Shadowland is an amazing combination of dance, shadow and theatre created by dance troupe Pilobolus. Pilobolus is known for their collaborative approach that combines skills from a range of creative disciplines, ignoring ‘the rules’. Shadowland has been immensely successful worldwide, touring Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South America, and of course, Australia.
Shadowland, as a performance, is reminiscent of a shadow puppet theatre, but primarily uses the human body instead of puppets (although some props are used) to tell a story. The costumes, accessories, props, lighting and screens they will use to create the illusion are scattered around the stage as the audience arrives, with some costumes suspended above the stage. The audience is first introduced to the grace and control that the dancers will bring to the performance, when the first ‘characters’ are created by dancers being inserted into their costumes in the midst of a dance. The motion is remarkably smooth and languid – dancers are effortlessly lifted into space and deposited into skirts, and tops – literally thrown into trousers. It sounds like it would be messy or jagged, but it was smooth and seamless, and despite the strength needed, was made to look effortless. The unique form of movement used for this effect was repeated on several occasions – to suggest floating away on a dream, drifting underwater – and despite the truly impressive nature of the illusions created with shadows, it was that dance, the effortless floating through space, that had me mesmerised every time. Despite being able to see the dancer being held and raised high, stepping on raised hands and shoulders, the impressive muscular control that kept the central female dancer fluid and suspended as if in mid-air, maintained the illusion. It was beautiful to watch.
Using screens of various sizes, from a full stage scrim to small hand held pieces, and an array of lighting, the troupe created a fantasy world, bringing the dreams and nightmares of a young girl to life in vivid and sometimes heart wrenching fashion. The lighting and screens were used cleverly to create not only a world of shadows, but to play with proportion and space in creative and effective ways. Scenes were sometimes set with handheld sets and props to add detail, but most structures, creatures and objects were created from the bodies of the dancers, alone and in combination. Scenes of a peaceful dreamlike nature, through surreal landscapes, to tales of fear and tragedy were all created with light, the human body and a minimal amount of props. The use of costumes was minimal… for much of the show, most of the dancers wore form fitting smooth underwear, so as not to inhibit movement or impact their silhouette … Costumes were only required for a few scenes performed in front of the screen – the simple clothing of the family unit in the opening scene, and the more elaborate circus performers near the end of the show. While those costumes suited the scenes well, the nature of the majority of the performance – using shadows, meant that costumes were unnecessary, and in fact would be a hindrance. Accessories like distinctive shaped hats, however, were used frequently to create a character.
Despite the performance being dance based, the accompaniment was most often sound effects, rather than music. While the music was overly loud in parts, the sound effects effectively helped add meaning to the scene. My personal interpretation was that sounds the sleeping child heard triggered various scenes in her dreams – howling wolves, chirping crickets, her jewellery box. However one may have interpreted the various sections of the performance, they were immersive. Capturing the audiences undivided attention, and demanding an emotional response. The only jarring aspect in relation to this, was the choice of encore. After the main story was brought to a conclusion, and the cast performed their bows, a much more light-hearted, up beat performance occurred. The central character was recreated, but the nature of the story was entirely different. I found the main body of the show quite emotional, so I found the encore discordant. There was no doubt, however, that the audience loved it, clapping along enthusiastically. And the show most definitely ended on a more positive note than it would have without the encore.
The pure talent and creativity evidenced through the creation and execution of Shadowland was impressive. If you have the opportunity to see it, don’t hesitate – you will not be disappointed!