By David F. Pendrys [Note: The Company posted great photos of the whole performance.]
On three nights in West Hartford, and one night in Old Saybrook, the Sonia Plumb Dance company put on The Odyssey: An Epic Dance Journey. The excellent performance was choreographed by Plumb herself and lasted over an hour with no intermission, and few breaks for the core performers.
It all opens with a video on a large screen behind the stage as Odysseus (Christopher LaFleche) sinks in the water. He is soon surrounded and attacked by swimming women winding airy scarves around themselves and later him. An eerie and aquatic score with deep base plays accompanied the action as a lighting effect projected waves on the screen. The women grab him and pulling him down as the video fades.
Lighting rises as Poseidon (Bryan Smith) entered and danced with a well created double edged spear. His movement included an impressive double spin. Poseidon’s costume was regal and colorful though also ties back to what one might expect a Greek god to wear. He was adorned in an exquisite helmet as he dances and swings the weapon working to ruin Odysseus.
Athena (Kayla Rodriguez) entered and spun majestically in a white dress. She punctuated her efforts by grabbing the spear and swinging off of it in conflict with Poseidon. At several points she balanced on one foot while doing a scale with the other leg as she and Poseidon fight. She even grabs at the fellow deity, but he pushes her away, though she continues to struggle with him.
The next scene begins with Odysseus sitting in a spotlight surrounded by darkness with a ball on Calypso’s island. The audience is shown on video behind him as his wife Penelope (Sonia Plumb) is struggling to deal with her suitors. Penelope bends, and struggles, eventually being lifted as the video fades.
The lighting changed to green as Athena took the stage surrounded by gods and goddesses in resplendent costumes as the women are clad in nice gowns and the men in traditional tunics with gold and leafed headpieces. She danced in front of them pleading her case as they slowly gesture. She spun regally earning Odysseus his freedom from the island.
As Odysseus attempts to complete his voyage, Poseidon entered and the two battle rhythmically. Poseidon manhandles Odysseus, and the waves fling him as he rolls. Dramatic music leads to guitar as Poseidon continues to treat Odysseus roughly. The light fades and a drumbeat follows as Odysseus drifts in the water and Ino (Danielle Sinsigalli) enters with her purple veil. Red light covers the stage as Odysseus flounders and dances while on the floor. Ino slowly and aesthetically moves towards him rolling and moving the cloth with her legs. She eventually gives it to him and he accepts as choral vocals kick in with a fast beat behind them.
The scene changed as regal horn music played and the five primary dancers other than LaFleche enter in traditional but simpler Greek garb. Odysseus enters in armor, his Companion (Spencer Pond) wears a multicolored patterned tunic, Smith dresses in a more conventional reddish tunic. Rodriguez is in white, and Emily Campanelli and Sinsigalli have colored tunics. In their movements the group symbolize heading to war, adopting the poses often seen on various Greek art pieces, while moving their arms in various positions. The group acts at a similar pace but not together with everyone having different steps. There is spinning, and Campanelli and Sinsigalli had some impressive leaps through the center. So much goes on in this sequence which transitions into sacking Troy. Sinsigalli takes a prominent role spinning and turning in front. She later dances with Odysseus as the chaos grows. The piece makes heavily and effective use of lifts during the murder of Priam and Cassandra and the aftermath. This is the first, but not the last time, that all six of the core dancers share the stage at once in a tumult of dance and excitement.
Once the chaos ends, Odysseus and his Companion (who is largely a stand in for the entire crew) run along and commence their own shared dance. They leap often in unison throwing their right leg to their sides and later circle the stage. The Companion climbs the back of Odysseus and they look out onto the journey ahead of them. It is a an energetic and powerful scene.
