Puzzling and Provocative, JUNK builds a world of chaotic beauty in Skein of Heart

by Winfield Maben

On Thursday, September 6th, Bryan Sanders’ JUNK premiered Skein of Heart for the 2019 Fringe Festival. Part maze and part immersive performance, Sanders’ latest provides attendees with an unforgettable journey into a twisted maze of steel and flesh in which performers move from place to place via acrobatic feats and the line between audience and performer becomes exhilarating and blurred.

At the door, guests are given hardhats to be worn as they explore the space (they are also offered flashlights, however, these were optional). They are then ushered into the labyrinth proper and given free rein to explore the “Skein of Heart” at their own pace. The space is disorienting as smoke fills the air, colored lights and strobes change one’s perspective, and fellow attendees close in around each other, searching for the correct path through the chaos. This is by no means a bad thing; on the contrary, it better serves to immerse the audience in the work by crafting a chaotic, beautiful world for them to temporarily inhabit. Often with immersive performances guiding audience members to the appropriate spot for each “featured” moment becomes an issue, however, Sanders skirts this through the use of a voice-over which gently nudges the crowd from place to place as well as through the construction of the labyrinth itself. The “walls” are built from metal piping and as a result, any featured moments can be seen from anywhere in the space with minimal obstruction even if one manages to become lost in the labyrinth.

The featured moments themselves bore JUNK’s trademark tenacity, creativity, and raw athletic prowess; utilizing a myriad of apparati as well as the geography of the labyrinth in tandem with a heavy emphasis on partnering to create a series of vignettes which were truly mesmerizing. As each moment passes, a narrative begins to emerge; one that’s implicit rather than explicit. Each performance grants the audience a brief glimpse into an extended moment in time and afterward, they’re left to draw their own conclusions about what they’ve just witnessed. This is fitting as the theme of the performance seems to tie into exploration and introspection. Much like the maze they find themselves wandering, the movement provides a puzzle to be unpacked and understood.

One fascinating aspect of the night’s performance was the arc the audience took alongside the performers. Upon entering the space the group was timid, moving largely as one large herd and staying within the confines of the walls suggested by the metal piping. However, as the performance continued, audience members grew more bold, venturing further into the labyrinth, discovering fun new oddities, and even breaking the rules of the maze itself by ducking under the pipes which blocked their path. Whether intended or not, I feel this is a thematic fit and ties in neatly with the themes of captivity versus freedom suggested by the chains which adorned the space as well as the cage-like structure of the labyrinth itself.

Immersive, thought provoking, surreal, and tenacious; JUNK’s Fringe offering is worth the price of admission. Skein of Heart takes the audience on a journey by immersing them in the puzzle of its narrative, asking them to contemplate their surroundings as well as the movement presented before them. From the claustrophobia and confusion of the initial immersion to the breathtaking final moments, JUNK’s performance provides an unforgettable experience to attendees of this year’s Fringe Festival.

About Winfield Maben

Winfield Maben is a Philadelphia based writer and dancer and an aspiring member of the greater Philadelphia area dance community. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a BA in Dance & English and has previously conducted several features for the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange. He has worked with several established choreographers including Tiffany Mills, Sharon Vazanna, and Trinette Singleton and has performed in a variety of unique locations including Triskelion Arts (Brooklyn, NY), ArtisTree (Pomfret, VT), and the Brooklyn Bridge. Winfield aims to explore the art of dance through the multidisciplinary approach that was emphasized in his education, not only examining the physicality of a given work but also the intentionality and cultural impact of the work as a whole.

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