July 5, 2018
The staging of The Masque of the Red Death, a 19th-century story by Edgar Allan Poe, in a contemporary dance mode seems like a fascinating project - especially with the addition of text by such artistic luminaries as Joan Miro and Wassily Kandinsky, both 20th-century titans of art known for their spiritual leanings and belief in the power of color, and the lesser known Cennino Cennini, the 15th-century Italian painter and theorist. How will it all be brought together?
In a tantalizing opening, several dancers and an imposing figure with blood-red palms and a Vader-like mask move through an agonized preface, with the men collapsing to the floor and carried off (presumably by Death) while the women move mournfully, throwing their hair back while covering one eye as the gloved figure stalks them. But soon the ballet gets stuck in a sequentially dark, repetitive mode, punctuated by violent lighting changes (by Jimmy Lawlor) that never fully coheres into a clear overarching strategy. Over an hour of oblique references to a quote from the Poe story (in the program) that ended in the expected "death" of everyone involved was just perplexing.
Accompanied by a repetitive electronic score by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, separate scenes enact a variant of dancers stalking each other, where one performer dances in the middle as others watch from the sidelines or walk slowly around him or her. Several solos and duets sometimes evoke Poe's Prince Prospero and his "knights and dames," (also costumed by Beamish) but when they reappear in futuristic get-ups that include white hooded suits with Jawa-like electronic eyes, or red neon necklaces, it only adds to the head-scratching effect.
Each lighting scheme is meant to evoke one of "seven rooms" in the castle where Prospero and his courtiers are hiding from certain death, and each scene has a similar distressing, ominous feel to it, drained of any climax. We never see Prospero's "hale and light-hearted friends" - they all seem to know the end is coming from the start. Only his solo at the very end builds to something more, but by then it seems too late. Afterwards, in a final, unintended irony, we heard the appeal for Dancers Responding to AIDS. After all that, I hope everyone gave generously.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --Nicole Duffy Robertson