by: Alix Cohen
Remember using your hands to form shadow creatures as a kid or delighting in an adult’s configuring rabbits, birds, elephants, faces? In some instances, it would’ve been difficult to imagine how hands were shaped to achieve the effect if you weren’t able to see them. Pilobolus has developed choreographed skills they call a “weight sharing approach to partnering” that combines bodies to form beasts, objects, and nature so inventive and evocative it’s impossible to guess how they achieve what we see in silhouette. (Dancers also perform in front of screens.)
Scale and perspective are manipulated causing characters to bound towards us springing aloft and to morph from mythical to recognizable. An enormous godly arm and hand creates miracles. Our innocent heroine is given the head of a dog behind the screen, yet each time she steps in front, she looks like a girl. We watch her ride a centaur, escape from a boiling cauldron, battle an enormous dragon, jump through hoops at a circus, and fall to the bottom of the sea beside a giant jellyfish, towering seahorse, and small, frisky crabs.
This is the story of a teenager (the extraordinary Heather Jeane Favretto) who, in sleep, passes through a wall in her bedroom to the land of shadows where she takes a journey of self discovery. (Even her bed is made up of people.) Found to be different, she’s mocked at a cafe, adopted as a pet, abandoned, put on display, almost cooked, and, at last, seen for who she is, loved.
Small, medium, and immense screens come forward or recede, lower and rise to show the adventure. Dancers roll behind or move fluidly in front participating in vignettes. Every alignment and dispersion of performers is smooth; every propulsion from here to there a lift, turn, circle, pass, curl, toss. It is, in fact dreamlike. Focus is consummate, hypnotic. The girl herself, when we can see her face, appears puzzled, anxious, frightened, angry, determined, grateful, joyous.
Entering the theater, one sees three garments hanging from upper wings: a wrap dress (her mother’s), jammies (hers), and a shirt and pants (her father’s.) Minimal company costumes (by Liz Prince), what seem to be colored, cotton underwear, change to flimsy white dresses for the women and collective black and red sequins at the circus. These peel on and off easily and affect mood just enough.
Neil Patel is credited with Set Design. This may mean cut-outs used to supplement the bodies as there is no furniture or backdrop.
David Poe’s original music ranges from what sounds like the vocally breathy side of off-center rock, to eerie electronics and melody so illustrative, it integrally collaborates with each scene. Its importance cannot be overstated. Nor can the contribution of storyteller, Steven Banks, head writer for SpongeBob SquarePants whose fertile imagination concocted the allegorical tale. These talents joined with original cast members to devise the extraordinary production.
Shadowland is for adults a children alike. As much theater as dance, it’s theatrical, magical, and thoroughly entertaining. Make sure to stay past the curtain call. A clever encore celebrating New York (and Thanksgiving) tops the evening with whipped cream and a cherry.
Director of Production: Shane Mongar
Dancers: Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Antoine Banks-Sullivan, Krystal Butler, Benjamin Coalter, Heather Jeane Favretto, Jordan Kriston, Derion Loman, Sayer Mansfield, Mike Tyus
NYU Skirball Center 566 LaGuardia Place
Through December 6, 2015