Choreographed and Directed by Carmen Caceres (in collaboration with the performers)
Produced by DanceAction
Interactive Dance Performance
Ran through 10.29.22
Sanctuary Space at the Center at West Park,165 West 86th Street
by Max Berry on 10.29.22
L-R: Mar Orozco Arango and Sofia Baeta in Welcome to Imagi*Nation. Photo by Daniel Hess.
BOTTOM LINE: A thoughtful, well-choreographed piece that falls slightly short on its urgency and interactive elements.
Welcome to Imagi*Nation, a new interactive dance piece directed and choreographed by Carmen Caceres, was inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America, which follows two fictional nations as they fight over natural resources and labor shortages. Along with the dancers on stage, audience members participate in the struggle as one of the two nations by joining in various tasks and games to move the story forward—voting for a new leader, gathering tinfoil, and deciding the actions of various characters.
The dancing itself is gorgeous, precise, and thoughtful. Every dancer moves through each moment with incredible grace, and while some story elements are unclear, others come across well, allowing you to feel every struggle and triumph. One shout out must be given for Caceres's costume design—the vibrant costumes fit each character beautifully, with splashes of color that complement the eye-catching set design that is made of various plastic bottles, soda cans, water jugs, and tinfoil.
Unfortunately, many of the sections lack music, which ends up hurting, rather than helping, the impact pf the choreography. Silence can be an incredibly powerful tool, but the more extensively it is used, the clearer its purpose should be, and for me at least, that wasn't the case. That being said, when music is used, it is used very effectively—each musical dance sequence feels rich with emotion and narrative weight.
Welcome to Imagi*Nation is not just a dance piece however—it has that curious "interactive" element. Caceres and company (including immersive experience consultant Mary Madsen) wisely choose to play the instructions for the interactive elements before the show begins, to prepare the audience. But while the interactive games themselves are fun, sometimes the audience’s role in the story is a little uncertain. It's certainly clear that we are meant to be citizens of one of the nations, but it's less clear if it matters which nation we belong to, or how we are supposed to feel about "our side." And given that the story is slightly hard to follow, one's impact on the story (with the interactive games) doesn’t seem to hold as much weight.
To some extent, this uncertainly and vagueness may be due to the inherent limitations in dance, or at least dance without words. When there is no verbal communication, those connections to how we as audience members fit in to the world of the piece are trickier to convey. Welcome to Imagi*Nation does a good job with the tools at hand, but I still found myself struggling to make the connections that it wanted me to make.
It must be said—Welcome to Imagi*Nation allows the audience to choose the outcome of many different moments, which suggests each dancer had to learn multiple tracks, depending on what choices the different audiences make. This in itself is quite impressive, and certainly raises the "difficulty level" of the piece. But overall, while the performances and design elements are excellent, I found myself unable to fully follow the story and my interactive role within it.
(Welcome to Imagi*Nation played at Sanctuary Space at the Center at West Park,165 West 86th Street, October 27-29, 2022. The running time was 95 minutes with an intermission. Performances were 10/27, 10/28 and 10/29 at 7:30. Tickets were $25. For more information visit carmencaceres.com/welcome-to-imaginationhere.)
Welcome to Imagi*Nation is choreographed and directed by Carmen Caceres, inspired by a book by Eduardo Galeano. Assistant Directed by Aviya Hernstadt. Immersive Experience Consultant is Mary Madsen. Video by Daniel Hess. Music/Songs by Emilio Teubal and various artists. Dramaturgy by Lauren Hlubny.
The cast is Carmen Caceres, Israel Harris, Jenna Purcell, Lydia Perakis, Mallory Markham-Miller, Mar Orozco Arango, and Sofia Baeta. Understudies/Docents are Caroline Alter and Sara Fox.