The inspiration behind choreographer Cheronne Wong's powerful new multimedia piece was a National Public Radio program on shortwave numbers...
The inspiration behind choreographer Cheronne Wong’s powerful new multimedia piece was a National Public Radio program on shortwave numbers stations — stations that broadcast messages consisting of nothing but numbers.
Signals from a world of covert government operatives? Communications between drug cartels? Cautious salutations from extraterrestrials?
No one knows.
But there’s definitely some code to be broken out there on the airwaves. And code-breaking, code-bending and code-transfiguration are what “sub-Rosa” is all about.
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Wong has four fine dancers, a crackerjack video-lighting-music team and her own fine sense of pattern and invention to make “sub-Rosa” hang together. In just under an hour she pulls you into a world where a random noise or change in light can cast the onstage action in a stark dramatic light or send it in an unexpected direction.
John D. Pai’s videography sets the tone as the show opens — on the domed ceiling of Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. Up there, trees ripple, clouds transform, water plays and sands shift, all flecked with flashing numerals, which then crop up on the stage itself, where a seemingly solid surface becomes a foaming froth of dry ice.
Into this liquid world steps a regal figure in a pale robe with a red sash (Naho Shioya), taking slow, kabuki-like steps. She isn’t alone for long, but she might as well be; the dancers who soon join her (Christina Guillette, Danny Herter, Kade Stotler) exist in an entirely different dimension from hers, even if they’re similarly garbed.
They scuttle, roll, tumble, grimace or strike spotlit poses, paying only glancing attention to Shioya as they provide a busy body-landscape for her to glide through. Their robotic walks, fleeting partnering and odd disco flourishes seem a language Shioya stands no chance of understanding. In the show’s second half, the visual contrast between Shioya and her fellow performers becomes even more severe. The question, then, is how the quartet of dancers will align into unison. Wong handles the transition beautifully.
She pulls off a neat trick, too (helped by costume designer K.D. Schill and lighting designer Melinda M. Short) as broad red sashes become narrow red racing stripes on black unitards, which in turn become a hard red slash of light on the floor that shifts into dry-ice uncertainty. Composer Amy Denio matches Wong’s stage invention with a score that’s an environment unto itself, peppering ambient airplane-roar with electro-distorted vocals and the odd spare melody (including one fetching, melancholy clarinet solo).
Wong has mustered a disciplined troupe on all fronts to create a world of disorienting shadow-play, nervous double-takes and cryptic messages so enticingly delivered, you wouldn’t really want them to be decoded.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org