A mystical journey awaits you in the waters of Yards Park. Water mythology, wartime, love and loss, all of this is intricately intertwined into the devised site-specific water ballet/theatrical performance The Nautical Yards presented by Force/Collision. A picturesque pond in the park with a bridge and vast rolling hill; a green field leading down to the water; the setting for this unique production. Audience members can find their seats on a glass balcony overlooking the water on at the low edge of the sloping green, watching the waterfall at the far end of the watery enclosure, enjoying the reflective light of the setting sun against its surface as the show begins.
Director John Moletress sets the show to begin just as the sun begins to sink into the sky. Running an hour in duration Moletress’s selection of this time allows for the perfect union of the show’s natural progress and nature’s end of the day, letting the light of the sun slink away making the ending of the show not only darker but somehow more profound. His work to coordinate such a vast project is nothing short of impressive, corralling 26 performers and submerging them to varying degrees in water, having them run around the space and make use of all their surroundings to tie all the elements of an outdoor performance together into one unifying experience.
Costume Designer Collin Ranney shows sheer genius in his expressions displayed in the simple white color scheme of the show. Everyone wears white, or a slight variation on white. The most breathtaking piece is worn by The Goddess, a white dress with the pure notions of being a bridal gown, a grand cape of white woven netting to look akin to seaweed and a glorious crown of seashells to adorn her head. Ranney outfits the main water dancers, who appear to be water sprites or nymphs, in a similar seaweed style cloaking, giving them the appearance that they are the lesser children of the goddess. His choice of white allows the reflections of purity and raw emotion to shine through, the clothes often becoming transparent in the water, just as the deep emotions of the performers grow unmistakably clearer as the show progresses.
The one shortcoming is that there is often just too many things happening at once. And normally this would not present a problem if it were in an average performance space. However, the space in which the show occurs is vast, and at times there are groups of people in the water at the back end of the pool while others are up atop the bridge on the far side, and some are up on the hill far enough away to be unrecognizable save for their white outfits. It was impossible to pick a focal point during these moments because as you were enjoying one set of performers doing something you were afraid you might be missing something else intriguing or interesting. Had the performance space been more condensed or had there been fewer separations in groups of activities – this would have eased the lack of focus.
Choreographer Erica Rebollar creates masterful pieces of work displayed by a team of four dancers, herself included, performed almost entirely in the water. Reballar, joined with Heather Doyle, Sylvana Christopher, and Amber Jean Tietgens, become the four aquatic nymphs in a sense, their first series of movements in the water almost as if they are the water itself. They move about, swaying and falling against one another as waves crash upon the shore. Rebollar creates dynamic changes between her segments of dance, one moment fluid and serene the next jarring and stilted with sharp jerky motions performed to a pointed rhythmic clockwork soundtrack.
And the sound work, a combination of found sounds provided by GAIA and composer Daniel Paul Lawson, creates stunning images when combined with holds or pauses in the performance. At times the soundtrack is almost disorienting, distorted as if the sounds themselves are coming from under the water, creating the illusion that perhaps the audience is actually underwater watching these performers in their natural habitat.
The performers are beyond courageous for adapting hints of a story through interpretive dance and exploratory movement in the water. There are physical struggles as the chorus of men surge toward the waterfall and the women struggle to tug the back. There are moments of mourning and loss when the chorus of women begin sifting through letters that come sweeping over the waterfall. But perhaps the most stunning moment of all comes from The Sea Goddess (Dane Figueroa Edidi.) The movements are graceful, almost ghostlike, moving slowly from the top of the waterfall, around the audience and then down into the water. Edidi remains reserved and one with the water for most of the production but there are explosive moments where he bursts into frantic and fierce tribal dances, running across the water faster than would seem possible, stomping and splashing about as if to cause a maelstrom of emotions displayed upon the water’s surface. Edidi gives a spectacular performance and all eyes are on him every time he moves.
But with a perfect twilight to end a perfect show this limited engagement is the crowning glory of exploratory devised works this season. Be sure not to miss The Nautical Yards as it has a limited engagement.
Running Time: One hour over sunset.
The Nautical Yards plays through April 29, 2012 at Force/Collision at The Yards Park – 10 Water Street SE, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them upon ypir arrival one hour prior to show time, or purchase them online. Standing room seating is free, but reserved seats are recommended.