Dallas — The San Marcos River is a popular tourist destination and a long-inhabited area that by the measure of some groups is considered sacred. It is also home to several confirmed endangered species; the Texas Blind Salamander, Fountain Darter, the near-extinct San Marcos Gambusia, and Texas Wild Rice are among them. Through the lens that is Yakona, a film that presents the splendor and beauty that is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the Southwest, elements of nature take flight, swim freely and take on a unique sense of agency.
On Thursday night, the Texas Theatre presented a screening of the film with live score performed by a striped down version of the chamber ensemble Montopolis, which has performed the score elsewhere.
A turtle wrestles with a small white bird under flowing water. The bird struggles to be free. Scenes dissolve to reenacted battles between indigenous peoples and those that sought to appropriate their land by force, people protesting, oil rigs drilling, tour boats cruising, children playing, and vacationers lounging in a lazy river.
From some perspectives, this set of images might seem disparate. But in the visual narrative presented by directors and DPs Anlo Sepulveda and Paul Collins in Yakona, many scenes flow together in a nature that is aqueous in own right, one that is reminiscent of water in its many skips, ripples and state of flow.
All imagery and editing thereof results in a contiguous set of scenes constructed from the perspective of the river itself, as a living entity with agency that demonstrates a point of view that has transcended the Anthropocene, that is the “age of man,” or a human-centric mentality that manages to convey excitement and exquisite beauty.
The live score for this Texas Theatre screening was performed by a three-piece variant of the Montopolis chamber ensemble comprised of drummer Andy Beaudoin, Justin Sherburn as keyboardist who for some movements became a guitarist, and cellist Sara Nelson. This specific screening rested on a first-ever performed scaled-down version of the standard Montopolis performance with operatic vocals and a three-piece string section. Timing and pacing were simply spot-on even with a rapid instrumental changeover between keyboard and guitar.
Composer Justin Sherburn explained that the normally sung elements, which often had a high range, were shared between one cellist and keyboard in this performance. Stirring string variations, poppy guitar rhythms, skillfully programmed synthesizer and varied drum-kit performance created sound that mirrored the ocean’s echoes and conveyed a sense of constant motion.
Despite this smaller ensemble, the audience was responsive and the result was breathtaking.
Water permeates all that is and all that will ever be on this planet. In San Marcos, in a river’s rich history, in its people’s activism, and in its conservation, it is clearly appreciated.