Review: DREAM LOGIC: Aura Curiatlas at the Atlas Performing Arts Center

By: Mar. 08, 2016

Combine strength and humor, a dash of curiosity, a pinch of whimsy, and a generous dose of inventiveness, mix thoroughly and you have Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre's compelling brand of storytelling and movement.

DREAM LOGIC is a collection of nine short vignettes - all "what if..." questions explored wordlessly through dance, movement, posture, expression and athleticism. Some are very real and relatable situations: "Seats" asks: what if the last seat on a crowded bus was broken and wedged next to an undesirable seatmate? There are few props - the seats themselves are formed by dancers Mickey Lonsdale and co-artistic director Dan Plehal while dancers Joan Gavaler and Lauren Johns are passengers. In "Etude" when a joyful but unstudied dancer (Lauren Johns) comes to the stage from the audience, she happily joins the dance of the professional (Joan Gavaler) but both get frustrated as Gavaler attempts to show her the "right" way to do things. It is when the two let go and enjoy the process together we see that we all have legitimate roles as performers and creators. In "Pardon" a chance meeting between two very different people pushes each to see if they can rejoice in their differences or compel the other to adapt to their own way of doing things - do we lose out if we're to shy or stubborn to take the risk to try new things? "Krayola," a lighthearted number in which the audience gets very invested, introduces us to the crayons left in the box who want desperately to be the next crayon selected for use. Earlier in the evening, when gathering programs and claiming seats, audience members were invited to select a crayon from a box. Now each audience member was left to consider the factors that drove them to make the decision they did ... and feel a little sorry for Burnt Umber or Asparagus still languishing in the container.

"Loonatic," created and performed by co-artistic director Joan Gavaler, contrasts an internal struggle with a literal struggle with knit bands of material that form her costume and restrict her movement. Through figuring out a highly physical obstacle course, two people who come in as enemies find a new respect and bond in their necessary teamwork in "Couples Therapy."

Some questions are more fantastical: "Strings" has us consider what is it like to be a marionette forever joined to a partner? Here we see a striving to break free and a jealousy between the partners. "Strings" is one of the most athletic of the short stories and one of the darker works. There is great power and tension in the movement. With its cartwheeled actions and violent undertones it has a similar feel and vocabulary to some of the gang fights staged recently in Signature Theatre's WEST SIDE STORY. In "Rapid Eye Movement" we see the dreamer and, working together, the fragment parts of dreams transitioning from lighthearted repartee to more worrisome nightmares and back - yet all the while the sleeper dozes on in heavy slumber. "Newton's Cradle" highlights through amazing strength and synchronous movement the component parts of the famed desktop accessory that click-clacks the proof of the laws of motion.

In many of the stories cooperation is celebrated as a virtue. The company, Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre, certainly succeeds through working together. Creation of work is collaborative and improvisational. Cooperation is seen on stage in many ways. The acrobatic nature of the work requires the dancers to use each other for balance or leverage - there is great wonder and beauty in how the bodies fit together and support each other.

DREAM LOGIC is family friendly, but not dumbed down in any way. The central themes are readily accessible and dealt with compassionately and with great humor. With Aura Curiatlas, Washingtonians will find common bridges to the work of other local companies using physical theatre: the whimsy of Happenstance Theater or the athleticism of Synetic Theater.

The Aura Curiatlas dancers move to created or ambient sound or to music ranging from Bela Fleck to Penguin Café Orchestra. Costumes, props and lighting on this touring production are very minimal. Still, there are transitions needed between the stories for a quick costume change or swig of water. The company uses the time between to talk a bit more about the artistic process or audience-building. And while admittedly the transitions could be smoother, rather than appearing uncomfortable about "filling," the artists should know that the information provides a fascinating window into the challenging process of creating and promoting innovative work.

The company was in town as part of the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival (a diverse and high-energy two-week celebration of visual and performing arts) which concluded last weekend and will be back again this coming weekend with four more performances of DREAM LOGIC. Three new stories will be in the repertory: "Bucket of Youth," "Dust" and "Hatch." The INTERSECTIONS audience was treated to a peek of "Special Delivery" a work in progress so new it is not yet even set to music. The company generously opened up their creative process to feedback about what works and what doesn't and will continue to tweak the work over time.

Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre is a fascinating combination of movement and storytelling that draws in its audience with its humor, wonder, spontaneity and curiosity.

Runtime: 1:15 with no intermission

DREAM LOGIC runs through March 13 with shows Friday, March 11 at 8pm; Saturday, March 12, at 3pm and 8pm; and Sunday, March 13 at 7pm. The production is at the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington. For tickets or for more information, please see the Atlas Performing Arts Center website here or the site for Aura Curiatlas here.


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