Magical realism meets morality play with a dash of sideshow in The Dream Dancer, an entrancing journey through time at this year’s Fringe. If magic, hypnosis, and feminism tickle your fancy, then this play is a great way to spend your evening!
At the core of this original dance theater production lies the creative expertise of John Giffin and Jeanine Thompson. As the chief creators and performers, they have woven a mysterious tale of the magician Señor Juan (Giffin) and his assistant Yolanda (Thompson), inspired by the real stories of infamous, hysterical women: Augustine, Magdeleine G, and Salomé. Through lyrical choreography and commanding narration, Yolanda surprises Señor Juan and leads him in a dance akin to falling through a looking glass. The performers flow smoothly through each woman’s story, transforming into an hysteric and her corresponding hypnotist-masters (“channeling their essence,” one might say). With a special mind to the history of the so-called medical condition “female hysteria,” the play explores the roles of power and sexual intimacy in these relationships.
Thompson’s tragic yet poised rendition of a woman on display is at once heart-wrenching and unsettling. From her first moment on stage as Yolanda, she emits a frenetic energy beneath a calm façade, giving cause to believe that this woman possesses more depth than her counterpart is willing to acknowledge. While inhabiting the memory of Magdeleine G, she creates interpretive dances under hypnosis to classical music. As Augustine, Thompson writhes as she attempts to communicate with someone – anyone – for comfort and understanding.
In turn, Giffin provides a series of eerily charismatic men, using his positions of authority to control his prized female patients, whether it is for scientific advancement or for artistic entertainment. He even entertains the audience with a few real magic tricks! In an interesting twist – which I REALLY can’t spoil, so you’ll have to see it yourself! – the duo explore some minimalist yet bold representations of sexual violence. Overall, the piece is a showcase of their talented range as actors and dancers.
The Dream Dancer
closes July 22, 2017
While the high concept is intriguing, and each scene is crafted with obvious care and attention to detail, there are a few transitions that feel disjointed with the rest of the production. Perhaps the team could have benefited from a third perspective. Regardless, the piece comes together in a unique exploration of the intersection of gender and what makes one “sane.”
I admit, upon first hearing of the show, I anticipated a hybrid production to fall mostly as a dance piece with theatrical elements – but to my pleasant surprise, the production and the Giffin-Thompson team were evenly balanced between these two complementary styles of storytelling. Even if you’re not normally a dance person, I recommend rethinking those assumptions so you can experience this smartly-done genre-bending. It’s mesmerizing, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s disturbing – in a beautiful way.