Press release

Granada Artist-In-Residence Performance and Food Event Opens at UC Davis

UC Davis Department of Theatre & Dance presents The Matter of Taste directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Anna Fenemore and devised in collaboration with UC Davis students.This unique performance and food event will attempt to address both the subjective and highly individual experience of ‘taste’ and the social redefining of what might be considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste.An interactive production, the audience is invited to participate including sampling of recipes.The Matter of Taste includes live music that offers audience members outdoor dancing after the show when refreshments related to the production will be available for purchase. Co-sponsored by UC Davis Arboretum, The Matter of Taste opens on Wednesday, May 19, and plays through Sunday, May 23, at Wyatt Pavilion Theatre.

Theatre & Dance Professor Peter Lichtenfels is responsible for bringing Anna Fenemore to UC Davis as Granada Artist-in-Residence. He explains, “Upon asking friends in the British theatre scene who were the most interesting new practitioners, an entire chorus replied, ‘Anna Fenemore!’  I got excited and researched her unique work. Everyone is in love with her. She creates such fun –  cooking, playing while learning and devising a show. “

Fenemore is Artistic Director of Manchester, UK- based Pigeon Theatre, an internationally renowned experimental physical performance company. She is facilitating and directing The Matter of Taste as it develops from the experiences, thoughts, arguments and autobiographies of the performers pertaining to food memories and stories. Her multidimensional direction includes choreography, videos, projections, live music, and much on-stage food preparation and cooking.

The performance is inspired by the structures and methods of domestic cooking and the rituals of the family dining table.  One kitchen and one long table will form the central set of the performance. Fenemore comments, “I’m very fond of George Eliot’s statement that ‘One can say everything best over a meal’ and Federico Fellini’s statement that ‘Life is a combination of magic and pasta.’”

Fenemore’s interest in taste originated in her first performance project with Pigeon Theatre in 2000: The Housekeeper.  This was a site-generic performance designed for domestic kitchen spaces and involved the performers cooking for the audience.  This act of ‘doing something for’ and ‘giving something to’ the audience was initially merely a strategy for attempting a certain kind of intimacy between performer and spectator. (According to Fenemore, sharing food with another human being is an extraordinarily intimate act). It quickly became clear to Fenemore that the food was doing far more than just connecting all the different people in the room at that time – it was also connecting all these people with other, absent, people – mothers, grandmothers, fathers, daughters, lovers, friends. She saw the act of sharing food not just as an act of intimacy, but also charged at one time or another with obsession, seduction, memory, shame, joy and perhaps most importantly of all, pleasure. 

Fenemore elaborates, “The act of feeding people began a process of remembering for audiences and of re-embodying these potent expressions of human feeling that were fascinating to me, and I have subsequently strived continually to make work that ‘moves’ audiences in this way.  Taste and smell are significant in our construction or memories.  When Proust wrote about madeleines in Remembrance of Things Past, it wasn’t the madeleine itself that was important, the madeleine merely served as a strategy to explore the shifting value of memory.”

This is reflected in The Matter of Taste wherefood (like Will’s mother’s German chocolate and snail cake, or Won’s mother’s birthday soup, or Avila’s grandfather’s artichoke and chicken soup, or Paige’s grandmother’s shrimp and cabbage salad) is important, but more so are the stories and memories and people and bonds behind the food. 

Fenemore continues, “I’m interested in this particular collection of people asked to cook food that has memories and family stories attached. I’m asking them to present themselves, perhaps to tell us things they should only really tell their friends, to bring their cultural and social individualities together, I want to squeeze all this into a theatre, and see what happens when an audience with their food memories and experiences is also thrown into the mix.”

The production involves many arms outside of the Department of Theatre & Dance. In addition to co-sponsor UC Davis Arboretum, Sodexo, the university’s food management company, and Campus Catering are providing food. The Department of Food Sciences has contributed much expertise as have a number of chefs and other food professionals. Several downtown Davis restaurants are also involved.

Stage Manager Todd Harper, an undergraduate Dramatic Art major, has had to master the art of pseudo restaurant management. “I now know how to keep foods at specific temperature levels, to chop onions in ways I never knew were possible, and ensure that every dining surface is sanitary and fit for consumption.” 

Todd thinks the audience will appreciate the sheer honesty and humor in the performance. “Of course the chaos involving 16 people cooking in one kitchen, each with several interpersonal relationships, conflicts, and reactions, and each with so many stories to tell, adds quite a farcical element to the performance sure to encourage much laughter.”

The graduate and undergraduate performers are enjoying Fenemore’s development process. Jennifer Adler, a Music and Dramatic Art double major, says “The Matter of Taste has opened up new theatre perspectives for me. It was hard to get used to not following a script but I have learned a lot from this.  I now realize the theatricality in everyday activities like cooking or navigating a kitchen. I’ve learned how to turn memories into a work of art.”

Dramatic Art major Jason Masino also has learned important lessons through acting in this production. “Anna has taught me not to get too attached to ideas that you bring to the table. If you hold on to something too long and decide that it doesn’t work or doesn’t benefit the show in the way you’d like, not letting go can damage the process of creating a piece of theatre, or art for that matter.”

Fourth-year Dramatic Art Major Daniel Jordan explains his new acting insight, “Anna’s given me another view of character. She’s really into being a person on stage and not an actor, or what we perceive to be acting. It’s very liberating.”

The performer ensemble includes three MFA Acting candidates: Michael Davison, James Marchbanks and Avila Reese. 

The production team includes MFA candidates John Zibell (Assistant Director), Glenn Fox (Scenic / Lighting Designer), Sarah Kendrick (Costume Designer), and undergraduate Dramatic Art major David Lutheran (Properties Designer).

Part autobiography, part cookery demonstration, The Matter of Taste is sure to energize the audience with intimate magical surprises.

Director Biography

Anna Fenemore is Artistic Director of Manchester, UK-based Pigeon Theatre, an all-woman, experimental physical performance company, who have toured nationally and internationally, and who make site-specific performance work. Pigeon Theatre’s central research concern is in the formal structures of space, environment and architecture and the affect of these on the physical spectating experience.

Fenemore is also Lecturer and Program Manager of the BA (Honors) in Theatre and Performance at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries, Leeds University, UK, specializing in Practice-as-Research, physical performance, contemporary devised performance, site-specific theatre and the politics of performance. Her research interests are spectating embodiment, performer bodywork training, multi-sensory immersive performance, performance and phenomenology, theories of performance space/place, and performance and death studies.

Fenemore also works as a performer, and is a regular performer for the anateresa project, The Chameleons Group, Plane Performance, and in her own solo work. She has also collaborated on telematic performances with Paul Sermon and Steve Dixon.

What: The Matter of Taste directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Anna Fenemore and devised in collaboration with UC Davis students.This unique interactive performance and food event isco-sponsored by the UC Davis Arboretum. It includes food tastings and live music that offers the audience outdoor dancing after the show.

Where: Wyatt Pavilion Theatre, UC Davis

When: Weds – Sat, 5/19-22, 8pm; Sun, 5/23, 2pm

Tickets: General $16 advance, $18 door; Students/children/seniors $11 advance, $13 door

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