Local Choreographers and Global Collaborators

Last Saturday we went to see Elu Dance Company’s production of barefaced at the Hanna Theater. It’s a dance drama based on the C. S. Lewis novel Till We Have Faces.

Like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, Till We Have Faces is one of Lewis’ many Christian allegories. It uses the myth of (https://www.slideshare.net/AlemarAllecer/cupid-and-psyche-summary) Cupid and Psyche to explain “why the gods do not speak to us openly.” The original myth and Lewis’ retelling contain many a complicated twist, but Elu has wisely focused their choreography on the relationship between the two main characters in Till We Have Faces, the sisters Psyche and Orual, danced by choreographers and Elu co-founders Mikaela Brown and Mackenzie Valley. The sisters, dear reader, have conflicting attitudes toward the god of the Grey Mountain. Psyche is willing to be sacrificed and happily married to a god she cannot see; skeptical Orual sees her sister as duped and deluded. Add to their contentious duet the mountain, a beautiful, functional abstract staircase designed and built by sculptor Mark Sugiuchi, and you have a firm, tripartite basis for dance drama.

The continuity and flow of the dance drama is helped considerably by the commissioned score performed and recorded by Ancient Path Arts. Narration is recorded on the same track, clarifying the action onstage and on film.

Context and complications that could muddy the dance drama are depicted in films (by Mark Valley) projected onto a screen that lowers into view during intervals in the dancing on stage. For instance, the priest and the worshipers who sacrifice Psyche – a genuinely scary bunch of pagans — are portrayed by 9 dancers filmed in the midst of a beautiful, rocky landscape. Psyche’s ordeals, seemingly impossible tasks involving, among other things, ants and rams, are also depicted on film; the beautiful and clever costumes (the ants courtesy of Polyglot Theatre of Australia, the rams costumed by Courtney McCrone) provide a welcome lightening respite from the anguished conflict between the two sisters.

When Orual at last accepts Psyche’s point of view and the sisters are reconciled, there’s a palpable release of tension in the theater. A white cloak for Psyche that abruptly disappears and golden light by lighting designer Trad Burns add to the effect. Even Vic and Elsa, your pagans in residence among the audience, found the ending satisfying.

We first met Mikaela Brown and Mackenzie Valley when they were members of Inlet Dance Theater, just beginning to branch out with their own choreography but already engaged with impressive projects that combined dance and social justice projects in Africa and Southeast Asia as well as Northeast Ohio. In barefaced we see an ambitious conception brought successfully to fruition with a multitude of local and international collaborators. Elu acknowledges support from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and Polyglot of Australia but the fact that they raised the last $10K on Ioby.org, a fund raising website, suggests that this is an up-by-the-bootstraps project.

(All photo credits to Lauren Stonestreet. Costumes for Psyche and Orual designed and created by Jennie Doran.)

We watched Elu Dance Company’s performance of barefaced at the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square on Saturday, 9/14/2019.

See Elu Dance Company perform at 8:00 pm Saturday 11/9/2019 at Pilgrim Congregational UCC, 2592 W 14th St., Cleveland 44113 as part of the (http://www.themovementproject.org/cdf2019-app) Cleveland Dance Festival.

Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas

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