Lewisville — Hot off the back of Halloween, I found myself in the midst of an eerily lit room stepping around the grabbing hands and skittering feet of a sea of movers in white facemasks—cloned replicas of one another. No, I was not at a haunted house, but rather imPULSE Dance Project’s manifestation of a “strange circus.” Together with company member Miranda Spence, Artistic Director Anastasia Waters choreographed an immersive dance production with surprises at every turn. Going past the experiment of mingling performers with audience members, Not Your Average Masquerade encouraged social media postings and constant readjustment of viewer perspective. Certainly a stretch from other holiday productions like the annual “Snow,” this experience showcased new conceptual and choreographic possibilities for the company.
With Waters acting as the Ringleader of her strange circus, dancers in simple white outfits crept stealthily into the space wearing non-descript white masks. Before the show, audience members were asked to move about the room freely for the duration of the performance, only steering clear of a few taped-off areas. In close quarters, many viewers (myself included) found themselves almost side-by-side with various cast members as they wove throughout the crowd with crawls, deep lunges, and discreet walks.
However, hidden dancers didn’t stay that way for long. Eventually themes of upward reach and climbing rose to the surface as clumps of movers pushed and pulled their way atop white moveable cubes placed around the room. The combination of uniform costumes/masks, synchronized repetitive phrases, and monotonous beats relayed an impersonal, yet familiar tone. 2econd Class Citizen’s musical accompaniment varied from heavy, pulsing bass to mysterious airy sounds — matching the waves of dynamic variation from the dancers.
Due to their masked faces and the dim, cool blue lighting, it was almost impossible to keep track of each mover as they traveled from the center of the stage into corners and audience areas. Faceless groups of dancers used this redirection of focus to direct viewer attention —through constantly shifting stage placement and also by herding groups of people to new vantage points.
One of the most intriguing concepts that emerged was the theme of watching and being watched. As the evening progressed, it became apparent that line between spectator and performer blurred the longer the show continued. Dancers hid themselves amid the crowd and observed their peers for long stretches of time before jumping into vibratory hand gestures, lazy flopping arm sways, and elongated contortions.
Another surprise made its appearance when dancers pulled open the window curtains to reveal three figures on the outside of the recital hall—throwing themselves against the glass in desperate grabs and sharp contractions. This use of the outdoors not only redefined the performance space, but also reinforced themes of observer/spectator relationships—a smart choreographic choice on the part of Waters and Spencer.
Not Your Average Masquerade contained no shortage of conceptual ideas: dancers hiding behind masks only to color them and discard them, using outside spaces, coloring blank white canvases, exploring with flashlights…and the list goes on. In fact, this explosion of ideas is my one critique of the show. I wished for longer time spent in each of these strange worlds. Honestly, it would have been completely satisfying for the dancers to leave their masks on the entire time. The switch from mysterious masked figures to unveiled individuals playing with color and light made logical sense, however these later explorations didn’t saturate in an impactful way.
Despite the sensory overload near the end of the performance, imPULSE Dance Project displayed immense growth in this immersive production. Choreographic team Waters and Spencer expanded the company’s movement vocabulary through thorough investigations of their surroundings.