Shaping Sound’s ‘After the Curtain’ is a mixed production

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Two years ago Alberta Ballet presented Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound as part of their season and it was like attending a concert. Patrons screamed at certain sequences and both performances sold out. It was such a rousing success that Alberta Ballet secured Shaping Sound to perform their newest production After the Curtain. It is a production with a relatively concrete narrative, featuring a play within a play and powerful movement, but there are elements that feel contrived.

The production opens to Vincent Allen Whitlowe (Travis Wall) writing the script of his play or dance production. He is using a typewriter and the script appears in LED marquee lights at the top of the stage. It’s a fascinating effect to see the letters be struck out every time he resets the typewriter and it helps to create the narrative, but this aspect feels contrived. Vincent talks about how writing will bring him relief from his feelings of fear, anger, and pain. He then says his story is tragic and gives the background of the people involved. It’s a quick introduction of everyone, on stage they stand in frames as Vincent declares who they are. It’s tough to keep track of who everyone is and this impedes your ability to follow the narrative fully.

The themes of loss and betrayal are portrayed in the movement within the numbers. The choreography that is a part of the opening night of the ‘play’ are vibrant and the movement is complex. The choreography is strong, especially within the duets. The music in the first half  (composed by Ryan Lott) is a bit much, trying to capture the angst on stage, but it goes over the top most of the time.

Greg Anderson’s set design has stairs moving and spinning on stage which gives the production a technical edge. There is a duet in the second half where Wall has wires attached to him, so that he flies around in a dream like state while his partner moves along the stairs with him, and it is quite beautiful.

The narrative device that is enthralling within After the Curtain is Vincent’s darkness. It is expressed as a character that is in his mirror (his reflection) and he pulls him into the darkness with demons where he relives the death of his loved one. It’s a fascinating concept and is quite well done.

Shaping Sound is known for their innovative storytelling and incorporation of complex, rich movement with their dark themes. After the Curtain seems to have an issue of explaining too much through contrived narration, then not explaining enough with various characters that all have differing motivations. But some of the movement is quite compelling to watch.

Alberta Ballet’s next production is Momix Opus Cactus. More information is available online.

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