BWW Reviews: La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival Presents Pavel Zustiak + Palissimo Company's 'The Painted Bird' Trilogy Cycle
Pavel Zustiak's trilogy The Painted Bird is nostalgic in the way the exorcised feel romantic about their lost demons. The ongoing creation of an expatriate born and raised under Communist Czechoslovakia, it bleeds from the gnawing ache of memories - the mind's greatest gift and affliction. The Painted Bird, based on Jerzy Kosinski's 1965 novel about a nomadic boy's experience wandering through Europe during World War II, travels through realms of transformation and bravely confronts the manipulative qualities of time and distance. It is raw and interrogational, yet the information produced is organized meticulously to uncover a sensation that is uncomfortably intimate and intentionally well hidden.
"Bastard," first of the three parts, exposes loneliness through extreme isolation. Crouched low and balanced precariously near to the floor, an extraterrestrial creature scuttles across the desolate, dimly lit stage in a prescribed linear pattern. The scene is reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic world, and the dancer is indecipherable in age or gender. A large overcoat and face coverage could suggest the innocence of a child or the destitution of homelessness; in either case the creature is totally and utterly alone, navigating an empty space as if following the explicit margins of freeway lanes. The persistent rhythm of feet sliding along the floor is broken up by the occasional heartbreaking sigh of viola strings coming from another outsider silhouetted in the darkness. The soloist, revealed to be Jaro Vinarsky, defines banishment with modicums of distressingly frank movement installed in isolated pockets across the stage. Joe Levassuer's lighting design is an active landscape for Vinarksy's separation just Christian Frederickson's musical accompaniment is a continuous push and pull between starkness and sorrow.
In the second section of the trilogy, "Amidst," the audience becomes a curious crowd in a smoke-filled room. Wandering about the dark and barely-navigable space, the audience takes cues from an occasional spotlight or projection on a screen as they wander and wonder. Three dancers, Elena Demyanenko, Nicholas Bruder, and Pavel Zustiak, slice and tumble through the crowd, parting the sea of smog and bodies like long-awaited messengers. Their message is corporeal, yet enigmatic. The three of them are sharing an experience from which they are selecting only specific parts to share with those of us on the outside.
Stamina and revisiting previously traversed ground maintains the end of The Painted Bird's episodic journey. In "Strange Cargo," the third and final section, the audience is arranged on either side of the theater facing in toward the stage with five dancers and a large table. There is an overarching, ear-to-the-ground nervousness throughout "Strange Cargo." Though the most ensemble-based portion of the trilogy, the dancers shift between threatening one another and not acknowledging one another. Bright side lighting gives "Strange Cargo" an interrogative sentiment and the dancers aggressively strip away familiar themes and articles of clothing to reveal uninvited surprises. "Strange Cargo" is the straw that breaks the camel's back. It is hellish and difficult. It is the moment when all the banished are together in one place, and the outcome is simultaneously accusatory and reflective. It forces responsibility and recognition on all participants.
Zustiak's trilogy The Painted Bird is rare in the sense that it is as intimate as a personal narrative and as authentic as historical nonfiction. Collaboratively, The Painted Bird is a genius production. The full experience is accessed because of the multi-dimensional approach to dance theater production - superb lighting, brilliant musical composition, skillful and straightforward performers, and authentic costuming. Essentially, Zustiak conveys many visions as one vision. He tells many stories in few words.