The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven – Satan, Paradise Lost.
What is the value of blank ?
I ask because negative space, silence – the in-betweens – often give art real depth. As Lao-Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, a pot’s value is for the space inside – where nothing resides – not the ceramic that gives it shape. In painting, writing, and the narrative arts, the margins and white spaces speak as much to an art’s quality, as the lines and colors and shapes they surround.
I promise this digression serves a point, just lemme get there.
What isn’t there is often as valuable as what is; and the one thing I have always enjoyed about Paradise Lost: a movement collective, A community dance company located in Cambridge; and which I have had the general pleasure of getting to know – and make myself subsequently an ass in front of – is their embrace of negative space…that was a mouthful.
ANYWAY, their second show: Paradise Lost: Replay is a wonderful testament to that airy embrace.
In my good fortune, during the 12 month-bars of that I-IV-V progression known as “Post-Grad and Broke Blues”, I became acquainted with the company via their first open jam, along with various lovely member. It was an eye opening discovery for me, and led me to the joys of dance… and giving precisely zero shits about the quality of my honest hips. It was also enormously helpful in maintaining my general sanity during period of stress associated with those generic blues that would make Robert Johnson sigh in commiseration.
In watching Replay I inevitably compared and contrasted the show with their previous show Rewind, from their inaugural year. While there was an inevitable sense of genuine growth and general refinement, what struck me more in this show was also the general sense of restraint exercised.
As someone who went to film school, the one word that artists loathe passionately is “Restraint”, and for many – this writer included – restraint can, at times, feel more like a curse. “I want to say every single thing on my mind damn it! I want to show that I am the best, and that I have all these moves”. A lack of restraint often gives artist a sense that what they are communicating will ultimately be more completely received, and therefore enjoyed.
I love restraint, when properly applied; and these guys have learned how to restrain themselves in the ways that matter, to make their stories sing.
While I loved Rewind, it was, undoubtedly looser as an exploration of the groups ability. This was in part by intent – as it was about the gestation of the group as a whole. Replay is structured more rigidly: four distinct segments, with the final segment “Haven” taking up the whole of the back half of the performance.
With this more rigid sense of superstructure, there is also a distinct sense of authorial voice in each of the pieces. Although there was minor prompting at the beginning of the performance, by and large the pieces spoke for themselves and, with minimal to no dialogue, effectively communicated not only the stories, but the choreographers – the authors of the pieces.
The first piece “On”, written by Associate Artistic Director Shannon Sweeny, is described as coming from a dark time and an inherent lack of trust, and a lack of reason. The movements of the various players display this incredibly well. From the susurration of the entire collective, to just two members, the movements are rendered so that struggle and darkness are made manifest as movements. The movements are often lyrical and emphasize the ideas of relationships to others, without ever saying anything explicitly.
In stark contrast “Game Night”, the second piece, by Gabriel Nesser, aside from mad props to the costuming for taking liberally from Avatar: The Last Airbender, operates on a completely different dynamic. Instead of focusing on individuals, it’s focused on groups. Mimicking the entire performance, the segments flow between four distinct groups and their interactions internally, and in relation to each other. The feeling is distinctly declarative. Each stomp a sentence. Punctuated proudly. Punctuated martially. To a tight beat. To a tight emotional rhythm.
Then we finish Act 1 with “Connect” by Cassie Samuels, in many ways a thematic inversion, and further exploration of themes explored in the previous two pieces. Instead of struggling with connection, there is embrace, and playfulness; joy in a more aqueous way. The approach, again is enriched by a strict sense of voice.
Finally, the whole of Act 2 is devoted to “Haven” by Director Tyler Catanella. An elaborate, and lovingly executed look at death, and reconciliation, with a nominal plot and interpretation of the afterlife and purgatory. This piece is suitably large scale, but never reduces that sense of authorial intent, or the choreographed voice of its creator.
Each of the pieces benefit from this concept of voice, of the untranslatable, ineffable individual – which, as it turns out, is applicable to movement – and, although it’s not nearly as free or loose as Rewind, it doesn’t need to be. Restraint is a form of negative space.
Further than that, the spare arrangements, musically, and with the floor level black stage and curtains (who needs a proscenium anyway?) with some well developed, but ultimately wide ranging light setups, allows for a further expansion of that blankness.
And that is, ultimately where this group thrives. By allowing for such dramatic gaps, in narrative, in presentation, and, with the added benefit of restraint and refinement, there is rich emotional territory to be explored.
Until I get lost rewinding, then click replay to find myself,
For more information on Paradise Lost, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paradisemoves/, or their website: paradisemoves.com
Upcoming events for Paradise Lost can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/963028127145956/
In addition to live performances, Paradise Lost also hosts “Movement SLAMs” Open to the public, in Cambridge, every month: https://www.facebook.com/events/536942563178683/