Want to lose track of reality for a while? Then go see the head-trippy “Venus and Adonis” by Ballet of the Dolls this weekend. The troupe, led by choreographer Myron Johnson, has ventured from its home in northeast Minneapolis to the Cowles Center downtown, arriving Friday night with a dreamlike, multimedia, Sage Award-nominated meditation on love and romance.
The Dolls perform entirely behind a nearly translucent screen designed to showcase the stream-of-consciousness video design projected upon it. Will Rees is responsible for this effect, as well as the eye-catching lights. The technical aspects are, in many ways, as significant to “Venus and Adonis” as the dancing itself. They are integrated completely into the evening-length piece, creating a seamless — and often dazzling — symbiotic relationship between image and movement.
Johnson draws upon a variety of thematic and choreographic influences for this work. At times the dancing (which highlights the strong women of the Dolls, including Rebecca Abroe, Heather Brockman and Stephanie Fellner) offers a hint of Martha Graham-style illusion through the use of sweeping gestures and flowing skirts. There’s also a detour into the slick 1970s disco era. A Busby Berkeley homage is most apparent, particularly in the second half, when the show assumes the feel of a lush theatrical extravaganza.
Most beautiful is the call-and-response between the dancing onstage and a corps de ballet on the video — especially as the celluloid performers loom large and shadowy within the proscenium, like twirling ghosts of a bygone era.
The soundtrack features a range of haunting voices including Kate Bush, Carole King and Julee Cruise. Music always plays a key role in Johnson’s works, and his selections are particularly poignant here. The songs are whimsical, ethereal, defiant, intense and honest — they mirror the winding emotional trajectory of many a love story.
“Venus and Adonis” does present some challenges — on occasion the video dominates and the dancers are swallowed up into darkness. And adjusting one’s focus between the foreground of moving image and the background of live performance takes some getting used to. But love is all about shifts of perspective, not to mention layer upon layer of meaning. And at its very best love is akin to magic. Johnson, ever the conjurer of onstage fantasy, knows this well.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.