Dallas — Choreographers and other performing artists have always known that words aren’t necessary for communication and connection between characters or between performer and audience, and that’s certainly not a new idea in the world of theater, where spoken text is the norm. The movement theater group PrismCo is determined to prove that within this genre of theatrical performance, there is a wide variety of ideas and styles to explore.
Animal vs. Machine, the group’s fifth major performance since founders Jeffrey Colangelo and Katy Tye took their idea out of the confines of Southern Methodist University in 2014, is their most inventive work yet—and interesting, the most simplistic in terms of design.
Turns out, the scaled-back performance was beneficial considering that since the show opened three weeks ago, it has had to move to a new space—twice. It’s now in a third location, with two more performances on Saturday and Sunday nights at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, after the show was shut down by the Dallas Fire Marshal at two spaces in Trinity Groves. (Other performances in the warehouses of the West Dallas neighborhood have had similar issues, the fire marshal citing code violations; TheaterJones is looking into this distrurbing trend for an area that has housed several of the area's newest and most exciting theaters in a town starved for affordable space.)
AvM, a “play in three rounds,” is a fight between two Mixed Martial Arts fighters: Machine (Christina Valentine, who is an actual undefeated MMA fighter) and Animal (PrismCo member Lauren Mishoe). The setup begins with the fight announcer (Colangelo, also the lead fight choreographer) introducing the opponents and engaging the crowd, whose energy is a big part of any fight night. Colangelo and Tye are the co-directors, with Tye handling the dance choreography.
The fighting is highly choreographed for theater (and safety) purposes, but it's probably as close to an actual fight as you'll see on a theatrical stage. They battle each other; the ring around them consists of rope held by ensemble members acting as the ring posts: Robert D. Guy, Jasmine Segar, Mitchell Stephens and Josh Porter. Periodically, the lights denote a switch into each of the fighters’ memories. For Machine, it’s about her relationship with her father (Stephens), who wanted her to be a dancer/performer, and her learning the discipline of martial arts from her sensei (Guy), who has a prodigy (Segar). With Animal, we see the relationship with her lover (Porter), the person who keeps her strong.
The fight choreography (Bobby Garcia serves as a Tai Chi consultant) is intense and thrilling, and the emotional connections of love, support, respect for discipline and strength-sharing are palpable. Storytelling often gives us a protagonist and antagonist, and by putting it in a sports ring in which two people literally fight until one is knocked out, it lends a more urgent dynamic. Machine is set up as the protagonist, and Valentine (also an actor and dancer) shows real acting chops with her facial expressions. The creators of this show know that the antagonist is more interesting when she is as complicated as any other character, and Mishoe is given plenty of material to traverse those complexities, which she does.
In two years PrismCo has explored myth with two beautiful productions, Galatea and Persephone; commented on ancestry and the dangers of disturbing archaeological treasures with Teotl: the sand show (a co-production with Cara Mía Theatre Company); and reinvented the oft-told tale of human creation, evolving, destruction and recreation—using paint as a battle weapon!—with Prism (think James Thurber’s The Last Flower, with paint).
Animal vs. Machine, which has had to deal with very different battles in the quest for space, might end up being the group’s most memorable show yet. It has fight.