The Devil’s Spine Band – Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Director: Trevor Knight
The Devil’s Spine Band is a multi-disciplinary largely improvisational performance that combines music with dance. The inspiration behind The Devil’s Spine Band is Oscar Wilde’s 1881 lecture tour of America that eventually took him to the mining town of Leadville Colorado. Leadville, deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains became unexpectedly wealthy with the discovery of silver. This resulted in a population explosion of all manner migrants seeking their fortune – a strange mix of nineteenth century aspirations and beliefs that rubbed alongside the lawlessness and wildness of the town. This inspired the band, leading to the idea to blend performance art and music to create a surreal desert environment.
The Devil’s Spine Band started life in 2011 when they first performed at the Galway Arts Festival. The band now act as a flexible vehicle for a collection of musicians and artists. Each discipline and artist is given time to shine throughout the night. At present the musical core of the band are joined by solo dancer and singer Cindy Cummings and two Butoh dancers: Gyohei Zaitsu and Maki Watanabe. Butoh is a form of Japanese dance theatre that arose in the aftermath of World War Two by fusing a variety of art forms and movement. The dancers are traditionally painted in white and use facial expressions and slow controlled movements while moving across the stage. This dark form of allegory uses the whole body and face and is perhaps an odd accompaniment to the blues rock of the band. However the juxtaposition of art forms arguably fits well with the imagery of 1880s Leadville that The Devil’s Spine Band are hoping to evoke.
Trevor Knight leads his musicians in a bluesy, earthy score that runs continuously throughout the performance. As the audience enter the theatre they are serenaded by the combined sound of steel and acoustic guitars playing blues song. All four of the musicians that take centre stage are very accomplished and enjoyable to listen to.
The band and performers made good use of the large Project Arts Centre stage which is lit by blue and orange ceiling lights and orange light bulbs that are strung up over the stage. They are linked by cacti shaped trees that reach up to the ceiling.
The Devil’s Spine Band takes some patience and open mind to warm to; somewhat like Wilde’s initial visit to Leadville. Wilde’s lecture proved largely unpopular but he was accepted by the desert community later that evening when in a local saloon it emerged that he could drink his hosts under the table. Despite the inspiration behind the band their intentions and direction are not always clear to the audience and the performance tends to have the feel of something that is still waiting to fully take off. The sense of anarchy and improvisation that give them their unique take on art and music, also prevent it from being fully understood by the audience.
However the closing sequence proved to be quite touching as the audience were invited onto the stage to partake in a last waltz. Here audience members dance with the performers bringing the night to a delightful close.
Go with the flow to enjoy an interesting night out in which almost anything could happen.
Photo courtesy of Project Arts Centre. Runs until 17th January.