Pilobolus’ “Shadowland” Review

It’s incredible, what the human body and mind are capable of doing. The only difference between the mind and the body is that we usually have more control over what the former latter, no matter how great-or terrible-the outcome may be. Pilobolus’ Shadowland demonstrated this beautifully on Saturday night through a spellbinding display of choreography, silhouettes, music, and lights that swept the audience off their feet along with the performers to places unimaginable and captivating.

Now, this is the first time I attend a full Pilobolus performance but I’d imagine that each show has a different theme. Saturday’s theme was that of dreams-and just how random and messed up they can get (my inner neuroscientist is screaming, “Hobson-McCarley’s Activation-Synthesis Model!”). The story’s protagonist is a young girl who dozes off on a lazy afternoon and wakes up in Shadowland, a bizarre and wonderful place where anything can happen; quite literally the stuff of dreams. Unfortunately for heroine (and everyone else in general), the majority of dreams are in fact nightmares, and Shadowland wastes no time in tumbling down the rabbit h-erm, spiral. A mysterious figure in the form a giant hand transforms her into a dog-human hybrid (Hunin? Cuman?), and what follows is a surrealistic trip that involves a motley plethora of characters and themes, including a centaur, a wicked circus ringmaster and her menagerie of freaks, a body-less head, and more dog-headed chimeras. At the end of it all, after a series of maddening nightmares, our heroine awakens to find that Shadowland was purely a figment of her imagination , and all is well.

The main story featured thematic and visual elements of other well-known stories, namely Alice in WonderlandPinocchio, and Moulin Rouge-not to the point of plagiarism, but just enough to move it forward and make things more interesting; even when the screen went up and the dancers visible they still maintained consistency with what was going on in the main story. After the main show we were treated to two encores: the first was set to the song “Empire of State of Mind” (or at least the chorus), which of course featured the corresponding visuals of New York, while the second was a specially-prepared set for Lebanon that was very much close to home, featuring silhouettes of famous landmarks including the temple of Jupiter in Baalbeck, downtown Beirut, and even an arghiuleh water pipe. More impressive, however, were the last two figures formed, in which the dancers constructed the words “Beirut” (woohoo!) and “Thanks” out of their bodies’ shadows. Overall, the performance was just wonderful and kept everyone in the crowd engaged and entertained.

On the more technical side (I suppose), the lighting and the music complemented the actual performance beautifully, not to mention that it was tuned enough for the shadows to be correctly accented and presented. It was also quite dynamic and varied, shifting colors to fit the mood of each scene. The show’s music consisted of both ambient, instrumental music and some quite fitting remixes of popular songs. But of course, the real center of focus was the dancers’ performance-the way they effortlessly shifted around the stage and fluidly and precisely constructed the figures behind the screens to give birth to shadow-beasts (my favorite being the elephants) can only be described as flawless and enthralling.  For those seeking a truly artistic and unique way to spend the evening, I’d encourage you to attend a Pilobolus performance whenever they roll into town.

The only thing that really annoyed me during the show (besides the inconsiderate attitude Lebanese audiences typically have during performances, what with forgetting to silence their phones and clapping at every instance) was that the dancers-at least from where I was sitting-were still visible when they vanished offstage between their segments, which I thought took away from the dramatic effect. Other than that, everything went just smoothly.

I remember watching a performance Pilobolus on Youtube this summer while I was in Bahrain (Courtesy of my friend, Jacopo) and never thought I’d ever catch one of their shows. Now that I’ve been lucky enough to watch one I can’t wait for the next one to play in where I may end up in the coming months. Now, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t posted any pictures of the show, but it’s because I just couldn’t take any pictures due to being so fixated on the show; that and taking pictures usually takes away from the experience. Anyway, if anybody reading this missed this wekeend’s shows then I’d urge you to be the first in line for the next one to roll into town. Until then, or whatever comes before that,

Y’all take care now

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About optimistthepessimist

Always in transit.
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