Speaking of energy and power though the audience was treated to the staging of The Lotus Eaters next. The Companion is alone, as the Lotus Eaters (Campanelli, Rodriguez, Sinsigalli, and Smith) slowly enter clad in interesting puffier costumes that clearly channeled belly dancing a bit (as would the dance at times). At one point Sinsigalli moves forward and does a big leap and there is not surprisingly a lot of quality spinning. Though also, the dancers engage in slow movements mixed with fast furious ones. This serves to exemplify beautifully and athletically the highs and lows of the Lotus promises to provide and their goal of drawing in more people to succumb to it. Below is a version of the dance performed at an earlier event:
The four entice the Companion with their rhythmic snakelike movements and the flowers they draw him into smell. The lighting turns to green as the Companion is overwhelmed. As the crew member gets even more consumed, the music swells, and the dance which was largely simplistic, gets more energetic and fluid, as some resort to belly dance type moves. The Lotus Eaters eventually carry the Companion around the stage. Later on as the women spin largely in unison, the Companion sort of collapses onto Smith who holds him up with his back. The three women surround and sway with him eventually until Odysseus arrives and struggles with the Companion. Eventually the king gets him away as the women continue their elements. It is a truly wonderful portrayal.
The Companion does regain his senses and the two repeat much of the choreography of their earlier shared dance to symbolize the return to the journey.
An aura filled music played as the crew entered in normal garb. Odysseus spun majestically before the Cyclops arrived (Campanelli sat atop Smith clad in a well articulated mask) and lumbered around as they dancers it. Odysseus and his crew of Pond, Rodriguez, and Sinsigalli attempt to stop the monster. Eventually, Campanelli descends and puts the mask atop Smith so he can dance more actively, though after he is knocked to the ground the the crew launches Sinsigalli into his eye. The crew scatters as a blinded Cyclops flails around and Sinsigalli, in a rare use of voice in the dance, actually screams as the Cyclops grabs her, but she escapes with the rest of them.
The next sequence would find Rodriguez shrouded in gray portraying the bag of winds. She sat at the front of the stage as Campanelli and Sinsigalli enter and see her. The Companion followed and advanced towards it but the two women held him back in a mechanical fashion illustrating the battle between temptation and their loyalty to their captain. Eventually though the group open the bag which is lit in spotlight, and Rodriguez rises and whirls and twirls across the stage as the rest try to grab her. They fail to stop her as they are flung around and darkness falls.
Light returned in a shade of blue. The main dancers all moved slowly, as Odysseus entered to deep music laced with guitar as the underworld is symbolized and red light soon replaces blue. Odysseus spins and advances at normal speed among the various dead who continue to move gradually. Eventually Sinsigalli has a nice spin in the air and there are some beautiful lifts as well.
Not long after, Poseidon enters, with Campanelli, Sinsigalli, Rodriguez, and Pond serving as waves. They move and sway rhythmically together as he does more of his dark works. Eventually Odysseus is cast amidst the waves being flung about. Smith had some great pirouettes during this sequence as he continued to mess with the King of Ithaca. Eventually, Odysseus and Poseidon battle directly grabbing at the spear, though this allows each to jump while the other balances the weapon in an artistic and athletic flourish.
Having escaped Poseidon for now, another video shows the Sirens underwater and moving in for the kill as an aura filled musical piece sounds. The light rose and the Sirens sat together wearing birdlike headpieces, black bathing suits, and long patterned red dresses. Campanelli, Rodriguez, and Sinsigalli have an interesting role in this sequence as they are sitting for much of it, but still reacting. Much of what they do is move their heads snapping them around and watching like a birds of prey seeking their next victim as a vocal melody surrounds them. Odysseus is tied to Pond standing in as the mast, this is short lived though as Odysseus escapes the mast and fights with his Companion to get closer the Sirens gradually get more active, rising and swaying and eventually showing their teeth and grabbing at him. The music is very distinct and evil sounding matching the pacing of a slow building into a more chaotic beat. The Sirens dance is either stilted or fluid, as they switch back and forth.
After that drama, Sinsigalli plays the strangest role of the evening as she is a cow. She takes a prominent position in front of the stage and dopey music plays as she chews and slowly moves in place. The Companion eventually enters and approaches grabbing her and carrying her off unceremoniously.
The lighting flickers and the colors change rapidly as Poseidon proceeds to wipe out the crew with swift and powerful moves including spinning Pond in a full circle vertically. Later he grabs the Companion and twirls him over his head multiple times. Eventually heavy guitar accompanies the massacre as Poseidon’s wrath is felt.
Odysseus ends up in the corner again with the ball as Calypso (Campanelli) enters in a glimmering tunic. The two dance together as slow music plays, passing the ball and using it as a connection. Also on a huge lift, LaFleche picks up Campanelli and turns as she holds her legs in an artistic bent position. Calypso is unable to convince him to stay however and he departs.
