Symphony of Shadows: A Tale From the Land Beyond the Veil
nytheatre.com review by Keelie A. Sheridan
June 9, 2012
A night’s sleep provides little rest when one’s dreams are infiltrated by centipedes, scorpions, demons, rodents and sea monsters, orchestrated by the Sandman himself. Rachel Klein’s Symphony of Shadows: A Tale from the Land Beyond the Veil examines the collision of subconscious fantasy worlds and the pedantic tedium of real life. The Sleeper is provoked and engaged nightly by an ever-changing cast of entities, only to wake up and find the world much the same as she left it. The more scintillating and grotesque the night visions become, the more unbearable the ignorant waking-world becomes for The Sleeper, whose routine includes getting dressed, going to work, and visiting The Doctor. A combination of dance, burlesque, aerial and circus arts creates both the waking and sleeping worlds in an episodic series that immerse the audience in the limitless depths of the resting mind before plucking them abruptly back into the rigid, formulaic and organized world we construct and imprison ourselves in.
Sean Hagerty’s simple, haunting and subtle score is executed beautifully by a string trio comprising himself on violin, Elise Frawley on viola and Anan Callner (select performances) on cello. Occasional accompaniment by The Sandman (Michael Porsche) on the piano and a violin solo by The Sleeper (Elizabeth Stewart) coalesces in an enveloping soundscape that guides the audience through a simultaneously foreign and familiar cycle of events. The large ensemble, comprised of performers from multiple existing ensembles (including the House of Yes, Martha Graham Company II, Alvin Ailey, the Love Show, Desert Sin Dance Company and Bro Circus) melds into an impressive performing unit and as a whole, demonstrates a superb level of technical proficiency; particularly strong standouts included partnering and contortion. The choreography is exciting and vivid, if at times a bit overwhelming and distracting. I found the larger-group pieces difficult to take in—there were so many contrasting components that it became difficult to appreciate and follow the movement of the piece. The individual episodes are diverse and stimulating, though there is not a clear build, progression or escalation, which hints more toward a variety show or cabaret of acts loosely linked by a theme than a series of interrelated occurrences that carry the audience on a journey.
At times, silent-film-style performances felt too big for the intimate Dixon Place stage. Stylistically, this concept served the piece but in practice, it became distracting and felt slightly contrived, given the proximity to the audience and the intimacy of the small, bare stage. The ushers will advise you to sit higher for a better view—I would argue that more important than height is orientation. Sitting in the side aisle that flanks stage left on the second level, I was left with the distinct impression that this piece was not choreographed for a thrust stage—most of the group floorwork and formations were lost visually to side-seated audience members as everything was delivered and choreographed to play out to centerstage.
Though the story frequently seems secondary to the spectacle, Symphony of Shadows unites a talented troupe with exhilarating choreography, outlandish costumes and stirring music, making this an enjoyable evening of disorienting, quirky and curious movement exploration.