Ryan Tumulty’s devised movement piece Dream Love is a surreal combination of dance and theater, switching back and forth from scene to choreography to illustrate the story of six people rocked by their own tumultuous relationships.
“Dance when you’re broken,” suggests the program of the Avalanche Theatre Company’s new dance and physical theater piece. This phrase combined with the trite title conjures a slightly cloying sense of clichéd romanticism. The first impression is unfortunate, as the piece itself brilliantly straddles the line between predictable and innovative. The plot structure, which begins with a shattered state of affairs and then reconstructs the events that led there, seems somewhat over-done, but the plot itself is complex and well-realized enough to counteract the simple beginning. Similarly, the dramatic opening dance complicates a fairly standard love triangle story by presenting it in a fast and physical manner that hits the audience hard and only makes sense in retrospect, as the story clarifies itself.
The choreography is definitely the highlight of the piece, well-integrated with the scenes it follows. The movement of the entire piece is slightly heightened and exaggerated, with violent tantrums and dynamic tickle fights, so that it feels real in the world of the play and makes a smooth transition into the blackbox-rocking, wheeling dervish of masterful modern dance that heightens characters’ emotions as well. When Milo (Ryan Alan Jones) draws a blue chalk circle around himself in a fit-like dance at the end of the opening number, he seals himself into a space that serves as bedroom, emotional bubble, and clock as the play goes on. He, Lia (Tori Bertocci), and Daemon (Robert Bowen Smith), run backwards around the circle and back in time to fall into a giggling heap. The gesture could seem comical or overly literal but comes in subtly enough that it just adds to the motion of the play.
The dance numbers are fast-paced, deeply emotional and breathtakingly clear: prolonged eye contact or a stylized fight makes the characters’ changing relationships more clear and personal than words can. One of the best-used dance elements is the lifts, as the charged moment of one character supporting another or dropping them speaks volumes about their emotional connection. Characters physically break up or come back together; a camera trained on a couple throws their relationship into stark relief. The formula of a play swerving into a dance and back again works brilliantly to express the complex and charged plot. The most heartrending or shocking events are often rendered through movement alone, making them resonate on a primal level.
One issue I noticed, however, is with the dialog. Initially, simple, ordinary wording contrasts nicely with the more artistic movement. But later, as strange poetry wafts over the sound system or characters fight verbally in a high, sophisticated style, making use of weird metaphors, the dialog alienated me by pulling me out of the realm below words that the exhilarating dance called me to enter. A simplification of the dialog, particularly at the end, would better highlight the incredible dance elements and let the beautiful staging and surprisingly good acting shine.
Overall, the stunning performances and excellent choreography fill the blackbox space with a surging emotion that breaks the bounds of cliché to include an element of the sublime.
Dream Love plays through July 26, 2014 at The Shop at Fort Fringe – 607 New York Ave NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe Page.