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“Dear New Member,” the event reminder begins. “We’re so glad you have answered the call to join the Krak Republic. As a new member of our body, we ask that you bring something to contribute tangible or intangible. You will be asked to present this contribution upon your arrival.” Thus, days before the theatrical dance performance Dragonslayer, my immersion begins as I muse about an appropriate offering to bring to this near-future retelling of the Polish legend of the Wawel Dragon. 

Photo by Allina Yang

As I stand in the rain waiting a little anxiously for “Serafin” (a.k.a. dancer Kara Beadle) to inspect my contribution, I wonder how the fragrant cutting from my sarcococca bush will help me as an audience/Republic member “chase a new ending to the futuristic legend” as the promotional material describes it. The couple before me receive LED candles, but I do not. What does that mean? Did my offering not pass muster? Once inside the lobby of the Good Shepherd Center, whose wide wooden banisters and stained-glass windows are reminiscent of a castle, another member of the Krak Republic, dancer Natalie Grant, informs my audience grouping of the “Chapel” rules which included “no abuse of any member of our body,” a clever way to set expectations for audience behavior without breaking character.

Anticipation and suspense build as our small group ascend the stairs to where we shed our coats and bags and wait in chairs bathed in a green light. The woman next to me, who turns out to be performer Una Ludviksen’s mother, and I compare our contributions all the while hearing voices, occasional thudding noises and music beyond the closed mammoth wooden doors. A Republic member, smudge-faced and costumed in camo pants and a long jacket, preps us for entry.  

Photo by Allina Yang

Once inside, I shiver in the cold air coming in from the open windows past the piano where experimental composer Maciej Lewandowski is seated. This production co-directed by Audrey Rachelle and Alex Oliva (collectively known as AnA) evolved when Lewandowski, who received a commission from the Polish Consulate to make a new work, approached AnA to help him reimagine the ancient legend his mom told him. 

Photo by Allina Yang

With the audience milling about the pillow-strewn cavernous room, it takes me a while to notice two dancers grappling with each other, taking off each other’s coats, alternately rolling on the floor and pressed against a column passionately making out. As the music gets louder, more discordant, and strobe lights pulse, Republic member Nikki Cordona urgently moves me to the low dais-like stage along with the rest of the audience members. One of the two lover dancers is carried Rite-of-Spring style to where she performs a solo of jerky movements. As she contracts her torso, her ribs and shoulder blades protruding, she looks to be possessed, under attack or trying to escape this dark, dystopian world closing in on her. My hackles lift in the atmosphere of a cursed hunt. 

Suddenly, the air is filled with red flyers raining down from the balcony above the dais where a Goth king figure, (Ben Swenson-Klatt), stands. I’m not sure if they are the dragon. My friend whispers that the flier says not to stand still, or the dragon will target me. I start shifting back and forth as some audience members are chosen to sit at a wooden table where they are offered shots of golden liquid and told to arm wrestle. In a low voice, someone says that this is the process to find the strongest person to slay the dragon. Soon my elbow digs into the wood, and I stare intimidation into my opponent’s eyes as my arm shakes with chants of encouragement surrounding us. When I stand, I retrieve two pages from what appears to be a journey diary, days 278 and 279 from under the table. “We walked another 35 miles today. We lost another 5 to starvation and 3 to exhaustion. We came across a few survivors…A couple of them seem strong and could be helpful guards. –MK”

By this point, I find myself periodically glancing over my shoulder worried that I am standing still too long, wondering if the dragon is sneaking up on me. Soon the bleats of sheep fill the air and a dancer (Alex Oliva) in a sheer suit is unloaded from a plastic bin–the sacrificial lamb. She shoulder rolls displaying the zipper along her butt crack as she undulates hypnotically. I am simultaneously fascinated by her control over her body and cringing in anticipation of her demise. She is eventually struck down, gagged, and carried through the crowd. 

Photo by Allina Yang

All the while, the audience shuffles around, some being asked by members of the Republic if they want a different perspective, before leading them away. At one point, I almost step on a dancer behind me on the floor and sometimes have to back quickly out of the way so as not to collide with dancers rushing through to where they move against walls and on window ledges. 

Abruptly in our midst, two dancers hug desperately. Tension rises as they grasp the backs of each other’s heads and they begin to fight. I am behind them as Rachelle maneuvers her opponent to the ground. I can tell by the anguished expression of the audience member across from me that indeed Rachelle is choking the other dancer. The dancer’s legs twitch in an awful way and then she is deathly still. Rachelle drags her through the crowd and a door in the paneling that I didn’t notice before.  

Suddenly at my elbow, “Serafin” tells me it is time to rest and leads me to lie down and instructs me to keep my eyes on the horizon until dawn. As I lie there watching a dancer draping over the balcony wall, people start filtering out. The epic adventure is over. The immersive experience has been exciting and uncomfortable in a good way. I know from the performance blurb that the goal of the production is to learn if the community will remain in stasis or try for change. I assume this is a metaphor for society making political or cultural shifts given the performance troupe and audience is called the Republic. As the experience swirls and percolates through me, I’m not sure if I feel we as an audience chose change, but we certainly witnessed gritty struggle and raw animalistic fire in a crucible of dance, sound, light, and participation. I wander over to an altar I noticed earlier filled with books in a foreign language and leave my fragrant offering. The sleeting cold hailstones outside feel like the perfect cleansing of the dragon’s reign.