The world according to Thoth
A weird and wonderful night at the GRUB Farm
New York performance artist S. K. Thoth brought his ritualistic, electrifying and liberating Tribal Baroque “prayformance” to Chico on Saturday, shattering conventional notions of performance and dazzling the hundred or so spellbound congregants who witnessed the proceedings.
Utilizing the great room in the GRUB CSA Farm’s main house as a venue, Thoth, along with partner Lila’Angelique, acted out a dozen or so selections that fused classical violin, foot bells and chimes with tribal choreography, interpretive dance and other-worldly voices. The operatic vocals, which combined Angelique’s uncanny soprano range with Thoth’s baritone yelps and high-pitched falsetto, were startling yet entertaining.
The performers were perfect visual complements to each other: he, dark-skinned and dressed in black, accessorized by a little facial makeup, an ornamental gold belt buckle and red under-kilt; and she, quite fair, dressed in pale pink and supporting a pink and white headdress, assorted costume jewelry and decorative white face paint. Both wore percussive foot chimes and sang the same “language,” from Thoth’s mythical world of Festad, which varied from Gregorian-like chants to amusing gibberish that seemed to especially engage the small children in the room.
Though Thoth’s proprietary language was foreign to the audience, the method of delivery—on everything from haunting ballads to feral dance-crazed pieces that inspired many attendees to rise up and dance—allowed the audience to generally decipher the messages of jubilation and sorrow, and love and devotion (though each piece left plenty of room for personal interpretation).
Thoth (the name is a nod to the Egyptian god of wisdom) is more than an uninhibited character of whimsy and entertainment. While his show was distinctly bizarre, it was also characterized by enormous skill and distinguished talent. Thoth is a formally trained violinist who, according to his biography, studied at a young age with the assistant concertmaster of the American Symphony Orchestra in New York and excelled at the prestigious LaGuardia Arts school for music, art and performing arts (the Fame school).
The continued development of his fictional world Festad—which has its own legends, history and language—led to the creation of a solo opera called The Herma, which he’s performed at festivals and around the world and most famously as a street performer for more than a decade at the ornate Bethesda Terrace Arcade in New York City’s Central Park. And in 2002, a documentary short titled Thoth, about his life and work, actually won an Academy Award. In it he says of his performances: “This is sculpture; this is my work; this is my being.”
Angelique, also from the New York area, began playing violin at an early age and after moving to Nashville studied at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. She became an avid student of opera, and performed operatic duets with her twin sister. After high school, she attended New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre School, eventually leaving school after she discovered and struck a mutual chord with Thoth. She has been his prayformance partner since 2009.
“Thoth is an incredible talent,” said Jacia Kornwise, a Chico dance instructor who performed with Thoth years ago and was instrumental in bringing him to town. “He’s a most unusual being who’s walking the world in a different way. Committed to his art, he is fearless, sensitive and kind-hearted.”
Thoth’s performance was preceded by a neat little unscripted set from local banjo-ologist Gordy Ohliger on banjo and guitar, and Mike Wofchuck on didgeridoo, hand drum and cajon box drum. As house musician for the night, Wofchuck also played the cajon off and on during Thoth’s set whenever the performer danced his way over to him, and led his all-percussion Wolf Thump samba ensemble in a joyous, dance-provoking evening-closing set.