“2010 wouldn’t be complete without the Art 21 world knowing about this mind-blowing show in a stock pavilion... I don’t know where to begin here, whether it was Deke Weaver’s humor, epic video productions or thoughtfully crafted dance and music by his collaborators, Jennifer Allen and Chris Peck. Weaver’s videos were stunning... Weaver’s style, a layering of live footage, stop-motion animation, projected text and monologue combine to create a sense that there is more to a story than what we see or hear... Allen’s ability to create subtle yet precise differentiations in the dancers’ gestures and formations was remarkable, virtuosic and gritty. The secret of Elephant... is wrapped into a package of video, music, dance and narrative performance that is sensational, entertaining and humorous.”
Marissa Perel, Art 21 Blog (check out the full review)
ELEPHANT – a live performance layering stop-motion animation, handheld video, monologs, dance, and music - is the second chapter in award-winning performer/playwright and media artist Deke Weaver’s life-long project, The Unreliable Bestiary: an ark of stories about animals, our relationships with them, and the worlds they inhabit. Inspired by the literary concept of the unreliable narrator and the medieval bestiary, which gave every living thing a spiritual purpose, the project will present an evening-length performance for each letter of the alphabet – the letter representing a particular endangered animal or habitat.
ELEPHANT’s tales are culled from elephant fact and fiction: a circus performer’s letter, ecotourism, instruction manuals, 19th century colonial diaries, Siberian taboos and transnational economics. From burial rituals to subtle interpersonal communications to post-traumatic stress, elephant and human societies have remarkable similarities. With ivory poaching, the loss of habitat and the ever-increasing competition for resources, the future of the elephant is not bright. ELEPHANT’s quilt of stories is stitched around two main patches of fabric – the first about a circus elephant that met a tragic end in 1916 at Elkton, South Dakota, and the second about the training of mahouts, or elephant drivers. As part of his research for the project, Weaver and Jennifer Allen worked at a mahout training school in Thailand.
ELEPHANT premiered in September 2010 at the University of Illinois Stock Pavilion, a cavernous arena chosen for its associations with 4-H Clubs, circuses, state fairs, and Roman amphitheatre battles. From living rooms to national park amphitheaters, beaches to barns; each Unreliable Bestiary performance is mounted in a unique setting, the site reflecting aspects of our faltering bonds with other living things and the natural world. The original ELEPHANT production (supported by Creative Capital, the University of Illinois’ Office of Public Engagement and part of the Center for Advanced Study’s 2010-11 series, “Knowing Animals”) featured video projected on two 90-foot long screens, an enormous elephant puppet and a sizable cast and crew. The piece was enormous (to capacity every night with over 1200 people attending), weird, haunting, deeply moving and one-of-a-kind.
After opening the big HUGE September 2010 show in Urbana, we were invited to present a carry-on version of the piece at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. The translation of the original performance was much smaller - a 10 foot by 24 foot stage and four people (Jennifer Allen, Jeff Kolar/Salt Lake City, Chris Peck, Valerie Oliveiro/Park City, and Weaver) instead of 50.
Some fantastically talented people built the show – choreographer and codirector Jennifer Allen, composer-musician Chris Peck, lighting designer Valerie Oliveiro, environmental designer and enormous Hero-the-elephant puppet-maker Andy Warfel, written, video, and directed by me, Deke Weaver. Featured performers included Aaron Austin, Gary Ambler, Jessica Cornish, Pamela Crews, David Hays, Joi Hofsommer, Jen Gibas, Kyli Kleven, Stephen May, Jeanine Meyer and a cast of thousands.
So many many many people worked on the show – Elina Kotlyar (stage manager), Grant Bowen (associate environmental designer/fabricator), Jeff Kolar (video tech), Josh Kaiser (assistant stage manager), David Swinford (board), Doug Pugh (sound one), Susan Becker and Rose Morefield (costumes), Amy Theobald (publicity), Doug Peterson (video/sound tech production), Damon Loren Baker (video tech design, digital advisor), Alex Mitchell, Bryan Shirk, and Stewart Dickson.
Hard working, inspired/inspiring student-artists worked on ELEPHANT. From building claymation models and circus tents, to follow-spot operators, to running 85 bales of hay in 50 yard sprints – amazing and generous work was done by Nicki Werner, Anna Peters, Emily Denis, Chris Hampson, Julia Pollack, Bill Fulara, Andrea Jennings, Hugh Sato, Jeanie Austin, Jovanny Varela, Ben Chase, Dan Krueger, Keri Quick, Hannah Altshuler, Alexis McLaughlin, Cara Siegel, Debra Walsh, Jack Kendall, Lauren Delaney, William Carlson, Walter Matherly, Jessica Tolbert, Kathryn Herbst, and others who I’ve spaced out, and many others who came in to run haybales for one or two nights or who spent an afternoon building claymation models with Nicki.
It was a beautiful show.
ELEPHANT BIBLIOGRAPHY (sample of books read for the show's research)
Bedi, Ramesh. Elephant: Lord of the Jungle. New Delhi, National Book Trust, India; [chief stockists in India: India Book House, 1969]
Bradshaw, G.A. Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. New Haven and London: Yale University Press: 2009.
Chambers, Paul. Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2008.
Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories. New York: New American Library, 1912.
Kistler, John. War Elephants. Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2006.
Moss, Cynthia. Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years of Life in an Elephant Family. New York : W. Morrow, 1988.
Moussaieff, Jeffrey and Susan McCarthy. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. New York: Delta Books, 1995.
Murakami, Haruki. The Elephant Vanishes. New York: First Vintage International, 1994.
National Geographic articles in May 1991, March 2007.
Payne, Katy. Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Sanderson, G.P. Thirteen Years Among the Wild Beasts of India: Their Haunts and Habits From Personal Observations; With an Account of the Modes and Capturing and Taming Elephants. London : W.H. Allen, 1879.
Wade, Nicholas. Before The Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Wilcove, David S. No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2008.
Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 1999
Wylie, Dan. Elephant. London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2008.
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Amboseli Trust for Elephants - http://www.elephanttrust.org/
Elephant Voices - http://www.elephantvoices.org/
The Elephant Sanctuary: Hohenwald Tennessee - http://www.elephants.com/
The Elephant Listening Project - http://www.birds.cornell.edu/brp/elephant/
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:
A Haven For Elephants & Rhinos - http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
More links here.
the second performance in
Deke Weaver's Unreliable Bestiary Project
The Stock Pavilion
The Sundance Film Festival
Park City, Utah
The Salt Lake Art Center
Salt Lake City, Utah
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photos by Valerie Oliveiro
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ELEPHANT PROJECT LINKS