Jennie MaryTai Liu, Leslie Cuyjet, and Sean Donovan in Soul Leaves Her Body at HERE Arts Center. Photo by Ray Sun.
BOTTOM LINE: An abstract exploration about our souls in the modern, digital age using an ancient Chinese tale with dance and video.
Soul Leaves Her Body is based on a Chinese tale that has appeared in many forms throughout history. Using dance and video to explore the story, it is told in three parts: one past, one present, and one outside of both.
The highlight of the show is the video work, designed by Austin Switser. Projected on four large screens that arrange to form walls and doors and can also transform into transparent windows, the visuals of the video in the first section are vibrant and enthralling. In Part I, the media images sometimes synchronize with the movement of the actors, and other times they become an abstract enrichment. Part II is told almost entirely in the form of a short film, with brief, complementing staged vignettes. And finally, in Part III, the video element is absent and the entirety of the story is expressed by the words and vocalizations of the actors.
The lighting design, by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, is beautiful, creating a space that is dynamic with texture and dimension. Shadow and contrast are well controlled and there are several wonderful lighting patterns created.
The dancing seems too Western and contemporary for an ancient Chinese story, although there is a nice sense of ritual in the movement. The actors are also not always able to fully execute the motion. There are wonderful pedestrian movements synchronized to sound, but when the actors have to fully dance, their limitations are exposed, rendering the expression less effective. This obstacle may be one reason why the dancing seemed overused in the first part.
While the show is lovely, it is a little slow. There is a plot, but it’s not emphasized. I sometimes felt I was waiting for the next piece of information. Moments of tension are created by the adept actors, but there is no general suspense to string those moments together because the audience isn’t clued in to what is happening.
All in all, Soul Leaves Her Body is a lovely, thoughtful piece, but there isn’t a lot of meat to get personally or viscerally invested in. It’s a great show for visually-oriented audiences or those who enjoy mixed media.
(Soul Leaves Her Body plays through November 23, 2010 at HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue at Spring Street. Performances are Mondays at 8:30 PM, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:30PM and Sundays at 4PM. There is an additional show on Tuesday, November 23rd at 8:30PM. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 212.352.3101, or by visiting HERE.org.)