The Pillow Project's Twenty Eighty-Four begins with audience members escorted in small groups into a vast, dimly lit performance space with hardwood floors, backed by a long wall serving as a giant video screen. The atmospheric setting, augmented by piped-in classical music, befitted what turned out to be one of the most captivating and unexpectedly brilliant productions of this young dance season.
Choreographed by The Pillow Project's founder and artistic director Pearlann Porter, Twenty Eighty-Four is an evening-length multimedia dance-theater work examining the effects our modern-day 24-hour news-cycle world is having on us, our views and our image of ourselves in the cosmos.
Set to the moody music of alternative band Radiohead, the intimate production, while different from Porter's rock-concert-style extravaganzas of past years, had much of the same "feel the music" attributes as Porter's choreography.
Inspired by George Orwell's 1984, along with the teachings of astronomer Carl Sagan, Twenty Eighty-Four was presented as a series of metaphorical statements rather than as a single story. It began with the stylized mini-movie "The Paranoid Firebird," a sort-of music video capturing the essence of the mythical "Firebird" story and featuring dancer Beth Ratas. Twenty Eighty-Four then expanded on the film's use of symbolism, introspective dance, and a generous amount of video wizardry.
As the film concluded, its final images imploded into a single dot of light, which a live Ratas, costumed in street clothes, moved in on and appeared to capture in her hand. She was joined by several other street-costumed performers, each sporting these specks of light projected on one hand, creating what would later multiply into a star-field engulfing the rear stage area.
Other sections of the work had its 10 performers appearing to push open and expand a large box made of projected light, only to be feverishly drawn to, and consumed by, the chaotic video images of television news channels, and take on the characteristics of automatons.
The work's most gripping section, however, was a solo danced by Adam Secousse, who drew a square of red light around himself while seated on the stage floor, effectively isolating himself from the other performers. The solo's aggressive slashing arm and leg movements within that confined space were augmented by projected light, which created the illusion of afterimages trailing each moving limb.
Porter's choreography for Twenty Eighty-Four mixed contemporary modern-dance movement with the everyday movements of pedestrians. At times, compared to Jessi Sedon and Mike Cooper's stellar videography and visual effects, her choreography looked plain. And some sections, such as one featuring dancers running about with panicked looks on their faces, smacked of student choreography. Nonetheless, Twenty Eighty-Four as a whole was gratifying experience. Its socio-political themes, energetic performances, creative composition and ability to deliver sensory wonder make it a must-see.
The Pillow Project's Twenty Eighty-Four continues through Oct. 25. The Space Upstairs at Construction Junction, 214 Lexington St., Point Breeze. 412-225-9269 or www.pillowproject.org