Seattle-based dance company zoe | juniper received a lukewarm reception from a Charleston audience at the Memminger Auditorium on opening night. A Crack in Everything may have been just a bit too contemporary for some Spoleto-goers who rushed out of their seats before the bows. Perhaps the audience was thrown by the inside-out version of reality and the moments in between that choreographer Zoe Scofield paired with the effects of visual artist/husband, Juniper Shuey. From a reviewer’s standpoint, however, it was 80 minutes of tantalizing and creative visual genius, with enough ballet-based modern choreography to keep me captivated.
The company sums it up best when they explain on their website that they are driven by the idea of “mythologizing the experience of our senses.” You definitely get the Greek vibe from the costumes, music, and drama. Expecting just that from this performance would have left any viewer 100 percent satisfied with Crack’s sensory overload (no pun intended). But then there’s this business of interpretation, leaving many viewers and even this reviewer feeling uneasy and frustrated at times. What did it all mean?
A Crack in Everything has many themes coexisting at once, which is both thrilling and exhausting. The moments it seemed to be the most enjoyable were when I completely let preconceived notions fall away and experienced what Scofield and Shuey laid out for their viewers, an otherworldly environment where time and space sort of fall into and around each other and everything in between is examined. The before comes after and the in-between is featured center stage in slow motion at varying tempos. Cannons abound, keeping the timing of everything relevant. Even if there is no distinct storyline, the sense of warped time and cause and effect really does translate if you allow. Everything you know about cause and effect is upside down by the end. It’s like that scene in Alice in Wonderland set to a dramatic soundtrack of classical opera, drums, and the like.
The visual effects, lighting, and sound are 50 percent of the fun. If you’re not letting those overwhelm your senses, then you are not appreciating Crack. There is a filmy, nearly opaque screen that divides the stage in half horizontally for the first few pieces. The screen really does convey a sense of before and after to the viewer. While one female dancer takes her time slithering across the stage, agilely tracing her shadow’s outline with red marker on this screen, another dancer moves beautifully behind it. Interestingly, throughout the show and in this number, dancers are rarely doing the same exact movement in the same sequence at the same time, yet with their identical black-and-gold tunics and gold leaf facemasks, they appear as the same person in different spaces in time, even when they have a costume change into flesh-toned body suits with traces of gold. Meanwhile, the projection of various arrangements of dancers in motion onto the back curtain is intoxicating while one is taking in this expression of space and time with marker girl before (or is it after?) and beautiful behind-screen girl moving to her own internal rhythm. The behind-screen ballerina, crowned in ethereal light, is carried off by her partner, swallowed up by the fading darkness. I couldn’t help feeling as though Shuey had magically captured the imagery of someone being swallowed by the sea at that moment. All this happens as the music crescendos and the lights flash blindingly bright and the house goes dark. Like I said, dramatic, but tasteful.
During the most symbolic section of the first act, a girl emerges from the wings, a long red string extends tautly from her relaxed jaw and leads somewhere offstage. While she explores her surroundings in a bird-like way she obliviously taunts her audience all the while keeping command of that ambiguous string, loaded with meaning we will never understand.
Some of the more understated pieces in Crack showcase the skill of its female dancers. No range of motion is an impossibility for these athletes, and every movement they make appears as if they have created it there on the spot and you have never seen it before in your life. It’s elegant and improvisational at the same time.
Did I mention a couple of them get naked? No? Well, that’s another theme altogether that you’ll have to experience and interpret for yourself. That could have been a tipping point for the audience as a male and female barked at each other like feral dogs, hinting at something sexual not quite definable.
Back to that string. It is a recurring symbol that comes full circle in the last act when red strings hang vertically from the back white curtain and that same girl creeps back onto a shellacked white stage. Another female enters the stage the same way from the opposite side. The juxtaposition of this second girl feels very symbolic. The two string dancers might symbolize the same girl minutes/hours/years later, the string acting as her life line. Is it her story? Is it her reflection? Did we just witness the circle of her life? I have no idea, and my opinion is bound to differ from yours, but you must admit, it makes for one thought-provoking and visually arresting Spoleto performance.