BWW Reviews: Jody Oberfelder's 4CHAMBERS Explores the Depths of the Heart
When describing 4CHAMBERS by Jody Oberfelder Projects, one should not take the phrase "immersive theater" lightly. From the moment choreographer and mastermind Jody Oberfelder personally introduces her audience of 12 to the piece and then selects them one by one, taking both hands into hers and locking eyes that stare straight into the soul, the audience is propelled into what the show promotes itself as "a sensorial journey into the human heart." WARNING: This show is not for the light of heart or for anyone unwilling to open their heart to the journey that is to come.
With a set by Juergen Riehm and lighting by Kryssy Wright, Brooklyn's unique Arts@Renaissance venue is transformed into a part-contemporary-art-installation, part-science-display, part-intimate-theater fun-house inspired by the most intriguing organ of the human body- the heart. To explore the installation, the audience is split into pairs, randomly (or perhaps not) chosen and led by one of six "dancer docents" (from a rotating cast of a total of eight), who act more than just tour guides.
The audience is first introduced to the dancers at the Physical Chamber. Led by music by Matt McBane and Richard Einhorn, the dancers playfully move across a bare room, not to merely entertain their audience but to entice them to join in. And not just gentle hand-holding or jumping up-and-down- from rolling on the floor to warm embraces to over-the-shoulder lifts, audience members are thrust, sometimes literally, from one side of the audience-performer spectrum to another. There is no time to argue that spectator and dancer just met; open hearts are mandatory at this performance, and the depth of which one opens their heart to their dancer docent can make for a surprisingly pleasant experience. Even when dancers exchange between their pair, the experience is still very much enjoyable for the wallflower audience. With dancers in plain clothes, the lines between dancer and spectator are blurred within the improvisation.
Then in comes choreography. Not that there is anything wrong with choreography; it is a reminder that this is first and foremost a dance performance. However, the abrupt change may cause audience members to reluctantly take their place as spectator. But even between the feet stomping, the swiveling hips, and tremendous lifts are constant reminders that the audience is still very much involved. Those reminders are the eyes. Eyes that stare straight into the soul. In a space where one person is no farther than five or six feet away from another, making eye contact is easy. And when making eye contact is easy, looking away is easier. But the dancers don't look away. Instead they seek each and every single person in the room, asking, even pleading, for the audience to stay connected. And there is no time to disconnect because the audience is swiftly directed to participate in the choreography. Whether standing in place during a heart-pounding duet or placing both hands on their dancer's heart during a series of contractions (dancing contractions but almost similar to CPR contractions), the audience's role is vital.