photo credit Lindsay Browning
By Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal
It’s not often one has a chance to go to a performance art event in the park, outside of the Fringe Festival, that is. Thanks to the Public Dance Theater Performances, a show called “Wanderlust” is being presented at Liberty Lands Park in Northern Liberties. While it’s a bit late in the season, making for some brisk evening air, the outdoor night sky adds a degree of romance and piquancy to the ruminations of time and space which form the basis of “Wanderlust.”
“Wanderlust” is more a performance art piece than a presentation of modern dance. It’s a multi-media concoction consisting of choreographed movement, video projections, music and recorded voice-overs. It would have been right at home in the Fringe Festival.
The temporary stage is nestled in one corner of the park, with a couple of modest-sized lights illuminating the stage and a few backdrop pieces on which a succession of images are projected. The audience area is cordoned off by string lights on the ground, with most people nestled in the grass with picnic dinners. A full moon, slightly obscured by thin clouds, cast a pale white light over both the stage and the park, adding a touch of romance to the night shadows. Introductory music, a softly melodic electronic piece reminiscent of early ambient Tangerine Dream, began the performance.
A woman enters the stage, wandering about as if lost and exploring an unfamiliar space. She is soon joined in her wandering by a figure with a big cloud for a head—or is it cotton candy? The voice-overs begin, first a monolog, then a dialog, which basically spell out the themes that the onstage choreography is supposed to be illustrating.
Then there is an abrupt change of pace. The music becomes ore beat-driven, and the onstage performers have assumed different personas engaged in a bit of slapstick business trying to set up a telescope. Since the voice-over dialog was dealing with rudimentary relativity at the time, clearly the telescope buffoonery is meant to illustrate scientists bumbling through the mysteries of the universe.
The short program was co-created by Kathryn Baines, Lindsay Browning and Michael Long, but it seems as if the creators weren’t sure audiences would get their point. The voice-overs—awfully reminiscent stylistically of Laurie Anderson’s mid-80’s stage performances—would have been redundant had the choreography been more developed and communicative. In fact, any two of the show’s main components could comprise a more concise, effective show were they to undergo more development.
If one looks at it as a work in progress, “Wanderlust” shows ample promise. The awe and mystery inspired by time and space, relativity and the origins of the universe, are concepts ripe for artistic rumination. The three creators simply need to strive for a bit more clarity in their choreography, and more poetry in their words.
That’s one reason that Stephen Hawking and the late Carl Sagan are so beloved: they put into words the poetry that the mysteries of the universe inspire in us—feelings of awe and mystery that only a artist (be it poet or dancer or whatever) can adequately communicate. The creators of “Wanderlust” seem to understand this, and they almost got it, but not quite.
Additional performances of “Wanderlust” will be presented on October 21, 22 & 23 at 8 p.m. at Liberty Lands Park, 913 N. 3rd St. in Philadelphia. The program is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets, lawn chairs and picnic dinners.
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