Bad to the Bone

The Bad Girl Storytelling Brigade fleshes out color and connection.

It was a Friday night and the subject was blue: the color blue, blue as the blues, blue that, as poet Karen Falkenstrom put it, is "sturdy and square, a field for the stars."

Blues guitarist Mitzi Cowell wanted to make her listeners shimmy to the blue note, that elusive note that alights between the major and minor chords, making the guitar twang at the exact intersection of "happy and sad." Backed up by an all-girl blues band, Cantrell Maryott Driver sang "Mood Indigo," belting out "You ain't been blue, no, no, you ain't been blue, until you've had the mood indigo." Painter To-Reé-Neé Wolf Keiser crooned the classic "Blue Moon," accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.

In fact there was almost nothing that the Bad Girl Storytelling Brigade did not do with the color blue at their Friday evening performance at the Tucson Pima Arts Council. The Bad Girls, a loose collection of five artists and additional floating members, sang the blues, jammed the blues, recited the blues and danced the blues. The title of the show? That's easy: Blue. Or at least that was the title of last week's edition. Black opened the five-week series of free performances on February 16. There's still time to catch Yellow at noon Friday, Red at noon Friday, March 9, and White at 5 p.m. Friday, March 23.

The whole spectrum of colors adds up to one interdisciplinary whole, The Color of Bone, which includes not only the weekly performances but an art exhibition and a collaborative altarpiece that changes week by week. The Brigade first organized back in 1991, with the stated intention of recapturing the word "bad," which, its members charge, has too often has been applied to creative women "where the word 'exceptional' might have been more accurate."

Their music at Blue was certainly bad, that is, so good it was b-a-d. Cowell was a wonder with her blues guitar, extracting every possible sound out of her strings, riffing and jamming and grimacing with the best of them. Honorary Bad Girl Beverly Seckinger, a UA media arts professor and former member of the Sister Brothers band, played a mean electric bass. Gillian Delear was the drummer, and while she sometimes stuck to her snare drums, she did not refrain from beating a nearby plastic chair into a percussive frenzy.

The rhythmic music was a good base for the evening's dance, which, while it was not at all blue, did a good job of celebrating the black and white of bone. Caryl Clement, a lovely dancer formerly with Orts Theatre of Dance, sashayed in black, wielding animal bones in her hands. Painter Katie Cooper danced too, bone-masked, dipping and diving to Keiser's chants of "digga-digga bone dance." This week's show, Yellow, will reprise most of Blue, with a new segment added. Additional performers for White on March 23 will include dancers Cora Miller and Breonna Tavenner.

While most of the artwork on the walls seemed to have little to do with the performances' overarching themes of bone and color, many of the pieces dealt with memory and gender. Maryott Driver, heretofore known around town mainly for her lovely voice, surprised with fine assemblages of found objects. A snapshot of her mother and father at their senior prom years ago is the central image in "A Dance," and a pair of broken eyeglasses for viewers to peer through distorts the picture in any number of ways. Faded fragments of flowered wallpaper and a shelf full of tiny silk roses underlined the impression of memory distorted and enlarged by time. Falkenstrom, who doubles as an editorial layout kick ass mama at the Tucson Weekly, has also put together some mixed-media boxes, including the evocative "Girl: I am the right color curtains." A concoction of childhood memories, this investigation of identity includes a sheet of music, a historic photo of a footbound Asian girl and a mysterious white cloth figure hanging on a string.

Katie Cooper, who's known for her work with the T.A.G. and public art around town, did bring the conversation back to color. She painted a series of sort-of hearts in alkyd on wood, each one a different color. But as every student of The Vagina Monologues now knows, our classic Valentine heart bears a much closer resemblance to the symmetrical vulva than it does to the asymmetrical heart muscle. Cooper's hearts bring the exhibition full circle back to color, and to women's bodies and bones.

The Color of Bone, an art exhibition and performance series, continues through Friday, March 23, at the Tucson/Pima Arts Council Community Gallery, 240 N. Stone Ave. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Free performances by the Bad Girl Storytelling Brigade are scheduled for noon Friday March 2; noon Friday, March 9; and for the closing at 5 p.m. Friday, March 23. For more information call 624-0595, extension 24.
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