SHADOWLAND (Pilobolus Dance Theater): A dynamic journey

Photo credit: Ian Douglas
Photo credit: Ian Douglas

As the audience enters, three outfits are suspended from the stage, illuminated by soft spotlights. This serves to introduce thematic costumes, while simultaneously setting a standard for what will become an important movement quality—that of suspension.

Through remarkably seamless partnering, the dancers soon embody the same task accomplished by the thin piece of wire holding a girl’s satin pajamas from the ceiling. The show’s featured dancer is carried through transition after transition with the weightlessness of a leaf floating down a slow current. With time it is easy to forget that she is manipulated by the strength of other dancers, not swimming through this dream world with quiet ease.

SHADOWLAND is a full-length work by Pilobolus Dance Theater. The story begins in the bedroom of a girl, played by adult dancer Heather Jeane Favretto, whose childlike mannerisms are easily believable. Upon falling asleep on a bed of humans, the girl’s shadow is introduced on a small projection screen directly behind her. Once the girl becomes aware of this screen, she engages in a dance with her shadow, who prominently beckons the girl to join her in this two-dimensional world.

The girl is timid but eventually makes contact with the shadow, and as the screen is rotated in a climatic swirl, the circle of the projection becomes smaller and smaller until it is a mere spot on the screen. It is a dramatized message to the audience that this girl is being pulled into an alternate reality and an introduction to the portrayal of this world’s entrances and exits. The zooming in and out of the spotlight creates a cinematic feel that draws the audience in, and we can take pleasure in the visual experience of this transitional ride.

Though shadows through the use of projection are the main theatrical element to the piece, this tool is presented in several innovative ways so that the animated use of the dancers does not feel distant and boring behind a singular screen. Each shadow is incredibly precise. Very rarely is so much as a pinky finger out of line. It is also significant to note that though each shape is achieved to its full integrity, these figures are not static. Almost every shape contains its own movement outside of the coming into and out of it, and this dynamic makes the ability to achieve such representations even more impressive.

In light of this exactness, it is surprising that much of the projection’s backstage area remains visible to the audience. This effect, however, appears to be less of a distraction from the glamour of the illusion and more of a reminder that this is, in fact, live.

The playful New-York sightseeing portion following the conclusion of the narrative seems to flaunt the allure of the shadows more than fit into the entirety of the work.

As a whole, this is an intricate show with a captivating journey that is maintained with ease through each scene. You leave the performance with a sense of accomplishment, similar to that enjoyed by a seasoned traveler.

[Annenberg Center Live, 3680 Walnut Street] April 6-8, 2017;

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