Silhouettes, symmetries and shadow-actions drive the action in zoe ǀ juniper’s new evening-length piece, “BeginAgain.” That is, if “action” is the best word to describe this slow-motion reverie.
Conceived, designed and directed by Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey, the husband-and-wife co-directors of zoe ǀ juniper, “BeginAgain” is both a precise and a cryptic affair. It uses dance-moves as constricted and elaborate as calligraphy to create complex connections between the performers.
For long passages, a pair of dancers will move in close, elastic tandem or in exact echo of each other. Then the unison is broken, the echo is dropped, and the lone paths of action that ensue feel like something coming untethered or unhinged.
The visual world in which this takes place has its own instabilities. The stage is an expanse of dirt into which a sharp triangle of solid stage floor protrudes. That triangle is flanked by two enormous angled scrims on which ghostly video projections — faces, bodies, abstract patterns — are projected.
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A final element is Julian Martlew’s sound design (with contributions by Morgan Henderson and Erin Jorgensen). It builds to its own crescendos and fade-outs, sometimes with sudden shifts in texture or drops in decibel. While it envelops the viewer, the dancers seem oddly indifferent or immune to it, continuing their measured, hovering balances and paces without paying it much regard.
The two key dancers are Scofield and Ariel Freedman (a veteran of Kidd Pivot and Batsheva Dance Company) who are wonderfully matched as they engage in synchronized litanies of slow, elastic collapses and rises. Both know how to impart the slightest freeze of action and the faintest muscle release with dramatic flair.
Kate Wallich does impressive solo work too, using supple-edged, almost conversational robotic movements to suggest a mechanical doll with an unusual variety of turning and torquing abilities, uneasily reacting to something that only she can see.
zoe ǀ juniper shows sometimes dabble with stage magic, and there’s one remarkable trick here: a duet for silhouettes. One of the silhouettes is quite clearly cast by Freedman onto a scrim, while the other seems to have no source at all. These shadows kiss, touch and intertwine without the source of the second silhouette ever revealing itself. The effect is seamless.
A trio involving Wallich, Freedman and Kim Lusk has a similar dynamic, but its magic is rooted in pure movement. Lusk keeps pushing, pulling and manipulating Freedman into odd balances and contortions, which Wallich, behind one of the scrims, mimics exactly. It’s as though Wallich is being manipulated by an unseen force that has the same ideas as Lusk.
You could perhaps come up with a psychological reading of this and see it as an illustration of how some shapers/distorters of our lives have an obvious flesh-and-blood presence while others are spectral at best. But “BeginAgain” is too much rooted in dream-logic to need that kind of explanation.
Its only real weakness is its musical finale. The idea is fine — but the singer just doesn’t have the vocal power to fill the theater in the haunting way intended.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org