In a misty forest inside the ODC Theater lies an enormous nest. Inside the nest sleeps a yellow bird. Unbeknownst to itself, the bird (Sten Rudstrom in a mascot costume) inspires deep love in a lonely man (Shinichi Iova-Koga), who spends a little too much time in a nearby tree.
From this surprising setup comes a story of an impossible inter-species love that could only have originated from the minds of the people behind “Our Breath is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine” — the composing collective and music ensemble Nanos Operetta and its librettist/composer Ali Tabatabai, baritone Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and the dancers from performance group inkBoat.
This fun multidisciplinary opera, onstage through July 28, is truly a wild ride. Wavering between deeply lyrical and oddly comical, the opera constantly verges on the absurd, but never crosses the line to the silly.
The story is simple: a man falls in love with toa bird — the bird ignores him; he grows desperate — the bird takes notice. At the end, however, we learn that the man is not the first to have fallen in love with the yellow creature. And, just like before, the bird has to end the impossible affair with, “We can dream, but we cannot nest.”
As the narrator, Frykdahl, whose powerful singing is the main reason this spectacle is called an opera, likes to move the story along by introducing foreign objects onto the stage. In one especially comical scene that’s strangely touching, the narrator gives the forlorn man a box with a blow-up doll. But after the man tries to transform the doll into a bird and dance with it, the narrator angrily deflates it.
Besides the narrator’s songs — reminiscent of Leonard Cohen — there is almost no speaking. Emotions are expressed through movement, which is at its best when it’s theatrical, but also obscure in slow, abstract parts. One of the most poignant moments is Iova-Koga’s dance with a stick, which he transforms into a tennis racket, a rifle, a golf club, and an old man’s cane.
Yet it’s the music that expresses the strongest emotions in the piece. The foot-tapping, tear-jerking riffs of Nanos Operetta are absolutely brilliant.
Our Breath is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco
When: 8p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; closes July 28
Tickets: $18 to $25
Contact: (415) 863-9834 or www.odctheater.com