"A dove, as you know, is respected." Christine Buras performing "Feet." Photo courtesy of Gestalt Arts.

"A dove, as you know, is respected."

Jenna Simeonov

Our first visit to the gorgeous Horniman Museum & Gardens was to see the new opera installation, “Feet.” The piece is by composer Oliver Leith, with text and direction by Ruth Mariner, Artistic Director of Gestalt Arts; it was performed as part of the Museum’s Magic Late event, an after-hours series of arts and performances throughout the space, all exploring the idea of magic and sorcery.

At the back of the Natural History gallery, soprano Christine Buras was found in pigeon-like garb, curiously inspecting the listeners with twitching movements and unsettling direct eye contact. The story unfolded of a pigeon, whose feet had been cruelly severed by “country folk,” and put “in the pockets of farm boys,” as a charm to ward off cramp.

The piece is a combination of electronic music and acoustic voice, and Buras - who impressively stepped in for ailing soprano Héloïse Werner - drew us in with clear, pointed text. There was much mysterious history packed into Mariner’s texts, about the pigeon’s proud heritage - and this pigeon in particular is a descendant of the infamous dove with the olive branch. We heard of the seemingly arbitrary deeming of animals which are “vermin,” as opposed to those with noble qualities; as Mariner writes it, “A dove, as you know, is respected.”

(Interestingly, it also put an odd perspective on a strange phenomenon we’ve noticed since our move to London, that the city’s pigeons seem to have high rates of foot and leg injuries.)

Christine Buras performing “Feet.” Photo courtesy of Gestalt Arts.

“Feet” is the latest in a series of site-specific, installation-like works by Gestalt Arts. Admittedly, there was some distraction involved in this set-up, as the entrance to the space was behind the performance, and latecomers inevitably drew the eye away from Buras’ storytelling.

Yet the open concept of both the space and the Magic Late event was an easy way for people to be frankly curious about what they were seeing, and the Museum’s Natural History gallery was a stunning prelude and postlude to Leith’s music. It’s certainly a refreshing change to the dark theatre.

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