Ushered into a dark room, the audience stood in a halo of light that illuminated a pile of squeaky rubber toys. A forest’s worth of bird sounds filled the air. Soon a low, hollow melody joined in, produced by a slender man dressed in white, eyes closed, playing a four-foot wooden flute.
The man was Juraj Kojs, and this was the beginning of his new piece Signals, now at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
The flute is called a fujara and, like Kojs, it hails from Slovakia. Signals is the culmination of his month-long Sandbox Series residency at MTC with choreographer and dancer Carlota Pradera and visual artists Kim Yantis and Claire Satin.
Kojs is a composer with an impressive musical pedigree, and although his new piece is theatrical, the sonic experience is always foremost. He gradually disassembled his flute, continuing to play after each segment was removed.
The recorded bird calls gave way to hand drumming, and as a rooster crowed he strutted over, grinning, to the audience, and began to hand out the squeaky toys. The audience joined in, rhythmically squeezing the toys to produce sounds that blended well with the bird sounds.
That fusion of organic and artificial, traditional and modern, Slovakia and Miami, is a major theme of the piece. Kojs had attached long, corrugated hoses to six restroom hand dryers, and midway through the performance they began blowing gossamer notes while cellphone ring tones sounded from the speakers.
Signals is structured as a series of short episodes, each seamlessly transitioning to the next, all immersed in the carefully designed soundscape. Just under an hour, it blends glam kitsch — 1980s sex kitten Samantha Fox makes a brief appearance — with echoes of Slovakian folk culture and the political upheavals of communism and democracy.
There are moments of poignant nostalgia and subtle eroticism, but with a whimsical humor bubbling under the surface. By avoiding explicit narrative, Kojs discourages a literal interpretation. Instead we get a deeply layered, impressionistic work that allows audience members to chart their own course through the artist’s memories. It all adds up to a richly rewarding experience.