The Waltz of Elementary Particles
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
June 4, 2005
It’s not particularly subtle. The concept—our society’s obsessive drive to find satisfaction from material possessions, electronics, and success—is not particularly original. Anyone who reads the press release can guess the basic subject matter that The Waltz of Elementary Particles covers— a progression from innocent childhood to frantic adulthood and a question of where we go from there.
But, sometimes, it’s all in the execution.
In The Waltz of Elementary Particles, conceived, choreographed, and directed by Jessica Lanius, ten dancers work together to tell a very universal story about how humans get caught up in values (success, money, clothing, technology, etc.) that, when they are not put in proper perspective, take away the pleasure of life. Using movement vocabulary developed as an ensemble and strongly influenced by different theatrical styles, including Viewpoints, the company members have created characters, storylines, text, and dance to explore their theme.
The lights (designed by Michael A. Reese) and sound (designed by John LaSala, who also wrote original music) complement the piece, sometimes increasing or decreasing the tempo of the action. There are also video sequences (directed by Alexander Bruehl and edited by Ben Fraser) with images, such as close-ups of a person’s face or people walking, that add context.
The first section of Waltz seems to be about the calmness and innocence of youth. Dancers emerge from the audience wearing beautiful firefly-lights and flowing costumes (designed by Deirdre Wegner). The performers move in a way that is slow and ethereal. Their movement becomes more playful. They spin and jump and form groups. They create rhythm, synchronize their movements, and seem to be having a grand time. Under Lanius’s direction, they use all parts of the stage and also the balconies on either side.
The second section introduces technology and begins to comment on how people are changed by it. The dancers gather around television screens and move from group to group in blue television light.
From here, the piece progresses to a frantic pace. Actors speak in monologues, creating short scenes addressing particular desires—from success to money to something as simple as a taxi. Related images and video sequences appear on a screen behind the actors. The music builds, becoming louder and faster. The performers repeat each other’s key phrases and movements, which creates an interesting effect of uniting them. The show builds to a climax and crashes down and then ends with a surprising denouement, which I will not reveal.
The danger here is that it sounds rather predictable when you read about it.
What makes this piece extraordinary is the genuine emotional experience it elicits. (I hesitate to say that, because I fear that giving that expectation to audience members may ruin it for them.) Watching the dancers explore the human drive for success, the modern belief in technology, the loss of free time, the constant drive for more, I eventually saw that I was watching myself on stage. I realized the universality of the theme and how this rare show successfully fulfills one of the original purposes of theatre: catharsis.