"Symphony of Shadows’"
New York, NY
June 9, 2012
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Who knew nightmares could be so much fun? Rachel Klein, a storyteller, choreographer, director, and designer offered “Symphony of Shadows” at Dixon Place – an evening with a wide streak of the absurd. She filled the small stage with a chaotic, satisfyingly large cast; live music; and a mix of aerial and dance movement for a silly, energetic homage to the power of dreams.
Combining floor and aerial dancing, the marvelous creativity of the creatures populating the dreams provided the zest, and imaginative costumes brought the nightmare creatures to life. The audience was borne through the repetitive scenes’ humor by acrobatic choreography (especially the aerial bits) and strong, athletic performances by dancers who mixed Cirque du Soleil professionalism with downtown camp.
Among the nightmares were scenes of sea monsters (a favorite costume was a tutu of fat, wobbling tentacles on the Octopus Empress, Robyn Nielsen;) a rodent attack (reminiscent of the Mouse King in “The Nutcracker;”) and winged demons and bats. In each scene, in addition to the dancers on the floor, aerialists twisted their bodies up the sheets, using their legs to lift, turn, and balance. Some flew in parallel duets. One of the most satisfying images was the transformation of four of the creatures into aerial cocoons, suspended in the white cloth as coverings, floating between the ceiling and floor as if between imagination and reality.
Most of the performers did at least double duty. Not only were the dancers also aerialists, but the cast included contortionist-ballerinas, acrobat-actors, and dancer-musicians (Stewart played a violin solo; Porsche added piano to the string trio.) A duet, half ballet and half gymnastic, by Danielle Marie Fusco and Abdiel Jacobsen as Succubus and Incubus, was the strenuous dance highlight late in the story. By the time they showed up, the audience didn’t need a balletic sequence; we were satisfied with the merry group cacophony.
On the small stage of Dixon Place, the sea of motion was often hard to follow, but entertaining in its color and swirl, especially the costumes (also sprung from the imagination of Klein, with Kae Burke.) Wings – of insects, bats, demons – were planes of swirling fabric on distinctly shaped frames; the characters danced the brightly colored material with their swooping arms. The four “dream druids” were wraiths who floated across the stage completely swathed in stretch fabric of black and sparkling gold, like the shadows of the dance’s title. Later, entirely shrouded in a large red rectangle of fabric that stretched and writhed, an anonymous dancer without face or limbs created waves of crimson motion. Of all the costumes, it was only the work suits of waking life that were - appropriately - dreary.
But the repeated daytime office sequences were interesting group dances. After Stewart awoke from her nightmares, she joined a parade of workers scurrying in linear and angled patterns. The geometric hustle -- as if the dancers were crossing and walking the grid of mid-town Manhattan -- was evocative, and modern; iterations of each new day used shifting patterns and a quicker pace. When Stewart landed at her desk and miserable job, though, the visuals reverted to the predictability of silent films – clichéd relationships, facial mugging, and a generous dollop of slapstick. For a work so tied to its plot, it was surprising that Klein left out any closure to the dreamer’s daytime misery, and only focused on her victory over nighttime terrors.
After a miracle hypnosis cure by her doctor (Eric Shmalenberger,) the Dreamer leapt up and took her revenge on the Sandman, who she dosed with his own sleep dust. He writhed in her bed, tormented by a hit parade of her nightmare images, another Nutcracker parody where Russian and Chinese dancers were replaced in their final waltz by demons, monsters, bugs, and rats. As the stage filled with a chaotic wave of dancing, the audience laughed with the certainty that all these dancing creatures would haunt, happily ever after.
copyright © 2012 by Martha Sherman
Photo: Scooter Pie, Natasha King, Elizabeth Stewart, Megan O'Connor, and Evgeniya Radilova in “Symphony of Shadows” by Michael Blase