Performing Arts: Theater
February 7, 2017
Babel A work over three years in the making, Convergences Dance Theatre’s Babel retells the famous biblical tale. A unified people build the Tower of Babel to reach the heavens, only to be deterred by God and scattered across the earth, their language confused into varying dialects. During the post-show talk back, Co-Creator WT McRae pinpoints his inspiration here: “There’s a sense that to create something is an act of power, almost to the point of being dangerous. What is our human ability to create and what is the responsibility of our human ability to create?”

The team goes on to joke about the “rehearsal by interrogation” approach behind the scenes. Though spoken word is not a part of the performance, we learn how valuable the discussion of the movement and its meaning(s) played in the studio. This collaborative process, of course, mirrors the sense of solidarity found in the story. Largely ensemble-driven, the 25-member cast travels through a handful of the most timeless human experiences, scene by scene. Unity, ambition, healing, identity, and peace are also met with their counterparts—catastrophe and war.

In the work, McRae and Co-Creator Jeremy Williams play with the contrast of performers as objects and humans. In many instances, they transform into building blocks piling atop one another, each individual vanishing into the larger collective pattern or abstraction. And then, humanness resurfaces with caricatured expressions and gestural body language, capturing a range of emotional states.

Most charged is the fight scene in which slow-motion chaos ensues, framed by lighting designer Jay Ryan’s added ominous ambience. Here, and throughout many of the group moments, the movement ranges from pedestrian to logistical. Occasionally among the suite of duets, we meet a more developed character and personality, before they once again retreat into the rapidly diversifying crowd.

The complexity of humankind is always a huge, fascinating undertaking. Conceptually and throughout the creative process, it’s evident that the performers of Babel have a deep and multifaceted relationship with the work, its meaning, and their role. As a witness to the work, however, you’re asked to discern these nuances and metaphors for yourself. Taken at face value, the movement loses its depth and reads as simply a compilation of one physical encounter to the next.

An audience member later asks, “Is it ok to think of this work as ‘dance?’” While the answer is, “Yes!” Convergences Theatre Collective further delivers a play. A story is told and an unspoken dialogue occurs each time two performers, three, or the whole lot convene.

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