So far, this year’s 26th edition of Walker Art Center’s Out There series has been provocative, though not as consequential as years past. The experimental works have included a Europe-and-America collaboration on issues of health care (“Hospital”) that failed to take flight and Japanese theater maker Kurino Tanino’s phallus-suffused piece on sibling rivalry (“The Room Nobody Knows”).
Clement Layes’ “Allege,” which had its North American premiere Thursday in Minneapolis, is the latest offering in the series of experimental works. The show surprisingly marries circus arts with philosophy.
“Allege” is a slight, humorous work that runs for just 45 minutes. Layes, a Berlin-based theater maker who trained as a dancer, choreographer and circus artist, uses a simple trope to establish the boundaries of the piece.
He comes onstage bowed over and balancing a glass of water on the back of his head. That glass of water, which he later balances on the side of his head, on the top and on his forehead, becomes a kind of self-imposed limitation (and suggests a memorable line from a TV commercial about being off balance, “He could’ve had a V8”).
Like the market women of Africa who are able to balance baskets on their heads while carrying on their business, Leyes does everything with his little water container: He demarcates the stage, he waters a fake plant, he writes on a chalkboard, he turns over a table and he gives sound and light cues.
In other words, he has set a structure for himself the way a writer does by choosing a form such as a sonnet or haiku, then shows his own fluidity within it.
And what is the purpose of this seemingly slight series of movements, many repeated?
Leyes’ show climaxes with a detour into elementary philosophy. He tells us that the objects on stage are metaphors for such things as desire, poetry, the ocean. That little fake plant, that bottle of water, the bucket, the towel that’s used to wipe up the spill — all are like shadows on Plato’s cave. They are projections that we give meaning to. They are ideas, even if they seem like things we can see and touch.
Leyes came to Minneapolis on the day that student scientists in the United Kingdom discovered a supernova that exploded millions of years ago. We can see the light just now because the past is still present and because, well, we live in a world where things are echoes.
That is one of the surprising things about “Allege.” It’s a show that seems slight and even silly, but if you go deep enough (and are generous of imagination), you can find something deep, if not new, in it.