By Katie Pynes Anetsberger
The Wilds, Johnny Carson Theatre in The Lied Center, October 6, 2022 7:30PM
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I would choose to see a production in the blackbox theatre over the mainstage any day, and the intimate and immersive experience of The Wilds premiere at the Johnny Carson Theatre did not disappoint. Experimental theatre is a risky business, but this collaboration of three artists created something unlike any show I have ever attended. With only a sixty minute run-time, the audience was taken on an immersive journey from light to darkness and back to light, through movement, live electronics, and motion capture technology.
Unlike a typical production where one saunters immediately into the theatre to find your seat, we, the audience, were all gathered in the foyer, anticipating our united entrance, almost like we were performers waiting for our cue. While we waited for the experience to commence, we were greeted by two co-creators of the production, Jesse Fleming (Emerging Media Director), and Lewis Pesacov (Composer). I always enjoy meeting the people behind a production, and as this was the premiere, their excitement and energy was palpable. The third collaborator, Laurel Jenkins, actually performed her choreography on stage with two additional artists, while Pesacov flawlessly controlled the live electronics. The creators expressed that this collaboration had been in the works for several years, and I can only imagine the time and coordinated efforts this represented as they appear to all be based in different states.
As we entered the space, we were directed to choose any seat. On stage, two performers, dressed in identical black jumpsuits, draped with various wires and reflective materials, were engaging in subtle, gentle movement. Behind the performers, forming an L shape, were five screens on which the performer’s movements were mimicked by
sorcery motion-capture technology. It took me a moment to realize that they were performers. As soon as I opened my program, I understood that this was a part of the “Prelude” movement. One wish I have is that we had been given programs while we gathered in the foyer, as it would have been helpful to prepare myself for the experience. I highly recommend quickly reading through the succinct synopsis when you take your seat during the prelude, as you will not be able to easily read it as the room darkens in the first act.
The lights dimmed as “Prelude” ended, and three acts, each containing three scenes descriptive of times of day, flowed seamlessly one into another. With the aid of the beautiful prose provided by the program, I was able to follow the story, described as “Severance,” “Threshold”, and “Return.” The performers, described in the program as ‘D’ (Devika v. Wickremesinghe) and ‘L’ (Laurel Jenkins) began a journey which resembled the timeless mythological formula of loss, rediscovery and return, but in a very new and modern way.
Act 1, “Severance,” began with the scene of ‘Morning,’ where ‘D’ and ‘L’ dance in harmony into the ‘Afternoon.’ It is in this scene that ‘D’ begins to drift, eventually leading to their departure from the stage and from ‘L.’ This heartbreaking separation was felt throughout the audience, as ‘L’ mourns, and on the screen behind her, was pictured a monochromatic, animated world where she began her search for ‘D.’ ‘L’’s performance in this movement was particularly beautiful and moving, for as she literally pounded on the floor, we felt the depth of her loss. In the meantime, ‘D’ has left the safety of home, and finds themself in an increasingly chaotic environment. The act ends with both characters onstage, but unable to make contact, moving through a door to another world.
We followed the performers through “the portal” and entered into my favorite part of the show: Act 2, “Threshold.” The room goes black and silent except for one strobe light blinking rhythmically every few seconds behind one of the screens. The audience became immersed in the void, and I for one, was holding my breath. The sounds of the performers moving across the stage in the dark was incredibly effective, creating an eerie suspense which made me glad that I was not in the front row. A random flash of spotlight would momentarily show us the location and movement of ‘D’ and ‘L’ as they searched for each other in the darkness. In the midst of their movement, I saw the subtle shadow of a third join in the darkness. This was probably the most suspenseful moment in the piece as we waited with bated breath to see the face of the “stranger.” I won’t say more, it’s a moment to be experienced, but the entrance of the third performer ‘M’ (Miguel Alejandro Castillo) was my favorite part of the entire production. Every movement, even down to the subtle twitches in his fingers, communicated his purpose in drawing ‘L’ and ‘D’ back into communion.
One theme I noticed during the production was that of nature and the natural world. ‘D’ and ‘L’ begin their movements totally in sync, with pictures of water, trees and the natural world playing a dominant role on the screens. As their paths began to diverge, ultimately leading to separation, the images also became less natural as we entered the “Dusk” scene at the end of Act 1. Mirroring the theme of nature and the unnatural was a theme of order versus disorder, with the electronic sounds devolving from gentle, natural and structured sound into chaotic noise as ‘D’ entered into “the wilds.” Once through the portal, almost all noise–structured and chaotic– ceased for a moment, before the rebuilding. Nature and order reappeared unexpectedly after the emergence of the third performer (‘M’) in act 2, as he led the lost dancers through a rebirth and re-emergence in scenes resembling the magnificent natural order of the forest and deep space.
In Act 3, order is not only restored, but reborn. ‘D’ and ‘L’ awaken, with energy that feels like new life, and they enter into a new rhythm with each other as scenes of the natural world return to the screens. I mentioned that I felt at the beginning that the audience was part of the story, and that was confirmed by the breaking of the fourth wall as the performers saw and welcomed us into their new community during their final movement.
The Wilds presents the resonating truths of the oldest story in the world: light, fallen into darkness and then redeemed, in a totally new way. Enter this experience with an open mind, and you will not be disappointed.
“The Wilds is a collaborative work by choreographer Lauren Jenkins, composer Lewis Pesacov, and visual artist Jesse Fleming and is produced through a partnership between the Lied Center for Performing Arts and the Johnny Carson Center for New and Emerging Arts.”
This performance contains technology that may affect photo and audio sensitive guests.
If you go: The Wilds will perform in the Johnny Carson Theatre in The Lied Center October 6, 7, 13, 14, 15 at 7:30PM and October 8, 9, 15 at 2PM. Tickets may be be purchased at https://www.liedcenter.org/.
Katie Pynes Anetsberger is an avid reader, aspiring writer, amateur artist and mother of three magical humans. A staunch supporter of the arts, she firmly believes, in the words of Dostoevsky “The world will be saved by beauty.”
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