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Dispatches from the new world

by: Diane Windeler – June 10, 2016
Originally Published by Incident Light

Photo by Siggi Ragnar

There is no question that our world has undergone dramatic changes since the horrifying events of Sept. 11, 2001. Adults are finding ways to adapt, but what of children born after that date? How are their lives different from those of their parents?

Trinity University professor and AtticRep artistic director Roberto Prestigiacomo pondered that question several years ago as he watched his young daughter, Sofia, at play, and was inspired to create a theatrical
piece called 8. Six years later, he has revised and expanded it to 14, reflecting how a post-9/11 teenager achieves happiness while facing today’s challenges and technological advances.

Its premiere in the Tobin Center’s Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre revealed a briskly paced series of multidisciplinary vignettes featuring contemporary and aerial dance against a range of fascinating videos and interplay with light, accompanied by particularly apropos recorded music. Directed by Mr. Prestigiacomo, the production is a collaboration with Aerial Horizons as choreographed by Julia Langenberg; AtticRepDances, choreographed by Seme Jatib; and multimedia Aesop Studio (based near Rome, Italy), whose founder, Stefano Di Buduo, designed the virtual set. Movement choreographer is Mireya Guerra.

In his brief pre-curtain remarks, Mr. Prestigiacomo noted that all parents want to protect their children, but now, more than ever, is the realization that today’s choices – by parents or children – will impact youngsters for the rest of their lives.

From the outset, theatergoers saw that this would be a unique, brilliantly drawn experience: A troupe of “movers” in khakis and white shirts marched in with armloads of books which they stacked on the floor. The stacks grew to varying heights, then two of the dancers made paper airplanes which they crumpled and placed atop two of the piles. Suddenly, the stage was in semi-darkness with rows of lights illuminating the stacks like “windows,” which began to topple and fall down.

That was the prologue; thereafter came 18 so-called “Segments” in rapid succession. Soon we meet 14 year-old Maia – fluently danced by Corie Altaffer, whose air of childish wonder is completely believable – in a solo backed by a projection of a huge tree, clouds and birds. The image morphs into a child’s chalkboard drawing in progress. That’s just the beginning of the magic the Italian digital video company lends to the project. Here, Brett Dennen’s “Love will Set me Free” was the ideal song choice.

In a dream sequence, Maia watches a beautifully choreographed, near-flawlessly executed aerial dance by Julia Langenberg, Jenny B. Franckowiak and Elise Thea Sipos, that represents her life’s potential. If she accepts, which she does.

A minimalist, repetitive musical score forms the undercurrent for a vignette danced with chairs, representing a schoolroom where Maia tries to conform, but is mostly out of synch with her rude classmates. The video projection here is an upward scrolling blackboard filled with mathematical equations.

Another intriguing segment is titled “The Gas Mask,” in which Georgette Lockwood reads from Dr. Seuss while images of dozens of post 9/11 changes flash on the screen: Facebook, a jammed-up email inbox, world conflicts, and the like. Eventually, she dons a gas mask. No explanation needed.

A later sequence finds Maia on a ladder, peering through a small telescope as dancers with helium-filled mylar balloons surround her. The videos are of life forms, everything from one-celled organisms to a pod of blue whales. The music is Everlast singing Santana’s “Put your Lights On (There’s a Monster under my Bed).”

Maia joins the character called the Herald (Elise Thea Sipos) for a lilting dance on a double lyra (aerial hoop) – a vertical one affixed to a horizontal one – that was not suspended but remained on the floor. The persuasive choreography showed Maia’s emotional growth and maturity. The video was smoky and the perfect music was gravel-voiced Tom Waits playing piano and croaking his bizarre waltz “You’re Innocent When you Dream.”

The finale is a celebratory Slip and Slide created by the earthbound dancers and Maia, who begin by bringing crates full of water onstage, bob for apples in them, shift to splashing and spitting water, then they dump the whole shebang on themselves and the plastic lined floor to have a joyous, totally drenched free-for-all.

The show has so much to see, hear and absorb that there is danger of sensory overload – in the most positive way. A great deal of exciting, beguiling material is explored in just 90 uninterrupted minutes.


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