Founded in 1916, dada was an absurdist reaction to World War I. Artists, writers, dancers and musicians gathered at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire to create nonsensical spectacles, accompanied by equally incomprehensible poetry readings. In one notable performance, Ball dressed up as what looks like a paper-towel roll and recited his poem “Karawane.” The first line: “jolifanto bambla o falli bambla.”
Inspired by these storied happenings, Pointless Theatre’s “Hugo Ball” is a chaotic romp, integrating moments from Ball’s life into a spectacle of puppetry, dance and general absurdity.
“We’re embracing the madness,” says Pointless co-artistic director Matt Reckeweg.
The sort-of true story of Hugo Ball doesn’t make a lot of sense, which is the whole point. What plot there is traces the history of Western theater, starting out with classical music and, in verse, proceeding through Greek drama, Shakespeare, Wagnerian opera, expressionism, futurism, WWI, modernism and, finally, dada. Then the actors go nuts and destroy (almost) the set — along with the audience’s expectations of what theater is and can be, Olson says.
He isn’t the only company member infatuated with dada. While at the University of Maryland, College Park, Olson, Reckeweg and co-artistic director Patti Kalil created a dada piece for a class. They had such a great time that they started doing dada-inspired performances on their own.
“We wanted to do one in the bathroom, but the administration wouldn’t let us,” Olson says.
“Hugo Ball” was supposed to be their first as an official theater company, but they decided to take their time and do it as their second piece instead, premiering it at Capital Fringe in 2011.
Now, a hundred years after Hugo Ball wrote the Dada Manifesto, Pointless celebrates its fifth anniversary by returning to the troupe’s roots. “It wasn’t intentional,” Kalil says, “but it’s a wonderful coincidence.”
Olson, Reckeweg and Kalil say it’s a completely different experience this time around.
“We had to look back and really reconnect with the adolescent avant garde,” Olson says. They once saw dada as a chaotic mess of philosophy and aesthetics, Reckeweg says. These days, the show focuses more on dada as “a coping mechanism,” he says, for “when you realize how not perfect the world is and will always be.” Elena Goukassian (for Express)
Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE; through May 14, $20-$25.
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