The latest from Dangerswitch! — a wordless dance/theater hybrid — is at Theatre Off Jackson through June 17.
At first, everything is serene. The gentle, circulatory sound of waves lapping onto a shore is accompanied by the sight of aquamarine panels of fabric, stretched taut by performers on either end, rippling and receding like the tide.
The serenity doesn’t last.
In “Into the Deeps,” a new dance/performance hybrid from DangerSwitch!, the emotions tend to be far too primal for that. In this wordless piece of form-bending theater, an ensemble of eight makes their pleasures and displeasures known with aggressive clucks and herky-jerky movement.
‘Into the Deeps’
Through Saturday, June 17, a Dangerswitch! production at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S., Seattle; $15-$25 (dangerswitch.com).
Clad in clown makeup, matching smocks and hairnets festooned with frilly gills, these aquatic creatures appear totally alien at first, but eventually reveal multiple humanlike traits: callous manipulation, rampant tribalism … and perhaps, love?
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Directed by Eddie DeHais (who’s also onstage in the ensemble) and Alyza DelPan-Monley, “Into the Deeps” juggles humorous bits of mime, song-and-dance and sketch comedy, with nods to everything from Samuel Beckett to Esther Williams musicals.
They’re slotted inside a larger narrative arc that obliquely acts as a condemnation of totalitarianism and a look at the ravages of environmental carelessness. With its intentional opacity, the show invites additional interpretations.
DeHais has demonstrated impressive visual flair and an appealingly off-balance sense of humor directing previous shows “Mad Scientist Cabaret” and “Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine.” Both of those qualities are present here, but removed from the variety-show context of the former and the narrative constraints of the latter, “Into the Deeps” stretches out as a more experimental and more self-indulgent work.
Some moments extend themselves into tedium, like warm-up exercises that have somehow spilled out into the show itself, but the repetition is all part of the package, and it informs both a sense of comedy and tragedy.
Act one is all about the laughs, culminating in a centerpiece sequence that begins like Beckett’s “Act Without Words I” but trades in one kind of futility for another, where abundance is just as damaging as scarcity. Want an escalating comedy sketch where hundreds of water bottles are the vehicle for a critique of capitalism’s unbalanced power structures? “Into the Deeps” is for you. (If you’re able, stick around in your seat for intermission; the jokes aren’t over yet.)
Given the implications of the first act, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see the second take a turn into post-apocalyptic nightmare, those water bottles now refashioned into gas masks and the stark lighting design of Emily Leong becoming somehow starker.
By this point, the humor has been drained away, along with any sense of narrative stability. In their place: an abstract rumination on the decay of physical bodies, as the show fully commits to a modern dance aesthetic.
This shift comes naturally, even if much of the cast seems more at home with physical antics than balletic grace. Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find “Into the Deeps.”