Shadowland, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, Regal Theatre, Subiaco.
Before the show has even begun, the audience is drawn into a surreal world – clothes appearing to float in space, empty fluorescent picture frames suggesting voids to be filled, evocative lights drawing the eyes mysteriously across the stage. The staging hints at the enchantment that is about to happen.
An opening jolt of sound and light pulls the audience into the ‘real’ world of the major character; a young girl desperate to grow up. The floating clothes envelop her and her journey begins. The narrative, albeit loose, follows the young girl’s dream – thus allowing for disjointed and seemingly spontaneous images to come and go from beginning to end. With physical, expressive mastery unique to this company, human bodies create the illusions of buildings, animals, giants then extend beyond the silhouette in front of the screens to further explore the humanity of the story through fluid, dynamic dance movement.
Sometimes the dream exists as a cartoonesque, slapstick comedy; sometimes as a sensitive, emotional narrative; sometimes elements are so exaggerated only an LSD trip would make sense of them. The familiar and the abstract are effectively juxtaposed reminiscent of Dorothy’s fantastic travels through Oz.
Stylistically varied music and soundscapes symbiotically supported the surreal images and helped to contextualise the settings. At times the volume distracted from the experience as did the behind the scenes activity by the performers, however the alluring images quickly reengaged the audience.
The magic created in the world of the shadows exists due to the incredible attention to detail. Gusts of wind, windows opening and shutting in a car ride, facial features right down to the creation of eyelashes allowed the audience to be drawn into the worlds created on the screens. These elements were a humorous celebration of perspective and context.
The impact of the circus didn’t meet the expectation of the fantastic capabilities of this performance style and the skills of the company. What should have provided a different dimension and colour palate within the dream, seemed somewhat underwhelming given the beauty and vibrancy of the surrounding images.
At times the evening felt more like a night at the pictures than a night at the theatre. On numerous occasions the audience didn’t know when or whether to clap and often chatted as though they were watching television. They operated as observers rather than theatrical participants until the encore when the company presented not only the shapes of iconic New York, but also our home of Perth. The audience burst into life at this point. As entertaining as this was, I feel the company should have trusted the sophistication and artistry of their primary story rather than descend into commercialism as an encore. It seemed to diminish the artistic beauty and emotional connection that they had worked so hard to establish.
Pilobolus’ sense of collaboration and ensemble is celebrated in this creative, theatrical event. Precision in all interactions is to be applauded. Trust and strength find sensitivity as the puppet-like manipulation of the lead dancer allows her to float, fly and soar before our eyes. In a world of video games and electronic trickery, the vibrancyof this company is in its capacity to play with our imaginations, allowing us to see so much more than just clever physical adaptations – Pilobolus’ makes us see the joy within us all.
Photo Credits: John Kane & Emmanuel Donny
Reviewed by Trudy Dunn