Modernizing Shakespeare

On Thursday, March 26 and Friday, March 27, Margaret Kammerer brought her one-woman show, “Margarethhamlet” to Colgate. The performance was a combination of dance, music and acting. Director Jay Scheib (in the program) described the performance as, “intended to evolve as concerts with scenes, as motion concerts or Choreographic concerts.” Scheib writes that “Margarethhamlet” is, “free collision with the play by Shakespeare, some dancing and 42 minutes in the life of a piece of [Hammerer].”

Clifford Gallery in Little Hall served as the venue for the performances. The audience was squished into four small rows and looked out onto a room outfitted with a door, a small desk and a plush red sofa. The walls of the set were an austere white and the room was sparsely decorated.

To watch the jerky, absurd and patterned movements of Hammerer was at times frustrating, confusing and compelling. Hammerer’s movement occasionally evoked sensuality, but more often purposefully lacked grace; she contorted and jarred her body in ways that made one wince. An air of violence permeated the confines of the performance as Hammerer threw knives at a wall, shattered glasses and fired a fake gun that made real noise.

In contrast, Hammerer’s singing was lovely even if some of her lyrics seemed nonsensical-“I eat the air. I eat the air. I ear the air” she sang in one instance. Between her movements and her delivery of parts from Hamlet, Hammerer broke into song that she accompanied with her guitar. Her voice is clear, but it also evokes a sense of eeriness and tragedy.

The portions of Hamlet included were perhaps intended to correlate to the theme of action and behavior that was prevalent throughout the entire piece. Hamlet is torn between the choice of taking action and the choice of abstaining from action, while Hammerer’s actions question the rationality of all actions because her movements and physical choices so often lack purpose. In relation to this theme, the performance also engages with the concepts of war, harm and destruction: these motifs of violence are related to the logic and reason behind actions.

The show certainly pushed beyond convention and at times comprehension. Audience members seemed perplexed especially at the beginning of the performance as Hammerer, in the total quiet of the room, listlessly went through the same movements in the same, repeated pattern. Oddly, the program given to audience members also meticulously detailed the movements, words and lyrics that the play followed; essentially, the viewer could follow the play along through their program.

While difficult to understand, the performance retained merit in its skillful synthesis of different arts. Junior Ashley Lazevnick aptly described her experience with Hammerer’s visual art, stating, “Admittedly, I can’t say that I understood all of the meaning of Margareth Kammerer’s performance. Still, there was something about her work that was profoundly poetic. Her actions were at times shocking, disturbing, graceful and beautiful.”

Perhaps it is this striking amalgam of choreography, spoken word and music that makes “Margarethhamlet” compelling and profound in spite of its elusive, intangible meaning.