Whispers, shadows, and fleeing footsteps define the atmosphere of the 50,000-square-foot warehouse space at the Thorpe Building Complex in northeast Minneapolis. Decades ago, bomb sights--that is, targeting devices--for World War II aircraft were manufactured within these walls. Now the dusty, dim room is the setting for a cast of nine performers imagining the chaotic experiences of refugees from endless war and cultural upheaval, and suggesting the curious family life that comes after. A woman hides under a bed; a man surreptitiously starts fires; a couple makes their home in a cabinet. Still others come and go with suitcases enveloping bowed heads. These distinctly unromantic scenes of a migrant people attempting to reconstruct their lost lives is the reckoning of the seven-year-old performance group Skewed Visions, in their newest site-specific work The Orange Grove.
"I wrote the piece seven years after my father died," explains director Gulgun Kayim. "I was gathering stories and some were not particularly pleasant. They didn't concur with the father I knew. So rather than make a smooth narrative whole, I kept the contradictions in order to present this whole landscape of who he was."
Indeed, Kayim's father and her family endured many harrowing experiences in the 1960s during the escalation of tensions between the Greek and Turkish populations on Cyprus. A Turkish Muslim, and a member of the island's minority population, Kayim's father was a police officer under the British (who took over the Mediterranean island after World War II). Kayim's family followed her father's work to some of the most dangerous areas of the troubled country. In one spot, her mother was nearly beaten to death in the street. The family fled to London when Kayim was five because her father was able to obtain a British passport.
"I tell the story of his life in Cyprus," says the 39-year-old Kayim, but explains that the show "is really about losing my memory. We left because of war. I remember the migration vividly but nothing before that. The memory is in my senses instead of the verbal side of me. It may well be that I experienced some pretty unpleasant things, or maybe all the stories I heard afterwards shaped my impressions. I just changed languages. All this memory is hidden in the Turkish part of me. I think in English now."
Skewed Visions has been developing The Orange Grove for two years, but Kayim could never have planned for just how timely the performance would be. The war in Iraq, which shares with Cyprus a history of occupation and turmoil, and the tentative opening of the border between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island give the work an immediate context. Yet Kayim's creation has only a tangential relationship to the urgent scenes one sees these days on CNN. Her fragmented text combines with vignettes that become noticeably dreamlike in quality. Oppression and danger are replaced by a very personal sense of grappling with the unknown.
"I want people who come to the show to be disoriented," says Kayim. "There is a lack of connection. Memories are not linear; they are not narrative wholes. This is what I felt like as child. One minute I was on the island, the next a ship, and then in London. Everything was so bizarre."