Special Report! DNA Theatre at Artscape

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The Brothers Avienne, Photo Courtesy: DNA Theatre

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

HI!  The Bad Oracle brings you this special report right from the seventh depth of hell that is Artscape!  I mean, I like Artscape, don’t get me wrong, but everyone knows that it’s like being on the surface of the goddamned sun.  I went to review Daydreams and Nightmares (DNA) Theatre, an intriguing bunch of folks that perform suspended in the air on a variety of apparati that would instantly kill me if I attempted to use any of it.  They curated the Aerial Arts Stage and themselves performed shortened versions of new and old work (they’ve been around for ten years now, they’ve got some stuff in the can).  The first thing I saw them do was The Brothers Avienne, an adaptation of a German fairy tale (at least, I think it was German, it seemed German) written and conceived by Elle Brande, Aerial Director of DNA.  It’s about a wicked old queen (Ali Cheff) who gets jealous of the king’s sons (Greg Bowen and Sean Lundgren) and curses them, transforming them into swans and leaving their only sister, Avienne (Jessie Delaplaine) behind.  I want to get this out of the way: I don’t think Jessie Delaplaine is actually human.  I require blood analysis to prove she isn’t some sort of X-Man.  Her body is absolutely amazing.  She achieves a shoulder rotation that actually made my mouth drop open.  Greg Bowen is literally always a treat to watch, the lines of his figure make him seem like an eight foot tall Grecian god, which really works for this type of thing.  He also is the one my eyes are consistently drawn to, even if he isn’t performing the most complicated routine onstage, because his eyes transmit emotion so effectively and interestingly.  While Delaplaine is stunning, her face seems set solidly, which is probably necessary for concentration but doesn’t really let us into her head.  Lundgren and Bowen work extremely well together, you can sense the trust between them.  Their swan transformation sequence was my favorite thing about the piece.  The only thing I thought that slightly brought it down was the inclusion of a narrator (Lansing O’Leary) who walked across the stage from time to time inserting rather clunky dialogue.  It makes it seem as if Brande doesn’t completely trust her work to speak for itself.  I, personally, would cut it.  More successful in this regard was the other piece I saw, Look Up, an adaption of the story of Icarus, the one who flew too close to the sun, by Artistic and General Director Kel Millionie and chereographed by Marissa O’Grinn.  The challenge of aerial theater is to make sure that you’re not merely creating “pretty pictures” but flesh and blood stories that have true weight to them.  Millionie nails that in this piece.  There was a point where Icarus (Thomas Martin) was performing on the silks that actually brought tears to my eyes.  Martin has lovely lines and is clearly a star, which absolutely worked when he was onstage solo.  Unfortunately, I thought he didn’t “give” or share enough with his co-stars, particularly a lovely Patrice Woodward, who plays his love, Princess of the Sea Undine.  You can physically and literally see Woodward reaching out for Martin but he doesn’t seem to reciprocate at her level of emotion.  But the story is so strong and the choreography so good that this is a minor quibble.  Costumes by Nikki LeFay where brilliantly eye-catching, combining beauty with function seamlessly and notching the quality of the already very high-quality production up a tick.  Oh, and the wings of Icarus (made by Mixed Media artist Sean Conray) are a work of art.  I wish that they had occupied more than a blink and you’ll miss it part of the show, but that’s why I’ll go to see the full version of this when it is staged.

BOTTOM LINE:  DNA wants you to “watch us fly” and believe me, you’ll be blown away when you do.  Because when DNA flies, the birds themselves are jealous and the angels turn to watch.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that they are the most evocative, talented and well curated aerial company in Maryland and possibly beyond.  There is no doubt that they have their physicality completely in the bag.  If they pushed a bit further, though, if they truly committed to all of their stories, if they would live inside of the emotion 100% instead of sometimes sitting outside of it, then.  Well.  There would be no grounding them.  Ever again.

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