love for a man born in 1895. Ah. To have met him."
1895. 1910. 1920. This is a long, long, time ago for the elementary age and teenagers in the cast. For Mindy, her adoration of the time bridges the gap, but for some of the children, this production came with a history lesson. At her very first rehearsal Mindy discussed the era with them and how it tied into the themes of the show. Not only do entertainment icons like Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Josephine Baker take center stage but, Mindy also pays tribute to women's suffrage and "Las Adelitas" of the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
"I included the Suffragettes and "Las Adelitas" because in their own right they were very fierce and courageous. Even today we struggle for equal rights. There were so many interesting changes happening around the world in the 1920's."
Across the Atlantic in Madrid, Spain, painter Salvador Dali began his residency at Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. He later moved to Paris, France and met his future wife and lifelong muse, Gala. Salvador and Gala make an appearance in "Stone Face/Steel Efface" in a piece titled Dali's Dreamscape. I have seen this piece rehearsed many times and it is altogether a tempest of energy and ideas. The movement is set to "Spanish Dance No. 5" by composer Enrique Granados and "Prossipopee I" and "Sherzo" by composer Pierre Schaeffer.
"Picking the music came naturally to me, once I chose the 15 characters and arranged the order of the pieces. Because this is a dance production, the movement and the music are what carry the show along. So in that respect I would call it a post-modern ballet of sorts."
Lyrics to the songs "Antique Shop Blues" and "Empty Shop Blues/Stoneface Returns" were written by Mindy Chanson. These are sung by the Lonely Shopkeeper and set to themes composed by Rachel Portman from the film Benny & Joon.
Other special touches from the director and a close crew of friends can be seen throughout the theater. From banana wall decor to a large, movable clock ala Chaplin's film, Modern Times, built by Ryan Johann Perry - personal expression and admiration of an era is evident.
"I've always felt that I have an old soul," Mindy smiles.
A young boy finishes painting a red bow tie stage right.
The clock maker drills away.
Nearby, Mindy's daughter continues to dance.
Aristotle wrote that "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."