Over a series of experiments, a scientist is drawn ever closer to his subject in this elegant, gymnastic dance of opposites. One of the Source Festival’s three Artistic Blind Dates, this hypnotic collaboration between a filmmaker (Dannie Snyder), a puppeteer (Lisi Stoessel), and an object manipulation specialist (Drex) is greater than the sum of its parts.
Entering Source’s rehearsal studio, audience members find themselves in a no-nonsense lab. Lights pulse and flicker while a recorded voice chants particle physics factoids over eerie music. A scientist (Drex) and his assistant (Snyder) silently make adjustments, arranging audience members around a white mat.
The experiment begins when a sample of dark matter—a swooping, twisting black cloth—glides into the room. After a few moments of observation, the scientist yanks the cloth away to reveal Stoessel, in black, glaring up from the lab floor. In the experiments that follow, Drex and Stoessel compete in a choreographed struggle between analysis and resistance. The experiments become poignantly personal as the scientist fights to maintain objectivity and, finally, independence.
The piece is an impressively streamlined showcase of many performance media. The process for the Artistic Blind Dates groups artists of various disciplines who have never met and gives them six months to devise a short piece.
In the case of Shadow-Matter, it’s clear that this cross-pollination was successful. The show blends poi lights, puppetry, contact improv, and butoh-inspired choreography in a sleek, flowing final product. Inches from the action, audience members can appreciate the performers’ finesse from up close.
The atmosphere of the performance space is deliciously eerie. Stark colors enhance the sparseness of the lab, and the white lab makes the black of Stoessel’s dark matter seem all the more otherworldly. The soundscape, composed by Drex and recorded by Snyder, is equally bare. Piano and vibraphone melodies in two separate keys wrestle alongside Drex and Stoessel’s characters, while recordings of the scientists’ thoughts add a chilling urgency to the proceedings.
Shadow-Matter is enthralling. The choreography offers an elegantly simple interpretation of science as a dance, while the performers’ acrobatics offer a poetic portrayal of opposites and their elemental attraction.
Source Festival runs thru July 1, 2012 at Source, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Shadow-Matter: Exam Log X
Created & Performed by Drex (Object Manipulation), Dannie Snyder (Filmmaker), Lisi Stoessel (Designer/Puppeteer)
Produced by Source Festival
Reviewed by Robert Duffley
Running Time: 30 minutes followed by a 15-minute talkback