Review: “Out of Chaos” defies Gravity 

Opening with one performer describing the bit of Cheeto stuck in her teeth, “Out of Chaos” – the latest piece from the Australian circus company Gravity & Other Myths – is far from anything many have seen. “Out of Chaos” lives up to its name as a piece of art that intricately comes together out of seemingly disjointed segments.

The show’s eight performers set the stage with the first of many cacophonies of layered sound, each coming onstage and talking about their experiences, what they would be doing and even their favorite Taylor Swift songs to form an impenetrable wall of noise. In just one moment, it all ended. And out of this chaos, the performance was born.

For something so clearly carefully choreographed, “Out of Chaos” feels more akin to a group of friends simply having fun onstage than it does a staged performance. In its own way, this somehow adds to the vulnerability of the piece, as if each performer has thrown aside the mask they would usually wear in order to be onstage as themselves, not any character.

On a carefully lit stage, acrobats showed dazzling feats over and over, variations on a theme to create a final product that is both entirely new and complete in its own right. Going from simply being lifted onto each other’s shoulders to twisting their way up, each repeated move builds upon the last and uncoils to become something new.

“Out of Chaos” developed an easily recognizable visual style with its decidedly non-static lighting from designers Geoff Cobham and Max Mackenzie. It is frequently moved by the performers. As each member took turns in the air on one another’s shoulders, backs or even stomachs, every almost superhuman move retained a unique stylistic approach, with the contortions playing out into one another as cascading layers of looped recordings did the same.

Even the smallest mistakes become larger than themselves. When one member, Dylan Phillips, slipped and tumbled his way down, everyone was ready to catch him – something that he would later share onstage as being his favorite part of acrobatics. 

Far from soiling any part of the experience, the humanity that Phillips showed in this moment was something palpable, a piece of himself that he added to the performance. In a world where performers are largely taught to simply move on, this return to it was inseparable from the fall itself, a coda to show the vulnerability of both the moment and the performer.

Even before it forms a whole, there’s beauty in the chaos. Few performances can have each individual piece stand on its own, and even fewer are capable of doing so while allowing each individual to show their personality and thoughts. Maybe letting all that out onstage makes them lighter somehow, and the heights they reach become easier as all of those anchoring emotions are let go. Maybe every performance could borrow a cue from “Out of Chaos.” – C.M. McCambridge

IF YOU PLAN TO GO: Performances are June 8 at 7:30 p.m., June 9 at 8 p.m., June 10 at 3 p.m., June 10 at 6 p.m. and June 11 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $53 to $100.

Review: “Octave” is a fun, operatic variety show

Picture two kids putting on a show for their relatives after a Christmas dinner. Now give those over-caffeinated kids a limitless costume budget and swap Bing Crosby on the holiday playlist for Baroque opera and Britpop. That’s a sense of the pure, authentic love of performing that bursts from every spangled seam of Anthony Roth Costanzo’s and Justin “Vivian” Bond’s beguiling “Only An Octave Apart.”

Constanzo is a world-renowned opera performer and Spoleto (or Stiletto as Bond calls it) veteran with an impressive countertenor range that The New York Times has thrice described as “penetrating.” Bond is a seasoned cabaret artist with a husky voice who spends equal amounts of time singing and initiating witty banter with Constanzo:

Bond mentions the “furry leaves” song and Costanzo clarifies “Für Elise?”

“I don’t know who it’s Für,” said Bond.

In the spirit of another “odd couple,” their first song of the night was their namesake and inspiration for their album — “Only an Octave Apart,” originally performed by Metropolitan Opera singer Beverly Sills and comedian Carol Burnett.

True to Bond’s motto, “keep it pretty, keep it shallow, keep it moving,” the duo had plenty of silly, light numbers like lip synching to each other’s voices, a la “Singing in the Rain.” Or pretending to be at a gay, drug-fueled disco club while singing Stars by Sylvester. While Bond claims to not be one for sincerity, there were moments that the veil of humor fell (as well as a literal veil, courtesy of the masterful set designer Carlos Soto) and the duo’s more vulnerable side emerged.

“It’s seen as better off to shoot your trans children than to love them,” Bond, who is transgender and nonbinary, said about South Carolina seeking to ban gender-affirming care.

Had “Only an Octave Apart” existed in another time, they likely could have had a Sonny and Cher-style variety show, although Bond would have to tone down the language and limit the sexual innuendos. But, no, their show exists at the exact right time as a humorous conduit for exploring identity and redefining what it means to be “normal.”

During one especially poignant number, a medley of an aria from the ​1762 opera “Orfeo ed Euridice” and “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel, the two gifted performers’ coordinating dresses still sparkled through the dim lights. Costanzo rested his head on Bond’s shoulder. It fit perfectly. – Joyelle Ronan.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:  June 8 to June 11. Various times at Dock Street Theatre. Tickets range from $33 to $103. 

Review: Loves conquers all in “UnShakeable”

The passionate new opera “UnShakeable” shows how far a man will go to get back someone he lost.  

In the wake of an erasure pandemic that has caused many people to lose their memories, Wyatt (Jonathan Bryan) has gone to look for his actor wife, Meridian (Grace Kahl), in an abandoned theater where she took shelter after catching the virus.

Meridian has no idea who Wyatt is, and because of this, Wyatt spends the entire opera serenading Meridian in an attempt to win her back. At times their flirty banter can become awkward because of Meridian’s memory loss and her confusion at being pursued by a seemingly aggressive stranger claiming to be her husband.

But Wyatt attempts to rebuild their relationship, wearing his heart on his sleeve and wishing upon the heavens and stars to get his wife back. 

Composer Joseph Illick and librettist Andrea Fellows Fineberg introduce allusions to William Shakespeare and especially “Hamlet” throughout “UnShakeable.” Wyatt repeatedly sings, “doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love,” to Meridian, who vaguely remembers the passage. Jogging Meridian’s memory requires some help from the audience, which acts as Wyatt’s “wishing star chorus” and accompanies him in singing Shakespeare’s words. (Things didn’t work out so well for Ophelia, the object of that verse, but Meridian presumably wouldn’t remember that.)

Their voices combine together epically, proving their passion for each other even before Meridian truly knows who Wyatt is. However, audiences should be prepared for a powerhouse performance. Due to the Threshold Repertory Theater’s small size, their singing sometimes overpowers the six-piece orchestra, which only sits a few steps away from the audience and the stage.

Bryan’s confident character bleeds into his acting and singing. And Kahl’s ability to show her conflicting feelings on her face and through her voice also encapsulates the confusion, longing, melancholy and hope at the heart of “UnShakeable.” – Timia Cobb.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO:   Shows are June 9 at 7 p.m. and June 10 at both 2 and 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $30. Location: Threshold Repertory Theater, 84½ Society St.

C.M. McCambridge, Joyelle Ronan and Timia Cobb are arts journalism graduate students at Syracuse University.

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