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Tarhun: Climbing Toward the Divine at SANCA

Written by Victoria Jacobs
Charly McCreary in Tarhun
Photo by John Cornicello 
Aerial dance is immediately emotional. The soaring bodies arched in space, flying, spinning, and falling, create drama and emotional pique. But Tarhun: Legend of the Lightning God, a ‘performative mythology’ by the dance-theatre-circus-uncategorizable Cabiri, goes one step further. This show, running April 6 through 15, 2012, seamlessly integrates the emotionality of high flying with the powerful resonance of mythology, creating a performance that is transportive, darkly magical, and enormously satisfying.

Tarhun retells an ancient Hittite myth about the titled storm god, played with chiseled heroism by artistic director John S. Murphy. Tarhun and his consorts battle against other gods and sometimes involve hapless mortals. Lauren Kettner is undulating, mischievous, and fascinating in her movement invention as the inhuman Kumarbi, Tarhun’s nemesis. The women who grieve and fight with Tarhun as his consorts are stoic, strong and astonishingly athletic. Especially delightful are the strong young dancers who play minions of the enemies of Tarhun; they are agile and fierce, and seeing different kinds of bodies on stage adds to the fullness of the story.

The Cabiri use an admirable range of storytelling devices: shadow puppetry, voiceover, costumes, dance, giant puppets, and, of course, the heart-pounding sweep of aerial performance on trapeze, silks, custom-made aerial equipment, and, if you can believe it, chains. It’s still easy to lose the precise thread of the story with so many unfamiliar names and unexpected events, but the visuals are so spectacular it’s no cause for distress.

John Murphy in Tarhun
Photo  by John Cornicello 
Every performer is highly trained, strong, and flexible; the costumes have clean lines and look gorgeous on the dancers’ bodies; and the puppets are magical. But best of all is that each of these elements serves the storytelling first. When a character takes flight at a climactic moment, it makes sense; he or she is divine, leaping into the air to fight dragons or giants. The costumes delineate the characters, whether they are in Tarhun’s clan, hungry climbing frost, or an ecstatic yellow ballet bee zipping through. The performers are true to the moments: the gods comport themselves with weight and majesty whether they are spinning in the air or sitting in the center of the audience; the Lord of Frost, Mike Stephan, is dedicated in his teeth-gnashing cruelty; Danny Boulet’s Aruna, the sea god, is haughty and golden, extravagantly beautiful and treacherous as he soars around the stage. The theatrics of the aerial work always seem earned in context, and they serve the huge drama and high emotion of gods and demons battling over the world; the magic of flight is what transports the audience into the world of Tarhun.

Tarhun is playing for two weeks at SANCA (School of Acrobaticsand New Circus Arts) in Georgetown, where the airplane-hanger style edifice has been transformed into a black box theatre with a floating stage and theatrical lighting. An army of dedicated fabricators, designers, choreographers, dancers, and music-makers have assembled their considerable talents to make a show that is utterly unique, moving, and rapturous. Seattleis lucky to have The Cabiri here, weaving their strange, beautiful and precise story.