Dallas — Mysterious boxes, magical birds, and magnificent physical feats enveloped Moody Performance Hall last weekend with Pilobolus’ presentation of Shadowland: The New Adventure. A longtime leader in mixed media performances, the company is globally known for blending various forms of theater, acrobatics, dance, digital elements to provide their audiences with surreal and sensorial experiences. Shadowland: The New Adventure premiered in 2016 as a sequel to the popular first version of Shadowland. This new production captured much of the same magical realism of the original show, but explored a new story of young love tested by a villainous man and a journey into imaginary lands.
Our adventure began with a peak into the side-by-side routines of the main characters—the future young lovers. Lit behind parallel screens, their shadows woke, ate, and dressed with changing colors as behind the scenes characters contorted their bodies into shapes of tables, cars, and other household objects. Suddenly, the screens disappeared, and the characters found themselves surrounded by an array of unmarked white boxes in a workplace setting.
As the story continues, the contents of the boxes were revealed: at first peak, the girl finds herself transported into a vision of the future. Once again in the shadows of the screen, Her dark figure meets the young man’s as they leapt from scene to scene—twirling under bodies shaped into the Eiffel Tower, sitting atop human-made chairs, and saying goodbye to their daughter who drives off in a shadowy car composed of a group of bodies. These fast-paced scenic changes reminded viewers that through lighting and manipulation, the body can become anything you imagine it to be.
For the most part, scenes that included traditional dance vocabulary fell under the virtuosic, upbeat genre. Leaps, spacey turns, and stealthy lunges intermingled with theatrical gestures that furthered the narrative. In one moment, a performer balanced precariously on a desk while holding a handstand before floating into a push-up position. These instances of acrobatic techniques were also prevalent in the rolls and inversions of the dancers.
For a company like Pilobolus, while the plot is important to the production, the fantasy of the story is equally vital to its success. The creators invented a world for their performers (and audience members) to live within that rides the border between reality and fantasy—making it sometimes impossible to differentiate between the two. This whimsical combination continues into the physical aspects of the show. Bodies are both objects and characters, performers inhabit the stage in both human form and their shadowed counterparts, visuals are both hyperbolized and disguised. These parallel themes added to the complexities already built into the production, pushing the boundaries of illusion and truth—or perhaps revealing the similarities between the two.
Eventually, the main couple’s magical journey ends victoriously—they manage to return the imaginary bird to its homeland where other shadowy creatures keep the crazed villain at bay. After all, how can you have a fanciful story without the happy ending?
As evidenced in Shadowland: The New Adventure, Pilobolus has mastered the art of entertaining and engaging their audience with curious manipulations of body, space, and reality. Although the show did incorporate fresh storylines and inventive visuals, the overall shadow-theater experience felt a bit redundant due to the length of the program. It would be refreshing to see the company bring a collection of shorter works from their repertoire for a more varied production.