Review: IN ABSENTIA (JD DANCE / DANCEWORKS)

In Absentia is an imaginative work that sparks childlike wonder

A mature fairytale in an absurd universe, IN ABSENTIA presented by JD Dance and Danceworks takes to the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. A fantastic work of dance, puppetry and lots and lots of cardboard.

The stage is riddled with cardboard boxes and slabs, over 1000 pounds of it. Boxes of all different sizes are stacked, at some points to the ceiling, into different towers and walls. Many small slabs of ripped cardboard pieces hang above the stage like a bleak baby mobile. However, the space is continually shifting as the performers move and manipulate the set through the strange spectacle.

The choreography, concept and direction by Sharon B. Moore takes you on an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ like adventure, set to the fantastical and whimsical original music of Allen Cole. Two sisters-in-law, Anastasia and Josephine, enter another world or dimension, with a cast of exaggerated and imaginative characters with titles like ‘Naked man with gigantic wings’ and ‘Seahorse commander of inter-realms.’

There is always so much present on stage that it feels like a pick-your-own-adventure novel. Who do you want to follow? Who catches your eye? This is not in an overwhelming sense, but through a childlike sense of wonder. Two skeleton puppets join the cast; their moments are projected through a live camera feed onto a wall of boxes for the audience to get an up-close look of the miniature characters manipulated by the cast.

Many different images and references came to mind through the night, including the inescapable ‘Dark Matters’ by Crystal Pite; not solely for their use of puppets but their humanizing of them. The puppets are creepy skeletons with blacked-out eyes, which I generally would not look twice at, yet you grow fond of them through the work and every direct glare into the camera makes you laugh or smile.

The boxes and cardboard were used quite inventively. A standout moment was their use as large and long bird wings, controlled by the other cast members. This felt reminiscent to me of the Wizard of Oz’s flying monkeys, which may have been influenced by the contagious evil laugh added by the cast members. At other times, the cardboard represents an endless doorway flipping over the two sisters as they enter or leave this different dimension.

The design of the show apart of the large set design is quite incredible. The costumes, designed by Sonja Rainey, are a metallic, muted silver which helps to portray this more mature version of a fairytale. Garments are individualized to the performer and include small layers that are removed with perfect timing.

At times I had to remind myself to look towards the back of the stage at the incredible projection design or kaleidoscope images of dancers. Although slightly hidden among the boxes, the projection design by Laura Warren was an integral part of creating this otherworldly place.

IN ABSENTIA is an imaginative work that creates a childlike wonder in adult audiences. My only wish is that this show had a longer run.

Details:

  • IN ABSENTIA playing till November 22nd, 2019 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay W).
  • Show runs at 8 pm.
  • Ticket prices range from $15 – $42 and are available online.
  • Keep updated on their website for more information and future performances from JD Dance.

Photo provided by the company.

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