Post:ballet and The Living Earth Show
San Francisco, Taube Atrium Theater
Lyra was also streamed, which this review covers
22 October 2021
Mythology has long been a source of inspiration in the dance game – physical vocabulary mining magical narratives; ancient tales re-imagined through a contemporary lens. Results of such endeavors are as varied as can be, running the gamut from puzzling and heady to deep and unexpected. With Lyra, a new collaborative project from Post:ballet and The Living Earth Show, you get it all.
Over sixty minutes, Lyra invites its audience into the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, not just to re-tell it, but instead, to offer a vibrant, multidisciplinary rendering. There’s full throttle, passionate movement by Vanessa Thiessen, Post:ballet’s Resident Choreographer. An original score that simultaneously haunts and delights, composed by Samuel Adams and interpreted by Andy Meyerson and Travis Andrews of The Living Earth Show. Ancient, yet equally futuristic costumes by Christian Squires helped the story’s sense of time and place to have a similar fluidity. All captured by filmmaker Benjamin Tarquin and director Robert Dekkers amidst the natural beauty and grandeur of California. But the main pull of Lyra is the universal themes that it imparts. Loss and grief as a happy couple is separated by tragedy. Hope at a possibility to reunite. And further anguish at the realization that there wasn’t going to be a second chance.
I was slightly worried during Lyra’s early moments because the camera work was a bit shaky, which tends to give me motion sickness. But as the piece began in earnest, that effect settled completely. While a plucky score sang in the background (a great connection with the lyre from the source material), viewers are introduced to Orpheus (Babatunji Johnson), Eurydice (Moscelyne ParkeHarrison) and a host of celestial beings clad in shimmery gold. Lyra’s beginning chapters saw the still united lovers cycling through expansive steps in a lush forest. Slow layouts and large extensions meshed perfectly with the vastness of the natural space. The joyful atmosphere was most infectious, even if the film took a little while to get going. Quickly, it would hit its stride as Atropos (Emily Hansel) entered the scene.
Make no mistake, Atropos is an evil, nefarious character, who, in this version, is responsible for ending Eurydice’s mortal existence. But it was Thiessen’s choreography for and Hansel’s portrayal of this cunning malefactor that captivated. The movement was deliciously reptilian and angular – very wrist and spine forward – a gorgeous contrast with the previous phrases in the forest. Then Thiessen combined both qualities to make a powerful narrative connection. During a hypnotic duet set on rocky terrain, Eurydice took on some of Atropos’ sinuousness while still holding fast to the expansiveness she had before her demise. It was a unique glimpse into a character struggling in purgatory, trapped in between states and realities.
From this point on, the film would focus on Orpheus’ desperate search for his love. Gestural phrases of the hands and fingers evoked his plight; frenetic prayer palms spoke of torment. His torso would ripple and heave, like he was retching with sorrow. On his quest, he would encounter a number of figures from the underworld including Hades and Persephone (Cora Cliburn and Landes Dixon, respectively), as well as a somewhat perplexing trio. The trio’s phrase material was interesting in its own right, but it was very unclear how they factored into the overall story. I wondered if they might have a significant interaction with Orpheus but that didn’t really happen either. It was the one spot where Lyra lost its way for me. Luckily, it wasn’t a terribly lengthy section, so the film was back on point in short order. Orpheus and Eurydice continued trying to find their way back to one another. Arms reached out in despair, gazes surveyed the horizon unfulfilled. It was not to be.
With its rich narratives and striking choreography, Lyra had much to offer. Another element it had going for it was the cast. Each and every performer went much further than just ‘playing’ or ‘dancing’ the part they had been tasked with. They embodied their characters completely; a commitment that was both enviable and impressive.