Boxed In, Going in Circles

lucky plush, cinderbox 2.0 @ links hall/constellation, 3 October 2013.

Lucky-Plush_Cinderbox-04

Lucky Plush’s update of their 2007 piece, which was inspired by artistic director Julia Rhoads’s interest in reality television, offers contemporary dance as backstage musical. We seem to be at a rehearsal that starts without warning and ends just the same. The dancers sit in chairs, talking on a cell phone or engaged in chit-chat. At one point, as if to speak for the audience, one of the dancers remarks “Wait, is this the beginning?”

There is a kind of gag-like quality to Cinderbox 2.0. Sometimes it gets a bit too cutesy and gimmicky, but the comedy is also key to the dreamy mood that Rhoads seems to want to create: an atmosphere in which time is suspended and we in the audience are left feeling simultaneously confounded and adored.

In between the uncertain beginning and inconclusive end of Cinderbox 2.0, there is some extraordinarily powerful dancing, much of it circular and balletic. A formal, athletic elegance bursts out from the gags, such as when in the midst of a visionary riff on the packaging of Fuji water bottles, the dancers spin around, legs lifted almost entirely vertically. Sometimes the gags themselves are also quite beautiful, as when the dancers let their upper bodies go limp and, bent over, scurry across the stage like spiders.

One is constantly unsure whether what is occurring is rehearsed or spontaneous. But instead of making the action seem more immediate, this has the strange effect of sealing up the dance. It makes it feel more insular, as if there are a series of inside jokes taking place and we are invited to accept a knowing wink. Or maybe the point here is to create a space that evokes just how insular our “outside” worlds have become—socially mediated, seeming to extend across networks that in the end perhaps only lead, solipsistically, back to ourselves.

Such is the unreal reality of Lucky Plush’s show. Or is it the real unreality? The troupe has created a world of its own, filled with goofiness and beauty spun together so as to be almost inseparable.

At the end of the show, the dancers try to bring up politically-relevant issues. But it all breaks down in a spoof of how much the common citizen has to say about issues of social import—and what little difference it all makes to know a little bit about a lot of different problems around the globe. The concerned voices of the dancers jumble together into an overwhelming cacophony of competing assertions of what matters as each dancer tries to be lifted up into a formal pose by the others. Their ability to seem the most informed and concerned becomes farcical, just an urge to be at the center of attention. It is quite funny, but it is also sad. There is a frustrated, almost raging undercurrent to the humor. Something is wrong in this reverie. The dancers are, within their cinderbox, sealed off from actual political efficacy. And so are we too, by implication, in the audience. Trapped in a box, glowing under the spotlights, we get spun in circles, still in our seats, waiting. It’s beautiful, it’s silly, it’s meaningful, it’s nothing at all. What will be the difference?

Excerpts from “Cinderbox 2.0” (2012) from Lucky Plush Productions on Vimeo.

Lucky Plush presents Cinderbox 2.0 and The Better Half at Links Hall/Constellation this weekend, 10/12-13. For info, see http://www.luckyplush.com/upcoming/.

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