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2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Pandæmonium’ at Nichole Canuso Dance Company and Early Morning Opera

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A featured work in this year’s Curated Fringe, Pandæmonium, by Nichole Canuso Dance Company and Early Morning Opera, is a conceptual reflection on relationships, separation, isolation, and emptiness, expressed through movement, music, theater, and video. Taking their inspiration from the contrasting landscapes of California’s suburbs and the Mojave Desert, advances in post-modern digital technology and connectivity, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point (the movie was widely panned as “Zabriskie Pointless” but its cinematography was highly acclaimed), Canuso, fellow Fringe veteran Geoff Sobelle, and singer/songwriter/musician Xander Duell perform their original creation live on stage, and in the virtual reality of live-feed, overlay, and pre-recorded video projections designed by Pablo N. Molina. 

Nichole Canuso and Geoff Sobelle. Photo by Lars Jan.

Nichole Canuso and Geoff Sobelle. Photo by Lars Jan.

Under Lars Jan’s provocative direction and Mike Inwood’s dark lighting, the show is frequently cryptic, sometimes funny, often disturbing, and always intriguing. There are comical bits of Canuso and Sobelle separately struggling with reclining beach chairs and dismembered mannequins, in California-style costumes by Olivera Gajic. There are frenzied segments of them passionately destroying papers and flowers (props by Alicia Crosby), and trying to avoid being hit by a pendulum that they swing back and forth. They roll around on the floor and tables, listless and longing, below an eighteen-foot movie screen with images of them coming together and overlapping (occasionally out of synch and not always in perfect alignment), though in reality they are far apart, on opposite sides of the stage (set design by Philipp Schaerer). There is no dialogue; they don’t speak.

2.Pandæmonium set, with mannequins and movie screen. Photo courtesy of the production.

The ‘Pandæmonium set, with mannequins and movie screen. Photo courtesy of the production.

Duell’s doleful songs on acoustic guitar and synthesizer (including the poignant “So Young” and a distinctive rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”) provide a haunting soundscape for the action. Famous scenes from Antonioni’s film—a loop of the climactic explosion, of the setting sun, and of the characters roaming through the barren western landscape–inform the mood of surreality and an altered state of perception, which in the film is fueled by drugs, in Pandæmonium by alcohol, and in both by estrangement. Suddenly the screen goes white and there is silence; they join each other, moving on and around a table, but then the sounds and imagery come back and they part. All are symbols of their distant physical, psychological, and emotional existence and alienation.

The complex piece evokes more of an expressive mood than a straightforward narrative, it is more suggestive than explicit, and therefore it is open to the personal perspective and interpretation of the viewer. Each member of the audience will be uniquely affected and respond differently to Pandæmonium; that’s the aesthetic, and the challenge, of conceptual art.

 Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without an intermission.

Pandæmonium plays through Sunday, September 18, 2016, performing at FringeArts – 140 North Columbus Boulevard, inPhiladelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 413-1318,

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