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THE MIRROR: Not So Reflective

by | Jan 26, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

I have a very strong hunch that, if any other person who was in the audience with me last night had the opportunity to review The Mirror, they’d be giving it a more enthusiastic write-up than I’m about to. When they were all on their feet, clapping wildly, I was in my seat. Clapping.

I don’t mean to knock the stellar talent of the performers, or the conceptual and staging successes of this production. I’m enthusiastic about all that. But, for me, there was very little sense of accumulation to the evening, of emotional, thematic, or theatrical development. Theatrically, things changed, but they didn’t go deeper or up the ante. So I got a little bored.

Created by Australian company Gravity & Other Myths, The Mirror is, essentially, theatricalized and choreographed circus acrobatics — so, edgy circus.

About the first third of the evening is fantastic.

Singer Megan Drury plays with a boom box and a microphone, putting the mic on one speaker then the other, finding different kinds of music, upping the volume — and enjoying the audience reactions. Okay, I thought. They’re going to use the elements of theatrical presentation as playthings. Cool.

And, in an extension of that idea, they play with theatrical revelations. You see a group of acrobats standing on the stage. Then a black curtain passes in front of them and, when they’re revealed again, they’re stacked in some impossible configuration, balanced three bodies high. In another bit, two men stand, one on either side of the blacked-out space, and, all of a sudden, two women come flying out from high up behind the curtain and the men catch them in their arms. It’s thrilling.

The company also plays with expectation. They set up Ta-Da! moments — everybody gets into place, a fantastic lift or toss is about to happen — and then they just walk away from it.

There are surreal, contemplative passages, too. At one point, three towers of people simply walk past one another. In each tower, one person has another on their shoulders, and that person has somebody else on their shoulders. This section isn’t splashy, but it evokes a kind of wonder, and it was one of my favourites of the evening.

The acrobats, as I said, are wildly skilled. The three smallest women in the company do most of the flying: they’re dazzling in their courage, precision, and balance. There’s a pleasing sense of gender fluidity: women lift men, the sturdiest woman often acts as the base in configurations. A guy wears a skirt.

And The Mirror acknowledges the eroticism involved in watching extraordinarily fit bodies do amazing things. In an early passage, performers cross the stage on their hands and knees, bearing other performers, in poses, on their backs. One of them is a guy who looks like a piece of Greek statuary. And a couple of the men have such spectacular glutes that you could break your teeth on them and not regret it.

There’s also some interesting use of technology. In my favourite, an LED screen crackling with red, white, and black “static” adds visual intensity.

So what went wrong? There’s way too much of singer Megan Drury, for one thing. Her voice is flat — not in the sense of pitch; it just lacks lustre. I got very little out of her performances of associated samplings from pop songs. So the only figure onstage that we follow as a character of sorts — she feels like an emcee — is a blank.

The repetitiveness of composer Ekram Eli Phoenix’s music doesn’t help: we get a lot of its tamped-down expressive range and the underlying propulsive beats.

Too much material overstays its welcome. I got everything I was going to get out of the lovely section of revelations from behind the curtain, for instance, well before it was over.

And, once we’ve seen the performers’ skills, and we’ve worked our way through the playfulness of the opening passage, The Mirror plateaus because it doesn’t offer a larger conceptual framework. The program tells us that The Mirror is out to explore two things: entertainment and authenticity. For me, the second part of that equation doesn’t work. Yes, the singer turns a video camera on herself, her image multiplies on a screen, but so what? I found no resonance in this, and the singer’s exploration of authenticity feels quite separate from the more persuasive language of The Mirror, which is acrobatics.

If you think I’m asking too much of a circus piece, consider this: six years ago, Gravity & Other Myths brought another show Backbone to Vancouver. Backbone stayed focused on a simpler concept, strength, and it never flagged.

Still, as I said, I’m not knocking the phenomenal skills on display in The Mirror. If you loved it, I’m not trying to dispute or dim that reaction; I’m not here to yuck anybody’s yum. I’m simply adding my perspective.

THE MIRROR Created by the company. Directed by Darcy Grant. On Thursday, January 25. Produced by Gravity & Other Myths and co-presented by DanceHouse and The Cultch. Running at the Vancouver Playhouse until January 27. Tickets

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