Dance Review: Paradise Lost’s Energetic “Replay”

Paradise Lost’s Replay is nothing if not exuberant.

Replay, performed by Paradise Lost. At the Multicultural Arts Center, 41 2nd Street, Cambridge, MA, through tonight (March 19).

Shannon Sweeny, Devon Maddux in Paradise Lost's "Replay." Photo: RBelleau Photography.

Shannon Sweeny and Devon Maddux in Paradise Lost’s “Replay.” Photo: RBelleau Photography.

By Merli V. Guerra

Greater Boston’s Paradise Lost: A Movement Collective is a new and large performance group in the midst of its second season. Comprised largely of graduates of Emerson College, the company’s expansive blend of theatre and dance is nothing if not exuberant. “There are no walls,” stated Tyler Catanella, Paradise Lost’s Artistic Director at the start of the show, “this is live theatre, and we invite you to become a part of it.”

Replay, the company’s second show to date, is being presented at Cambridge’s beautiful Multicultural Arts Center. The performance area was oriented horizontally across the space — wings are omitted, so audience members get a full view of everything that’s happening on stage. This openness is encouraged by the company as a whole; Paradise Lost regularly hosts “Open Jams” where movers of all ages, disciplines, and backgrounds are welcomed into the studio for a night of movement and dance regardless of technique. In Replay the stage is opened-up, encouraging the audience’s freedom to laugh, sigh, and visually connect with the performers feet away.

Replay is made up of four new works by choreographers Shannon Sweeny, Gabriel Nesser, Cassie Samuels, and Catanella. The evening boasts a cast of 18, a hefty number that at times overwhelms the small playing area. The group is unified in its dedication to physical theater that conveys deep interpersonal connections and individual emotions. Its movement style rejects the traditional “core” mentality; each dancer’s distinctive interpretation of his or her movements is delightfully apparent. We aren’t watching clones here, we’re watching people. The problem with all this individuality is apparent when ten or more dancers crowd the space — the result is visual clutter, and that soon becomes distracting. Still, this enthusiastic collective should be applauded for its use of humor, full-bodied emotions, and swift athleticism. It is no small feat to move the way they move given the constraints of the space.

The evening was divided into two halves: the first part showcases three new works. The last part features Catanella’s “Haven.” Paradise Lost is a fledgling group; it proffers plenty of youthful energy. The flip side of this youthfulness is that the choreography isn’t always up to par. “Haven” stole the show; yet the first three works could have used more time to develop and mature, choreographically. Samuels’ “Connect” offered the two most striking images before intermission: first, the full company memorably encircled the stage; later, there was a fluid duet-turned-trio that explored heartache and forgiveness. Yet the two sections felt jammed together — introducing a large cast to start, then removing these characters completely, as if without purpose.

Sweeny’s “On” also presented solid elements that, with some reworking, have the potential to be unified into a stronger experience. While the dance’s movement was sharp and daring, its sections felt somewhat disconnected, making it difficult to decipher the piece’s overarching plan.”One of “On”‘s most successful moments comes when two jester-like dancers burst out of the backdrop, initially stealing the spotlight from the serious performers onstage and then trying to best each other through their own interpretations of “dance.” This scene led to another highlight, in which the pair’s serious duet gradually transitioned into a dance-off — earnest vocals and looks between the two generated uproarious laughter from the audience.”While the movement itself of “On” was strong, the costume choice to mix old-fashioned items with modern-day garments quickly became confusing, and frequently distracted from the work as a whole.

The most successful of work on the first half was Nesser’s “Game Night,” which revolves around four groups sharing dinner. The costuming was reminiscent of what you would see in a child’s make-believe world. The eating at the table quickly dissolved into a discord initiated by internal strife. Nesser provides some nifty visual ideas — chairs become planks, forks are used as weapons, tables are transformed into prisons — that are surprising and creative. At times, the work seemed to be about individuals fighting against social conformity.

Marty Miller, Shannon Sweeny, Connor Abeles, and Krystyna Resavy in Paradise Lost's "Replay." Photo: RBelleau Photography.

Marty Miller, Shannon Sweeny, Connor Abeles, and Krystyna Resavy in Paradise Lost’s “Replay.” Photo: RBelleau Photography.

It was “Haven” that showed just how far the company has come in two seasons. Boasting the perfect mix of humor, frustration, mystery, and earnestness, Catanella’s work offers us an affecting interpretation of Purgatory. At times, his view of death is memorably comedic — workers lug bodies around as if they are restocking shelves at Walmart — but it is upsetting as well. A group of the deceased marches towards a literal (supernatural) light — all but three are granted passage to the afterlife. “Haven” becomes a fluid and fanciful look at the experiences of the three outcast spirits, now waiting impatiently to move on.

As the world spins by them, the trio attempts to reach out to the living. Perhaps the most exquisite and heart-wrenching moment of Replay comes when an older woman, stuck in Purgatory, throws herself effortlessly into the arms of a mourning older man. The two perform an endearing duet of remembrance. The man stares blankly ahead; the woman strives to connect. Here, Catanella shows us that the dead “see” more than the living. There’s a final moment of mutual acknowledgment — the woman’s presence is felt. The pair part ways, saddened, yes, but ready to move on. This moment was beautifully executed, and provided a wonderful contrast to the scenes to come.

For the other two characters, sitting in Purgatory brings out a litany of emotions. The anger and frustration of a young man get the better of him, inhibiting his ability to move to the Other Side. The solo given to the young woman of the group provides a moment of brilliance. We watch as she is left alone, tormented by the infinite expanse and silence around her. Alas, this powerful scene is immediately followed by one of “Haven”‘s weakest. A new character is introduced, set to the tune of The Little Mermaid’s song “Part of Your World.” The addition ruins what would otherwise be a breath-taking solo.

Paradise Lost will be launching its first festival this July, and this program will be performed again then. If the troupe uses the time beneficially, to tweak and develop the quartet of pieces, Replay can truly achieve its full potential.

Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer with a background in ballet, modern, and classical Indian dance in the Odissi style, and an award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, writing, and graphic design. She is co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company, art director of Art New England magazine in Boston, and selects The Arts Fuse’s weekly coming attractions for dance.

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