Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Half Life (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I can honestly say going to the REDCAT theatre downtown always proves a treat. Most recently my good fortune included getting to view Half Life, an enthralling performance blending a multitude of effects with performance that left a very real impact.

Amid live electronic music we watch a stage that fundamentally consists of two performers and two screens which use projection to create a series of varying yet somehow connected dreamscapes.  One initially seems urban and technological, focusing almost entirely upon the ma-made made, upon surfaces and (sometimes) attempts at communication with others.  The second gives us a whirlwind of color and nature, from forests to storm-riddled skies, to the soil where roots seem to envelope all to a beach with a rising tide--then deep under the waves.  A friend asked me to describe it in as few words as possible and my answer ended up being "Something like Cirque du Soleil and The Matrix." Which doesn't really capture the show, but gives a hint of what you might legitimately expect.

Dazzling. Compelling. Beautiful. Moving. All these adjectives and more the show earned. The story (in so much as there might be one)  seemed to me about a conflict within a woman--a modern, social, conscious and more-or-less Apollonian side living a distinct life from a side of sensations, bright colors and swirling living creatures from clouds of butterflies to fleets of various fish. They each did a kind of dance (or at least movement) punctuated by singing. All this takes place between two shifting sets of scrim onto which a wonderful moving tapestry of images are projected--with all the sometimes-disturbing beauty inherent in some dreams. It sucks you in.

Having said all that let me address something of a problem. Here is from the official description of the performance:

A highly visual and emotional experience of fierce urgency, the latest multimedia production from Cloud Eye Control is an imagistic, visceral work inspired by the nervous fear felt in the wake of natural or man-made disasters. The starting point for the creation of Half Life was blog entries by women who experienced the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, inspiring the artists to explore the psychological fallout of global disaster, and how it affects our emotions and imaginations. The Los Angeles-based collaborators— Miwa Matreyek, Anna Oxygen, and Chi-wang Yang —bring their signature mix of projected animation, live performance and music to summon the unseeable forces that govern our collective sense of personal safety and control.
 Honestly, I cannot say this is what I saw. Which hardly qualifies as a damnation, but it does indicate that at least one viewer--one far from straight-laced, fairly intelligent, appreciative of the intuitive and a regular theatre-goer of very many types--simply did not "get' what they say was their intent. Which could be down to me, let us be fair. In terms of that, I felt the ending didn't quite work--when the two women finally meet and warily interact, they decide to go their separate ways. But why? If presented as a mystery intended for the audience to resolve to their own satisfaction--okay. Bravo even! Yet it didn't feel that way. It felt as if the piece wound down without bringing the inherent crisis to a head.

But the show was well done in so very many ways, I'm perfectly willing to admit the fault is in yours truly. Maybe.  Besides, I'm certainly left a bit in awe of the producing entity Cloud Eye Control, hoping very much to see other works of theirs in the future.

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