Written by Kathryn Hightower
A beautiful woman with blue curls, a friendly man with black fingernails, and a nonchalant tangerine-juggler welcomed the public to The Cabiri’s Gods of the Night on February 22, 2013. Inside Shorecrest Performing Arts Center’s grand auditorium, breathy music colored the atmosphere with mystery. Like Batman’s signal, an abstract Cabiri logo lit the walls. Before the curtain even opened, the stage was set for an evening of ancient storytelling and acrobatic feats. Performers breathed life into the Babylonian myth of Inanna through circus-like tricks, contemporary-influenced dance, and elaborate sets and costumes.
Inanna’s sacred tree, a branched pole topped by a metal ellipse, designed by Thomas York, was visually alluring, but the dancers’ climbing was clunky and the tree was noisy. Though Charly McCreary’s acting as Inanna was not fully believable, she redeemed herself in a graceful solo that became a strong duet with Jody Poth. The dancers moved in perfect unison and canon. In the Underworld, Inanna met Babylon’s seven planets. Jupiter, played by Artistic Director John Murphy, twisted and turned in a suspended hoop. Even though his solo was clumsy at times, his gentle movements were exciting as he spun upside down in asymmetrical poses.
Depicting the dual nature of Venus, McCreary and Erica Sherman glided as one in a suspended double hoop. They delicately flowed between symmetrical poses, proving that dance can be seamlessly combined with acrobatics. Mercury was portrayed by a large group of leaping dancers. With swift handstands, modern dance rolls, and juxtaposition of duets and trios, the dancers exemplified the best group work of the evening. Derek Broussard’s Saturn stretched like Da Vinci’s man and spun like a coin in the giant hoop known as a cyr wheel. His silver-painted athleticism was impressive, especially when he softly lifted one leg while spinning topsy-turvy.
Ian Jagel lorded over famine and war as Mars, in a long gown by Gretchen Frederich and a skull-like mask by Rob D’Arc. Jagel hung by his arms, from which extended huge, kite-like wings with flames of flowing red fabric. Cirque de Soleil’s Tanya Burka rivaled Louis XIV as the Sun, moving with slow intention in a suspended hoop. Two sumptuous gold silks flowed to the floor from which Burka could tumble and twist. Though the transitions between tricks were a bit halting, Burka’s shapes were powerful.
Erica Sherman’s Moon was gorgeously controlled and flexibly graceful. Unfortunately, the audience could not focus on her because of the four Sorceresses moving offstep around her. A pointe solo by the technically sound Sierra Catanzaro marked the strongest dancing of the second act, followed by her powerful, balletic duet with Murphy. In a moving ending fitting the epic strength of the story, Murphy and Catanzaro hung from black silk, flanking Inanna. In a suspended hoop, McCreary posed powerfully with warm, golden light illuminating her body.
The transitions in Gods of the Night were unsuccessful. Each change in scene was hidden by eerie music, which faded clumsily and predictably into a narrator’s voice. The male voice was too casual for the epic nature of the story, though the female narrator was successful in this respect. The dancers in hoops and silks were incredible in their feats, but the transitions between each trick were sometimes awkward. In addition, some members of the corps were clearly less skilled dancers than others. McCreary, Poth, and Catanzaro held the troupe with their strong technique. As The Cabiri works to incorporate more dance into their repertory, hopefully this skill level will increase.
The question is whether the performance was dance, circus, neither, or both. Perhaps because of the obvious focus on acrobatics, the audience felt they were at a circus, clapping at every trick. This distracted from the story the troupe was trying to tell, pulling watchers into current reality and out of ancient myth.
Overall, the performance was educational and the acrobatics impressive. Gods of the Night was a revival of a 2008 production; hopefully the world premiere of Tewaz this summer will reflect the improvements and new ideas The Cabiri have developed in recent years. Until then, visit www.cabiri.org/tewaz to learn more.