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All Photos: Chris Chen

Mirah and The Spectatrone International played 2 shows this week in DC: one at Iota on Tuesday (we sent Chris to take photos) and one at Millenium Stage on Wednesday (that Jen wrote up).

So here it is: the comprehensive Mirah DC experience.
Civil responsibility and duty of insectile communities, and the neighborly relationship shared between humans and the billions of bugs that occupy this planet. Sounds blatantly pretentious yet it’s somehow the central focus of one of the best performances to hit D.C. lately. Mirah’s performance Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage marked a weighty departure from the otherwise precious showing that made the K Records artist such a darling of the Pacific Northwest folk recording scene. Collaborating with Spectratone International and the stop-motion animation of Britta Johnson, Mirah and company performed “Share This Place: Stories and Observations” with earnest curiosity towards the little creatures that inspired this show.

Debuting in August, “Share This Place” is a multi-media sensory overload, with films complimenting each of Mirah’s songs documenting the life and times of particular critters. From the dainty life of a glowworm (“Luminescence”) to the boisterous declaration of short-lived freedom from the cicada (“Credo Cigalia”), each vignette is somehow epic for something so decidedly small. The sort of old-world tango quality to each song, employing some pretty unique instrumentation ranging from the accordion to the oud, is sweeping. The references to both Kafka’s “Metamorphoses” and the work of entomologist Jean Henri Fabre speak directly to the audience, commenting on our fearful and segregated existence from the natural world at large. Britta Johnson animates her scenes of insect existence with household objects like corks, tin cans, old glasses and beads, connecting the audience to the subject matter by sheer association and recognition. Rather than bringing us face-to-face with creepy-crawlies, they took on an almost domestic, comforting appearance.
Easily the strongest performance from “Share This Place” was “Community,” focused on humanizing the role of ants. Mirah introduced a sequence of films with the point that a “lot of lessons are to be learned from insects,” a comment that had audience members rustling in their seats. Probably with muffled laughter. But “Community,” with its jittering stop-motion paperclips eventually connecting into chains of synchronized ants, effectively drove Mirah’s point home. “Who needs to speak in our society?/ we take advantage of our pheromones” – never have truer words been spoken, but she’s talking about ants. Wow. “Community” also brought percussionist Jane Hall to the microphone as well, giving Mirah’s voice an eerie counterpart.

The quaintest moment of the Kennedy Center performance happened during “Credo Cigalia,” showing the brief life cycle of the cicada. Audience members were giggling as Mirah joyously belted out lines like “You’ve no choice but to listen to my song/ I express so stridently the joy of life,” accurately mimicking the pesky bug’s screeching sound. They were probably channeling a couple summers ago, when cicadas took over the District and basically ruined everyone’s lives.

“Share This Place” was certainly no conventional performance, nor should it have been. While the subject matter was pretty hard to wrap the brain around it first, it eventually lent itself to a memorable if not original experience. Mirah and her company of artists and musicians should not be missed.

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