Tomáš Kubínek clowns at SMPAC

By - Nov 23rd, 2011 01:43 pm
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Tomas Kubinek

The long European tradition of jongleurs, jesters and fools lives on in Tomáš Kubínek. Kubínek blended physical comedy, story-telling, illusion and acrobatics in his show Saturday at the South Milwaukee PAC. Kubínek may not have quite charmed the pants off the audience, but captured most of the hearts in the room — along with one woman’s purse, which he quickly released.

A master of timing and suspense, Kubínek entered the stage slowly, rustling the edge of the curtains, muttering softly, and slowly doddering into the spotlight. His wild hair proved to be an endless resource for comic gestures, a sculptural element that he re-arranged throughout the evening. He appeared stooped, broken and unhinged, but fluid athleticism emerged from what at first appeared to be a withered husk.

Early in the performance, he won over the audience by slowly turning a somersault while balancing a full glass of wine on his forehead, whistling, and playing ukulele. A tiny man, he became serpentine, slithering to the floor and curving over himself. He placed the glass on the floor with his knees, and rolled over his head. He continued to pluck the chords behind his back, seized the glass with his teeth, and downed its contets with a flourish.

Most of Kubínek’s props are simple and elegant: a candle and stick-matches on a small table, a doctor’s bag, coat rack, chair, the clichéd red silk magician’s scarf. Others are absurd and poetic. He strapped on two extra pairs of feet to his legs, and transformed a simple walking dance into a blur of repeated forms, like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. He rolled across the stage, twirling, somersaulting, and blurring ordinary reality with fantasy, transforming a simple walk into dance.

Kubínek’s flight with wings was short, but was the climax of a long preparation. A gently manipulated victim from the audience provided distraction and assistance as he cleared the stage and donned a harness. As he launched himself into the air he snapped open a pair of bright yellow bat wings from a mountaineer’s backpack. It was both comic and beautiful — a man soaring in circles above the stage, wings glowing like sunshine against a dark blue sky.

For me, the highlight of the performance came toward the end, when Kubínek transformed himself into a chicken, by means of a nightshirt, feather duster and chair. He build up to the transformation by becoming a child telling a story of being so poor that there were not enough beds, living in a society where all the trees had been cut to make sticks for people to beat one another. He told of nightmares caused by sleeping with chickens. And then, suddenly, he became a large, foolish bird, short legs emerging from the arms of his garment, wings tucked in, strutting with a plume of feathered tail twitching behind.

During the course of the evening Kubínek evolved from an old man into a young child, communicating directly with the children still squirming around inside each of us. As he became younger and younger, he invited the audience to remember what it is to be a small child, and to experience the wonder and delight hidden in plain sight within the ordinary world.

Tomáš Kubínek performed on Saturday. November 19. 2011 • 7:30 pm at the South Milwaukee PAC

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