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Ushered into a dark room, the audience stood in a halo of light, which illuminated a pile of rubber squeaky toys. A forest’s worth of bird sounds filled the air. Soon a low, hollow melody joined in, produced by a slender man dressed in white, eyes closed, playing a four-foot wooden flute. The man was Juraj Kojs, and this was the beginning of his new piece Signals, now showing at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
The flute is called a fujara. Like Kojs, it hails from Slovakia. Signals is the culmination of a month-long Sandbox Series residency at Miami Theater Center, with choreographer and dancer Carlota Pradera and visual artists Kim Yantis and Claire Satin. Kojs is a composer with an impressive musical pedigree, and although his new piece is theatrical in nature, the sonic experience is always foremost.
Kojs gradually disassembled his flute, continuing to play after each segment was removed. The recorded bird calls gave way to hand drumming, and as a rooster crowed Kojs strutted over, grinning, to the audience and began to hand out the squeaky toys. The audience joined in. One toy was a purple creature not yet identified by science, covered with little knobs for massaging canine gums. No one took advantage of that function, but the chew toys did produce a revelation — a small crowd rhythmically squeezing these things blends quite well with bird sounds.
That edifying fusion of organic and artificial, traditional and modern, Slovakia and Miami, is a major theme of the piece. Kojs had attached long corrugated vacuum cleaner hoses to six public restroom hand dryers, visually reminding one attendee of gas masks. Midway through the performance these began blowing gossamer notes while cell phone ringtones sounded from the speakers.
Signals is structured as a series of short episodes, each seamlessly transitioning to the next, all immersed in the carefully designed soundscape. It blends a little glam kitsch — 1980s one-hit wonder and sex kitten Samantha Fox makes a brief appearance — with echoes of Slovakian folk culture and the political upheavals of communism and democracy.
Just under an hour in length, there are moments of poignant nostalgia and subtle eroticism, but with a whimsical humor bubbling under the surface. By avoiding an explicit narrative, Kojs discourages an overly literal interpretation. Instead we get a deeply layered, impressionistic work that allows audience members to chart their own course through the artist’s memories. It all adds up to a richly rewarding experience.
At one point Kojs sat at the upright piano, bathed in orange light the color of the exit sign glowing above. He sang a Slovak love song featuring a metaphoric squirrel joyfully leaping across the mountains, traditionally sung by shepherd girls raking hay. Like the squirrel, Kojs is on a serious mission of love with this piece. But also like a squirrel, he’s having a good time doing it.
Signals, music and dance from Juraj Kojs runs Fridays and Saturdays through March 1 at 8:00 p.m.; Miami Theater Center, 9806 N.E. 2nd Ave., Miami. Cost is $20; 305-751-9550; www.mtcmiami.org.
This review first appeared in the Miami herald.
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