Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laughter in the Dark - Robillard Theatreworks

The Garage, San Francisco, CA
August 6, 2010

A man's dissatisfaction with his life sends him out searching - searching for something better, for someone better.  His journey ultimately takes him into a manipulative adulterous relationship, where he unexpectedly morphs from the controller to the controllee.  Others experience the repercussions of his actions - his wife, his child, his friends, and in the end, we learn that his dissatisfaction has always been with himself.  Robillard Theatreworks' artistic director, Sarah Moss, has created a unique theatrical adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's haunting story: "Laughter in the Dark".  What begins as a dramatic play is transformed into subtle dance theatre with the addition of well-placed and thoughtfully choreographed movement sequences.   

Photo by Sarah Moss
The first dance theatre interlude found three women of the evening luring, teasing and enticing the main character, Albert Albinus.  The steps in this section were role-appropriate with slinky high kicks and circling hips, but they were also purposely melodramatic.  The choreography was carefully designed to present a situation and make fun of it at the same time.  What we saw here was a very common dance theatre technique done well: seriousness combined with satire in the hopes of revealing the themes of the story.      

Act II's opening dance was the highlight of the evening in which Margery Fairchild (Elisabeth) painted the portrait of an emotionally-abused woman.  Her relationship with her husband (Albert) had long been a contentious power struggle coupling her desire for love and attention with his longing for control and escape.  Then, adding to their already embittered dynamic, comes a letter revealing his infidelity.  Elisabeth rips up this note in a mesmerizing ritual trying to rid her life of this harsh realization.  After the pieces scatter, her demeanor shifts.  Suddenly, she struggles to clean up the remnants in a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of order in the mess that is her life.  The captivating solo was full of balanc├ęs, a smart choice with which to tell this character's story.  This step follows a down, up, up pattern, speaking to the roller coaster ride that is Elisabeth's existence.  

Photo by Sarah Moss
Moss' use of Frederic Chopin's Prelude in Db Major and his Prelude in A Major were very fitting to underscore the tense family scenes in the Albinus home.  Both compositions are full of appoggiatura, an important musical motif that Chopin favored in much of his work.  The purpose of this embellishment is to create dissonance on the strong beats of the music.  Very fitting for this group of individuals; an audible dischord to frame their domestic strife.

Sarah Moss understands dance theatre and knows how to effectively utilize its devices.  Much work from his genre has a tendency to spiral into absurdity's abyss and it does not have to be that way.  For dance theatre to work, a recognizable narrative is needed.  Maybe a literal story, maybe not, but something more than just conceptual abstraction.  Robillard Theatreworks' "Laughter in the Dark" provides this narrative framework; a true example of dance theatre.  It challenged the audience while still making sense.

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