The Ululating Mummies bring their unique sound to a silent movie and a dance troupe. 

Arts United

If you haven't heard of the Ululating Mummies, there's a high likelihood you've recently arrived to Richmond. Around since the early '80s, this colorful band dons costumes of clashing patterns and styles, and similarly plays music that blends rock, jazz, and eastern European rhythms.

Mummies shows often extend beyond conventional musical entertainment to include impromptu show-and-tell routines and even animals: Once a concert included a chicken on percussion. This weekend's show reflects two of the group's ongoing interests: silent movies and dance.

Friday's performance is devoted to playing a live score to the nightmarishly futuristic Fritz Lang classic from 1927, "Metropolis." With the music dependent on the film's images and rhythm, such a partnership gives the five-member band an opportunity to stretch into new compositional areas.

Band member Robbie Kinter believes the best movie music accompanies film without bringing too much attention to itself. He explains, "We look for important cues in the film, but we don't necessarily accentuate them."

Saturday's show reflects one of the group's longest interests, dance. Pippin Barnett, Danny Finney and Robbie Kinter all have strong ties to dance, and over the years, have collaborated with individual dancers in the community and VCU's dance department.

This show brings together dancers from Ground Zero Dance Company, Starr Foster Dance Project, and faculty and students from VCU, all performing to live Mummies music, much composed specifically for the concert.

The band welcomes the challenge of performing with dancers, aware that live shows bring unpredictability; a dancer or musician may do something that was neither planned nor intended. It's precisely the lack of certainty the band relishes. "Live music and dance have an element of danger," says Kinter. "It puts musician and dancer in a heightened state of attention. Recordings sound good and are consistent, but the tension of live performance creates a much-higher energy."

Judy Steele will perform "Derive," a playful, ephemeral floating through space, devoted to the late Wally Bless, father to band member Barry Bless. Melanie Richards debuts her percussion ensemble, D'feet, a unique blend of rhythm tap dancing. Starr Foster will premiere "Lipstick," a humorous look at courtship. Kinter will switch artistic roles to perform three dances, including an improvisation with longtime collaborator Frances Wessels. Gaelen Finney will also premiere a short video.

Whether they're playing in a club or museum or supporting the talents of their feathered brethren, this eclectic band consistently tries to forge new alliances. With sophisticated whimsy, they welcome both the traditional and the unconventional. Kinter recalls a comment made to him at a recent show: "You Mummies are one peppy orchestra."

Ululating Mummies will perform Feb. 1-2 at the Grace Street Theater. Tickets cost $10. Call 828-2020.


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