Uśmiech bez kota - Agata Zubel International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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In a world that goes against the grain
The famous, or infamous, land visited by going Through the Looking Glass, where the “curiouser and curiouser” Alice from Lewis Carroll’s book has been taking us for more than a hundred fifty years now, is going to absorb us completely again. The world on the other side – but of what? Illusion? Art? Or is it a realm of imagination and fairy tales? Carroll never ceases to attract and entertain us. It is going to be the case also this time, except that Alice will now reveal her musical talents and vocal expertise. 

A Catless Smile is an experiment, a para-opera presented by means of a wonder of modern technology, fog display hologram images. In this operatic monodrama, vocal parts representing all the major characters that Alice met in Wonderland are performed by just one artist, Agata Zubel. It is, notably, this artist’s first project addressed directly to a children’s audience. 

Rather than looking for multiple hidden layers of meaning, this time let us simply enjoy the show and admire the extravaganza of shapes and colours, including the many timbres of the singer’s extraordinary voice. We can also admire the costumes and dresses, all this operatic fashion parade made up of pixels and elements of the absurd. We can admire the wonders of technology and the creative use of AI, still controlled by humans. It is thanks to the combination of these two elements: creative humanity and precise technology – that we can experience such apparently “insane” projects, and even participate in them, giving free rein to our surprise. 

I will tell you in secret that the authors of this experiment had much fun creating it, and they now invite everyone, both children and adults, to join in. Is this not what art is about? Particularly so when reality on this side of the mirror is dull and frequently harsh. For children, school can often be like this. In Carroll’s book we can find many phrases that sound like taken from school life and textbooks but have been creatively transformed with the lightness of Carroll’s verbal mastery. They come with a pinch of irony, reflected in the distorting mirror of a verbal joke. The concept author and performer of the hologram opera translated text fragments from both Alice books by herself, looking for the right words that could best blend with the musical phrases. It is certainly worthwhile to travel to the other side of our reality’s mirror and do something in a way that is different from our usual ways (note that the authors of this project recommend doing so at least once a day). Perhaps we will discover the Looking Glass land as a realm of frantic fun? Such playing often brings creative results, and we all deserve it. 

Anna Kierkosz