Through a partnership that transcends languages and cultures, virtuoso musicians Tom Teasley and Chao Tian have produced an award-winning world music album, Out of the Blue, as duo Dong Xi, and in 2019, composed and performed the score for Mary Zimmerman’s vibrant production of The White Snake at Constellation Theatre.
Now the pair, whose latest album The Way is due in the spring, has teamed again with Constellation, collaborating with the company’s Allison Arkell Stockman, A.J. Guban, and Nick Martin, to create Mysticism & Music. An original story “developed collaboratively with the company of artists,” the multi-disciplinary work marks a first for Constellation, and a departure of sorts for Teasley and Tian.
Playing in their style of controlled improvisation, on up to nearly a dozen different instruments, including Teasley’s drum set and Tian’s Chinese dulcimer, they accompany practically every beat of the actors/dancers onstage reciting passages of scripture, poetry, and wisdom sourced from a variety of religions and philosophies.
“Everybody’s perception of this is going to be different,” says Teasley. “But I would say that the journey begins with a confrontation of loss, and then a reflection of the loss, and then a meditation, for lack of a better word, on the elements of water and fire. Then there is a transformation, and that leads ultimately to a celebration.”
The 55-minute world premiere production is “probably 90-plus percent underscored,” he points out. “Frequently in a show, especially one with a preexisting script, it’s like text, text, text, [then] musicians color, paint what’s going on here, and then they fall out,” says Teasley. “In this instance, I felt like many times I was able to tap into some of the rhythmic devices that were spiritual to me, and inspirational to me, and have them go for a longer amount of time, to develop as opposed to just kind of coming in and doing a sound bite that’s 30 seconds and then getting out and waiting.”
For Tian, who immigrated to the U.S. six years ago and found music to be the universal language that allows her to express her thoughts freely, Mysticism & Music offers other rewards. “I think it provides healing to me, and also to this fragile world,” she says. “It helps people to slow down, calm down, because in the past two years, I feel most people were facing different kinds of difficulties and struggles. And I think this show inspired me to revisit those classic wisdoms, even though a lot of people already know them from back in their school time. But I think, perhaps coming to see this show, it’s a good chance to revisit them, and to get some enlightenment.”
Mysticism & Music in-person performances run through Nov. 7 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20. Video-on-Demand is available for streaming through Dec. 31. VOD tickets are $20. Visit www.constellationtheatre.org.
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