Culture, cultures explored in performance of Yogurt

Last weekend, students performed “Yogurt” near Sunset Lake. The production explored spiritual themes that parallel the yogurt making process and evoke community discussion. Photo courtesy of Joey Boots-Ebenfield

[Correction (Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019): The original version of this piece neglected to give credit to Pırıltı Onukar ’16, who was the creator and director of “Yogurt.”]

As the waning sun’s reflection drifted lan­guidly across Sunset Lake, a lone DJ stood watch under a tree festooned with pink feather boas. A siren’s call of warbling techno beckoned spectators to the Friday night per­formance of “Yogurt,” and gaggles of students trailed over the wooden bridge toward the mu­sic and a Seussian landscape of pom-pom webs and cellophane trees.

“Yogurt,” an experimental, devised piece created and directed by Pırıltı Onukar ’16, explored the complexities of human society within the framework of yogurt-making. “It’s emergent community-building modeled after yogurt cultures,” Stage manager Charlotte Foley ’18 explained.

The notion of community—or at the very least, intimacy—was immediately evident. Per­formers swathed in iridescent fabric (think An­cient Greece in outer space) moved from one spectator to the next—one looked into my eyes, smiled and proceeded to finger paint my eyelids green and nose purple. Next to me were fore­heads of gold and orange and David Bowie-es­que streaks of blues and reds. A colorful crowd of nearly 100 people flocked to the lake, sitting cross-legged and waiting for the show to begin.

“It’s okay if you hate it,” assured set designer Gabby Miranda ’18. “Your feelings and opinions are nonnegotiable,” Foley added.

As performers drew what looked like water from the lake and poured it between cupped hands, a hush fell over the audience. With hes­itancy and an occasional burst of laughter, the water was passed through the audience’s hands, and I realized, to my surprise, that it wasn’t wa­ter at all. It was simply air, and the whole crowd had known to play along.

The performance carried on with the same kind of unscripted whimsy as we were led underneath a bridge dangling with toy fish, through a twine web carefully strung with colorful pom-poms and into a tree wrapped in cellophane. Audience member Evelyn Frick ’19 [Full Disclosure: Evelyn is a staff columnist for the Miscellany News] noted, “I experienced it in a very childlike wonder—everything was very fascinating and very new, and part of me was trying to figure out what it all meant, but I think I realized very soon into it that that’s not what it was about … It was about experiencing what they were giving to us.”

While “Yogurt” certainly followed a gener­al path, it felt refreshingly unscripted, and the audience was welcome to treat the set as their playground. Miranda remarked, “There’s defi­nitely a sequence of events that explain the village and its culture—pun intended—but it’s also obviously very organic and derived from the people who come and what they do.”

Frick appreciated the show’s flexibility and lack of concrete structure. She explained, “I re­member it felt very warm and sensual—it was a very sensory experience … I felt very close with the actors and the group around us, which I think was the goal.”

Audience member Jaimeson Bukacek Frazier ’19 agreed: “There was that whole sensual as­pect, but the entire thing came off as playful and innocent, and it was this really weird juxtaposi­tion…between the two that they pulled off well.”

Within the overarching metaphor of yogurt cultures, an independent community had mi­raculously formed as a byproduct. Miranda ob­served, “You know, communities take forever to emerge—the Vassar community is continuously emerging—so I think the act of creating a vil­lage is practically impossible in whatever defi­nition we have of a village as a society. But that being said, I think one of the things that makes me most proud of the experience…it’s a chance for people to really look at the Vassar communi­ty from within another community.”

Once the audience had reached the top of the hill, we found ourselves running back down again. Hand in hand with strangers and performers and friends, we spun in a wild, de­lightful frenzy. Breathless, I realized that I had forgotten about a botched statistics quiz and looming essays—and I think that was the point. We were extended the offer to hold the hands of strangers and spin and whoop and holler at the moon and feel a kind of affinity for one another that tends to get lost in the everyday hustle and bustle.

Of course, participation was not mandato­ry, only encouraged. Since the production was completely wordless, participation hinged on the audience’s response to the cast. It certain­ly changed Bukacek Frazier’s experience. He explained, “Once I started participating in it, as opposed to just watching it, it became a lot more enjoyable.”

Despite initial reluctance from some, near the end of the performance, every spectator readily joined hands to form a massive circle en­compassing the hill, running full force in some kind of reimagined schoolyard game toward the middle and imminent collision. “I think it would have been a mistake not to engage in it,” Frick commented.

Audience member Zoe Wiseman ’19 re­marked, “I heard about it, I had no idea what it was … But it was, in a way, spiritual.”

Unlike some more traditional productions with strict run times, Yogurt ended early on its debut night so audience members could make their way to the Chapel for a concert.

However, Friday night ended with a euphor­ic dance party under the stars. The same DJ who began the show sent pulsating, jubilant electronica into the night sky as the audience swayed and whirled, breaking away one-by-one to walk back home again over the wooden bridge.

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