Ben Sota and Jil Stifel present the hybrid dance event ‘WaywardLand’


Dancers in Ben Sota and Jil Stifel's "WaywardLand." Photo by Nicole Jarock.

Dancers in Ben Sota and Jil Stifel’s “WaywardLand.” Photo by Nicole Jarock.

By Steve Sucato

There are journeys in life, and then there are journeys of being. Jil Stifel and Ben Sota’s new work,WaywardLand, explores the idea that we’re on a journey in our human evolution.

The 55-muinute abstract work combines circus, dance and physical theater, says Sota, 34, artistic director of the Zany Umbrella Circus.WaywardLand, part of The New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Art Performance Series, follows several “conversational threads.” One is the idea that we now live at a junction between the analog age and the digital age, and that a similar transition is happening inside our DNA, as we move from predominantly primal selves to the evolved beings of a digital and technological era.

That idea of transformation is manifested in the work, with Sota, dancer/choreographer Stifel and dancers Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson appearing at times as minotaurs, by donning bull’s-head masks created by artist Blaine Siegel.

Dancers in Ben Sota and Jil Stifel's "WaywardLand." Photo by Nicole Jarock.

Dancers in Ben Sota and Jil Stifel’s “WaywardLand.” Photo by Nicole Jarock.

Stifel, 36, is a former dancer with Attack Theatre. In a solo in WaywardLand, she says, she plays with the idea of her DNA being on a percentage meter, moving between 100 percent human and 100 percent minotaur, and to points in between. The trick, she says, is portraying both beings proportionately in her dancing. This idea of someone’s DNA shifting between human and animal comes and goes throughout the nonlinear work, says Stifel.

Another big theme, says Stifel, is our yearning as humans to constantly explore new places, and the perils we run into doing so.

Set to music by David Bernabo, the work explores its themes by using what Sota describes as slow-moving, alternative takes on familiar circus acts. Acts include: stiltwalking; tightrope-walking without a wire; a trapeze act, used as a metaphor; and a duet by Stifel and Sota on a German wheel, an apparatus consisting of two large rings joined by a set of parallel bars, which performers stand inside to roll around a space. While the themes explored in the work might sound a bit heady, Sota says he and Stifel have a sense of humor about WaywardLand, and that the work contains plenty of whimsical moments and circus-like spectacle to go with its somewhat esoteric motivations.

Jil Stifel and Ben Sota present WaywardLand, 8 p.m. Thu., Feb. 12; $20-25. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, North Side. 412-320-4610 or newhazletttheater.org

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper  on February 11, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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