The return home is an energetic affair. The three male dancers are seen plotting as Odysseus, Telemachos (Pond), and the Swineherd (Smith) dance together, while the three women drift across the stage at various parts of the stage doing various steps together. Penelope enters in a resplendent blue gown and crown. Eventually she comes to recognize trust Odysseus, the pair will share a couple of great sequences together including numerous big majestic lifts. The archery contest is played out with the various dancers forming a target and LaFleche mimicking shooting, and soon after a video portrays the suitors being beaten quite thoroughly. After the chaos come an optimistic result as LaFleche and Plumb walk together and eventually join with the other dancers who are holding hands and swaying together to culminate the end of the adventure.
As an additional note in addition to Plumb, and her six dancers, Julio Cruz and Timothy Estremera played suitors in the video scenes. Estremera also made appearances as a god and later in the final scenes as part of the cadre of dancers.
All of the dancers did such excellent work. When they were all, or mostly on stage, it was a sight to see as they moved with great energy and poise. To have to take on so many characters and adapt, as well as go the full time without intermission was very impressive.
LaFleche was powerful as the tormented but strong Odysseus. So much was required and he provided it including getting good height and clean lines on his leaps as well as showing the pain the struggling King was in through his movement.
Campanelli, Rodriguez and Sinsigalli were amazing both working as a group and in their own individual roles. As both the Lotus Eaters and the Sirens the three were vibrant. Campanelli’s dance as Calypso was beautiful. Rodriguez’s mix of elegant strength as Athena and torrential wildness as the bag of winds showed a versatile mix of excellence. Sinsigalli had a beauteous and skillful dance as Ino involving not just dance but making her veil unfurl in addition to her numerous other exemplary. These compliments are added to the general flitting around they did as crew and other subsidiary characters to great effect.
Smith’s Poseidon was superb. When he and Odysseus were paired together it was quite a sight, though his battle with Athena, and his solo actions were well executed. It was also an interesting but well carried out departure to see him grouped with the three women as Lotus Eaters.
Pond’s performed admirably as the Companion, serving as the compliment to Odysseus so often in terms of theme and activity, as well as in his other capacities, often bringing about doom on the crew.
Plumb’s brought a majestic quality to her role as both as queen and a wife, and showed vividly the struggle of being besought by the suitors. Her arrival for the final part of the story was carried off with such skill in tandem mostly with LaFleche, but others as well.
Plumb’s choreography was excellent. I say this as a relative novice to the intricacies of dance, but not a novice to what looks good and flows. The dance overall was not only fluid and powerful, it was also accessible as it was obvious enough to follow, but still filled with amazing levels of skill. As of writing this I have seen the performance twice, and I found myself noticing so much in the second performance and becoming aware I was still missing a lot even then.
The company has been premiering certain sections of the production throughout the year. The scene with Poseidon and his waves was part of a concert last year. The Lotus Eaters section was shown at multiple events and the Calypso and Odysseus dance was shown just a month ago at Miss Porter’s. The process was a year in the making to lead to the final outcome.
Melissa Chasse was the stage manager. Gail Fresia was the costume designer and she did magnificent work, with so many costumes to put together and they were all high quality. While costume design is no doubt critical to any performance, with so many characters being portrayed by the same corps of dancers, the distinct garb was even more important.
Cory Gabel was the composer of the excellent score, which varied in musical type but fit each scene well. The blending of more older sounding music that one might except to accompany Greek adventure and more modern beats and guitar was perfect for the meshing of an older story with modern dance. .
Robyn Joyce was the lighting designer, which joined with the score and the costumes produced a wonderful environment for the dance.
Helder Mira was videographer for the filmed segments and did great service. The underwater sequence is a particular triumph, though Mira’s skill at capturing Penelope struggling with the suitors was clear as he lined up a good angle.
David Regan designed the masks and props. The Cyclops head, Poseidon’s mask and trident really stood out as spectacular.
Special thanks to Herb Emanuelson for the extra information on the performance.
This performance is part of the company’s 25th anniversary. For more information on the Sonia Plumb Dance Company visit their site.