Veronica Lee-Baik has a clear eye for an unusual landscape—her stage pictures are distinctive and disturbing. Lee-Baik’s Her Name is Isaac (Cornish Playhouse, February 11-12), pulls you into an opening image, only to trick you once you think you’ve figured out what you see. This happens over and over again in the course of the evening, until you’re hesitant to believe the truth even when it sits in front of you.
That tricky opening is visually dense, with projected images by Robert Campbell almost overshadowing what seems like a mannequin hanging from a white balloon. The figure has red ribbons tied round its waist, winding all over the stage like blood—a mark of sacrifice to go with the title, perhaps, or a map to find our way home. But as the projections continue to evolve, at first a series of blue dots connected by circles like star charts, the limp figure we thought was a puppet stands up, and walks slowly off stage, trailing the balloon behind. Variations on this magician’s sleight of hand trick play out during the work: the ensemble “pulls” red streamers out of their mouths like entrails, or blows sand from seemingly empty hands. They appear like conjoined twins connected at the head by stretchy fabric tubes (similar to Franz Erhard Walther’s recent show at the Henry Gallery).
The movement for the ensemble is highly deliberate through the beginning sections of the dance, accumulating force slowly and reinforcing the visual nature of the work. They frequently blend in with the detailed environment that Campbell’s images create (reinforced by some complex lighting by Meg Fox). All of this resonates with a varied electronic sound score by Brendan Patrick Hogan and Fritz Rodriguez, with contributions by Max Richter. The general group does eventually move with power, but the effect is more mysterious than assertive, with smaller groups forming and falling apart. Both Sruti Desai and Lee-Baik perform as solo figures. While Desai moves through the ensemble, she seems unaffected by them. Lee-Baik appears almost totally removed—spasming and stutter-stepping with great agitation.
While Lee-Baik’s strong visual sense is obvious in a number of striking moments in Her Name is Isaac, the work accumulates more than it develops. The score begins with a retelling of the biblical story, but the language of the text soon modifies into more pure sound. The dance isn’t a narrative in any kind of conventional sense, but it’s hard to know how to parse its many elements. The program describes seeing the role of women through a distinctly Asian lens, and “the journey of being a woman in a man’s world,” but though the design elements do make some Asian references, it’s difficult to find these ongoing threads. Like the mysterious figure at the beginning of the show, Her Name is Isaac is perhaps something other than it appears.
More information about The Three Yells can be found on their website.