Dance: “Volcano” @ St. Ann’s Warehouse
When you leave St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO after “Volcano,” the four-hour theater/dance extravaganza, you’re a bit unclear as what you just experienced. So allow me to introduce Luke Murphy of Ireland’s Attic Projects company, to explain:
“Volcano is another type of riddle, another mystery—a four-part non-linear narrative borrowing the structure of a television mini-series. The narrative is pieced together through a collection of clues and reveals.”
Part 1 of 4 begins with two men—Murphy and his artistic sidekick Will Thompson— in a large translucent glass cage furnished in shabby chic. We learn they are in a spaceship of some kind because on the TV in the background, a man is talking about Pod 261, an exploratory vehicle that’s been sent into space to show inhabitants of distant universes what humans looks like.
We subsequently learn about the Amber Project, where men and women have been asked to record their greatest life moments on video tape. (The connection soon becomes apparent, so stay with me here.)
Suddenly a 1930s-style radio begins to crackle in the background at which point the two men begin to twist and turn into positions as if possessed. One of them grabs a microphone and begins speaking as if giving a toast in a wedding. While he is talking, the other fellow videotapes him. Later, the two men dance together as if they are in a manic rave at the Boom Boom Room.
This kind of random, semi-robotic behavior (think “Devo,” 1980s-style), interspersed with astounding pas de deux between the two guys, continues for the next two acts until the end of Act II, when Thompson crawls through a hole in the wall and leaves. Thus, in Act III, Murphy is all by himself, delivering a haunting portrayal of a man who’s been left all alone in the world on a spaceship somewhere in the Milky Way. (To pass the time, he does a wild solo dance to Benny Goodman’s “Singa Singa Singa.”)
In Act IV, a man comes on the TV again screen, and a bit of clarity emerges about what we just saw and we learn the real truth about Pod 261.
All this begs the question: are the two men reenacting their own greatest life moments, or other people’s? Without giving too much away, it is, as one Irish critic wrote, “about exploring what we hold onto and what we leave behind.”
“Volcano” is hard to categorize. Is it experimental theater, contemporary dance or a psychological thriller? I’d say all of the above. As for the two performers themselves, Murphy, currently the associate artist at the Dublin Dance Festival, and Will Thompson, his associate, are as lithe as young bucks and strong as oxen. I haven’t seen such athleticism since Pilobulus.
Yes, “Volcano” is a bit of a head scratcher at times. And while most people would recoil at the idea of sitting through a 4-hour production, we did not. Nor did the wildly enthusiastic audience at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Bravo to St Ann’s, to Luke Murphy and Attic Projects of Ireland.
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