Anyone expecting demure ballerinas with slicked-back buns to "demi-plié" across the Bijou's stage Saturday night at GO! Contemporary Danceworks' production of "The Search for Persephone" was in for a startling surprise.
The dance company, which specializes in a unique blend of ballet and modern dance styles, put on a performance of proportions suited to its Greek theme and characters: epic.
Centered around the myth of Persephone, daughter of harvest goddess Demeter, the story was told masterfully through the imaginativeness of artistic director Lisa Hall McKee and her team of creative collaborators. Elements of ancient mythology were brought to life in abstract and unanticipated ways.
Red velvet curtains swept back to reveal a shimmering blue-clad Laura Burgamy, symbolic of Uranus, dangling in the air, one of many times aerial dance was incorporated into the production. As Burgamy performed feats of acrobatic elegance, Gaea – performed expertly by Darby O'Connor – came to life for one of the most visually-riveting moments of the ballet.
Standing atop a raised platform, O'Connor was a larger-than-life "Mother Earth," with several dancers hidden beneath her flowing skirt. They danced cyclically around her, causing the fabric to ripple like waves and further adding to O'Connor's earthiness. Several ballerinas dressed as gleaming silver stars completed the scene, meant to represent the love of Uranus and Gaea from which all life sprung.
This scene transitioned immediately to solely Pandora on stage, grasping an ornate silver box. The release of the "Evils" – dancers donned in decadent gilded masks — into the world was another highlight of choreography. The score turned menacing, and the Evils' twisted, contorted bodies achieved a decidedly dark feel. The music again turned soft and lilting as "Hope" restored the mortals' spirits.
Scenes between Persephone and Demeter pre-capture were slightly less enthralling by comparison. Although effectively portraying a tender mother-daughter relationship and the latter's youthful innocence, they were what one might expect of a stereotypical ballet — delicate ballerinas in frothy layers tip-toeing through fields of "flowers" – again abstractly performed by dancers, as most inanimate objects were. It was in scenes involving dark, unnerving subject matter that this production shone in a delightfully unconventional way.
Scenes taking place within the underworld, where the abducted Persephone has been crowned queen, were among those that shone brightest. Laura Patterson played a wonderfully creepy gatekeeper of hell, laughing maniacally as it is revealed she tricked Persephone into eating the food of the dead, a pomegranate. Doomed souls danced wretchedly about the stage, their writhing figures reminiscent of asylum-wards and just as eerie.
Beyond the excellence of these uncanny scenes, another area where the production sparkled was in its costume and set design, all of which were the product of volunteer work. Lavish and incredibly whimsical, they made for a visually sumptuous performance. Those in the underwater scene with Amphitrite, goddess of the sea and played by Courtney Willis, were among the most exceptional. A massive oyster shell opened to reveal a pirouetting "pearl," and several more pearls danced about the stage, their costumes pristinely white and draped in strands of pearls. A scene depicting fluorescent deep-sea creatures was inspired, and had much of the audience laughing aloud.
The production in its entirety was of such a professional and exceedingly detailed quality, it was deeply impressive to know it was the work of a local, relatively-small dance company. The dancers and artists of GO! realized their delightfully whimsical vision entirely, rendering this show a sure success.