Bare legs splayed, long neck bared, a woman's body mimics the form of a large block-print capital letter A, onto which her photographic image is superimposed. In a black skullcap with white stripes and a matching Twenties-style bathing suit costume, local choreographer and dancer Elaine Wright brings this 75-year-old vision back to life with Abeceda, a performance piece from the Czech avant-garde movement.
Based on the 1922 poem of the same name by Vít eslav Nezval, Abeceda (Alphabet) was a collaboration of revolutionary graphic artist and architect Karel Teige, dancer Mil ca Mayerová, photographer Karel Paspa, and Nezval. Mayerová performed the work in 1926 in Prague's new Liberated Theater, conforming her body to the shapes of the letters recited in the poem. Later that year Teige published a book that incorporated photographs of Mayerová, typography, and the brief stanzas of Nezval's poem. His desire, he said, was to make "into graphic poetry what Nezval set into verbal poetry in his verse, both being poems evoking the magic signs of the alphabet."
Along with Teige's book, Wright's millennium rendition of Abeceda can be viewed as a brief video loop at the Wolfsonian as part of the exhibition "Dreams and Disillusion: Karel Teige and the Czech Avant-Garde." The precise rubber-band-like movements of Wright's limbs are visual onomatopoeia to actor Ji rí Lamberk's hypnotic reading in Czech. His voice purrs through stanzas inspired by the letters A, H, L, M ("the m of your palm is like a star of divination"), O, R, T, U, X ("x bones crossed Time's rotten bloom"), and Z, evoking memories of those appealing educational snippets on Sesame Street.
The Miami group, in addition to Wright and Lamberk, includes a costume designer, sound engineer, and technical consultant, all of whom used performance instructions outlined by the Liberated Theater in a 1928 publication. Digital technology allowed them to interweave their contemporary reenactment with aspects of the original performance and Teige's graphic design. Explained Wright: "This was truly a collaborative project."
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