Immersive theatrical productions that incorporate choreographed movement have become prominent and popular on the Salt Lake City performing arts scene. Some shows have produced marvelous impact for breaking down walls and removing the proscenium. But, the most formidable challenge is making the show meaningful, accessible, cogent and coherent to audiences, especially as they are encouraged to explore the performing space on their own with little or no direction. Furthermore, while audience members are advised that they might not or will not experience all of the elements in one viewing, they are encouraged to purchase a ticket for another performance. Yet, audience members might not be so compelled, particularly if they might feel intimidated while adjusting to a performing space that draws them out of a familiar comfort zone when attending a production.
Myriad Dance Company solves the challenge of the immersive performance experience with excellent results in its restaged production of Overslept: Obscura. The show is being presented at Dreamscapes, the immersive art museum at The Gateway, which has been an ongoing project of the Utah Arts Alliance and Utah Artists and Builders.
Indeed, audience members can freely explore the museum’s spaces as dance artists perform choreography that follows a story outline and text elements set by R.J. Walker. Audience members embark on a journey akin to that of Professor Liddell, who is clad in fancy lounging pajamas and whose dreams encompass his search for the ideal person of his romantic desires.
After debuting the production last May at Dreamscapes, the company restaged the show, based partly on audience feedback. A prominent change is the addition of a performer for the Liddell role. The retooling has produced some splendid moments. An appealing characteristic is that the audience member can choose to linger or move rapidly through various rooms. But, what is most appealing is that the audience member can go through a second time (or even a third within the allotted time) to experience virtually all components of the production. The admission of audience members is staggered so that no scene ever becomes too crowded. In several instances, the audience member might be alone in a chamber as a dancer(s) performs, which produces some of the show’s most gratifying moments.
There is very little improvisation as the choreography is aligned with the design and appearance of various chambers in the museum. Two of the most prominent examples are The Atlantis and Cube rooms. The movement, for example, in The Atlantis mimics the marine environment, as if the dancers have become seductive sirens or mermaids.
In every instance, dancers make constant eye contact with audience members. Even if the Professor is not present in a particular space and moment, the dancers communicate with movement and gestures so that the audience member feels as if they are pursuing their own target of romantic desire. This is elegant contemporary dance, combining abstract and concrete expressions of movement vocabularies.
There also are fragments of text posted at various spots, which are highly recommended for audience members to stop for a moment, read and absorb. Audience members also are invited at various spots to add their responses to simple prompts. The prevailing vibe in Overslept: Obscura is actually lighthearted, coy, coquettish and teasing. Professor Liddell — as with so many of us — is confounded by the complications of distinguishing romantic idealization from fantasy.
Must the illusion always be elusive? Falling in love can be sustainable but it also is transitional and ephemeral because it is so damn addictive and obsessive. We want to stay in our dreams to keep those wondrous feelings of fantasy. But, we also risk the consequences of having overslept and missing the opportunity to discover if it was mere infatuation or an opportunity to work on a meaningful idealization of the romantic forces that drew us to an individual in the first place.
The show had its first public performance on Nov. 3 and it will be presented on Nov. 10. This will be the last performance at The Gateway location for Dreamscapes, as the museum will close on Nov. 14 in preparing to move to its new location, yet to be announced publicly.
The experience is designed for audience members of all ages. There is no spoken dialogue, save for a brief prologue read aloud before audience members enter the performance space. Start time options are staggered at half-hour intervals, beginning at 7 p.m., with the last group admitted at 8:30 p.m. Thus, audience members could take the full opportunity of two and a half-hours to explore the show.
Kendall Fischer is the company’s producer and artistic director. For tickets and more information, see the Show Clix link.