Preview: The Bipeds, “54 Stange Words” at The Fruit, June 21-24

The Bipeds is a new project from Curtis Eller and Stacy Wolfson. A combination of musicians, stage performers, and dancers, “54 Strange Words” is not only a performance like no other, it is also the title of their debut album. I hesitate to use genre classifications here because what you will see from The Bipeds at The Fruit is a collision of mediums–live music, theatre, and interpretive dance–coming together to bring your Nightmares to the stage in manner best described as a hypnagogic what-just-happened experience.

The Bipeds came to be after the serendipitous meeting of Curtis and Stacy through their children. If you have recently seen Curtis Eller perform, then you may have noticed the added element of dancers/back-up singers–including, of course, Stacy.

In preparation for this preview piece, I sat down with Stacy and Curtis over coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon. There we conversated about how The Bipeds came to be–everything from the whiskey-fueled creative process to bizarre anecdotes: one day they were playing gospel 78s backwards to generate ideas for sounds when suddenly a mouse ran out into plain view, seized up, and died right there on the floor. “That’s when you know you’ve got something,” Curtis said.

The creative process which produced “54 Strange Words” was every bit the experience as the show itself. “He came in with maybe a chord progression,” Stacy told me. “But we knew what we wanted to do.” “54 Strange Words” is, in the simplest terms, the acting out of nightmares. Members of the group, as well as friends, and various audience members at Little Green Pig performances were asked to jot down their recurring nightmares on notecards–fodder for ideas for lyrics, sounds, costumes, dances. Drawing inspiration as well from psychedelic 60s music and the comedy and body movements in silent film, many dissociated mediums have found their way into this project.

Movement and music: the body is an instrument too. As a dancer, Stacy had not explored using her body as a musical instrument before this project. “The lungs are part of your body. Let’s choreograph that,” Curtis said. This logic struck a chord with Stacy (and with me too). Yes, the body is an instrument, every bit as musical as Curtis’s banjo, but thinking of the body this way brings about a different approach to the diversity of instrumentation. “54 Strange Words” takes the idea of instruments and smashes  it against a wall to see where the pieces fall. Don’t control the process–let it unfold naturally. In many ways, they have not created this project, so much as the project made itself using Curtis and Stacy and the Bipeds cohort as the tools of its own creation.

I went to one of their rehearsals to see for myself this hypnagogic-threshold-of-consciousness nightmare-inspired performance. I sat quietly in a corner writing and watching Curtis and Stacy and two of their fellow dancers work through their routines, bit by bit, coordinating their movements: “what count should we step on?” Communication is key across the performance arts–the mutual understanding of nods and cues between performers can make or break a show. People could learn a lot about effective communication by watching artists from different mediums interact with each other and sort out how to work together. But chemistry, comfort, a sense of being liberated–The Bipeds have this in spades, in part, I suspect, due to the organic nature of the creative process.

Sitting in that rehearsal space watching them go over a part and back over it and then moving forward slightly and then back over it again and then forward a little more, reminded me a bit of my own writing process. I rely heavily on the stream of consciousness method to produce the words you read. From those thoughts to conversations with others to the toil of writing and working through a piece, going back over it, adding a little here, moving forward into new paragraphs, and then back again… I can’t help but feel connected through my own artistic process to the way The Bipeds have come to create their art. What they have created is very much a product of a similar kind of being possessed of an idea, following it where it leads… how to make music mimic movement.

“54 Strange Words” opens this week and will run for four days at The Fruit. I cannot tell you what to expect. “Even the people in the show have no idea,” Curtis said. I can tell you that the album, both ethereal and nightmarish, is wholly inspired. A banjo-led tour de force of unearthly dreamscapes, this album forces you to leave your conceptions of genre at the door. Buy a ticket in advance or pay $15 at the door and go have an experience you won’t be able to describe to your friends. Hell–bring your friends. And afterwards, over whiskey (of course), figure out for yourself what just happened.

Photos courtesy of The Bipeds. Photo Credit: Kim Walker.