Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Of Gods and Mortals: Elu Dance Company Remounts their Acclaimed 2016 Production ‘barefaced’


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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

By Steve Sucato

One of the best local dance productions of the 2015-16 season, Elu Dance Company‘s barefaced was a thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived dance-theater work based on C. S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces” — a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche from The Golden Ass of Apuleius.

Now, after a 3-year hiatus, a newly enhanced and expanded version of barefaced returns to the stage, Saturday, September 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland.

Directed, choreographed and performed by Elu company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, the 90-minute production tells the harrowing and heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their loving bond as sisters that transcends gods and realms.

Told from the perspective of Orual, as an accusation against the gods, barefaced is set in the fictive kingdom of Glome where the beautiful Psyche has been sentenced as a human sacrifice to the unseen “God of the Mountain”. But instead of meeting her fate on the mountain, Orual discovers her sister is very much alive and is now the bride of “God of the Mountain”. A fantastical tale of deception and devotion ensues spanning lifetimes that Clark and Valley play out onstage in contemporary dance movement.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mackenzie Valley and Mikaela Clark in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Set to music composed, performed and recorded by Ken and Patt Wadenpfuhl from Cleveland-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also uses recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to help drive the story line.

Clark and Valley will also once again share the stage with local artist and sculptor Mark Sugiuchi’s mixed-medium mountain sculpture and for this updated production. What has changed for this production is Clark and Valley say they have almost entirely re-choreographed the work. They have also added another layer to their storytelling in the form of dance film snippets created by Mark Valley that are weaved throughout the production and depict additional scenes from the Lewis’ tale performed by 10 area professional dancers.

“We wanted to make the storytelling more concrete,” says Valley.

The hope for Clark and Valley is that the changes made to the production will make an already great production more readable for audiences. Suffice it to say, if that is the case this new barefaced production may be one of this new dance season’s early hits.

Elu Dance Company presents barefaced…inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces,” 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 14; Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Cleveland; Tickets are $22–45 and available online at playhousesquare.org or by calling (216) 241-6000.

 

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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MorrisonDance and Elu Dance Company Double Bill Food for the Soul


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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

MorrisonDance – HUManIMALS
Elu Dance Company – barefaced
Gordon Square Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland, Ohio
March 17-19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Kicking off Cleveland Public Theatre annual DanceWorks series, the split bill of Cleveland-based modern dance troupes MorrisonDance and Elu Dance Company (formerly Without Words Movement), provided an evening of opposites; one, the dance equivalent of snack food. The other, a dish filled with complex flavors ─ both satisfying in their own rights.

The program, on March 17 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, began with MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS, choreographed by company founder Sarah Morrison and Taliesin Reid Haugh.

The multimedia work tapped into the similarities and differences humans share with our animal kingdom brethren and began with “Murmuration Improvisation,” a structured improvisation performed by the company’s dancers.

Dancing in front of a video projection of random people’s feet as they walked down a street (compiled from footage from RiMind and keepturningleft.co.uk), MorrisonDance’s performers mimicked those in the video. This was a recurring theme throughout the piece with a video being shown and then the performers emulating the action in it in some way afterwards. Moving to music by Marconi Union, the dancers walked about as Inlet Dance Theatre’s Joshua Brown seated in the audience, called out word suggestions from the audience such as “strength” and “passion” that then directed the performer’s actions. The improvisation was an exercise in the obvious and proved uninteresting.

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MorrisonDance in Sarah Morrison’s “Peacock Spider.” Photo © Bob Perkoski, http://www.Perkoski.com

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MorrisonDance in Taliesin Reid Haugh’s “Simian Suit Sequence.” Photo © Bob Perkoski, http://www.Perkoski.com

Next, video from a 2010 episode of PBS’s Nature showed a pat of Chilean flamencos moving about as a prelude to Morrison’s “Why?,” in which six dancers basically recreated what the flamencos in the videos did. Wearing flamenco heads created by Scott Radke and dancing to music by Irish cellist Vyvienne Long, the dancers’ amusing impressions of flamencos proved pleasing.  A similar vignette about the movements of the peacock spider followed.

Keeping with the uncomplicated theme of HUManIMALS, Haugh’s “Simian Suit Sequence” began with the showing of a popular YouTube video from Frans de Waal’s “Moral Behavior in Animals” TED talk in which Capuchin monkeys were given unequal rewards for doing the same task. Like humans the monkeys reacted poorly to the inequality. In Haugh’s dance work that followed, Morrison portrayed a lab worker monitoring the activity of three other dancers that acted like monkeys in feel-good, hip hop-infused choreography.

On the whole HUManIMALS was lighthearted fare suitable for audiences of all ages.

MorrisonDance’s half of the evening concluded with the group work “A Sense of belonging,” choreographed by Morrison, and its most challenging and complex work, the solo “Saudade,” created and performed by MaryPat Dorr.  Meaning a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia, “Saudade,” was danced to music by art pop collective The Irrepressibles and was an emotional cloudburst compared to HUManIMALS beaming sunshine. Dorr’s performance of the solo rendered a special beauty that was spellbinding.

Where MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS had the simple joys of a cartoon, Elu Dance Company’s barefaced had all the earmarks of a Greek tragedy.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

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Elu Dance Company’s Mikaela Clark in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Directed, choreographed and performed by company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, barefaced was heavily inspired by C.S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” and was a cut above the prior works I have seen from the pair as well as being a highlight of Cleveland’s 2015-2016 dance season.

Following the novel’s storyline, Clark and Valley played out in dance the heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their emotional bond. Set to music composed, performed and recorded by artists from Ohio-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also used recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to smartly help drive its storytelling.

In the work, Clark portrayed Psyche, the cast out wife of Cupid looking for redemption, and Valley, danced the role of her older sister Orual, a mortal woman jealous of the life of a goddess Psyche had and resentful of Cupid for luring Psyche away from her and leaving her eternally alone and lonely.

Danced on and around a multi-tiered set piece by Mark Sugiuchi that the performers used as a symbolic ladder to the realm of the gods, the work had the feel of a Martha Graham mythology-themed ballet but with very different movement language. The athletic pair of Clark and Valley danced with strength and grace in well-crafted choreography filled with rounded arm and shoulder movements and characterized by emotionally riveting acting that brilliantly revealed the joys and plight of their characters.

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Elu Dance Company’s Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived, barefaced enhanced in dance Lewis’ captivating story.  Clark and Valley were marvelous in eliciting empathy, sympathy and caring for their characters from the audience. And with its captivating story and powerful dancing, barefaced left a lasting impression that lingered long after Clark and Valley took their final bows.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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