by Leigh Witchel
Take “The Blair Witch Project,” put it on the set for Pina Bausch’s “The Rite of Spring” and choreograph it like “Sleep No More.” That recipe would you get something like “Future Perfect.” But the self-assured production was more than a rehash.
Shannon Gillen, a Juilliard and Tisch graduate who danced in Germany for Johannes Wieland, did just about everything connected with the show: she wrote, designed, directed and choreographed. That’s usually the kind of hubris that heralds some weak aspect dragging the rest down. But impressively, the whole thing was solid.
The narrative was both clear and deliberately fractured and uncertain. The action took place at a wilderness campsite, complete with pine trees, a pup tent and simulated dirt. Two women, Allie (Emma Whiteley) and Mel (Laja Field), arrived to view a meteor shower. When we first saw them, they were talking to two grubby men, Nate (Jason Cianciulli) and Ivan (Martin Durov), about their campsites – the women’s was a mile back, and badly situated. Mel became attracted to Nate, but there was something off about Ivan, and the audience’s spider sense was tingling: the danger of sexual violence simmered throughout the encounter. Sure enough, when Allie went near a small mound, she found the arm of a girl (Rebecca Diab) underneath. Was she unconscious, or dead? In some parallel narrative she seemed to revive and spend the night with them, but disappeared before morning.
As it went on, “Future Perfect” veered further into “Blair Witch” territory. All three women appeared in similar dresses as if they were a coven, and the potential violence seemed to be redirected against the men. Nate was morphed by Allie and the mysterious girl via an outfit change into a park ranger. We saw Ivan with a pistol stolen from the ranger: Blackout, and the lights came up on him in the same position, stinking drunk with a beer can instead of the pistol. It was never revealed what was real, what was a lie, and what was a shared hallucination.
The cast was up to both the dancing and the acting. The movement wasn’t academic; more tumbling and partnering, and the dancers were fearless, hurtling and rebounding off the set and one another. The dirt at the campsite was actually rubber mulch, an ingenious design solution for added bounce and no schmutz.
The casting, costumes and fractured plot was in sync with the sensibility of a young audience for whom David Lynch is old hat. (Yet for some reason the pre-show mix was all 80s hits. After Devo, Cyndi Lauper, and The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” I asked the coed next to me if she still listened to them. “No but he likes them,” she answered, pointing to her dad next to her. Just kill me now).
The lean, powerful and exciting work was over and done with in under an hour. With packaging, it seemed geared to a commercial bid similar to “Then She Fell” or “Sleep No More.” Despite being surefooted in handling a vaporous, unreliable narrative, “Future Perfect” was anything but subtle. There was no letup from the constant buildup of tension as well as the pounding soundtrack and the steamroller pacing felt more like television than dance. Maybe that’s because though it was mostly dance, “Future Perfect” seemed more aimed at being theater. The choreography wasn’t there to create a structure or a design; there were only a few moments when bodies started to align into something like a trio. But like a needle slipped expertly into a vein, “Future Perfect” delivered an endorphin high.
copyright © 2017 by Leigh Witchel
“Future Perfect” – Vim Vigor
Baruch Performing Arts Center, New York, NY
February 3, 2017
Cover: Laja Field and Jason Cianciulli in “Future Perfect.” Photo © Arnaud Falchier.
“Future Perfect” runs through February 11.
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