I never knew until I was invited to FIGMAGO and looked up Saligman online. The artist is one of the few women who has garnered international appreciation for her murals and installations.
Collaboration between two beloved Philadelphia artists and their teams
The theatrical/artistic event makes murals and installations come alive. FIGMAGO achieves this not only through visual arts, such as costumes, lighting, and stage design but through live performances combining a wide range of dance through the centuries, acrobatics, and aerial arts.
Saligman said she likes nothing more than standing on scaffolding, no matter how high, and painting all day long. The show seems to capture this sense of adventure, often feeling as if Michelangelo's mind was filtered through the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland.
Let the games begin
It all started with one of Saligman’s staff members — or so I thought — who gave us a quick guided tour through her huge studio, only to transform himself once we entered that surreal world. Instead of falling into a rabbit hole, we pushed through a doorway overcrowded with theatrical costumes of all sizes and shapes.
I couldn’t help but think of Alice again: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
No guidelines, honey. Rather, we were encouraged to become active participants, not just spectators. And so our group of about 15 to 20 people kept moving.
Yes, we had to crouch at times, getting into and through the hidden, subterranean world of Saligman’s studio on Braintree Street. But unlike Alice, who “bumped her head and bruised her soul,” we became part of the interactive process — not bruising our souls but morphing, like my group members, into a lively group of butterflies who hovered in various locations.
Sanders, never afraid to try new things, reaches another artistic height with the choreography he uses to bring Saligman’s surreal world to life. Statues abruptly become dancers. Two queens interrupt a meal with a fascinating fight, only to jump off the wooden medieval banquet table as best friends. A young woman and man suddenly transform into butterflies atop a gigantic waterfall. Cocoons birth aerial acrobats.
In every scene, the masterminds and performers behind this spectacle involve the audience in unexpected ways. We put together a painting cut into puzzle pieces, walk on a sandy beach to find blue shards of glass and build a new work of art, and — inspired by the rhythm of the latest club music — playfully do our own thing.
For example, one audience member, an older woman, picked a white tutu from the props in the largest hall, dancing beautifully behind a large, lit screen. Her silhouette looked like an Ophelia who hadn’t drowned but escaped.
I sensed FIGMAGO is still keeping everyone working on new ideas for making this show even stronger, especially as Saligman and Sanders would like it to become a permanent feature for Philadelphians.
My only concern is that none of the dancers or others who collaborated on this huge project were mentioned by name, not even in a program note on FIGMAGO's otherwise beautiful website.