Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fire Throws

Photo/Richard Finkelstein

In 2007, Rachel Dickstein said, of her company Ripe Time’s dance-theater adaptations (Betrothed and Innocents), that she wanted to tell the story in a “more total way.” Fine, but the lesson learned by this otherwise excellent revisionist Antigone story, Fire Throws, is that sometimes less is more.

Dickstein starts on the right foot: the haunting image of a girl in a long, flowing red dress, repeating slow, yogic movements. Behind her, in the shadows, is her mirror image. The two move as one to the sound of breathing and the hum of meditation; projected words veil them both in a sense of inevitability. “Underground” hints at the trapezoidal green that limns the first girl; “ambition” reverberates in the red cloth and the second girl’s poise. These are two Antigones—the 2,400-year-old figurative legend “Who Is” (Erica Berg) and the actual girl—the stubborn, short-sighted martyr—“Who Was” (Laura Butler). This one device brings new insight—hindsight is always 20/20—to a very old plot while also enhancing the tragedy.

The play continues swift-footedly, too: whether it’s the influence of Baris Tunggal warrior movement or not, the image of blood-red silk slashing smoothly through the air is effective. It’s also an intriguing balance for the actions of King Creon (John Campion), who sentences Antigone to death for burying her brother in defiance of him. Just as the dancers move percussively but still trail fluid lines behind them, Creon’s fluid attempts to quell anarchy are what end up causing his lovesick son Haemon (Jorge Rubio) to die, and his wife, Eurydice (Paula McGonagle), to commit suicide. Autumn leaves move like scythes around these doomed characters; silk tethers wrap around their arms and bind them, only to slacken and lead to their collapse.

The one element that isn’t working is the unaffecting videography. Maya Ciarrocchi’s work is fine, but it doesn’t compliment or enhance what’s already there. Sure, twin projections—zoomed in on Creon’s mouth—can show us how the words of law imprison Antigone long before she is actually entombed. But they also distract from what’s present on the stage: Campion, releasing himself to anger so that he can throttle back his tears. The dancers provide enough visual stimulation already—it’s somewhat telling that the best moments (a gymnastic rope suspension, a sly defense of Antigone by Haemon) do without these secondary images.

Dickstein must know this—after all, her writing, choreography, and directing speaks to the economy of theater. If presence is not the point, why bother introducing a second Antigone? If immediacy is overvalued, why bother to perform Jewlia Eisenberg’s music live? This isn’t saying that the shadows that the fire throws on the wall behind her aren’t a cool effect—it’s just a note that Fire Throws can be more than just an effect.

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