Nature-themed piece interprets Sartre
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 23:04
The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stated in Being and Nothingness that a tree “is [a] being and nothing more.” He explained that unlike humans, trees do not have the ability to do more than just be. Perhaps this is true of most flora, but this was not the case for the plants that came alive in the Spingold Theater this weekend during Beyond the Boundaries.
Beyond the Boundaries was the result of a yearlong collaborative effort between Prof. Susan Dibble, the Barbara ’54 and Malcolm L. Sherman Chair of the Theater Arts Department and Prof. Tory Fair (FA). Dibble, the director and choreographer, also consulted with Profs. Berislav Marusic (PHIL) and Dan Perlman (BIO) in her construction of a theme that in many ways centered around Sartre’s inquiries in Being and Nothingness. The few spoken words in the show were taken mainly from Sartre’s work.
Beyond the Boundaries began with one of the two male performers in the show, Eddie Shields, a candidate in Master of Fine Arts in Theater Arts Acting, as the philosopher, declaring that, “We are free,” but that bodies are also objects. He then explored a white box to which a petaled flower was attached. Soon after, a new dancer, Meg Evans ’12, entered clad in green. According to Dibble in an interview with JustArts, Evans represented a sort of plant life and was meant to be our narrator in this interdisciplinary, artistic experience.
A highlight of the performance was a piece in which Boston-based dancer Nicole Pierce carefully dances over a series of long, black-stemmed flowers that span across the entirety of the stage. A man in a bowtie, Alex Jacobs, a candidate in Master of Fine Arts in Theater Arts Acting, awaits her at the end of the lineup of flowers. This part of the piece was so engaging due to the music, which drove each of Pierce’s precise movements over and around the stems. The music was almost entirely composed in-house by sound designer, J Hagenbuckle.
In addition to floral life, family life was at the show’s center. A little girl, Fiona Hyland, was periodically escorted onto the stage and engaged with Fair’s sculptures in the same ways as the older dancers. The young dancer added a softness to the sometimes dark, Sartrean performance.
In the 45 minutes I spent in Spingold, it became unclear whether or not the dancers were performing around Fair’s sculptures or vice versa. I could imagine many theatrical experiences in which a chair is used as a prop on stage, but flowers grew out of Fair’s chairs as if someone or something living had invaded them. On several occasions, the dancers were almost a part of the sculpture.
When the show’s family sat at a table on stage, the audience could only see their shadows and the shadows of the bed of flowers on which the table sat. As light returned to the stage, Evans was propped under the table in the entanglement of flora. The dancers played an elementary school favorite, leapfrog, over the backs of other dancers in the same way they did with the sculptures.
Beyond the Boundaries challenged the audience’s perception of which were the objects and which were the beings on the stage. The powerful music, passionate dancing, intricate sculptures and challenging inquiries combined into an interesting visual experience. However visually appealing the show was, to me, a viewer inexperienced in experimental theater, the show was hard to connect with emotionally. I also was not very impressed by the dancers’ skills or techniques. Still, there was not a moment that I was bored or wanted to turn away from the stage, and as I left the show, I noticed that Dibble was bombarded with compliments from audience members who had been moved by the show and its beauty.