Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s Explosive Premiere

photo credit Nichole Canuso

by Scott Romani for The Dance Journal

Pandaemonium is an emotional junkyard of vintage-movie nostalgia mixed with Midwestern-American isolation and contemporary dance, where the moving artists successfully intersect perspectives and manipulate memory.

The click of a beer can starts the show—a small clack noise that manages to fill the Fringe Arts theater, packed almost to the ceiling with an eager audience, drinks in their own hands. There’s laughter and the artists, relaxed on beach loungers, look like they belong in a sad vacation film.

The scene begins before the lights go down though, with a massive drive-in movie screen that plays footage of destruction on a loop, domestic debris flying in slow motion as you find your seat. Just underneath, the yellow paint of parking-lot lines and mannequins dressed for a summer day pique your interest; snapshots of a desolate landscape hang from the ceiling and enclose the stage, taking you far away from Philadelphia and the Delaware River outside.

Then a globe in the upstage corner slowly turns around to reveal a man playing a guitar inside, like a troubadour-turned-villian. And the fun begins.

Picture it: The dancers (and co-creators)—Nichole Canuso and Geoff Sobelle —are drunk on jazz music (or maybe the bottle they take swigs from) as the horns and the movement liven up. On stage it appears as though there are two solos, each at a separate table in their own corners, but on the screen, they are at the same table. It’s a duet. A live projection allows them to be together when they are apart, apart when they are together, playing with isolation and memory, a vast minefield of precious moments for the audience’s attention.

Some people begin to laugh when the mannequins fall apart, carried across the stage. There is also a deep sadness as they crumble, Canuso and Geoff desperately trying to hold on to the pieces, molding them to fit against their own bodies, three legs fanning across the horizon. Which one is real? When do you let go?

But you know it’s time to laugh when the performers manipulate the lights and cameras to create a campy movie scene with lip syncing and tears. All the while Xander Duell (who also composed original music for Pandaemonium) performs a stripped down version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” His voice haunts as he sings, “on and on and on and on,” until you don’t recognize the song anymore and Canuso throws herself into a whirlwind of a solo.

Another highlight of the performance is the final duet and only moment of the show in total silence. You can hear the sound of the dancers’ feet as they finish soaring or balancing or their skin as they slide across the wooden table, an athletic carousel of contact where there is always movement and never a misplaced turn or gesture. On the screen: white.

Pandaemonium dances with humor and melancholy, mannequin parts and original music, but the true triumph is the technology. Canuso and Geoff use every angle of their bodies and cameras to tell a familiar American narrative in a unique way. On stage they watch a movie of watching a movie of watching a movie. Even their shadows are watching. Will you?

Pandaemonium runs September 14 – 18, 2016 at Fringe Arts in Philadelphia.

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