On Stage: A Return to 2084

Photo: Derek Stoltz

Pearlann Porter was four years older and presumably four years wiser when she decided to “re-imagine” her 2008 breakthrough piece, the George Orwellian Twenty Eight-Four, in 2012. I guess we can muse on the massive differences that developed during that seemingly short period of time (technological advances, Arab Spring, etc.). But more than that, we can all draw on certain similarities, such as an  inference to the parallel presidential elections.

At first the audience huddled in the downstairs “lobby.” The walls were lined with doors, presumably from the adjacent Construction Junction and reminiscent of Alexander Bell’s  quote, “when one door closes, another opens…” On a grand piano sat the inspirations for the performance — Cosmos by Carl Sagan, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and, of course, Mr. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. There were other little details in the room, enough to create a feeling of warmth and intimacy and perhaps spark a conversation or two.

When the audience finally ascended the steps to The Space Upstairs, we found an atmosphere similar to a dark urban jungle, created by partitions and covered with bleak “doublespeak” word phrases. Shadowy figures meandered about.

Yes, re-imagined and perhaps a little deflating in that nothing had really changed.

As far as I can recall, the audience seating was more formal than the helter-skelter furniture groupings that are a hallmark of Pillow Project performances. We sat on three tiers of folding chairs arranged at either side of command central, or where Pearlann and Mike Cooper, the brains behind the scenic design, manipulated their own brand of soft tech special effects (although Jordan bush was listed for “Design and Propaganda”).

The most wondrous of them remained, particularly the white dots of light (perhaps nearly a thousand?) that transferred anywhere from a star-lit sky to the palms of the dancers and straight to their hearts. The dancers also seemingly manipulated blocks of light, pushing their way out of a physical or emotional prison.

Photo: Cassie Kay Rusnak

In between there were extended solos, mostly to Radiohead, with additional sound designs by PJ Roduta. Pretty seamless, which is an achievement. Anna Thompson, with a shock of white blonde hair and a confident sensuality, mesmerized at the start as The Paranoid Firebird. Riva Strauss’ Static, with a corporate sensibility, pushed on for too long. Zëk Stewart (Red Light), brought things to a close with a soft-sense and quite original brand of hip hop, filled with movement textures and our first real look at a terrific addition to the company.

Perhaps the scariest things was the bank of television sets that were projected over the expanse of a large wall, inflating the original concept, although it essentially remained the same, a montage of that historic election in 2008.

Four years later, we found that the right wing (Sarah Palin, The Tea Party) has exerted considerable influence on America’s path, where political figures are trying to control immigration and womens’ rights. Google is now a version of Big Brother, where our tastes and preferences are monitored and a personal iPhone can track our every move. And we’re having heated conversations about the value of education.

This Twenty Eighty-Four was a bit more structured, a bit more controlled. But it still made its point…and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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