Experiencing a rock concert can be transformative: part entertainment, part sporting event, part fashion show, and part religion. Tia Nina knows this well. They are three rockers — J. Van Stone, Sammy Rain, and Sticks – who turned the Baldacchino Tent into a stadium for a concert for an hour on Saturday. It was hot . It was loud. It will not be forgotten any time soon.
The show opened with a video of the performers jamming in random places like a horse stable and a bubble-filled bathtub. Displacing audience expectations seemed to be a through-line of their show, but are they simulating a rock show or really living the career of a rocker?
The fascinating thing about this trio is that each artist answers this question differently: J. Van Stone, with her forehead wrapped in a bandana and long, flowing hair, appears to be a caricature of a rocker, maybe Axl Rose. Sticks looks like she is living the career: badass, beautiful, and doesn’t give a damn. Sammy Rain is the one who vacillates: sometimes in the experience and sometimes shaping how she is seen. These differences are not negatives but rather make the performance even more unpredictable and worth seeing.
Another expectation that dissipates quickly is these rockers don’t sing or make the music we hear: they perform it. Channeling the full-bodied, over-the-top shenanigans of major stars, they strut and thrust their pelvises, pump their fists in the air, and do certain things with an inflatable toy.
But the show is not all gimmicks or jokes. It sheds light on the hyper-sexualized aspects of music and performance: the techniques that artists use to flirt with and seduce their audiences, the instruments that musicians rub and caress, and the sensory abundance of a concert that involves watching major stars while hearing and feeling their music.
Kudos to the artists who wrote, performed, and recorded the soundscape — Eric Shimelonis, Nicolas Legat, Michael Moon, John Lanou, Eduardo Santana III, and Troy Herion – and the show’s sound technician Andy Mandela. Deb Sivigny, Tia Nina’s wardrobe designer, also deserves accolades.
Pitchin’ the Tent: Tia Nina Live at Baldacchino
at Fort Fringe – Baldacchino Gypsy Tent
607 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
This is a show that is not only acoustic and visual but also kinetic and kinesthetic: Tia Nina’s choreography seeps into the body. It is felt as much as seen, like the experience of bonding with concert-goers while grooving to a major hit.
Each of the rockers is a terrific dancer and contributed to the show’s choreography: Leah Curran Moon (who performs as J. Van Stone), Ilana Silverstein (who performs as Sammy Rain and is also a graduate student in the MFA program at GWU where I teach although this was my first time seeing her in this group) and Lisi Stoessel (who performs as Sticks). Their movement vocabulary shifts from headbanging sections of repetitive, almost ritual-like phrases to structured steps and patterns.
A part that I found especially hilarious was a mashup of Led Zeppelin music (arranged by Legat) and choreography from Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring.
Tia Nina, like Bausch and Stravinsky before them, taps into our most visceral and primal inclinations. Their show is not for the faint of heart or people who need their art neatly packaged and predictable. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that gets better the more you let go of fear or expectations and feel the experience.
Like any great performance it can shift your views and values or expand your awareness of how we interact with this world and the people around us. The photo that adorns the cover of their program features a topless person with a torso shape that suggests a female, but hair that looks like a man’s as it descends from the belly button into the pants. It’s an image, like Pitchin’ the Tent, that makes me look twice and smile. Gender bending is nothing new: performers, cultures, and performance artists have explored it for centuries. I loved the parts when Tia Nina dug deeper than simply imitating stereotypical male behavior (grabbing their crotches, scratching their noses) and turned the stage into a place where they could be or do whatever they wanted and take the audience on their journey with them.
This show is not only an entertaining event that includes riffs on great music and famous personalities but also, at times, is brilliantly transgressive. In other words, the best parts of Pitchin’ the Tent are both fantastically fun and delightfully subversive.