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Spinning and plucking, an island show heads to Seattle

Leah Mann and Ela Lamblin, founders of Lelavision, rehearse the group
Leah Mann and Ela Lamblin, founders of Lelavision, rehearse the group's latest show.
— image credit: Natalie Martin/Staff Photo

It isn’t unusual to hear the twang of guitars or throbbing of drums from a backwoods studio or garage on Vashon. But the music that emanates from Ela Lamblin and Leah Mann’s studio, at the end of long dirt road in Burton, sounds like none other.

Approaching the studio through the woods on a recent November day, a visitor stepped around heaps of scrap metal surrounding the studio and heard low, didgeridoo-like rumblings, odd-sounding percussive slaps, the heavenly plinking of an otherworldly harp and dulcet harmonies sung in an unrecognizable language.

Inside, it turned out, a rehearsal was under way for Lamblin and Mann’s latest and most ambitious production, “Lelavision’s Heavy Metal DëVices,” a show named for almost two dozen musical contraptions and set pieces Lamblin has fashioned from scratch.

The production features an ensemble of eight performers — most of whom are from Vashon — and is set to play twice at the Moore Theatre in Seattle this weekend.

The show’s often comical story is loosely centered around a band of shipwrecked souls set down on an unknown shore, but plot aside, it is also a chance to marvel at a body of work that has taken Lamblin more than 20 years to create. For most of that time, he’s worked in tandem with his spouse and artistic soulmate Mann, an innovative choreographer who has turned Lamblin’s kinetic instruments into a playground for performance artists to strum, pluck, fly through the air and tumble from. Lelavision — the name of their ensemble — is known for performances that are part dance, part clowning, part acrobatics and all artistic innovation.

For Lamblin, this latest production is a way to put all his creations —  huge metal objects that can not only flip a body high into the air, but also produce strange and beautiful melodies — front and center stage, once and for all.

“I don’t want to make anything anymore that I’m not going to use,” he said, noting he has scrounged, bartered and junk-picked for years to build his instruments.

With these humble materials, the 41-year-old Lamblin, a ponytailed and bearded fellow who looks a bit like a young Leonardo Da Vinci, has invented such graceful things as “The Pandemonium,” a 12-foot rocking boat with a balloon organ motorl “The Orbales,” two steel balls that he and Mann climb into and play from the inside out, and a huge new long-wave harp with a swoopingly sculpted metal body.

The music these instruments make, said island composer Jason Staczek, is startlingly original.

Staczek, who has composed all new music on Lamblin’s instruments for “Heavy Metal DëVices,” first met Lamblin three years ago, when he delivered two glass garage doors to the Lamblin’s studio. Staczek had offered up the doors on Craigslist, and Lamblin, ever resourceful, had quickly responded.

“I was astonished and my jaw was hitting the floor,” Staczek said.  “I couldn’t believe a space and instruments like that existed in the world, much less on our island.”

Soon enough, Staczek began playing frequently with Lamblin and asked him to collaborate on a film score for indie director Guy Maddin’s film, “Keyhole.” Another film score by the pair is currently in the works.

Staczek was also onstage, playing Lamblin’s instruments, at the genesis of “Heavy Metal DëVices,” when it was first workshopped and performed at the Open Space for Arts & Community in March.

The show was attended by Debra Heesch, an island newcomer who is also the special events manager for the Seattle Theatre Group. It was Heesch’s idea to book the show into the newly remodeled Moore Theatre, a graceful old theater built in 1907 in Seattle.

“When I went to Open Space, I had no idea what I was going to see,” Heesch said. “I was blown away.  It is so much better than so many national acts. It was just shocking to hear how the music actually sounds so beautiful.”

Heesch, Mann and Lamblin all acknowledged it was an artistic, logistical and financial stretch to rework and expand the show to present on the Moore’s huge stage. But a week ago, the production got a huge boost when Lelavision announced the successful conclusion of a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund the show.

Now, the show’s cast and crew — Lamblin, Mann and Staczek and islanders Abby Enson, Lynelle Sjoberg, Arlette Moody and Christopher Overstreet, as well as Seattle-based percussionist Aimee Zoe and director AJ Epstein — are ready to roll, Lamblin said.

“This is strengthening us as an ensemble,” he said. “We’re starting to gel as a group.”

The show isn’t an easy one for performers, he added.

“There are daunting challenges — new music, new choreography and new instruments,” he said. “Everyone is trying to learn new instruments while they are rehearsing, and the only way to do that is to spend time with it, to practice, practice, practice. The flip side is that this is why no one else does this.”

Performing on a few of the instruments — especially those that spin and tip and rotate — can also be a high wire act. At a recent November rehearsal, Arlette Moody pointed out a few fresh bruises, and Aimee Zoe sported a large butterfly bandage on her wrist —  the result of an instrument taking a bite out of her as she played it.

But judging from the smiles of the cast as they wrapped up their rehearsal, all the risk and hard work seem to be worth it.

“This is really fun, I have to say,” said Moody.

Lamblin and Mann — who have in the past toured as a duo to festivals, universities and theaters worldwide, hope that this show goes on the road, too.

With its blend of spectacle, music, circus and dance, Mann said, it could appeal to a wide audience.

“This is like ‘The Lion King’ of Burton,” she said.

Lelavision’s Heavy Metal DëVices” will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. Get tickets, $20 for adults and $15 for kids 12 and younger, at the Vashon Bookshop or www.stgpresents.org.

 

 

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