Hazy purple fog and bass-heavy electronic music bleeds from the performance entrance. Inside, Emma Wheeler makes her way around the space, attempting to balance in various positions of difficulty (on the kneecap, head, etc.). It seems that the instability in these formations is the focal point of her movement. With arms outstretched, she approaches each pose as though her every wobble is planned, never forfeiting an attempt for lack of maintainable balance.
aaaa, directed and conceived by Carl Lawrence, begins with several scenes. A child in a white veil and dress walks onto the stage with staggered steps. Her upper torso rebounds slightly with every placement of the foot, suggesting that some degree of force is needed for her body to progress forward in space. The same walking pattern is repeated in other performers throughout the work.
The young dancer takes three plastic snakes out of a bucket, the first of several thematic images of danger. Later a painting is slashed open with a knife, blood spewing from its interior. This gesture brings the two dimensional work to life, seemingly warning the audience of the sinister power within a stationary art. Sparks fly suddenly off of objects in the corner of the room, indicating that that this dark world has the potential to shock at any moment. The dangerous components are scattered throughout the work, introducing new fear as soon as the audience has begun to relax.
In the scene that follows, Wheeler holds her hand over her heart, a black substance slowly oozing from behind her hand, staining her dress. This gesture feels both intense and casual in its execution; Wheeler shows no distress over the ruin of her pristine white fabric as she retreats upstage.
An older man emerges in the space, accompanied by two other performers with stoic presence. He presents a monologue through a microphone that is at first drowned out by the music, but eventually audible. He speaks softly of sorrowful imagery, mirroring Wheeler with dramatic content delivered somewhat casually. As he speaks, his arms ascend behind him similar to Wheeler’s earlier choreography, and she resumes her former positions, balancing on the floor with limbs outstretched. They both appear to take flight without ever leaving the ground.
The creative team for aaaa is extensive, which is evident from the high volume of performative and design elements present at all times. Concept, direction and scenic design by Carl Lawrence is supported by fifteen other contributing artists in this multifaceted production. Choreographers and dancers Emma Wheeler and Matt Drews present individual movement aesthetics. Wheeler’s performance often focuses multiple points of impetus happening simultaneously and sequentially through the body. Drews is flashier in costume (costume design by Hannah Larson), performing in huge boots and a mask that covers the eyes with glitter. His movement travels, bounding through the space with emphasized steps and attention to rhythm. He interacts frequently with the raised platform in the center of the stage, moving on and off of it with ease despite the limitations of his costume. Drews plays with proximity to the splattered blood on the ground, almost touching it but dancing away instead.
Visual artist Nick Bartoletti displays projections on the back wall that often resemble the texture of a flowing river, complementing the momentum of the environment, alternating between background images that highlight the performance and more elaborate moving images that draw focus while the live performers are still or moving minimally.
The music by Kayla Waldorf (Aos) is one of the main highlights of the show. Her DJ equipment is stationed in the the upstage center of the space. Though her interactions with the other performers in the show are limited, it seems that she is still in this imagined world alongside them. Waldorf weaves samples from dozens of of artists into a cohesive score. She is attentive to each moment of the performance and creates musical changes with perfect timing. The strength of the sound immediately engrosses audience members and holds attention over time.
As a whole, aaaa presents inevitable demolish. An American flag is dipped in black water while hung from the ceiling, out of reach of the performers, suggesting an inability to control destruction. The audience is rearranged as two rows of seats are wheeled onto the stage. This places the lack of control over circumstances on viewers in addition to performers. In another scene, Wheeler holds two orbiting light sticks, at first dancing with them but eventually placing them on the floor, observing the toys while lying still. This choice comments on the implications of technology to replace human presence. The dancer has yielded her performance to a cast of spinning lights.
Overall, aaaa is a spectacular demonstration of multidisciplinary work. The volume of elements presented simultaneously is impressive, as is the smoothness in execution of all of these attributes. The world of the piece is captivating and maintains focus throughout its time. It wholeheartedly delivers an immersive audience experience, both mesmerizing and perilous in the best way.