Review: ‘Cirque De Nuit’ by PrioreDance at Atlas Performing Arts Center

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Figures emerge into the light. They are remarkably similar and without guise, and as the bodies accumulate in number; it is as if one has been multiplied by ten. The variations are obvious but the eye is moved by the depth of similarity, whether male or female, short or tall. These are people after all, with similarities very much in common.

Cirque De Nuit, by PrioreDance, plays September 13 and 14 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of PrioreDance.
Cirque De Nuit, by PrioreDance, plays September 13 and 14 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy of PrioreDance.

Cirque De Nuit (Circus of the Night), an evening-length movement theatre fantasy choreographed by Artistic Director Robert Priore for the Washington, DC-based PrioreDance, finds its strength in the notion of community. Priore draws on the identity of outcast characters and misfits who pool together to entertain by day, then bond in mutual support outside the prying gaze of watchers.

The movement style is reminiscent of Gaga, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin for the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company that invites dancers to feel movement from ‘within.’ The vocabulary also recalls the stylistic choices of Vogue Fem with graceful fluidity and exaggerated movements influenced by jazz, ballet, and modern dance.

In the early part of the work, a competitive edge is added as the performers remain at the perimeter of the stage to observe one another, and at times, audibly cheer each other on. A master of ceremonies propels one ‘act’ into the next, empowering the marginalized characters of each group to perform for the rest. The groupings fluctuate accenting the sensuality of floor work with spins and falls, mimed facial expressions, larger-than-life hand movements, and glorious partnering work that defies gender and gravity. The cabaret-style, circus essence is furthered with music by composers including Jacque Brel and Brigette Bardot, and lyrics sung in French. Priore sites music as the framework for the storyline, and it sets clear demarcations for sections of choreography, though moments of silence brought rewarding transitions and a rest from the intensity of the sound. Lighting by designer Paul Callahan enhances the sense of place, adding sharp shafts of light or moments that make performers appear or disappear unnoticed.

Cirque De Nuit is a feast of remarkably supple and resilient movement that defines the characters. Magali Zato and Sherman Wood counterbalance like conjoined twins, as if sharing one spine. Abby Leithart and Diana Amalfitano swoop with exacting grace. Impossibly long tresses of hair, wigs in white and black intertwine in sweet opposition.

Robert Woofter dances in a long triangle of light, a softly feminine dance, beyond assumptions about sexual identity. Philip Baraoidan plays a delightful monkey-like figure controlled by his female owner in red, Taylor Pasquale. The clown figure, Ryan Carlough, chuckles with delight. His mouth, smeared in red, merely responds to the multiple contortions that wave through his body.  

M.C./Ringmaster Jamal Abrams commands with long limbs that encompass the space. Later, dancer Kelsey Rohr and Abrams share a duet, beautiful in detail, uncanny in precision. Rohr provides substantial emotional detail, a caressing sweetness that brings the story back to the community of outcasts that together find a place to explore identity and avoid struggles.   

Cirque De Nuit reflects the marginalized members of society. At a time when the rejection of minority groups is front and center, it brings a longing for the day we can ignore backgrounds and instead find understanding. Empowerment is generated by a supportive community. It’s time to lend a hand.

Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes, with no intermission.

Cirque De Nuit, by PrioreDance, plays on Thursday and Friday, September 13-14, 2018, at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Paul Sprenger Theatre – 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 x 2, or purchase them online.

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