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Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM
Alexander Kasser Theater,
Montclair State University
October 21–24, 2010
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
Peter Chu and puppet in the first act of Dark Matters. Photo by Dean Buscher, courtesy Peak Performances.
Overwhelmed. Speechless. Awe-struck. That’s how many in the audience reacted to this monumental work. Crystal Pite’s Dark Matters plumbs the depths of the unconscious by giving shape to fears as dark shadowy figures. Sometimes these figures lurk in such dim light that you’re not sure they’re there; other times they manipulate a puppet assembled by the maniacal Peter Chu. Dressed in black, they recall Bunraku handlers but also (as Pite explained in the “Shop Talk” that I moderated before the performance) refer to the concept of “dark matter” in space that inspired her.
The wooden puppet, about waist-high, buckles at the knees, inclines its head tenderly, and springs up with no preparation. A luscious creepiness ensues as affection between puppet and puppet-maker turns to mischief, and mischief turns to menace—with murderous results.
Doubt, a recurring theme in Pite’s work, is highlighted by clever moments. Someone holds up a sign that says, “THIS IS FATE,” which, after a quick flash of light, becomes “THIS IS FAKE.” (Robert Sondergaard was responsible for the magical lighting effects.) Shadows dance together—a quirky, funny, taunting dance that turns them into clowns.
After intermission, the dark figures have morphed into humans, and now the numbers are reversed. Instead of one human (Chu) and five shadows, we have one shadow (Sandra Marin Garcia) and five humans. But the humans echo the puppet’s moves: collapsing knees, disjointed arms, and sudden soarings.
Like William Forsythe’s Three Atmospheric Studies (Pite danced with Forsythe for five years), the group dashes around helping or hindering each other so fast that you almost don’t notice the repeated tableaux: Eric Beauchesne held upside down with his legs sticking straight in the air, or Chu side-kicking another dancer away from him.
Toward the end, the shadow figure activates Jermaine Maurice Spivey into an astounding solo. He billows from within, slides on the side of his ankles, and melts upward. The sheer kinetic excitement of it could make you holler the way people do when Angel Corella whips off umpteen pirouettes or leaps almost to the ceiling. These aren’t jumps and turns, but insanely virtuosic stops and starts. As the bounty of creativity accumulates, one can subliminally start to connect all that is happening. The soundtrack, an ancient voice repeating lines from Voltaire (“This temporary blend of blood and dust / Was put together only to dissolve”) helps place this in a cosmic setting.
The final scene is transcendent, with its message of forgiveness—or is it a love-your-worst-fear message, or some kind of resurrection? The shadow disrobes to reveal herself as a dancer too. She moves like a colt with wobbly legs, or, if you can imagine, a newborn puppet. She performs some kind of rescue on Chu, as she mimes sewing his heart back together. Is this a second chance for his creativity to be a savior rather than a destroyer?
All the elements blended to transport you to another place. Jay Gower Taylor built an old-world atelier; the original music by Owen Belton transformed sounds of cutting and scraping into something both musical and sinister. And the puppet, designed by Robert Lewis and Valerie Moffat, had so much personality that it breathed life into the whole second, dance-y half.
But the dancers of Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM, were the most amazing of all. They embodied the innocence of the puppet (shades of Petrouchka) while expanding our range of movement imagination—thrillingly.