Dark Matters is every bit as mysterious & profound as its portentous title. The work was conceived, directed & choreographed by Crystal Pite, presented by her company Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM (KP are supported by Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain)
In the intersection between dancers & puppets, between bodies that live and bodies that only seem to live, there is much to contemplate. Although I spent the first few minutes of Dark Matters intrigued by this interface, the longer I sat watching –and contemplating—the more I became convinced that the materials employed by KP were incidental to deep questions that Pite wanted to explore.
Dark Matters is in two roughly equal but contrasting sections. The first is a world inhabited by humans and puppets, while the second is a dance composition; while the vocabularies & dramaturgy are different (e.g., one uses a set, the other a bare stage) they inform one another, as if they were the Old & New Testament, or text and subtext.
I was preoccupied with mechanics for the first part. I think that when puppets are part of a choreographed work by dancers, you get something substantially different from what you get in a work created by puppet-makers. And to answer the question in the headline (What does Dance know of Puppetry?), “a great deal.” At the risk of over-simplifying, I am reminded of the classic distinction made between actors of the English & American schools. Brits allegedly work from the outside in, which for me corresponds to what I see of the talented builders & manipulators such as Puppetmongers. Kidd Pivot, on the other hand, remind me of method actors, the way they seem to move the puppets from the inside out. For example, the Kidd Pivot puppet seems always oriented towards the ground and the law of gravity above all: as if the puppets were themselves bodies that need to move and lift themselves. I couldn’t help noticing, in passing, how much better posture the KP puppets have, even when making a slouch, than I will ever have.
KP gave us humanity, puppetry, and those classic black puppet manipulators we’ve seen before, but never really notice, the ones who place and move puppets. Pite gave us some genuine what-if questions to ponder. Once we’ve accepted the reality of those black manipulators in the life of a puppet, what happens if we consider whether humans also have something comparable. This is nicely underlined by a brief sign we see that first says “this is fake”, and then is re-assembled to say “this is fate”. Where the black figures begin in the neat place we usually assign to them –controlling the puppet—Pite messes with us, problematizing the equation.
Pite probes some deep questions about life with the help of puppets, humans and those creatures in black. In the second section, which is mostly dance, the movement is still largely informed by interactions between humans who move, and who touch one another and themselves, in ways informed by our awareness of our dichotomy between being alive and yet being objects. We are alive yet in some ways we are like puppets, both in our ability to be manipulated, pushed, controlled, and simply in our corporeal reality. And in the touch between bodies and/or objects, wondering if there is any transcendent meaning, Pite offers her answers.
Speaking of matters of life and death, Matthew Jocelyn has been presiding over a kind of rebirth at Canadian Stage Company since taking over last year. The younger than usual audience tonight is a good sign, and likely what he’s hoping for as he seeks to rebuild his subscriber base through a season that’s wonderfully multi-disciplinary. The CanStage season is now liberally spiced with dance (not just Dark Matters) and music theatre works such as Beckett: Feck It! to go with their spoken word plays such as the Marivaux play Jocelyn will direct in April. Whatever else one might say, I know a buzz when I feel it and hear it.
Dark Matters is inspiring, a piece to energize and excite anyone who’s looking for a stimulating evening in the theatre. Catch it if you can, continuing at the Bluma Appel Theatre until March 3rd.