Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Through September 30
The work of Carol Katz and her collaborators, in the dance play Daedalus’ Daughter, possesses unusual power that comes from the clarity of her images. That she has been developing this material for more than a decade is evident in the subtle construction.
Separate worlds are interleaved and folded over. With gestural image in the foreground and spare text following behind, a dark lyric grammar dominates. On one side there is the mythic, and on the other a searching, fragmented, modern consciousness. Sometimes these domains alternate like a collage with edges, sometimes they are superimposed. The boundary is permeable and a dreaming space between them is quickly established.
At the beginning, we see a stand of white birch trunks, seven big trees (the brilliant design is by Tanya Orellana with construction by Tom E. Kelley and the excellent lighting is by Darius Gangei). There is something odd about these beautiful trees: birch trees are short-lived. So, aren’t these impossibly large — or have we become small? And… some birch trees are of the weeping kind. But we don’t know what kind these are because their foliage is beyond the image space. We can see only the massy white columns with their black scars (sometimes slightly animated, lit from within).
The seven trees are at the far end of a raked floor. An empty picture frame hangs in the foreground. And along the apron of the stage there is another edge, a band of iridescent blue like a moat.
An old man (Kirk Wilson in a great, silent performance), who had been dozing in a corner, now very slowly drags a chair across the surface of the water — to him, apparently, it’s just a floor. Then a young woman, (the fine dancer Lavinia Findikoglu), appears and pauses before she steps through the picture frame, and kneeling, places her arms into the cool water — yes, confirmed, that is now simultaneously floor and water.
The girl is followed by a young man (dancer Kearian Giertz, also fine) who stops and crouches behind her. He remains inside the frame. That must be Icarus, her brother, in a picture of the past.
Or so the voices tell us — because now there are voices — situated in a modern present (actors Clementine Gamson Leavey, and Sean Spann, both wonderful). They are retelling the story of the artificer, Daedalus, and his son, Icarus, when the waxy ligaments melted on the boy’s first flight.
Through the figure of the modern woman, the play is engaged in a personal action. A variation, a reverberation, and a haunting, Daedalus’ Daughter is the site for a narrative puzzle — where naming the mystery will go a long way toward escaping from its present dangers.
Her personal myth is a variation of the old story: Daedalus had a daughter, to whom he made a gift of one torn wing.
That describes the thick first five minutes of the play. In subsequent episodes, while the silent figures reenact their variation, the modern figures discover documents of family mysteries in photographs and notes, a tale of suicides, of generational trauma — the personal imprint of fate.
Katz and company create extraordinary images throughout the program. The elaborate construction of wings, first from something like bundles of driftwood, later from marvelously articulated fine materials; the passage of a boat through the moat (in which Icarus and his sister are sleeping); the transformation of a haunted forest into a shoreline at the high tide of a black sea… all remarkable. (The brilliant props are by Tom Kelley).
At its best, dance theater will recombine familiar elements of expression in a way that holds certainty at a slight distance. The denotative is a sleepy beat behind, opening a gap through which the subconscious rushes to multiply the images.
One or two last notes of admiration. The sound design, by Simon Greenberg, weaves the modern into the ancient with layers of ambient electronics over the music. Katz is careful in her notes to credit the contributions of her creative producer and dramaturge, Rosanna Gamson. The associate creative producer is Mallory Fabian.
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; Thu.-Sat. 7:30pm, through September 30; (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.org. Running time: One hour and 15 minutes without intermission.