Shadows step into spotlight

Times Staff Writer

It is a land of exiles, an island of deserts and hills. Upon Anaphoria, said to exist in a secluded area in the southern hemisphere, are characteristics of every known climate on the planet. There are 73 ethnic groups and characters with names like Fum, a custodian of hummingbirds, and Pestimon, often selfish and unpleasant

It is a place of mystery and imagination, where music is tuned to new scales and shadows have life. Some would call it an imaginary place. Kraig Grady prefers the term “visionary geography.” Grady is the “liaison” between Anaphoria and North America as well as a musician and composer. He also is co-director of “Frenzy at the Royal Threshold,” a shadow theater premiere at the Norton Simon Museum on Friday.

The performance describes the legend behind Anaphoria’s most famous marriage. It’s a love-conquers-all tale about Fum, a commoner who doesn’t seem to know how to love, and Aurora, betrothed to the queen. There is battle and intrigue, an elephant named Eller and a fish named Alinia, not to mention a waterfall that speaks in “watery language.” It’s told through an art, not unlike this mystic place, says Grady.


“Shadow theater is kind of a forgotten art, like silent film was a forgotten art, so it’s a refuge for all things that have been left behind by progress,” he says. “Progress so often will bite something new before it finishes chewing and really digesting what’s implied or potential in what already exists.”

Puppets are backlit, their shadows cast upon a screen. The play will involve seven performers who shift roles from giving voice and movement to the puppets to working the lights and performing music.

Grady, a microtonist who built many of the instruments used in the performance, started working with rear-projected silent films in the 1982, composing and performing live music to them. His first shadow play was in 1992.

Shadow plays have been performed for centuries, notably in Indonesia, India, Greece and Turkey. While the Anaphorian creation myth involves “a complex web of interwoven tales of animals and battles and intimate love,” Grady has his own take on how this “Isle of Exiles,” came to be ... or not to be.

“I always found that music that affected me the most would always create a place. When I would listen to it, it would create a certain visual field.” From music, Anaphoria rose to his consciousness. It is a symbiotic relationship. Once he became aware of it, music began to flow and from the music came stories.

The instruments he creates do not play notes one would hear on the piano. They are based on different scales. The Mt. Meru bass bars are made of aluminum, placed atop PVC pipes. He has installed plungers inside of the pipes to tune the instrument.

Nothing in the performance is amplified or is plugged in. Co-director Roger Mexico, who also performs, calls it “rough theater.” Plays are based on a narrated description of scenes. Details emerge through improvisation or perhaps, says Mexico, “a form of channeling” causing each performance to be unique.

“We use free improvisational music, very flexible,” says Mexico, whose background is in alternative theater. “That’s kind of our basis, to prepare, prepare, prepare, then open ourselves. Sometimes I stray a little too far and have to be reined in from the balcony or something.”

In some ways, says Grady, the characters tell their own stories. “You start playing with these things,” he says of the puppets, “and they pull things out of you, the way wearing a mask somehow changes who you are.”


‘Frenzy at the Royal Threshold’

Where: Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Info: (626) 449-6840 or