Milwaukee Opera Theatre hosts another fun, informal distance performance event late this winter as it welcomes the work of two-piece string/vocal group SistaStrings. Monique and Chauntee Ross’ distinctive violin/cello sound is presented in a fully-produced music video developed by Traveling Lemur Productions. Once again, MOT fosters a fun evening of conversation and performance for a limited audience in the latest of its Zoom-based soiree “zoirees.” There’s a vibrantly playful mood about the program as artists of various types discuss their craft in an open online setting.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre Artistic Director Jill Anna Ponasik hosts a three-part evening. After introductions, the small Zoom audience is introduced to the artists by way of pre-recorded interview that precedes the performance. This is an interesting choice. It allows the audience and opportunity to get to know the artist a little bit before seeing their art. It really brings across the feel of casually meeting a couple of people at a party, finding out they are musicians and then seeing them perform. Then after the performance, there is an opportunity for an audience back which was followed by a live performance this past Saturday night.
A pre-recorded performance plays like a music video. The video was put together by Traveling Lemur productions added features reef and soul for appearances by a couple of cute, fuzzy puppets courtesy of designer Bill Olsen and Angry Young Men, ltd. SistaStrings’ unique blend of wistfully impassioned vocals and classical sounding strings is at the forefront of a video package which combines their performance with footage of demonstration and puppets playing along in a dreamy superimposed shadow on violin and cello. Deeper statements that might have been made in combining street protest footage with violin, cello and puppets seem to be a bit lost in the dream he miasma of the video presentation. It’s a remarkably pleasant experience, but it is difficult to draw the deeper meaning which is clearly there in the substance of the work devised by SistaStrings. A truly unique pair of performers are given a truly unique platform in which to present their material.
Video conferencing still feels a bit stiff as a vehicle for performance. As pleasantly informal as it is, it’s still very much like a work meeting over Zoom. And though it is kind of cool to see the artists in their natural environment accompanied by appearances of accompanying vocalists and Angry Young Men puppeteers, the overall experience isn’t quite as relaxing as it could be in a format that is so often used for more formal meetings. SistaStrings manage to soften the experience. They are a great deal of fun to hang out with before and after a performance. (And Ponasik is always fun.) Saturday night, Monique and Chauntee played together on zoom in a live performance of “Amazing Grace that round it out the evening quite nicely.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s The Sound with SistaStrings continues through Feb. 28. For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.