Celebrating 10 years of performance theater, The Royal Frog Ballet trades the wild outdoors for the pristine white walls of A.P.E. Gallery in downtown Northampton this month. Their retrospective, HINDSIGHT/FORESIGHT, is a thoughtful and vivid collection of paintings, costumes, masks, and three-dimensional effects that tell the story of an ambitious troupe dedicated to promoting “aliveness through creativity, community, and curiosity.” Sophie Wood, the RFB’s “cheerleading creative curator states, “we’re reflecting on what we’ve done, and how we do it, and also looking forward towards what the next 10 years could look like — in our art making, and on the planet…” While contemplating the indomitable passage of time, the self-described Surrealist Cabaret takes on the existential by posing the question: “How do we create something that has never existed, starting where we are, with all the pieces of what already exists around us? How do we actually build the future?” How indeed.
Organizing a retrospective is unquestionably the wisest path for any artist seeking the creative way forward. How better to shape the future than to gather the remnants of the past? For devotees of the RFB, the retrospective will be a fantastic anniversary party. An affair to fête the elaborate costumes and hand crafted masks as guests of honor who silently share stories of their years of service. For those who are new to the RFB, each piece will stand upon its own merit — not as works of art exactly, but as examples of archetypes and of imaginations explored. With knowledge of the RFB’s performances, the parts do indeed tell a story. Without that knowledge, it will be up to the viewer to determine this collection’s ability to tell a proper and satisfying tale.
Primitive and soulful, this collection is imbued with the powerful essence of community. Wood maintains that although a poem or story is written by one member, it passes through the hands and minds of the entire collective and emerges a true collaborative work of art. The visual expressions including costumes and large paintings are carried, hung or worn during a performance. These performances, enacted in farms and fields across New England are made the more intriguing by the fanciful and sometimes frightening regalia. Truly these exhibitions are sunset spectacles of a mystical sort.
One may wonder if the RFB can recreate the enchanting qualities of an outdoor show in the confines of four walls. Perhaps the solution is in the necessary slowing down of the theatrical process and the removal of distraction. But although nature herself, one of the greatest contributors to the RFB, is absent, the unpredictableness of this show is not quelled. This collection, gathered from various places of storage and reunited under the roof of A.P.E. Gallery wears its organic, unpretentious history like a badge and thus brings a definitive and proud earthiness to the inherent sterility of the gallery setting.
The schedule of events planned for the 16 days of HINDSIGHT/FORESIGHT should also stoke the troupe’s and the audience’s creative fires. Events for the month include new visual and performative works-in-progress as part of “Listening Evenings,” themed panel discussions, and teaching workshops aimed at playful and collaborative art making processes. Performances, community discussion, and workshops will allow for dialogues between the artists and the audience.
Grasping for hope and searching for the very nature of the thing seems the goal of The Royal Frog Ballet. In this time of beating against the tide of dystopian rhetoric and huddled against the ensuing malaise, art remains in possession of the treasured key that, at its best, opens a door and challenges us to use our imaginations. This exhibit and its workshops will provide plenty of opportunities to put your imagination to use.
HINDSIGHT/FORESIGHT runs through December 22 at the A.P.E. Gallery, 126 Main St., Northampton. Performances, panels, and workshops span December 8-17. For more information, visit theroyalfrogballet.com.