Ted Shawn Theater, Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA

September 18, 2002
by S. E. Arnold

Like Cloud Gate, Momix offered audiences at Jacob's Pillow a meditation on the problem of life.

Conceived and directed by Moses Pendleton, collaboratively made, and ecumenical in out look, Passion, titled after the Passion of Christ, shifts the source of spiritual redemption found in the Cloud Gate's Song of the Wanderers from inside the individual to outside the individual or redemption bestowed rather than achieved. Passion features five (and sometimes more) movers – rather than dancers because the movement lexicon employs suspended ropes, knee pads, props, and each other – moving to or along with music composed by Peter Gabriel for the Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

The spiritual quality of Passion arises, one thinks, out of its plotless, episodic structure – a feature it shares with life or the problem of life – and the deliberate layering of its aspects, i.e. moving, music, and décor. In fact, as if to assert the difference between material appearance and spiritual reality, the moving or action of Passion happens behind a scrim. Additionally, a pastiche of images (including ones of natural objects, portraits, religious depictions, architecture, and abstract symbolic shapes) continuously stream across the scrim; and although the rhythm of their flow complements the rhythm of episodes, the images command meanings independent of the moving they overlay. The intent, one thinks, of this variation on Plato's cave, is to saturate or overwhelm the senses rather than suggest or guide a perceiver toward a truer realm. In this sense, the scrim deliberately creates a palpable boundary, a layer between moving and décor. Additionally, the music seems to hover freely about its partners, combining at will with either dance or décor in ever changing compounds of sight/sound to generate meanings independent of either. The combination of Passion's subject matter and the sensual overload of its layered aspects intends, one thinks, to disables rational thought and produce a state of ecstasy in the viewer.

Yet, this gaseous state of affairs coheres well enough such that a familiar story fills a three-part ANA (rather than ABA) form. Passion retells a 'creation-fall-redemption' story within 21 episodes organized roughly into Abstraction-Narration-Abstraction sections. For example, the first third of the episodes are abstract dances characterized by playful shapes or Chaos. Additionally, there is a section here that could be understood to show how or merely that evil entered the world. The second, or Narration, section refers directly to the sufferings of Christ and features the once semi-nude female movers heavily draped in red 15th-century looking costumes. Abstraction returns in section three following the death of Christ to describe a Platonic Heaven that is like a kaleidoscope: movers create complex geometrical and harmonious shapes.

In the Twilight Zone of Passion, however, there are signposts or reference points that help guide weary viewers through its sensual haze. One of those points announces the entrance to Heaven. Through the misty scrim, one sees three semi-nude ladies covered in heaps of white tulle gently make their way to center stage and arabesque. That signpost reads: Welcome to the Kingdom of the Shades.

At once flip and serious, the rush and mix of Passion's moving, décor, and music poses, but offers no answer to the riddle of life: "What does it all mean?" The very question audience members asked to one another as they squeezed out of the Ted Shawn Theatre.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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