Going to the Boston Ballet's production of “The Nutcracker” is a time honored tradition in some circles. They have run dates from Black Friday, Nov. 27 through New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 2015. Their remarkable location, glittering wardrobe budget, and timeless story bring the crowds back every year. However, there is something endearing about smaller dance shows. We went to “Spektrel” put on by the Luminarium Dance Company at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge last month.
The theater there was small with only five rows of seating for the audience, but this intimate space made the interactions with dancers that much more accessible. The surroundings were mostly sea foam green and white. There were tall barn doors in the upstairs balcony area that hid the windows that provide great lighting when they host weddings at this venue. Our favorite detail about that interior is the ceiling. The giant medallion centerpiece looks like the oxidized green and gold color that one might purposely create when experimenting with jewelry. You can take a virtual tour to see it for yourself.
For this dance performance, there was an off-white patchwork curtain for a unique projection screen. The first act entitled “Re| Connect” by Merli V. Guerra starts with a young woman (Gabby Pacheco) being nagged by four girls about a list of tasks that she should be doing. She reacts by crawling on the ground, stylistically. The narrated voice keeps this comical and relatable. She frets about her finances, dating, and errands. When a young girl (Raeden Veino) starts talking to her from the screen, she thinks she might be going crazy. She realizes this is her inner child reminding her of the simple things. Rather than focusing on the proper way of “adulting,” she should just dance. As she finishes her dance, the nagging girls form a pyramid of sorts and the woman sits on them, metaphorically on top of her issues.
The next section was choreographed by Kimberleigh A. Holman. “Rabbit Hole Cycles” has performers crawling on the floor again. The music and background noise is like a soundtrack from a street festival or a carnival. The women go up to the lighting equipment and soak up the spotlight, one by one, with animalistic curiosity. They follow that with a game of shadow play. The projection screen is used to mirror the dancing you see on stage with silhouettes dancing behind the curtain. The music turns towards tribal drumming and the imagery follows suit. The group behind the curtain taunts the outsider to come join their revelry. The projection screen is pulled down during the chase and they tumble her away with it. A single light is left swinging where the curtain used to stand. The light tumbles around them as they dance and play catch with it until the light feels more like a pendulum and mesmerizes the audience.
After the intermission, Holman's second work is performed. “Getting There is Half the Battle” is dedicated to the digital generation. The youth are distracted by technology like smartphones, iPads, and other diversions like books. All of the objects were red. In an interview with The Arts Fuse, Holman explains “in the first movement of my piece, 'Getting There is Half the Battle,' the dancers are strapped together with an elastic band to demonstrate the idea that you can’t control how life gets in the way. In the second movement, they use the fugue structure [the dance is set to music by J.S. Bach] to play a sort of Baroque chutes-and-ladders with one another… The third movement focuses on distraction, especially that of contemporary culture. Let’s just say there may or may not be some selfies taken onstage when the performers should be dancing.”
All of these pieces are conceptual and fun, but they saved the most dramatic and high brow work for last. Guerra's “Phoenixial Cycle” features Chun-jou Tsai standing larger than life in 40 yards of black satin that serve as a mighty dress while she is held up by Matt Kyle, hidden by all the fabric. As she tires from her daily struggle, she is gently laid down for rest and her surrounding cloth is more like a blanket on the ground. After the luxury of having a moment to herself, she is persuaded to get out of bed. Three additional dancers join her on stage to celebrate her potential. Aided by her cast, she mimics a dragon dance you might recognize if you've been to a parade with one. They throw her around like a rag doll at times, which visibly exhausts her. They even use the black silk like a parachute. (Think parachute day in Kindergarten.) As she dances in a clipped skirt version of the black silk, it releases the hidden underside of fiery rainbow color. She becomes the Phoenix and feathers fall from the rafters onto the stage area. After the series of spectacles, she returns to the beginning stance with heavy breathing and thus the cycle repeats.
Guerra and Holman immersed our senses throughout “Spektrel” with intentional light play, visual dance movements, silk that you could almost feel, and sounds for our auditory perception. Their next performance will be a retrospective of their five years worth of dance repertoire. “Filament” will be at OBERON (American Repertory Theater) in Harvard Square, Cambridge on Dec. 17, 2015 at 7:30 P.M. Information and tickets can be found at luminariumdance.org.